I feel fortunate to live in an age where hard work has been done to prove that addiction to drugs and alcohol is, without question, a chronic disease. The medical community agrees on this. Now for the bad news. This research and science is often not well known or understood by people outside the addiction-recovery world.
That’s why when Feinberg Consulting meets with families to create recovery plans, we make sure to spend time explaining why substance use disorders (i.e. addiction and alcoholism) are real brain disorders, not bad habits. We take this step because when family members understand the science of addiction and the things they can do to support their loved ones, the odds of long-term recovery significantly improve.
But it makes sense that people don’t intuitively understand what fuels addiction. If you’ve never struggled with an addiction or dependence, it can be hard to grasp why people can’t stop using drugs or alcohol. It seems logical that they should be able to just stop doing these harmful things.
We know from the research that without the proper support, it’s unlikely that a person with a substance use disorder will stay sober over the long-term. We also know that with support, yes, they absolutely can. But what is “support?” That’s what this article is all about.
The Social Side of Addiction
Treatment for addiction is different than treating a chronic disease like asthma. You can’t simply take a pill or an inhaler to manage your symptoms. That being said, there are certain steps that are proven to treat addiction and create long-term recovery. They’re not always as straightforward as taking an inhaler, but they can be just as effective. That’s because alcoholism and addiction aren’t just biological problems; they’re also social problems.
Addiction takes its toll on a person’s social life, often causing him or her to retreat into a world of isolation and secrecy. There are also social components that vastly increase the likelihood that someone will start to abuse alcohol and drugs.
Part of what drove me to substances was fear, and most of this fear came from failed self-reliance and the thought that I was all alone. Even growing up, it’s not that I felt different, I felt disconnected. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and that everything was up to me. I was a slave to the things I could and couldn’t do. My world view was all about me. I had this chronic, persistent feeling of separation.
What I didn’t realize was that there were other people who felt just like I did. But I wasn’t talking to them — at least about these feelings. I wasn’t asking for the support of my friends or anyone throughout some very difficult times in my life. I needed other people — a team — and didn’t even know it. I needed connection.
Addiction and Isolation
People have been getting inebriated since the dawn of time, but in today’s world, we are doing it in isolation more than ever before. As a person in recovery for more than 13 years, one of the things I am grateful for is being a part of and believing in something that is bigger than me. People need people.
One of the most important things a person can do to create a long-term recovery is to join a group of people who all share a common problem, and more importantly, a similar solution. As a recovery coach, I want to see my clients staying connected to some type of community — be it a recovery community (Smart, AA, NA Refuge), fitness community, church community — whatever has them feeling a sense of connection and belonging.
I’d argue that it’s almost impossible for people to feel as though they’re living a purposeful life without allowing others to support them. Without a back and forth, mutual support system, we’re left out of balance and disconnected. We’re setting ourselves up to lean on drugs or alcohol for relief — especially in bad times, and especially if we’re hard-wired for addiction.
There’s an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone… but if you want to go far, go together.” It’s perfectly applicable to recovery. We can whizz through the early part of our recovery without much help, but it probably won’t take us very far.
More than others, maybe, people in recovery need to feel as though they’re part of a team. They need to know they can lean on others in bad times and celebrate with them in good times.
Every day I see how much easier it is for people to believe in recovery when they are connected with others who share a similar goal. It’s one of the most powerful tools we have to support the formation of healthy habits and beliefs that pave the way for a powerful recovery.
Again, I’m blessed to be part of a team for many people in recovery. I’m glad to work for a company that understands addiction and the importance of a team. If your family member is struggling with addiction, know that recovering with their own personal team is an option. We’re here to help.
Director of Community Relations | Recovery Coach