A formerly addicted PsychToday psychologist wrote yesterday that “it’s typical for addicts to try to quit repeatedly before they are successful.” In describing his experience of quitting, he says (emphasis mine):
Some people say you have to hit bottom before you can start going back up. I skidded along the bottom for years. Nevertheless, a large proportion of addicts do quit “spontaneously” (without treatment), whether we’re talking about drugs, booze, or smoking. The statistics are around the 50% mark — actually higher for smoking. Being an addict for life simply doesn’t work very well. …
Big life changes can turn on a dime, even in the case of addiction. How can that be, you may ask, given all the “wiring” that’s already taken place in the brain?
While I was building up this elaborate synaptic network around the identity of being an addict, I was also building up an elaborate non-addict network. I never stopped trying. I still wanted to be a regular person with a good life. I went to see a variety of therapists. I remember one who wouldn’t even talk to me (a psychologist, in fact) because he said I was too far gone. In fact, none of them helped much, but it meant (at least to me) that I was trying. Meanwhile, I was applying to jobs in mental health agencies, and getting some, and I was still aiming to get back into school. All that equals a whole OTHER synaptic network — one that usually lost out when drugs got their hypnotic hold on the dopamine circuit that fed my addiction. Maybe the pivot point for me had to do with connecting a day-to-day/hour-to-hour sense of self with that “other” network, long enough for it to “take”…and start sucking up its own helpings of dopamine: This is what I want!
I have no idea if I’d have stayed clean IF I didn’t get accepted into grad school a few months later and restart my life as an ambitious student. Turning my energy to other highly absorbing, challenging, attractive goals was surely helpful to me.
Seems right to me. As a wise doc recently said, “you need to like your life.”