The daily existence of an addict is centered on one thing. Their life may seem chaotic to those on the outside, but to someone with a substance abuse disorder, it makes complete sense. Drugs are the boss. Everything else in their life—employment, family obligations, self-care, financial responsibilities—these things submit to the ultimate authority of drugs or alcohol.
Though it is slavery, it’s slavery based on pleasure and the ability to mask the realities of the world with chemicals. So the idea of simply stopping the flow of euphoria is truly a frightening one to someone who has become addicted to it.
A person with an addiction might be aware that rehab and long-term treatment is a way out of the disaster of addiction, but still, they can’t take the step. Here are 5 reasons an addict is afraid to get clean, and what you can do to help them.
1. Afraid to admit there is a problem.
An addict will do everything they can to pretend they don’t actually have a problem. They will compare themselves with others who drink more, others who use more, others who are closer to death’s door. And they will surround themselves with people who are as bad or worse than them.
The fear comes in because if an addict admits to a problem, then cognitive dissonance will force them to act. That might mean more denial and self-delusion or it might mean making a decision to get help. Either way, the addict does not want these things. So there is an inherent fear to look at their lives in a truthful way.
How to help: Set your boundaries. Make sure you are not enabling your loved one. Let the consequences of their addiction fall on their shoulders, even if it means they miss rent, lose their job, or find themselves in jail.
2. Afraid their life will be horrible.
For as long as your loved one has been addicted, their source of joy and fulfillment has come from a chemical substance. This is a sad reality. Without drugs or alcohol, they believe life will be boring, and they fear the pains that undergird the agony of idleness.
Substances are replicas of life. Real enjoyment and fulfillment are still possible, but unfortunately, an addict has lost the skills of finding normal happiness. It has become too easy to simply take a hit and let the dopamine flow. The fear of losing this is real and deep.
How to help: If your loved one is newly sober you can help by encouraging and introducing them to new activities. And you can do it sober. They need to find new environments where drugs or alcohol are not the center on which the enjoyment is found.
3. Afraid of the pain.
Withdrawals are a real aspect of getting clean. Once a person’s body has become addicted to a substance it needs the drug or alcohol to continue to function. Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on how long a person has been addicted and what they are addicted to. However, the fear of physical pain is part of the overall reason to avoid sobriety for a person with a substance abuse disorder.
How to help: The best thing you can do for this fear is find a professional medical detox. Under medical supervision, medications can be taken to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. As well, 24-hour monitoring is necessary for this part of the journey. Another benefit is that withdrawals are a bit more bearable for a person at a treatment center simply because their drugs are not available to them. Nothing to do but walk through the process. It won’t be a stroll in the park, but the comfort and guidance available at a professional medical detox is a make-or-break difference. This is the first step to sobriety, so it must be taken well.
4. Afraid of themselves.
This is a little complex, but drugs are not an addict’s problem. The problem is life. And themselves. Drugs and alcohol are the solutions to the problem—they way they numb themselves from the reality of who they are and the world around them. Get rid of the all the bad and throw out the good along with it. They get rid of the pain but this also gets rid of true, real pleasure. Getting clean means working through personal issues, and this is a frightening idea for most addicts.
How to help: Reassure your loved one that sobriety is a process. No one expects them to have a complete psychological resolution in a day. Or even a week. Or even the first year. Or ever. The process is what matters. The willingness to take the steps. The willingness to take each moment as it comes. Take each day, one at a time.
5. Afraid it won’t work.
Sobriety is a giant. To a person struggling with addiction, the very idea of being able to give up drugs or alcohol is ridiculous. Substances have such a control on their lives (indeed has even rewired their brains) that the possibility of being rid of the effects of their beloved drug is like telling someone they don’t need to breathe anymore. It doesn’t make sense. It seems impossible. The fear stems from the perceived fact that they “know” they will fail.
How to help: This fear is based on a lie. The lie that recovery is impossible. You can help your loved one by understanding this, but also letting them know that recovery is possible. But they have to reach out and get the help they need. In all reality, recovery for an addict cannot happen alone. But help is available. And it works. It can happen for your loved one if they are brave enough to reach out and ask for help.
At First Steps we understand the fears of addiction. We are here to help. Recovery is possible; the fears exist, but the good that comes from getting clean far outweighs the fear as it begins to transform everything.
If you or your loved one are having fears about possible recovery, or are ready to face them with a qualified and compassionate treatment center, please call us today: 844-244-7837.