What Is the Role of Willpower in Addiction and Recovery?

What Is the Role of Willpower in Addiction and Recovery?

Willpower is a mysterious and confusing concept.  People use the term to rationalize their actions or inactions.  For instance, if you had more willpower, you would lose that extra ten pounds.  Or, you blame a lack of willpower when you can’t seem to reach a specific goal. 

What exactly is this tremendous force that we call willpower, and is there a connection between willpower and addiction?

What Is Willpower?

The concept of willpower has many names, such as determination, self-discipline, drive, resolve, and self-control.  In simple terms, it is the ability to control or restrain yourself.  You can say “I’ve got this” and mean it.

The American Psychological Association describes willpower as:

  • The ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations to meet long-term goals.
  • The capacity to override an unwanted thought, feeling, or impulse.
  • The ability to employ a “cool” cognitive system of behavior rather than a “hot” emotional system.
  • Conscious, effortful regulation of the self by the self.
  • A limited resource capable of being depleted.

Some experts believe that people have a limited supply of willpower.  Comparing it to gas in a car, they believe willpower likewise decreases with use.  However, others contend that willpower can be strengthened over time with regular use if it’s not overdone.  

Is Addiction Caused By a Lack of Willpower?

Part of the stigma surrounding addiction includes the belief that substance use is a lack of willpower.  Despite educational and prevention programs about addiction, many people still think a person can quit drugs or alcohol if they truly want to.

Even though addiction is now clinically referred to as a complex chronic brain disease and not a moral failing, the stigma persists.  Sadly, the myths and misinformation have kept many people from getting the treatment they need for overcoming addiction.

There may be a link between willpower and addiction, but it is not proof of causation.  There is no doubt that the initial use of drugs or alcohol was a choice.  Despite this, repeated use of these substances causes brain and body changes that override a person’s desire to refrain from using them in the future.  At this point, willpower won’t be strong enough to end the addiction.

Can You Beat Addiction With Willpower Alone?

Quitting drugs or alcohol is a complex process that involves more than resolving the physical dependence. Although a person has a strong desire to stop using, they need more than willpower alone to accomplish this goal.  Here’s why willpower in recovery is not always enough:

  • Underlying issues – Substance use disorders have underlying issues such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety disorders, and other mental or physical health problems that contribute to their substance use.  No one can resolve these issues on their own.  It is only through professional treatment that a person learns how to manage these complex issues effectively.
  • Drug-related damages – Using drugs or alcohol for prolonged periods results in profound mental and physical damage.  Many people suffer from memory loss, kidney or liver damage, declining cognitive skills, weak immune system, lung disease, brain damage, or heart conditions.  When a person struggles with these problems, relapse is often the result.
  • Lack of support – Many people in recovery don’t have a supportive environment to help them through the process.  They may have been through treatment and are eager to reclaim their place in society.  The problem is that people in recovery often relapse without the support of loved ones or friends who care about them.  The desire to remain sober is great, but facing challenges alone can lead to a decrease in willpower and relapse is inevitable.
  • Resisting relapse is hard – The ability to resist relapse and rebuild one’s life requires much more than willpower.  The first step is to enter a comprehensive treatment program that includes counseling, behavioral therapy, skills training, and aftercare services.  The goal of these programs is to help a person gain self-confidence, motivation, and the skills to cope with daily life while remaining sober.  After treatment, self-help groups, 12-Step programs, outpatient programs, and other continuing care services along with willpower will help you stay sober because you want to.

If addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower, does this mean willpower in recovery won’t help?  Willpower and recovery can go hand-in-hand.  The process of recovery requires a leap of faith backed by the willingness to take responsibility for your choices.  You also need the willpower to put your recovery first and work with the program.  When your willpower weakens, you have the support of family, friends, and an aftercare program to help stay on the right path.

The connection between willpower and recovery is only part of the puzzle.  You need new coping skills, new routines, and new attitudes to help you stay sober for the long term.

Gain a New Perspective on Sober Living at Design for Change Recovery

At Design for Change Recovery, we know that addiction is never intended.  We also realize how hard it can be to overcome an addiction.  When you come to us for addiction treatment, our first goal is to make sure you get the respect and compassion you deserve.  Our comprehensive treatment program can be customized to suit your specific needs to ensure that you get the highest level of treatment available today.  

We want you to leave our program with a fresh new perspective on living a sober life.  You’ve missed out on a lot while under the spell of an addictive substance.  Now is the time to take back your life and discover how much you enjoy being yourself.

If you want to quit drugs or alcohol, don’t wait another day to get started.  Contact our Lancaster, CA facility today.  One of our representatives will be happy to answer your questions and recommend a treatment plan, especially for you.  

Sources:

  • apa.org/ – What You Need to Know About Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control
  • drugfree.org/ – Is Addiction a Disease?
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