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How and why to redefine your problematic use of drugs and alcohol

By Tim Woodley

Your mind can be a difficult place to be. Self-loathing, contempt for our past and hate for our present can all combine to build a narrative in our minds that hold us back and hurts us deeply. For most struggling with problematic use of drugs and alcohol, it’s a simple fact that this bleak and damaging view is something lived with every single day.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though – in fact, it shouldn’t. Hate for one’s self is not a part of the process of recovering from problematic alcohol and drug use and today we’re talking about how – and why – to redefine your view of your past, present and the future ahead. It’s one of the most important things you can do in your battle to free yourself from reliance on drugs and alcohol.


The danger of denial

First things first: denial does nobody any good. For many problematic users, strong subconscious elements of their past draw them towards drugs and alcohol. Trauma earlier in life is exceptionally prevalent in for people that use drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, and even those with milder use on substances likely have an element to their use that doesn’t lie in the conscious mind.

Why does this matter? It helps to explain how easily we can find it to live in a state of denial. Many factors influence our brains in any decision it makes, and problematic use of drugs and alcohol is a disease that thrives more easily when the user is denying to themselves the reality of their situation.

Denial is dangerous, and it has many faces. You may be in denial about the harm your behaviour is causing to your friends, loved ones and family. You could be kidding yourself about the impact drugs and alcohol are having on your career and health. And, most likely of all, you might not be admitting your lack of ability to stop without the help and support of professionals and peers in recovery.

All these hold you back from doing what is best for you: Seeking support to wean yourself away from a life you don’t deserve – one crippled by problematic alcohol and drug use.  Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop’s General Manager says “All of us that work at Help Me Stop have had our own problems with drugs and alcohol in the past, so we know first-hand what this is like. Not one of us has not been through the stage of playing down our use, kidding ourselves that we can stop whenever we want and on our own – relying on stubbornness and willpower. There is so much tied up in this, pride being one. It is difficult to come to terms that you have to accept that you just can’t beat this on your own. Some people spend years doing this and, in the meantime, wreak havoc on their mental and physical health, let alone the impact on work and home life. Over the years I have lost count of the number of people that have said they wished they had not waited so long”.  


Changing your story

It’s a clique, but it’s true: The first step to recovery is admitting you have a serious problem. For many problematic alcohol and drug users, there’s a perverse sense of pride in the false notion that they can beat their dependency alone. Admitting their lack of power over drugs and alcohol feels like accepting defeat. It makes them weak.

The opposite couldn’t be more true. Admitting and accepting the boundaries of what you can accomplish alone is one of the strongest steps you can take in life, and it’s the starting point of what may well be a profound and positive shift in your battle against problematic alcohol and drug use.

If you’re in this situation or stage of your own journey of recovery, it’s time to turn the story on its head. Your admission of a need for support is you drawing a line in the sand against drugs and alcohol. It’s the beginning of a challenging and profoundly fulfilling journey in your life that will see you meet and benefit from the support of professionals and peers. It’s the day you change your story: you’re not wretched, a bad mother, a bad father, a failure or a weak person because you are using alcohol and drugs problematically. You’re a strong individual who, at last, is saying what needs to be said: “Enough is enough, and I need help today to win this fight for good”.


The benefits of a healthier narrative

With a harmful narrative in our minds, it’s hard to accept and find comfort in the loving support of those around us. The help of professionals, peers and loved ones is one of the most important tools in the arsenal of anyone attempting to free themselves from problematic alcohol and drug use, and it’s difficult to accept that love and help if you feel you’re undeserving of it. By changing your story to a positive one and re-framing your battle against drugs and alcohol, you open the door to the care and compassion that has proved so decisive for millions of recovered adults across the world.  

With a better story in place in your mind and heart, you are at last ready to work with professionals and those closest to you. You’ll be stronger with their support and you’ll be better equipped than ever before to free yourself from abusing drugs and alcohol. In time, you’ll come to conceive and realise a new, better life for yourself – and for those closest to you.


We’re here to talk

We hope today’s article has resonated with you and been of use. Help Me Stop provides effective non-residential treatment programmes that are available to you in the UK and able to fit in and around work and home life.

Our onsite Dayhab programme is one-tenth the cost of traditional residential rehab. It’s intensive, it matches or exceeds the success rates of residential programmes and it’s available again from the 15th June. If you can’t make it to our London centre to attend that programme, we also offer an online Digital Dayhab alternative which is just as effective.

If you need to speak to us, we’re right here and happy to talk. Call us on 0208 191 8920 or use our contact form – and take the opportunity to create a better future for yourself and those that care about you.


*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.