Alcohol Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are well known programs, and some people swear by their success, but many others find that they aren’t helpful. These programs were developed from a religious based program and depend a great deal on believing that God will heal you rather than empowering you to heal yourself. Second, they are also based on the idea of one day at a time, without any possibility of permanent recovery, and lastly, they encourage you to continue remembering and telling your story about your substance abuse days and to remain in contact with other recovering addicts (who are according to them only one day away from a relapse). They have an idea that their program doesn’t work because a person needs to hit bottom first. Unfortunately, for some people hitting bottom entails losing everything you care about, your home, family, health and even your life. It’s not an approach that I endorse.

Another form of recovery that works equally well or slightly better for some people is deciding to stop, and just stop using. I’ve met many people like this. They had a scare in their lives caused by their abuse and realize that it’s life and death for them to continue using substances. Situations may include having a beloved spouse leave due to abuse, health problems such as liver disease, or legal problems such as a DUI arrest. Many people come into therapy shortly after becoming clean and sober. They are no longer using, but the problems that led to their use remain.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works by empowering people rather than tearing them down. You will never hear that you are powerless or need to regain your sanity in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Instead, you will learn how to empower yourself and move past your need for drugs or alcohol. Imagine walking into a room and smelling something foul.  You see a can of room scent and spray the room. In the one day at a time approach, the room now smells okay. However, the next day it smells bad again. You can go through cases of room scent, fixing the problem one day at a time, or you can walk around the room and find that a dog pooped in the corner. Once you clean up the shit in your life, you will no longer need the one day at a time approach because the stink will be gone. You went to high school (or grade school) right?  Will you go back? No – are you sure? A hundred percent sure? Of course. Your life has moved on and you no longer could return to earlier times, even if you wanted to. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works in this same way. You won’t continue associating with addicts, and you won’t continue remembering your “story.” You will move on with your life, with knowledge that substance abuse is a part of your past that won’t ever return.

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