When I share with people what I do for a living, a few of the classic questions about addiction asked include: “Is it really that hard to quit?”, “Can’t people just stop?”, “Isn’t it mind over matter?”
The truth is addiction is challenging work. When people ask me these questions, I try to compare it to something everyone has experienced- a bug bite. Think of a mosquito bite. You notice it at first and you are irritated it occurred. After a little while, you notice the urge to scratch it. You might try to rub it or mark an “X” on it with your fingernail, and hopefully this will alleviate the urge for a while. No matter what you try to do, the bug bite is still there and the need to scratch is still there. That is addiction. The substance is there and the desire to use is there.
A person in the heart of addiction will try to alleviate the urge to use however they can, but ultimately the need is still there. They may try to cut down on substance use or manage it by giving themselves rules to follow. If this does not work, they may try something else like introducing a new healthy habit to cope with life such as exercise. Ultimately, it takes determination, willpower, healthy coping skills, support, and motivation to stop using substances.
Now, how can you help others discontinue the urge to scratch?