You have heard the expression, “ Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” It is an idea dating back to the 1600s—and many of us simply accept it as true. We believe that if we apply our willpower, we can find a way to accomplish just about anything.
It’s a nice, motivational idea.
But it can also be misused in a moralistic manner that isn’t very helpful—especially for a person in recovery for a substance use disorder.
Willpower & SUD
Here’s what we mean: Some people firmly believe that using drugs or alcohol is a moral failing. Something that a bad person does. But could stop doing if only they had enough gumption, enough faith, or enough willpower.
Of course, a person who believes these things does not understand an essential truth. A substance use disorder is a brain disease which can be treated but not cured. A person with a substance use disorder is not in a position to simply use their willpower to end their relationship with drugs or alcohol.
In fact, relying on willpower alone is not only ineffective; it can also be dangerous. That’s because any “cold turkey” approach to giving up drugs invites the onset of withdrawal symptoms—many of which can be severe or even deadly.
The Source of the Willpower Myth
It is worth asking why so many people seem to believe that our willpower alone can allow us to defeat a substance use disorder. There are no doubt a variety of reasons, but one source of this belief is probably the American tendency to value a kind of rugged individualism—the idea that a person who works hard enough can reach any goal, overcome any problem, and reshape their life to match their hopes for themselves.
You see this idea reflected in the rows and rows of self-help books at the bookstore. The notion underpinning the very idea of “self-help” is that you can overcome your problems on your own—by yourself (with a little help from the book, of course).
Now, we want to be clear.
Yes, you can work hard on your own and accomplish goals or overcome obstacles or what have you. We often have reserves of inner strength, motivation, and passion that can allow us to work our way to amazing accomplishments.
But attempting to apply those ideas to substance use disorders is a category error—because drug or alcohol use is not simply a bad habit. We will repeat: substance use disorders are a brain disease.
And as a rule, we don’t treat diseases with willpower.
Effective Treatment & Ongoing Support Are Central to Sobriety
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, you are unlikely to just will yourself to sobriety. A much better strategy would be to seek help at a fully accredited residential treatment center that provides medically supervised detoxification (to help you weather the rigors of withdrawal symptoms) and a rehabilitation program designed to give you the skills and resources necessary to start your recovery journey on the right foot.
Once your sobriety has been reclaimed, the challenge is to maintain it. This can be very challenging, indeed—even if you feel like you are applying all of your willpower to the project. Fortunately, a strong support system can help. The support you need may come from a variety of places—your friends and family (as long as they are committed to your sobriety and supportive of your journey), a 12-Step or other recovery program, and from your treatment center’s aftercare program.
In the end, it’s not that willpower isn’t important or helpful. It’s that willpower on its own is the wrong approach to dealing with a disease like a substance use disorder.
Will You Get the Help You Need? We Are Ready to Help
At Bel Aire Recovery Center, we will never make you feel as though your substance use disorder is a moral failing or that you are a bad person. Instead, we will treat you with the respect you deserve and will personalize a treatment plan to help you reclaim your sobriety. We will see you through detox and rehab—and will provide a continuum of care to help you through the often-difficult early days of recovery.
Willpower alone is unlikely to resolve a substance use disorder, but what willpower can do is motivate you to contact Bel Aire Recovery Center. That, after all, is the first step toward reclaiming your sobriety and your life.