Alcoholics Anonymous describes alcoholism as a three-fold disease: a spiritual malady, and a physical allergy, brought on by a mental obsession. Broken down, the belief is that those who suffer from the disorder lack the guidance of a power greater than themselves, and in that absence, they are prone to misery and depression, which leads them to seek to numb their feelings. Once they begin to think of their substance of choice as the remedy for their feelings, they obsess over it until they are driven to use. In picking up a substance, their physical allergy then manifests as an inability to stop.
It takes a measure of obsession to be successful in some ways as well. Professional athletes, people that are at the top of their job fields, and scholars all need to have a passion that borders on obsession. You can find this same passion in many of those with a substance use disorder. Often those with the disorder perform incredibly in many areas of life; their struggle to exercise control of that obsession or compulsion to use is the only thing that holds them back from being the best version of themselves. In any given 12-Step meeting you’re likely to meet someone that has great talent and intelligence. Why does this obsessive nature turn dark for some?
“It’s the Thinking That Will Kill You”
The struggle for anyone with a substance use disorder is that the focus, outside of treatment and 12-Step meetings, is typically on the substance. What we learn in recovery is that the problem centers in the mind. There is an obsessive quality and an emotional sensitivity, often experienced in childhood, that later has the possibility of turning to an obsession to seek solace from the way they feel. Lacking the tools to manage pain, disappointment, and resentment in a healthy way, the mind obsessively seeks the only solution to the problem that has yet worked, which is a mind or mood-altering substance. This same obsessive nature causes those with a substance use disorder to instinctively seek other things for relief from their thoughts. Often, before ever using a substance, they were bright students, picked up hobbies that they were able to develop into amazing talents or ambitious employees that were able to vertically ascend with ease. The motivation that drove most of these positive outcomes, however, was typically relief from their low self-esteem or otherwise painful thinking. Once turning to substances many of these people struggle to maintain the same focus on the other priorities they had.
Can an Obsession Be Healthy?
There are certain benefits that can be healthy when a person obsessively seeks development and self-improvement. The first of these is that individuals that are seeking to better themselves in one way or another are often eager to learn and thus open to the experience. This allows individuals to be flexible and open-minded in their pursuit of more knowledge that can assist them in their quest for better knowledge. The second is emotional stability. When someone is less emotionally stable they are more likely to question and hesitate, causing self-criticism and a lack of confidence. The confidence that is gained by those who are more emotionally stable can aid them in decision-making and their ability to take needed risks. The third positive benefit is that someone who is obsessively seeking to improve has greater interpersonal sensitivity. Those who are seeking to be the best often seek the feedback of others and are more accepting of constructive criticism and instruction, making them more agreeable in their interactions.
Heads or Tails
The fundamental issue with a substance use disorder is that there are no predictable factors that make someone more prone to the disorder than another. In fact, studies have been done on twins to try to determine if there is a genetic predisposition for a substance use disorder, typically with mixed results. As there is no specific reason that someone grows to have a substance use disorder, there’s no defining factor or characteristic that might make someone’s obsession turn light or dark. The good news is that properly treated, those in recovery from the disorder are often able to, with continued growth, use this quality in order to be very successful. The same pursuits that many had, prior to their struggles becoming unmanageable, become easy to focus upon again, often leading to more success than they experienced before. This is why in 12-Step meetings when someone shares their story, they follow a format where they discuss what it was like before they started using substances, what happened that brought them to seek recovery, and most importantly, what life is like now that they recovered. This is greatly inspirational for those who have just come into the room when the mountain looks impossible to climb. Seeing the same traits that were harmful before, turn to assets and lead to a more incredible life is often the first thing that attracts newer members to recovery.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at (800) 799-4673.