Why is it so hard to stay quit?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

“Quitting is easy. I’ve done it a thousand times.”

This old joke has been applied to drinking, smoking, and gambling, and has been attributed to Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, and others. It still rings true. While many people try to quit, relatively few stay quit. For most people who use substances, that use has become a habit, and under times of stress, good or bad stress, humans tend to revert to their usual default behaviors. For recovery skills to work, they need to be over practiced until they become automatic.

Three factors are involved in a return to using substances or to behaviors like gambling. We often call this return to old behavior relapse. Triggers are events or feelings which place the idea of using back into your consciousness. Urges are strong desires or impulses. Cravings are those intense feelings driving you towards a return to active use.

Relapses begin with thoughts rather than actions.

You may have heard the saying, “relapse begins in the mind,” which is sometimes referred to as stinking thinking. There has been a tendency recently to blame addiction or alcoholism on the substance. Certain drugs may have more severe withdrawal symptoms than others, but addiction is more complicated than merely getting the drug out of the body. Many people go through detox and then go without the drug for a long enough time. That the drug is no longer in their system, yet they still relapse. Without long-term treatment, most people, who go through detox, eventually returned to using the drug of choice. Sometimes this relapse happens after months or even years of being clean and sober.

Cutting down doesn’t work.

Many people with a drug or alcohol problem try the approach of cutting down. Instead of finishing off a six-pack of beer each night, they try to limit themselves to two or three beers. Trying to control your use rarely works over an extended period. If your drinking or drug use has reached the point where you need to cut down, you’re far down the path to addiction.

Using alcohol and drugs instrumentally, to celebrate, to cope with emotions, is a dangerous path. Very few people stay “cut down” for very long. If you’re drinking or using, even a little, you’re at high risk to end up with a substance use disorder again.

Trying to control your addiction puts the drug in control of you.

Normal people don’t try to control their use of drugs and alcohol. If you are doing something enough that you need to cut down, that activity has become a problem. Loss of control is one of the characteristics of the disease of addiction.

Addicting drugs and behaviors have three characteristics which bring you back.

Over time, as you use substances, you build tolerance, meaning it takes more and more of the substance to produce the same effect, or if you use the same amount you get less and less effects. Where you used to get a buzz on after one or two beers now, you need six.

When an addicting substance leaves the body, you will develop withdrawal symptoms. Even relatively mild substances such as caffeine have withdrawal effects. Go a couple of days without your coffee, and you will probably have headaches and be irritable. Withdrawal symptoms can be either physical or psychological, such as irritability or depression.

When you are deprived of your addicting substance, you’re likely to experience cravings. Giving in to those cravings reinforces addiction. Every time you give in to the cravings, the addiction grows stronger. The challenge in quitting is to go without the substance long enough for the cravings to subside.

If you’ve developed a problem with a substance, consider seeking help. Without help quitting and staying quit is a challenging task.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Four David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive?

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon,

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter.

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