AddictionPeople who haven’t experienced what it is like to be addicted to a substance often mistakenly think that overcoming it is about willpower, and that people who can’t beat it are simply weak, or don’t really want to stop.

But those who are battling with drug addiction or alcoholism know that it is a very different story. If stopping was as easy as making the decision to, then why do so many people relapse? Why are support groups and addiction treatment centres so widespread?

Alcoholics Anonymous’s statement says it all: “We alcoholics are men and women who lost the ability to control our drinking. We know that no real alcoholic ever recovers control.”

Addiction: Physical dependence

Once you have decided to stop drinking, the very first hurdle you will face is withdrawal.

Even if alcoholism has damaged your health and you are dealing with alcohol-related illnesses, withdrawal symptoms are quite something else altogether. The more and the longer you have been drinking, the stronger they will be.

The first symptoms typically appear within a few hours of the last drink and can include shaky hands, headaches, anxiety, insomnia, palpitations, nausea and vomiting. Between 12 and 24 hours after the last drink, visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations can appear. Although the person affected is usually aware that they are not real, some experience more severe symptoms such as seizures and Delirium Tremens, caused by the sudden chemical change in the body.

It is no surprise then that, faced with such an intense and painful physical reaction, alcoholics wouldn’t be able to overcome this first challenge, and that more would not want to have to face it again after a first failed attempt.

Addiction: Psychological dependence

Although physical dependence is by no means to be underestimated, psychological dependence is at least as strong, if not stronger. After all, other addictions, such as hoarding and gambling, don’t involve the consumption of chemical substances but are as powerful.

Whatever the original reason for your drinking was, the fact is that it made you feel better. Either it relaxed you, made you forget about a difficult situation, made you feel more confident, you name it. Deciding to stop drinking means not only giving up this “reward” but also having to face what led you to drinking, and having to rebuild your life and your identity.

The social aspects are equally challenging. Social drinking is part of normal life and as a recovering alcoholic, you can’t afford even one drink. This can make you feel left out at parties and at work events. You may be under pressure from old drinking buddies who are uncomfortable with the sober you and try to reel you back in, but it can be even more difficult to stay steady in a business context. You may be perceived as someone who doesn’t know how to have fun, and in a society where being a team player is all-important in getting promoted, you may relent. Your uncompromising sobriety may also lead to questions, and admitting to the truth may affect your professional future.

As a recovering alcoholic, you will have to navigate those situations on a regular basis, and there is no denying that they won’t make your life easy.

May I introduce you to yourself?

Drinking is a form of escapism, and once this is removed, you will be left with good old you. Perhaps you didn’t measure up to your own standards, perhaps you were in an unhappy relationship, but now, you have to get re-acquainted with yourself, and more likely than not, face some unpleasant truths.

You may also feel lonely and depressed, between relationships which didn’t survive your alcoholism and those formed while drinking which evaporate as you become sober, and isolation is definitely a great danger.

It is important to recognise that sustained recovery isn’t easy, and that you will need support. Professional alcoholic help such as alcohol rehab, individual therapy and peer-to-peer groups like Alcoholics Anonymous will provide you with a network of people who understand you, and, as importantly, help you to understand yourself better as well as your relationship to alcohol and what triggers your cravings or relapses so that you can be more prepared next time.

Another important factor in overcoming alcoholism is… what on Earth are you going to do with yourself now?! Alcohol will have become the centre of your life, between the time you spent organising your next drinking sessions, which possibly involved concealing it from people around you, drinking itself and possibly time lost while being drunk. As mundane as it sounds, all this new-found time on your hands and getting bored can be enough to make you fall off the wagon.

If you are looking for alcohol rehab in Auckland for yourself or a loved one, contact the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950.