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Why Sobriety Is Not Enough

By Cathy Patterson-Sterling – MA, RCC
Director of Family Services

If you do searches on the world wide web for addiction treatment, you will inevitably find lists of natural detoxes or ways of purifying the bodily system. At first glance these tinctures, liquids, and pills can seem like miracle cures as the body is better able to purify or detoxify itself from harmful substances like alcohol and/or drugs. The difficulty is that detoxing or achieving sobriety (physical abstinence from mood-altering substances) is only the first step and by itself is not enough.

Addiction is a complex blend of biological, psychological, and sociological variables. Therefore if people stop using alcohol and drugs, then they have only addressed one part of the equation because left over is the psychological component. Each individual has an underlying emotional need that is met by using particular mood-altering substances. Not all addicted people will use the same drugs and instead they will maintain interest in “drugs of choice.” The choice of their favourite drugs means that they are connecting with a particular mood-altering variable. For example, people who use cocaine often enjoy the pleasurable sense of feeling invincible, god-like, or that everything is perfect. At the climactic high of cocaine, individuals often feel that for once they have complete control and are in focus because all is well in their world. Meanwhile, individuals who use heroin or other opiates will experience a warm, fuzzy feeling inside almost like a muscle-relaxant experience. People who smoke marijuana often seek pleasure through escape especially from responsibilities so as a result they chronically use marijuana as a way to numb themselves or not feel. For many alcoholics, alcohol serves as a type of “liquid courage” in which they can lower their inhibitions, not feel shy, experience more social connection, and not contend with insecurities or self-deprecating thoughts. There is another pattern that is more common in binge users who frequently use alcohol as a way to inflict pain on themselves as they punish themselves by drinking alcohol to a point that is not pleasurable. Of course each individual will have their own emotional reasons for abusing mood-altering substances and not all people are the same.

The main point, however, is to recognize that once the blur and haze of alcohol or drug abuse wears off, individuals still need to explore the underlying emotional issues that fuelled their chemical addictions. Physical sobriety is not enough because individuals need to examine why they have a self-destructive element in their lives and that regardless of negative consequences relating to their alcohol/drug abuse, they continue on abusing substances in a reckless manner. Even if addiction is a disease, individuals still need to explore the emotional triggers and hidden warning signs of their addiction cycles in order to engage in relapse prevention. Such work as well as personal exploration needs to be completed after the detoxification process.

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