By Patrick O’Neil (RADT, MFA), Group Facilitator, Cast Centers
The glaringly obvious benefits of sobriety are a no-brainer: you will no longer be a slave to your addiction. Your quality of life will increase. You won’t get arrested for a DUI. You won’t be paranoid and peeking out the windows in fear of the police. You won’t be hungover in the morning and you’ll remember that event from last night. And while all of these are amazing and wonderful there are more benefits that you’ve probably never even considered.
1. Money: Americans spend $276 billion every year drinking, smoking, and taking drugs. The legal ones, alcohol and nicotine, make up for half of that enormous sum, and a little over 20% of that half is the ever increasing price tag for prescription drugs. As a recovering addict and alcoholic you’ll find that when you don’t spend every last cent on drugs and alcohol you will suddenly have more money. Your financial needs will be met. You will have the means to pay the bills and all those things that you used to go without will now be obtainable.
2. Self-Esteem: Low self-esteem and drug addiction are often linked together and is considered a major reason that addict begins to use in the first place. Addicts and alcoholics abuse substances in an attempt to overcome negative thoughts and feelings—only to get stuck in the vicious cycle of addiction—and then experiencing lower and lower self-esteem. In your addiction you may have also engaged in dishonest behaviors such as lying and stealing, and the shame and guilt around those behaviors caused even more self-loathing and fear. The good news is that you no longer have to be that person. As your recovery progresses you’ll begin rebuilding your self-esteem and when you participate in the needed work of sobriety, allowing time for healing, you will change how you feel about yourself and develop a healthier sense of your Best Self.
3. Appearance: When you introduce large “addict-like” amounts of drugs and alcohol into your system over an extended period of time the effects on your physical appearance can be devastating. Prolonged substance abuse causes liver damage, vitamin deficiencies, lack of quality sleep, and a reduction of your body’s ability to resist and combat infections. A horrifying example is “The Faces of Meth” drug prevention project where the Multnomah County Sheriff in Oregon posts before and after mug shots of methamphetamine addicts on their website to show the physical deterioration and drastic changes in their appearance as a result of their continued use of meth. The results are startling with signs of premature aging, blotchy rough red skin, open sores, weight loss, wrinkles, missing teeth, and dark bags under the eyes. While this project is a drastic reminder of what drugs can do to your appearance, the amazing comeback is that your body possesses an immense and persistent capacity to heal itself. When you quit using drugs and alcohol you begin to reverse those harmful effects by gradually rebuild your health through proper sleep, exercise, rest, and nutrition. Eventually your appearance will be revitalized and restored.
4. Memory: Numerous studies have shown a link between substance abuse and memory loss—particularly with long-term use. Many drugs, including alcohol, cause two immediate types of memory loss: brownouts, where you temporarily forget events that happened while drinking and using, and blackouts, where there is absolutely no recollection of anything that transpired. These lapses in memory have long term effects as according to Dr. Marc Haut, Chair of West Virginia University’s Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry, “Drug abusers develop severe short-term memory loss.” But the good news is that another study conducted by Gabriele Ende, a Professor of Medical Physics at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany discovered, “Within 14 days of detoxification, the brain bounces back.” When you stop using drugs and alcohol you won’t have blackouts, you’ll remember what you did the night before, and be able to retain the memories of all your new sober experiences.
5. Reality: Addiction is all about escaping reality. Most addicts use to avoid the reality of their lives and the self-fulfilling prophecy of destruction they have brought upon themselves. As Dr. Stephen Diamond, a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist wrote in his article for Psychology Today, “The antidote to addiction is learning to tolerate reality. Little by little. That is what sobriety really is.” By letting go of that fictional version of you and your life and take responsibility for your behaviors and actions, you gradually learn to accept yourself and start actively participating in the life you have always wanted.
6. Relationships: By the time most addicts and alcoholics enter recovery they have few genuine friends. Their addiction has caused them to isolate and for the most part their self-absorbed behaviors have pushed everyone away, including their family. They don’t have the slightest understanding of what it takes to have or rebuild lasting relationships, and the required work is daunting. However, if you work toward rebuilding your relationship with yourself, finding acceptance and staying present, you’ll start to have healthy nurturing relationships.
7. Mental Health: Substance abuse is common for those suffering from anxiety and depression. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that, “people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in life consume 69 percent of the nation’s alcohol and 84 percent of the national’s cocaine.” According to Dr. Kathleen Smith, “People who are depressed may drink or abuse drugs to lift their mood or escape from feelings of guilt or despair. But substances like alcohol, which is a depressant, can increase feelings of sadness or fatigue. Conversely, people can experience depression after the effects of drugs wear off or as they struggle to cope with how the addiction has impacted their life.” When you enter recovery and stops self-medicating you can begin to address any mental health issues with a professional that can, if needed, prescribe the proper medication. Therapy, counseling, and lifestyle coaching can all help as well. But the bottom line is that your depression and anxiety can be treated without the negative consequences of abusing substances.
8. Negativity: Even with all the published studies and all the insurance companies in agreement, “society seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome.” According to Dr. Colleen L. Barry, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “The American public is more likely to think of addiction as a moral failing than a medical condition. In recent years, it has become more socially acceptable to talk publicly about one’s struggles with mental illness. But with addiction, the feeling is that the addict is a bad or weak person, especially because much drug use is illegal.” When this type of judgment is focused on you rather then your disease of addiction, you internalize that negativity, which contributes to your depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Rescuing yourself from active addiction negates that part of the equation and allows you to take a breath and realize who you are and how you want to live the life that you have always wanted.