You Asked, We Answered
Why do I keep drinking when I might lose everything I have if I continue?
While you might have many personal reasons for your drinking, we have been listening to people’s desperate pleas about this confusion for nearly 3 decades and some general patterns have been observed during that time. Most people in this scenario focus on what they will lose as a result of their alcohol or drug use. Unfortunately, this simply makes the one thing that brings them a moment of happiness – their drug of choice – look even more appetizing in comparison! Focusing on loss and sadness only makes alcohol and drugs look like a better option; and so they immediately drink or drug again. This occurs because the human mind seeks benefits, and when comparing a crushed life next to a moment of happiness, happiness will win every time. So what’s the better way? It’s to work with human nature, not against it, and seek the direct benefits of moderating or quitting use. Forget for a moment the costs and consequences, and focus on gains of using less or quitting. A benefit to benefit analysis always works, while a cost to benefit analysis will always end in more use. The Freedom Model for Addictions explains this in the following examples:
“As I (Steven) write this now, I’ve been holding classes with an older man who’s been through several rehabs throughout his life. He came to us as a last resort to try something new. Each week, he shows up to class and expresses disbelief that his doctor’s threats of cirrhosis haven’t caused him to stop drinking. For decades, he has been trying the same strategy of focusing on reasons not to drink, and yet he has continued to drink. He continues to drink now even though he needs surgery and his doctors won’t approve it until he stops drinking for a while. He presently feels like a failure. He painfully tries to resist drinking every day and then cracks. I am trying to show him that he can see quitting as a positive, a win or a gain, and that he can find happiness in quitting. He seems to ignore this point and then responds by talking once again about all he stands to lose if he keeps drinking. I obviously have no idea how this will turn out, but I fear that if he keeps focusing only on what he stands to lose, rather than what he stands to gain, he will continue in the same cycle that has been so upsetting to him for decades now.
I remember a few extended periods of abstinence I maintained because I was on probation and afraid of going to jail. During those periods, I saw nothing positive about quitting heroin. I saw it as misery. As a result, it always ended with an explosion of use right back into the same heavy pattern that got me into trouble in the first place. I repeatedly felt like a failure. My quits were made from a place of feeling like I “have to quit,” so they didn’t last. My final quit was done for the express purpose of discovering whether I could be happier without heroin. This “worked” for me; it has lasted 15 years now. I make no effort to maintain it, and I don’t resist using heroin because I found that being heroin free was my happier option. I initially felt like a success in a matter of several weeks, and I still feel that way. The feeling wasn’t and isn’t based on how long I quit but rather on knowing it’s my choice and that not using heroin makes me happy.
Surveying the self-described failures and successes, our mission has become clear: we continually seek to develop the most effective means of communicating to our guests that they are free to change and free to choose and that their actions will be directed by what they view as their happiest options. If you act on fear, shame, and shoulds, or thoughts such as I can’t or I have to, then you are not fully embracing and making this choice in an open, direct pursuit of happiness. With this approach, you will likely hate what you feel obligated to do, and you will either reverse course or remain unsatisfied.”