Can an addict or alcoholic stop on their own?

So often we get angry with the addict or alcoholic and wonder why they don’t change. Why don’t they just stop drinking? Can’t he see that drugs is ruining his life? Can’t she see her drinking is tearing apart her family? Why don’t they stop? This is the question I would ask you: if they could stop don’t you think they would? Isn’t the most miserable person you know the addict in your life? Often they will say they are going to stop. They will make attempts to stop. But they always fail. They fail until they finally give up and they lose all hope for a normal life.

The answer to the question of whether or not they can stop on their own is simple but it isn’t easy. The simple answer is no. No, they cannot stop on their own without help. Let me clarify, I know many who have quit drinking on their own for a period of time. I don’t know any who have recovered. I don’t know any who have never drank again. Some went years without picking up a drink or a drug again, but at some point they did.

Last Sunday I got the following email from a young man, 28 years old, who desperately wanted to get clean:

Hi Chad, I don’t believe we have met but we are connected in so many more ways than I previously thought. I have a story that in ways are probably very similar to yours and am in the process of getting clean and sober for what I’m hoping is the final time in my life. Over the past 10 years I have kicked 2 separate lengthy meth addictions, beat my heavy addiction to oxycontin following my near fatal motorcycle accident, and am now working on quitting synthetic opioids for the second time in the past 3-4 years. This past October on a road trip I experienced sudden cardiac arrest, died twice, and against all odds managed to be part of the 8% of people who recover from SCA with zero brain damage. I have never gone to a treatment facility, and have decided if I’m not 100% clean by my 29th birthday I will go that route. I really appreciate you sharing your story because that alone provides me with much needed hope and positivity that will aid me in the battle ahead. For now I would appreciate you keeping this between you and I. My hope is that in the not so distant future I too can share my complete story because hearing yours gave me that glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. You are an inspiration and I just wanted to thank you for your drive to help others like us… not bad people, just people who have made bad decisions.

He mentions the several addictions he “kicked” over the past 10 years. The truth is he didn’t kick any of them. He sobered up for periods of time but his addiction continued. He didn’t go back to meth – he replaced one drug for another. His ability to stop from time to time convinced those around him that he could beat his addiction. He convinced himself that he could beat his addiction. I can’t tell you how heart broken I am over this email because this young man died the next day. His addiction took his life. He never made it to his 29th birthday. He was surrounded by family and friends that loved him dearly but they didn’t know or understand addiction and how to get him the help he really needed.

I want to be very clear here because I don’t want my words to be misunderstood at all. His family and friends are not to blame. I do not blame or put any responsibility on them. I don’t know them personally but I am certain they did the best they could with the information they had. But that is the problem. When our child has a fever and complains of an ear ache we know to go to the doctor to get antibiotics for an ear infection. But when a loved one is suffering with an addiction we have no idea what to do and so often we do the absolute wrong thing. We end up loving them to death.

I sent an email back to this young man right away. I was worried about him making it to his 29th birthday. I knew well enough that he wasn’t going to be able to stop on his own and usually when someone makes that decision they go out hard one last time. That last time is what often kills them. I asked him to meet me for coffee. I invited him to come with me to a recovery group. My prayer was that I would have time to help him. I didn’t. I had no idea his time was up. I question if there was more I could have done. Maybe I should have been more direct. Maybe I should have pushed harder. I didn’t even know him that well and I have those thoughts; I can’t imagine what his family must be going through. We don’t know when time will run out for the addict in our life. We don’t have the luxury of time. If you are reading this and there is someone you are worried about, what are you waiting for? Are you going to love them to death? If you don’t know what to do then hit that contact button and send me a message. I’ll help get you started.

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