recovery month

Why Is It So Hard to Stop Drinking or Using? | National Recovery Month

by Pat Fontana

September is National Recovery Month, a time to celebrate the success of people who are living in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. Sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Recovery Month is designed in part to educate others on how people with mental and substance use disorders can live healthy and rewarding lives. It is a good time to explore an answer to a question asked often: Why is it so hard to stop drinking or using drugs?

Recovery is Hope

SAMHSA emphasizes that recovery is a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential. Hope, the belief that their challenges and conditions can be overcome, is the foundation of recovery. The process of recovery is highly personal and occurs via many pathways. Recovery is characterized by continual growth and improvement in one’s health and wellness that may involve setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural part of life, resilience becomes a key component of recovery.

Addiction is a Chronic Illness

People in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction have not been cured but are on their way to a healthier life because of their successful addiction treatment. Addiction is a chronic illness, much like diabetes or asthma. Addiction causes significant changes in the brain, which make it more difficult to stop drinking or using drugs.

Even though the first drug use or alcoholic drink is probably voluntary, addiction is not a result of moral weakness, a lack of willpower, or an unwillingness to stop. Most people believe they can control their use of drugs or alcohol. However, research has shown that with time, more and more alcohol or drugs are needed to achieve the same level of pleasure and satisfaction as when they first started.

Seeking out and taking the substance becomes a near-constant activity, causing significant problems for them and their family and friends. At the same time, progressive changes in the brain drive the compulsive, uncontrollable drug use known as addiction. When this happens, individuals can no longer voluntarily choose to not use drugs or alcohol, even if it means losing everything they once valued.

Addiction Affects Millions

People who cannot stop drinking or using drugs are not alone. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.4 million adults ages 18 and older (5.8 percent of this age group) had alcohol use disorder. This includes 9.2 million men (7.6 percent of men in this age group) and 5.3 million women (4.1 percent of women in this age group). An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

In addition, 2018 data shows that every day, 128 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them. Between 8 and 12 percent develop an opioid use disorder.

Addiction Changes the Brain

It is hard to stop drinking or using drugs because addiction actually changes the brain. The more someone drinks or uses drugs, the more difficult it is to break that addiction. Chronic alcohol use changes the brain neurologically, sensitizing certain brain circuits and changing neurotransmitter levels. Addiction also affects the brain’s executive function, the part of the brain that is involved in decision making and that tells the person not to drink or use drugs.

Most people will need to avoid alcohol and drugs for the rest of their lives, because of these changes in their brains. However, recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol is possible. Treatment programs will help the addict detox, or rid their body of the drugs or alcohol, and then move through a successful recovery with effective therapy and relapse prevention options.

You Can Get Help at South Miami Recovery

Overcoming addiction to drugs or alcohol is not easy. At South Miami Recovery, we are here to help you get started on your recovery. You deserve to enjoy true freedom from active substance dependency, so you can live a healthier life.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, we want you to stay safe and healthy, so we offer HIPAA-compliant telehealth services to help you get the treatment you need now. To learn more and to sign up for telehealth substance abuse services, contact us today. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.