Anger and Mental Health Providers
The Air Boat Lesson

Do It Yourself Substance Abuse Treatment

Finally, someone has published what I have long experienced. Many substance abusers are able to overcome addiction by themselves, without treatment or support groups. You can find the original article on the Scientific American site: Do-It-Yourself Addiction Cures? How are people able to cure themselves of addiction issues?

Some people can't, or aren't willing to do the work necessary to do so.  I've worked with some clients who are so heavily invested in their addictions and the denial that accompanies them that they continue to struggle with them for years.  However, some people are able to overcome addiction.  Some folks need the help of medical intervention (i.e. Antabuse or Methadone).  Some are able to quit cold turkey and walk away.  Some are able to wean themselves slowly off whatever substance they are using.  And some are able to moderate their use.  And I have seen people do this without professional help. 

From my experience, some people are able to realize that this behavior is no longer working for them and to simply put it down or decrease it to a harmless level.  I stopped my own smoking habit more than 15 years ago.  I quit cold turkey and never looked back.  I've seen friend, family members, and clients do the same with various substances.  However, I have also seen other struggle their entire lives and completely destroy their lives with the struggle.  What makes the difference?

I think a lot of factors play into substance abuse that aren't usually addressed.  Trauma and mental illness are the two most prevalent.  If someone has co-existing trauma or mental illness combined with substance abuse it is crucial that the other issues be fully addressed in order for the cessation of the substance abuse to be successful. 

In the absence of underlying contributors to the substance abuse, the other crucial element seems to be the willingness of the person to honestly look at their substance use.  I can only speak from my own experience and those I have witnessed, but the following steps seem to be important:

  1. Get real.
    • Take a candid look at the behavior and be really honest with yourself. Stop telling yourself, "A little won't matter", "I'm just a social drinker", "I only use on weekends", "I only use when I'm stressed", "No one notices".
    • Be honest with yourself about how much you use. Sit down and calculate exactly how much you use and how much it costs - per month. You may be shocked to see how much of your income is going towards your habit.
    • Squarely face the consequences of your substance use on your body and on your life (i.e. "smoking is seriously damaging my lungs, is taking years off of my life and may eventually kill me", "my drinking impaired my judgment so severely that I dran and drove with my children in the car", "my cocaine use is getting to the point that I'm stealing money from friends to support it".)
    • Take responsibility for it. This is something you are choosing to do and can choose not to do.
  2. Educate yourself.
    • I read everything I could find about: a) the effects of smoking on my body and b) what would happen to my body when I stopped smoking. I think both elements are crucial. Looking at the damage you are doing to yourself is important for being aware of the consequences of continued use. But understanding the benefits I would gain from stopping gave me hope, and motivation. It also gave me a reason for enduring the withdrawal symptoms. As you may have read in other posts on this blog, suffering is more bearable when it has a purpose. Be very clear about what you are going to gain for giving this up.
  3. Talk about it.
    • Get feedback from people in your life about how your substance use affects them. How do they see it affecting you? Ask them to be gentle and go slow. It may be hard to hear. But listen to what they have to say, no matter how much it hurts.
  4. Think for yourself.
    • Do not let other people tell you when to stop. Get their input about its effects on you and on them, but determine for yourself when its time to call it quits. Only you know when you are ready. Just before I quit smoking I had change my eating habits, lost a bunch of weight and started working out. People around me then started putting pressure on me to up the ante and stop smoking too. But I knew I wasn't ready. Whatever had to happen in my head had not happened. I held out and continued reading and talking, but waited for something inside to tell me when it was time. One day, halfway through a cigarette, something in my mind *clicked* and that was it. I put out that cigarette, threw away the rest of the carton, threw away all the ashtrays and walked away.
    • Likewise, do not let other people tell you how to quit. Cold turkey worked for me. The pain of that two weeks of withdrawal stays with me and keeps me from going back. I know what I will have to go through to get off them again and that keeps me free of smoking. But that is not for everyone. Find your own way. You know you better than anyone else. If you are an all or nothing kind of person, cold turkey may be the way. If you are a careful person who likes to move more carefully you may want to wean yourself off. If your addiction is less severe you may be able to simply moderate or decrease your use. I have seen all of these methods work equally well. Find your own way, walk your own path.

One word of warning. If you have been heavily dependent on alcohol of benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, etc.) for a period of time please see a medical doctor. Suddenly stopping or decreasing either of these substances when your body is heavily dependent on them can cause serious medical complications and possibly death. It is important that you medically supervised and slowly detoxed off of them.


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