We're in denial. No one wants to think of herself as an addict, particularly when acknowledging that reality means accepting that major changes are necessary including stopping the drug flow. So, we set up defense mechanisms including denial, avoidance, paranoid projection, isolation of affect, rationalization, and intellectualization - there is a long list. Denial is a big one, and almost ubiquitous in addiction - we don't have a problem! - and negative consequences are blamed on other people or circumstances (paranoid projection), not on our use, which after all is really not that abnormal, right? We also lie a lot in addiction, and we hide our use from others because they just wouldn't understand, or they would think we are addicts (!). Support groups are filled with stories of addicts hiding bottles of booze or pills in every room, even in bizarre places like inside the toilet (who would look there?), and coming up with all kinds of rationalizations for why this is reasonable behavior.
We've lost much of our support. As we gradually self-destruct, our friends and family may pull back, because they feel helpless to get us to stop and see what they clearly see, and because they don't want to be next to us when we finally implode. We're also often increasingly irrational and difficult to deal with, and everyone has limits on what they are willing to put up with even from a close friend or family member. Self-preservation takes over, and we can be left alone to ourselves and maybe our drinking or using buddies who enable us. It's a lonely place.
We've accumulated a pile of negative consequences. The pile can be high, perhaps including DUIs, job loss, relationship loss, monetary loss, and loss of self-esteem. Every loss adds to the burden, and increasingly our only escape can be rationalization and other defense mechanisms, and more drinking and using.
Our social interactions revolve around drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, all our social interactions involve drinking or using, with friends or drinking/using buddies who all enable one another. Our friends drink and use, we hang out in bars and clubs, our roommates and neighbors drink and use, our entire social life is drugs. When we're in the midst of addiction, it can be very difficult to even imagine quitting, because it seems (to our distorted thinking) to mean we must become hermits with no friends.
Abstinence. Personal Empowerment. Support. Inclusiveness. www.freestylerecovery.org.
Our life coping mechanisms involve alcohol and drugs. If we've been drinking or using for a long time, perhaps since childhood, we may have never learned healthy ways to negotiate the emotional peaks and valleys of life. So, all emotions can becomes triggers. We're sad, we drink or use. We're happy, we drink or use. It's Friday, party time, we drink or use. It's Sunday, work tomorrow, last hurrah, we drink or use. We suffer negative consequences from drug and alcohol abuse, we blame someone else and drink or use some more. And when there isn't enough drama, we find ways to invent drama and emotional upheavals, so we can rationalize continuing to drink or use.
There are many more good reasons why climbing out of the hole is hard, but these are some common reasons. When we are far down the addiction path, what everyone else can clearly see may be invisible to us, hidden by walls of denial and projection. We can be convinced that we don't have a problem, or that we have a problem but are "working on it" while continuing to drink or use (doesn't that sound ridiculous?). Our best friends and family may have abandoned us because they can't stop us and can't deal with us anymore. We may have lost our jobs, or at least the respect of our co-workers. We may have accumulated one or more driving-while-intoxicated charges, and we may have spent some time in jail. If we interact socially anymore, it may be only with drinking or using buddies who enable us. And everything in our daily environment may be a trigger for us, drama at every step that can only serve to justify more drinking and using.
How do we get out of this hole?
Climbing back out of the hole is hard...
When we are early in the progression from use to abuse to addiction, we can often recognize that we are starting to have a problem, exercise our willpower, and pull back. We may have to make some changes, like hang around certain people less often or change our daily routines, but often a recognition and a decision is enough to stop or cut back. If we want to continue drinking or using in moderation and want support to do so, there are a number of moderation management groups we can join to help us return to normal (non-abusive) drinking or using. There are also many useful books on the subject, since it is such a common problem. If we stop the progression early, it's not so hard.
It gets harder and harder, the farther down the chemical dependency hole we go, even though we often continue to insist that we are among the people who are still able to cut back and return to "moderate" drinking or using if we want to (we just haven't decided to do that yet, right?). The barriers to pulling back become very high, just as we are less and less able to use what remains of our willpower and stop ourselves from going all the way down the hole. And all the way down the hole can mean losing everything that matters. The end state of chemical dependency is usually death if we keep drinking or using, certainly with some of the more destructive drugs like alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine. Yes, alcohol too, in fact alcohol is often held up as the most harmful of the addictive psychoactive drugs. Other drugs like marijuana may not kill us as easily or quickly, instead the price is quality of life.
Why is it so hard? There are many reasons...
We can't think straight anymore. This might be the most important reason. Chemical dependency is a chronic medical disorder involving significant changes to basic chemical functions in our brains. And what do we think with? What do we make decisions with, what do we use to evaluate costs and benefits, where do judgment and all our emotions reside? The same, messed up place. Cognitive impairment can become a debilitating problem, for example with alcohol-related dementia, but even long before that point we just aren't thinking straight anymore. And we usually don't even realize it, until we look back after a long period of abstinence, though others around us can often see it clearly.