Has your New Year’s resolution ever been to cut back or stop drinking or using drugs? Have you been able to stick to it? If you have or have not succeeded, how are you feeling?
If someone has a substance use problem or addiction then it may not be as simple as setting a “resolution” to solve the issue. In fact, when an alcoholic or addict stops drinking on their own, they often feel worse than when they were using—not exactly positive reinforcement. However, this makes sense considering that their drug of choice may be masking underlying conditions such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, stress, etc. Therefore, when they cut back or stop using that substance, then those issues rise to the surface.
Individuals who are trying to either “cure” themselves or prove to themselves that they do not have a problem may attempt to give up alcohol or substances for a New Year’s resolution. However, it is important that they ask themselves how they are feeling during the time that they stopped using and if they are still obsessing about the substance, having an increase in mood symptoms or engaging in substitute addictive behaviors such as binge eating, gambling, etc.. They also may be counting down the days until they can use again. In contrast, a normal drinker who takes a break from drinking is indifferent about their choice, will usually feel healthier not drinking and does not obsess about alcohol. In fact, even a problem drinker who wants to cut back on drinking will be able to self-correct and return to low risk drinking limits (women: under 7 drinks per week, no more than 3 per sitting men: under 15 drinks per week and no more than 4 per sitting). In contrast, alcoholics may attempt to cut back but will not be able to adhere to these low risk drinking limits or abstinence.
Setting New Year’s Resolutions and breaking them can be an indication that an individual needs more support in refraining from the identified behavior. People may experience a lot of self blame and judgement when they are unable to adhere to their resolutions. However, it is also important for individuals to receive social support, clinical care or other specialized services if they are unable to stop using alcohol or substances through their own willpower.
The In Home Addiction Treatment Institute provides education for addiction professionals so that they are qualified to treat clients in their home environment. For many, their home and family system can be challenging places to get sober or to cut back on substance usage. However, it is the most important place to be able to maintain recovery.
So, this year, make sure that your New Year’s resolution is realistic or reach out for necessary support!
By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC. LPC, AADC