When men or women begin using alcohol or drugs, willpower does play an important role. Deciding to drink or use drugs the first few times is simply a choice. The person may find the initial experiences enjoyable and pleasurable, but that doesn’t make them an addict or alcoholic. Certain drugs can have a much more powerful effect than others, which the user may want to repeat. Just the same, it takes time to become physically and mentally dependent.
Over time, the brain and central nervous system will expect the drug to come in from the outside. This is where physical dependence begins: stopping the use now will result in some signs of withdrawal. Mental or psychological dependence also plays a role in addiction. Once the person develops a physical and mental dependency (i.e. an obsession), willpower becomes less effective. The longer a person continues to use and build tolerance, the more difficult it is to just quit with willpower alone.
There is much to be said regarding this subject of willpower, or lack of it. Many recovering people swear, If not for a power greater than myself, I would still be using. Many addicts who recognize their need to quit do not want to quit. Where then will this desire come from?
Whether this power comes from the person’s spiritual life, or the power of their group or caring friends, recovering people recognize that sheer willpower does not work for them. At some point in recovery, a desire to stop using manifests itself in a person’s consciousness.
Call it what you will; I call this a miracle.
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.
Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat,
I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.
But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
there has only been one set of footprints in the sand.
Why, when I needed you most,
have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied,
“The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child,
is when I carried you.”
–Author (still) unknown
This article is excerpted from the 2010 Revised and updated book “Why Don’t They JUST QUIT? What friends and families need to know about addiction and recovery.“
Article photos by Judy Herzanek