There’s a common misconception that people addicted to drugs and alcohol simply lack the willpower to quit. A recent poll found that more than 40 percent of Americans believe addiction indicates a lack of willpower or discipline and more than 30 percent see addiction as a character flaw. In reality, addiction has little to do with willpower or discipline and even less to do with character. In fact, anyone who tries to beat addiction with willpower alone is in for some trouble. Here is why willpower isn’t enough.
Willpower is finite.
Willpower is what you use when you really want to do something but you know it’s bad so you hold yourself back. This is at best a short-term solution. One reason is that using willpower is tiring. When you have to work hard to restrain yourself from doing something, your brain uses up fuel and you feel physically stressed. You can’t keep it up forever. Willpower is at best a stopgap for difficult moments. If you’re trying to keep your car from rolling downhill, you only want to push against it long enough to set the brake. Relying on willpower is like saying you’re going to push your car uphill from now on.
Willpower is not that powerful.
The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain primarily responsible for willpower, is a relatively new development. It can exert some control over our behavior, but not that much. Most of the situations that require willpower are those in which our best interests are at odds with evolution. We want to eat fatty, sugary food but we know it’s not healthy. We want to lie around being lazy but we have work to do. We need that willpower to get us to do the thing we know is good for us. When you’ve become addicted, your brain believes that substance is a basic need, which essentially means all of evolution is on the side of addiction. Your puny prefrontal cortex can only keep up the fight for so long. If you want to be free from addiction, willpower helps, but it’s not enough. Instead of just holding yourself back, you have to figure out why you’re fighting so hard to do something you know is bad for you. That typically requires therapy. You also have to learn strategies to get evolution back on your side, so that you really want to stay sober. Therapy is good for that too. Finally, you need lots of social support. When you have people backing you up, willpower can go a lot farther, and if it fails, there’s someone there to help you.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Recovery Ways is a leading addiction treatment provider with an excellent recovery rate. Our expert staff includes masters and PhD level therapists and board certified addiction psychiatrists. Our comfortable facilities will help to make your treatment as enjoyable as possible and our therapists use proven techniques like sensory integration and recreation therapy to help to engage the world without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Call us today at 1-888-986-7848 or email us through our contact page to learn more.