Why Do We Use and How Do We Stop?

Addiction is the thief of dreams and good intentions. It is stigmatized in the US as a moral failing. It doesn’t discriminate against socioeconomic status, race, gender, or cultural background. It infiltrates families and destroys lives both for the addict and the people that love them. My intention for our time today is to get to the bottom of what causes addiction and provide some tips to get on the path to recovery.

Defining addiction:

When I use the word addiction, I am referring to any substance someone uses to change the way that they feel. While there are many different types of addiction, I want to focus specifically on drugs and alcohol. 

Are you are abusing mind-altering substances to deal with ​things that feel intolerable? Have you ever looked closely and asked yourself why you drink or use drugs? Most people are not even aware that at the bottom of that glass of pinot or bottle of beer is a dark, soupy mess of trauma, unresolved pain, and fear. 

For years, even as the daughter of an alcoholic, I was oblivious to the fact that I was dependent on alcohol. A lot of people think that they drink to have fun, and I was one of them. But for people who have a problem with substances, there’s a very big difference between social drinking and disordered consumption.

Addiction is a spectrum disorder. Some people see that they are in trouble at the first signs and reach out and get help. Some people lose everything and still aren’t able to stop no matter what the consequences are. Addiction can look different to different people. What is consistent within addiction is that there’s a line with it and it seems once you step over that line, then any freedom that you had to choose the substance, how much or how often you consume it is gone. 

There are no choices anymore once you become fully addicted and are in the throes of addiction. Using becomes a necessity both physically and mentally. It is a cycle: the more you use, the more you have to use.

Understanding Your Why

Learning why you use is so important if you are interested in stopping because it gives meaning to the actions that you will take to stay stopped.

1) Addiction as Disease

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) there are approximately 46.3 million, or 1 out of every 8, Americans currently struggling with addiction. More concerning is that it doesn’t seem like we have any incredibly reliable avenues for treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that 85% of all people that go to a treatment facility will relapse within the first year, while the US National Library of Medicine discovered that two thirds of all people in treatment relapse within weeks of starting the treatment program.

The medical community has addiction labeled as a disease and treats it as such. They throw medications and treatment plans at people without any consideration for what might be causing the behavior. 

2) Addiction to Mask Trauma

This has been my lived experience. I have witnessed this by sitting in thousands of meetings and worked with people in a one-on-one situation to hear the stories of their lives and the pain that they are still carrying. 

3) Codependence and Addiction 

Pia Mellody, the author of Facing Codependence, looks at codependence as the leading cause of addiction. Codependence comes from growing up in an environment that is less than nurturing. While growing up in the care of adults who are unable to provide for the needs of a child, the child always feels as though something is wrong with them because they aren’t getting their needs met by the adults. Codependence is an incredibly massive topic but I have just tried to put things in a nutshell here for today’s topic. I will circle back to codependence in future episodes.

I’ve sat in thousands of AA meetings over the last 20 years. I went to a meeting every single day for the first five years that I was sober and sometimes I went twice a day. I think managing addiction starts with understanding what drives you into the addictive behavior. 

Why do I wake up every day say I’m not going to drink or use and within an hour or two I’mdrinking and using again and I don’t know why. And then I am completely discouraged because I don’t understand why I can’t stop and so you say well what’s the use of quitting today? I’ll try again tomorrow. And tomorrow you do the exact same thing. 

This never-ending cycle and you can’t stop no matter how much you want to or what parameters you set in place. You feel huge amounts of shame which then fuels the need to drink even more because you have no tools to handle the shame.

What You Can Do

So how do you turn an addiction around and get your life back? A lot of people want to change everything at once, lose weight, stop drinking, quit smoking… My experience shows that is a recipe for disaster.

If you have a deep desire and willingness to be clean and sober, maybe take some time with yourself. Addiction is no joke and if you truly want to stop then you have to be fully committed. I needed to see the reality of my life and all of the ways that I was not showing up how I wanted to. I needed to see that I had let my family down, that I was repeating the cycle of addiction and dysfunction, and that my future was not looking good if I stayed on that path.

No matter what happens today, you don’t use. Let me say this again: no matter what happens today, you don’t use. That seems so simple. But it is a hard truth. If you really want to stay sober, that’s how you start: no matter what happens today, you don’t pick up the substance. 

Once you make that commitment to yourself, you need to follow up on the other steps quickly because you will need help to take this journey. 

After you’ve committed to stopping, find support. Whether you’re better suited to something online, in person, or something in between, you can attend a Twelve-Step Meeting, show up at an online forum, or listen to people who discuss successful recovery. Finding support is essential. If you feel safe enough, you can tell someone close to you that that this is your struggle, and that you need help, ongoing support, and accountability. 

If your circumstances allow you to afford a therapist, ideally a therapist who is a certified addictions counselor, find someone you trust to work with on this journey. A lot of certified addictions counselors are in recovery themselves so take the extra step to ask that question as you are interviewing people.

No Matter What…

The journey to breaking your addiction can be isolating and difficult. Sometimes it is minute by minute that you actively choose not to use and sometimes you might go the entire day and not even think about using; it ebbs and flows. No matter what, don’t stress and worry about the future because it isn’t here yet. Don’t think about not drinking tomorrow. Commit to living for today.

And when the going gets tough, remember who you are. What are all the things that you loved to do before you started using? I love to go to the park and shoot hoops, ride my bike, go hiking. I love to be with my animals. I love all of these things. And I had forgotten because using took up all of my time. 

While you’re working to break your addiction, rediscover things that you remember you used to love to do and you haven’t done for so long. Go do that today! 

It is incredibly important to know that you may need to seek medical attention to stop using. So please know this. I’m not a medical provider. Assess your own personal situation accordingly and get whatever help is appropriate for you. Just know that things will shift. It does get easier as you go. 

I know that using will not solve one single problem for me today and I am certain that it will only make everything worse. Staying stopped and not using is difficult in the beginning but it isn’t nearly as difficult as it is to continue to use when it is literally killing you. Choose your difficulty today. Staying the path can feel overwhelming at times but all of the things that I was looking for in drugs and alcohol I ended up finding in recovery. 

I truly hope that reading this will help you on your path to your recovery. If you know other folks who could benefit from this information, please share this podcast with them. Until next time, keep striving to Live Beyond your Limits.

Sources and Resources:

Pia Mellody’s book Facing Codependence.

Alcoholics Anonymous


Narcotics Anonymous