Whenever I have used the word cure in speaking about alcoholics or addicts in the presence of people who work in substance abuse treatment, they’ve cut me off in mid-sentence, as if I had uttered an obscenity. “There’s no such thing! Alcoholism and addiction are forever!” I was told again and again.
Some therapists actually feel threatened when they hear me speak of a cure, and they become quite aggressive. They constantly hold up that basic precept of Alcoholics Anonymous—“Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” and “Once an addict, always an addict”—as proof that they’re right that a cure isn’t possible.
There is much apparent evidence to substantiate that belief. A government study of more than 1.5 million drug and alcohol users found that more than 25 percent of heroin users had tried five or more treatment centers without success. The national relapse rate for all drugs is nearly 80 percent and even higher (86 percent) for users of alcohol or heroin. Most relapses occur within a few weeks of alcoholics and addicts attempting sobriety, and many occur within a few days. Even people who have been sober for ten, twenty, or thirty years relapse.
Most addicts and alcoholics relapse not just once but many times. No matter how desperately they want to quit, they repeatedly return to alcohol or their addictive drugs of choice. In fact, there is a saying used in twelve-step programs and in most treatment centers that “Relapse is part of recovery.” It’s another dangerous slogan that is based on a myth, and it only gives people permission to relapse because they think that when they do, they are on the road to recovery. Just because the failure rate of some treatment programs is so enormous does not mean that relapse has to be the norm. Relapse is not part of recovery.
Relapse is part of failure. Relapse is a return to dependency. Sobriety is part of recovery. You may now be starting to understand why the relapse rate is so high—it’s because people are just trying to quit without curing the underlying causes, which is like trying to stop scratching while your leg is still itching.
When you look at the worldwide picture of relapse among alcoholics and addicts, it’s difficult not to believe the slogan that “Relapse is part of recovery.” But the success of the Passages treatment program has proven otherwise.
Once you have been successful in discovering and dealing with the underlying conditions that were responsible for your dependency in the first place, your dependency will be over.
Many graduates of Passages call with news of their successes in business, life, marriage, relationships, and general living conditions. There’s no sound of uncertainty, no sense that they’re fearful that they’ll let themselves down in the future as they did in the past. No specter of relapse is hovering over them. They are marrying, having children, beginning new careers, starting new business ventures, carrying on with former business ventures, continuing new interests discovered while in treatment, healing old emotional wounds, renewing broken friendships, and making amends.
What makes their wonderful recovery possible? Every one of them became willing to look deeply into their past, into the recesses of their minds, and into the reasons they were abusing substances or engaging in unwanted behaviors. They became willing to look within for the reasons for their substance abuse or behavior, and they were willing to make changes within themselves to achieve the goal of freedom from dependence.
They gave up blaming other people and circumstances for their condition and took responsibility for their actions, both past and present. In many cases, they had physical ailments that were the direct causes of their dependency, and when those areas were healed, their dependence ended, particularly where pain medication was the drug of choice. An essential key to recovery is the idea that dependency is no more and no less than someone’s effort to cope with life.
By and large, people don’t want to be drunks and don’t want to be hooked on addictive drugs. They do it because they can’t cope with your life without some sort of support, even if that support is damaging. People use substances to try to regain their lost balance, to feel the way they did before the need arose to use addictive drugs or alcohol. They use substances to cover up sadness, ease heartbreak, lighten stress and blur painful memories. They’ve found a remedy, and it works. That’s the problem with addictive drugs and alcohol—they work. They may work only temporarily, and they have terrible, killing side effects, but they work.
They provide release from the pain. I have never found it to be otherwise—at the bottom of every person’s dependency, there is always pain. Discovering the pain and healing it is an essential step in ending dependency.
Chris Prentiss is the co-founder and co-director, along with his son Pax, of the world-famous Passages Addiction Cure Center in Malibu, California. He is the author of the extremely popular The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure: A Holistic Approach to Total Recovery as well as Be Who You Want Have What You Want: Change Your Thinking Change Your Life and Zen and the Art of Happiness. You can visit Passages at PassagesMalibu.com. For info about his books visit Power Press Publishing.