17 Apr Why Do Addicts Not Ask For Help?
How to Treat Addiction ? Asking for help is probably the most difficult, challenging and painful hurdle to initially overcome, when on the bridge from addiction to recovery.
However, it is the crucial, essential, stepand, most often, taking this step delivers to the addict feelings of immense relief and even liberation.
So why do addicts find it so incredibly hard to ask for or to accept help? There is no single answer to this question, rather, several contributing factors. Just as the nature of addiction is extremely baffling and convoluted, so are the reasons preventing an individual from seeking and receiving the support and assistance that they need to overcome it.
Both asking for, and accepting, help require the addict/alcoholic to come face to face with an undeniable yet intensely painful truth about themselves and their life.
SHAME, GUILT & REMORSE
Addicts spend years succumbing to their self-will, trying to live life their own way despite mounting consequences. These consequences in turn gather and manifest into shame, guilt and remorse: a burden that grinds away one’s spirit. Try as one might, the burden of shame and guilt feel all encompassing and inescapable until one accepts the need to change.
A large number and probably the majority of addicts are not bad people or have moral deficiencies. Yet during active addiction many do “bad” and “dishonorable” things, against one’s own, and even society’s values, to protect and nurture the addiction. Dishonourable acts such as lying, manipulating, and stealing.
And these things, these behaviours, become a breeding ground for deep and pervasive feelings of shame, guilt and remorse.
Shoplifting, stealing money and treasured items from friends, flat mates and families. Selling the stolen goods, even selling themselves.
Addicts lie to their loved ones and they lie to themselves. Addicts make countless promises wholeheartedly, meaning every word and then, despite everything, break them all.
Addicts become skilled at manipulating and fooling others to get what they need, using anyone in service of the addiction. In a desperate attempt to fill the void, and regardless of the pain caused in the process, addicts may cheat on spouses and may become aggressive, bullying and abusive. Many addicts lead double lives in their desperate attempts to hide the truth of one’s using, thus becoming entangled like a fly in their own web of secrets and lies. Addicts persistently and negligently hurt themselves and others.
While in active addiction, nothing anybody says, no matter how beloved or how true their words ring, is enough to stop an addict from using. The pull of addiction is too strong. The shame, guilt and remorse which accumulates, is amplified by all the hurt, and combines into feeling of loss and aloneness, and propels the addict deeper into the vicious cycle that leads to more using.
Addiction is fueled by these strong feelings of self-hatred, guilt, shame, remorse, self-pity, anger, frustration, self-loathing, confusion, depression and despair.
Another aspect of addiction that influences just how incredibly hard it can be to ask for or to accept help is denial.
Addiction is possibly the only disease where the worse it gets, the more one denies that one has it. It is the only disease that will convince one that one does not have a disease.
So if an individual cannot first see that there is a problem, then they cannot accept that there is a problem, and they will not get help. In the midst of addiction, it is so hard for one to clearly see how damaging and destructive their substance use or behaviour has become. The user’s mind becomes distorted, disconnected and confused. Addicts lie to themselves about how bad their problem is to protect themselves from the frightening and painful reality. It can seem easier to continue doing the same thing, because at least there is some comfort in the familiarity of the pain.
Facing the truth can be scary, overwhelming and unknown. The insanity of addiction is that one keeps repeating the same mistakes hoping that the outcome will change. In response to lying to oneself, an addict lies to others and prevents themselves from reaching out for help.
Then there is the frequent misconception that asking for help is a sign of weakness. People in addiction often think to themselves “I got myself into this mess so I alone have to get myself out of it.” They feel that if they ask for help it means that they are defective or inadequate in some way, but this is completely false. Everybody needs support with something at some point in their life. It’s like the common fallacy that if men cry they are weak. It can be very uncomfortable showing vulnerability and hence addicts will go to great lengths to avoid it at all costs.
It may even be a subconscious fear, but there is also the fear of judgement surrounding the societal stigma of addiction. This fear alone can prevent the addict from seeking help altogether.
Fear that admitting to having a problem will lead to judgement from family, friends, workplace, community or society as a whole.
Fear of change and the unknown is also a very real thing amongst addicts. It can be a very scary thing to let go of something that for a period of time provided one with relief and comfort. Like a fuzzy warm safety blanket that helped one to be more equipped for handling life. But once it stops working, life becomes miserable. So now, the idea of life being miserable still, only without the drugs to help one medicate sounds even less appealing. However this is not the reality.
Ultimately, to start to heal and recover from the aftermath of active addiction is to change, to accept the need to change and to realize and accept help. This is probably the hardest part.
The early days of recovery are also hard but if one can crawl, push, fight and cry one’s way through them, some glimpses of light and even joy begin to appear.
For the first time, or the first time in a long time, connection with like-minded people, support, guidance and being understood, feelings of belonging and love, gratitude and laughter, underpin new, healthy friendships and relationships that one never dreamed possible. There is a special comfort in the identification of those that have been through the same struggles. These things are all possible once the addict takes a step onto the bridge between addiction and recovery.
Recovery is the aim, and the work. The work is a process, through which we begin to learn from our mistakes, and to let go of the patterns of behaviour that are no longer serving us. Twelve Step programs are designed for addicts and alcoholics, and provide a structure through which to manage this work, accept our past mistakes, and to stop punishing ourselves every day for those mistakes. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is another useful and recommended tool for managing these issues day to day. CBT is a practical mechanism for changing negative thinking patterns. Tools such as The Twelve Steps and CBT can be learnt and utilised once overcoming the first huge, imperative step of reaching out and accepting help.
Brett is the founder of How to Treat Addiction and is regarded by many as an expert in the field. With many years of both personal and professional experience helping others recover from addiction Brett’s main speciality is facilitating individually tailored online aftercare giving those suffering from addiction support post-rehab when they need it most. Brett and his team offer online aftercare services 7 days per week to clients all over the world.