What is abstinence?
Abstinence means being free of mood-altering substances, whether the substance is alcohol or other drugs. Abstinence can be a “white-knuckle”experience or a positive journey. We know from decades of experience that if you try to avoid alcohol and other drug use through sheer willpower, you will have a poor recovery that won’t last. If you learn to enjoy the freedom from compulsion, you will have a far better recovery experience. Abstinence means refraining from all mood-altering substances, not just your substance of choice. For example, those who stop cocaine use but continue regular use of other substances are likely to remain in a cocaine-using environment. The consequences of that use may prevent them from developing the stable lifestyle that is important to maintaining cocaine abstinence.
Why is abstinence so important?
The dangers of “just one” are well known by those who have lapsed. Having just one of anything—a drink, a pill, a drag, an injection—starts a chain reaction. “Just one” is followed by one more and one more as your body yearns to recapture that initial euphoria. What is addiction, after all, but a compulsion for more? Abstinence is a critical first step on your way toward lifelong recovery. By remaining free of substances, you stop the vicious cycle of use that results in negative consequences, only to be followed by more use. Embrace Step One: make a conscious decision to admit that no matter how strong your willpower, it won’t stop you from using. This is your admission of powerlessness.
The four freedoms of abstinence
Abstinence frees you from destructive patterns. Freedom from substance use means physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual freedom. Abstinence gives your body a chance to heal. It gives your emotional ups and downs a chance to even out. It helps you think clearly by putting an end to denial, illusion, and false hope. Abstinence is a balm for your spirit; it is the quiet that comes when destructive behavior stops, allowing your inner thoughts and values to rise to the surface.
What steps can you take to remain abstinent?
Learn to recognize and avoid the environmental triggers that lead to drug use. Identify and engage in alternative behaviors when you experience cravings. Remind yourself often that your goal is to achieve and sustain abstinence from all drugs. Participate in healthy activities. Join and participate in Twelve Step groups.