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Why wait another day to reclaim life?

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Why not stop now?

Why wait another day? There’s no time so perfect for quitting a habit than this day. An individual may feel like he/she has a little devil with a pitchfork sitting on one shoulder urging him/her to continue using the drug of choice. The other shoulder, as the story goes, is home to a little angel whispering that now is the time to stop. This scenario has been played out on a hundred TV shows, and the little red-suited devil always seems to win out in the end. There’s a certain thrill to thumbing one’s nose at the angel and conspiring with the pitchfork-wielding homunculus. If you are using drugs and/or alcohol, the angel is at a significant disadvantage.

Central nervous system depressants like alcohol and opiates affect the brain from the outside in. The higher cognitive functions of the brain are sedated first and cannot function well, so problem-solving and critical thinking skills are limited at best. Emotion becomes our behavioral guide as rational thought takes a nap. A person with a long-standing addiction may not reason much at all as a certain level of drugs and/or alcohol must be maintained in order to prevent onset withdrawal symptoms. The higher functions of the brain may go on hiatus indefinitely.

Awareness of the compromised brain is important to know because people do behave irrationally and make really unfortunate decisions. The desire for pleasure and/or relief is very strong, and it remains virtually unchallenged. The effect of using substances to manipulate emotion and letting emotion call the shots is that ordinary coping skills and problem-solving abilities become rusty from lack of use. Every knock on the door, phone call, or discussion becomes a situation so fraught with anxiety that getting high becomes the only clear option. The devil has won the battle. The individual has become convinced that he/she is no longer capable of managing life any other way.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous claim that one must admit powerlessness over the addiction, but that powerlessness comes about because people forget that they have control of their choices and behavior. People are not powerless; they only think they are. Recovery is about exercising the control we all have over what we choose to put into our bodies. It is the illusion of powerlessness and not real powerlessness. Belief in one’s ability to change is an important—if not essential-- component in this equation. The shoulder angel is still there, but she's comatose. She is the rational mind. Wake her up!

Procrastination is a terrible trap for addicted people. There is always an occasion for which consumption of the drug of choice will seem unavoidable. People want just one more day to enjoy the pleasures of the substance, even when it’s no longer pleasurable. There will be arguments, job losses, and money problems that make drug/alcohol use feel absolutely necessary. There will be celebrations. Every day people invent new rationalizations for continued use. In the meantime, years and decades are lost in the haze.

It is not necessary to set a quit date, particularly if the person has exhibited a pattern of promises and procrastination. If a person can get to a place where he/she believes quitting is possible and feels somewhat committed to abstinence, a more appropriate moment than this one does not exist. Date setting and breaking is a stall tactic in practice even if the intent is otherwise. Addiction makes people exceptionally good at deluding themselves and others about the gravity of the addiction problem, the damage done to family and relationships, deteriorating health, and so on.

Waiting for the right moment to take control of life again leaves that door open for endless procrastination. One can stop addiction at any time, so why not do it right now?

 

Please feel free to post questions and comments here, or you may email me at examiner.leslie@gmail.com.

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