Willpower is a bit of a farce when it comes to addiction.  There is a cultural misconception that if an addict truly wanted to quit, they would.  Failure to recover from addiction is often seen as a lack of willpower or a form of weakness.  There is a great deal of research, however, proving that willpower alone is not enough to overcome addiction, and what addicts really need is quality treatment and networks of support to maintain sobriety.  Willpower can be useful in the beginning stages of sobriety, as it is often the force that prompts an individual to walk through the doors of a recovery center. However, no amount of pure force of will, or white knuckling through sobriety, will allow you to create a lasting sober lifestyle.  By understanding the ways in which willpower falls short of beating addiction, those struggling with substance abuse can forgive themselves for past failures and look forward to lasting success in recovery.

Willpower Leaves You Suppressed and Isolated

Willpower is usually defined as the ability to resist temptation and control impulses.  Unfortunately, many people attempt to use willpower to suppress emotions or painful memories instead of dealing with them head-on.  By avoiding dealing with traumatic experiences in your past, you exacerbate the negative effects of the trauma, including emotional pain that leads to substance abuse.  Addiction is a physical dependence, but it is also often the result of unresolved issues and emotional wounds. By using willpower to quit abusing drugs or alcohol, you are only putting off the inevitability of relapse and increasing the likelihood that you will continue to suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. 

Those that attempt to overcome addiction with willpower alone often do so because they don’t want anyone else’s help.  They may be the type of person that believes they can do everything on their own, or they may be too ashamed to seek treatment.  Either way, attempting recovery through willpower alone is usually a very lonely and isolating process, and you will likely feel especially disconnected when you find yourself relapsing into old habits without a support system to turn to in challenging times.  Genuine recovery requires that you submit to the knowledge that you can’t do it on your own, and accept the help and expertise of compassionate professionals who know what it takes to succeed in finding lasting sobriety.

Addiction Changes Your Brain

Willpower may be effective in small changes, such as avoiding late night snacks or staying away from social media.  When it comes to chemically addictive substances like drugs and alcohol, however, willpower is not enough to alter an urge that has been efficiently and insidiously programmed into your brain.  Drugs and alcohol affect the brain’s reward system and create cravings that feel as if satisfying them is necessary for survival. You can promise yourself and others that you will not use drugs or alcohol again while you aren’t experiencing a craving, and you may mean it with every ounce of your being, but once a craving arises, you will once again be powerless to your addiction.  

The desire to quit doing something while simultaneously wanting to continue doing it is a form of cognitive dissonance, and the experience can be incredibly painful and frustrating.  Your belief system based on evidence and experience may tell you that alcohol has consistently negative effects in your life and that drinking no longer makes sense for you. At the same time, however, you may have thoughts about moderation and begin to convince yourself that you can become a “normal” drinker.  For those witnessing this phenomenon from the outside, as family members or friends of someone with an addiction, this back and forth behavior can seem like weakness or dishonesty. In reality, the person struggling with addiction is likely more frustrated with themselves and their inability to keep a promise than outsiders can imagine.  Not until your genuine desires line up with your beliefs can you be free of the deeply uncomfortable experience of cognitive dissonance.  

The good news is that while willpower alone may not work to combat be neurological changes, a quality recovery program includes many strategies and tools for attacking addiction from all sides and giving you the best shot possible at lasting sobriety.  These techniques may include various types of therapy and counseling, treatment of co-occurring mental illnesses, reliable systems of support, and the teaching of life skills to help you cope with triggers and stress.  

 

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, don’t rely on willpower alone to combat this disease.  At Burning Tree Ranch, we specialize in long-term care that produces real results, especially for those who have experienced relapse.  Here you will find a team of qualified and compassionate professionals, ready to help each client through a customized treatment program that addresses all aspects of addiction, including the identification of co-occurring disorders.  We know that the journey towards recovery doesn’t end with the conclusion of an inpatient program, and therefore we provide extensive aftercare programs to best support our clients during their transition into lasting sobriety. We also know that addiction affects the whole family, and therefore loved ones are encouraged to participate in the recovery process and take advantage of all our support resources.  For more information, call us today at  512-285-5900