Does the saying, “Once and addict, always an addict” hold true for you?
There are many opinions about addiction treatment but most are in agreement about this one. They say once you become addicted to a particular substance or action, that’s the way it is for the rest of your life – you’re addicted to it.
Some of my clients have had a real problem with this. They’ve asked me, “So does this mean I will I always be broken?”
Or, “Do I have to spend the rest of my life in this place of powerlessness and surrender?”
And I’ve had one make the case: “It bothers me that if addiction is a disease, why can’t it possibly be fixed? If I had type 2 diabetes and I changed my diet, exercise and lifestyle, I could possibly be cured. If I had a blown out knee, I could rehab and someday get better. Why is this different?”
Why is addiction different? Why can’t someone be cured? Will I always be an addict?
I was dropped off at the Harlem location of Phoenix House for my addiction to pot at age 19. By anyone’s definition, I was most definitely addicted. Long story short, I basically stopped. I’ve smoked a handful of times since then and the idea of me becoming addicted again strikes me as absurd. Realistically, there is no chance. I have no desire and there is no pull to repeat this experiment in the munchies, generalized paranoia and the fountain of bizarre ideas that I’m going to forget or do nothing about.
I also know that I am not going to not try this with a bottle of tequila, a bag of coke and a ball of heroin. For me, this magical elixir is equal to the Hellraiser cube. I’m like that reoccurring dimwitted character in the movies who’s playing with the keys to the gates of hell thinking, “Hmm…this could be a good idea…….”
You and I both know what’s going to happen. Portals to demonic dimensions will open, those pesky Cenobites will appear, and I’ll be rollin’ dice with Pinhead for my soul. Not good. So, I will not make this choice. After 22 years sober, I’m still addicted to this stuff and that’s the end of the story.
So I’ve got experiences on both sides of the coin for this question. I was addicted to pot and believe that I no longer am. I was addicted to alcohol, coke and heroin and believe that I currently am and will be for the foreseeable future.
So what’s the answer?
A basic tenet of Alchemist Recovery is: “Addiction is predictable but you are unique.”
Working with this problem for as long as I have, I believe there are certain rules that hold true for everyone. At the same time, the expression of one’s authentic individuality is essential.
So, is there a cure? Or once an addict, always an addict?
Here’s how I go about helping clients answer this for themselves:
- We evaluate exactly where they are. What are the questions causing them to get stuck on this issue right now? Is it about: control, being damaged, labeled an addict, how they are seen by others, something else?
- We evaluate the past. What were the outcomes of using their substance or action? Basically, let’s go through the wreckage…one…more…time.
- We evaluate the possible futures. What are potential outcomes – good and bad?
- Is it worth the risk?
Most of my clients reach the conclusion that it is not worth the risk. In every one of these cases, I agree.
For those who undertake serious examination and decide to give it a shot, I stress the importance of making sure they are not:
- Giving themselves permission to slip
- Giving up because sobriety is getting hard
- Doing it for someone else
- Minimizing the damage they’ve done
If they still feel it’s worth the risk, my job turns into one of support. I let them know I’ll be there.…just in case.
My clients’ results have been all over the place. Some have tried to “go back and have a glass of wine at dinner and be normal” and have been successful, felt included with friends and family, and avoided their old problems. It’s been years and they are living very fulfilling lives at home and work.
I’ve also had many who relapsed (repetitively) but still remain fixated on the question. For them, something remains hidden, unanswered and problematic. It keeps them stuck in the reoccurring nightmare of the Cycle of Addiction.
One size does not fit all when it comes to addiction and recovery.
I would love to hear your experiences with this question. Please share in the comments below!
- Autumn: The Season of Letting Go - September 25, 2016
- A Rookie Mistake - September 5, 2016
- “Hi, my name is….. - July 20, 2016
- Once an addict…always an addict? - June 22, 2016
- An Invitation…and a Question: What is absolutely necessary? - June 13, 2016
Please send your questions and comments along! You can call me at 970.631-6857 or just fill out the form here.
I’m happy to send you helpful information about all things addiction and recovery related, so you can get started with my free newsletter. Sign up here.
With subscription, you’ll get a free report: "Why Most Approaches to Addiction Treatment Fail…and what’s that got to do with blind men feeling up an elephant?"