Why is it so hard to stay quit?

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

Drugs.

Drugs.
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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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking, and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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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Psychopharmacology – counselorssoapbox video

Psychopharmacology – counselorssoapbox video

Why do drug effects differ? Tolerance, withdrawal, and cravings. Physical and psychological characteristics of the user all play a role in drug effects.

 

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

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

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.

Urge Surfing Prevents Relapses.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Don’t let urges knock you down.

Urge surfing is an idea that comes from substance use disorder treatment. Learning to cope with urges can help prevent relapses into depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and many other mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

A coworker and I discussed the similarities between surfing on the ocean and surfing urges. He is an avid surfer and tells me that not having a good relationship with the waves can leave scars. Ignoring urges and what is causing them can leave mental and emotional scars.

What is an urge?

Urges are sudden, intense impulses to do something. People with urges often feel compelled to act. When the idea enters the mind, it can become a compulsion. Urges can be intense, unpleasant sensations. Once the urge arises, it is hard to avoid acting on it. Wrestling with urges results in a lot of relapses into unhelpful thinking, and unhealthy behaviors.

Urges rise and fall.

Urges, in the early stages, can come on slowly and gradually, other times they rise rapidly, like a heavy ocean swell. You could easily be swept away before you realize the danger of the urge. The challenge with urges is to maintain your position without being carried away by the urge. Typically urges last 20 to 30 minutes.

Concentrating too much on ocean waves leaves you unprepared when they arrive. You should prepare for the rising and falling urges ahead of time also.

Wrestling urges, wears you out.

The typical response to urges is to try to avoid thinking about them and resist acting. The more you struggle, the more tired you become. Trying to not think about something makes the thought grow. To defeat urges you need to do two things. First, do not give in. Sometimes giving in and sometimes not amounts to intermittent reinforcement, one of the hardest things to overcome. Second, don’t exhaust yourself swimming directly into the urge. Practice floating above the surface, riding out the comings and goings of urges.

Urges can affect your thinking, your feelings, and your behavior.

Surfers who develop a negative attitude don’t last long. If you engage in self-criticism, telling yourself you should have caught the last wave, you need to wait for the next one; you don’t surf, you get washed ashore. Having cravings and urges is a natural part of recovery. Don’t beat yourself up for having urges. Having urges can make you feel like you’re not doing recovery correctly. Don’t let your urges take you places you should not go. Stick to the behaviors that will further your recovery.

Make peace with your urges.

Surfing the urges allows you to reach a place of neutrality where you neither wrestle the urge nor give in to it. What you need to do is to step back from the urge and begin to watch it as an outside observer. From this vantage point, you will see that your urges rise and fall. If you can stay in this relaxed state for a time, the urge recedes.

Accept that it is okay to feel however you are feeling.

You do not have to take action to change your feelings. Your life is a real life. There are things you like about it, and there are things that you will not like. Sometimes you will feel happy, and sometimes sad. Sometimes you will be calm, and sometimes you will be anxious. The key to making peace with your feelings, and not being swept away by urges, is to learn to recognize what you are feeling without rushing to change that feeling.

What feeling is coming up for you?

As you feel the urges rising, work on identifying what that feeling is. Are you feeling anxious, depressed, or frustrated? When urges rise, you may be thinking about others. Are you telling yourself it’s not fair that you must quit drinking or drugging, while others are continuing to do these things?

Learn the signs of oncoming cravings.

A water surfer notices the wave coming. Begins to paddle before the wave reaches them. They are up to speed when the wave reaches them. Notice the onset of uncomfortable feelings when urges are on the rise. Pay attention to increases in unhelpful thoughts. Watch your body for signs of negative emotions, that pain in the neck, the queasy stomach.

Practice urge reduction skills before the urge waves wash over you. Learn grounding techniques, scanning your body for tension, and use other relaxation methods. Breathing is especially important when it comes to keeping your head above water. Positive self-talk, affirmations, and grounding techniques can keep you prepared for the next round of urges.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two 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.

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

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

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. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.