Longterm sobriety depends on personal determination

Editor’s note: This next installment of the Recovery series continues to explore 12-step programs, particularly Alcoholics Anonymous and its potential effectiveness in longterm abstinence.

HOUGHTON — Whether Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery or any other addiction recovery program is effective for longterm recovery depends mostly on the individual seeking longterm sobriety.

A March 2011 article, Does Alcoholics Anonymous Work? For Some Heavy Drinkers, the Answer is a Tentative Yes, posted on the Scientific American website stated that about 40% of AA members drop out during the first year (although some may return), raising the possibility that the people who remain may be the ones who are most motivated to improve.

Jeff Williams, director of Outpatient Services at Copper Country Mental Health Services, in Houghton, believes that success in longterm abstinence, regardless of the source of addiction, depends on why an individual wants to stop.

“I think a lot of people stop using drugs, alcohol, gambling — we’ll just lump it as addiction — they stop using for the wrong reason,” said Williams. “They stop using because somebody else wants them to; they stop using because they think somebody else wants them to. They’re not doing it for their own reason.”

Williams said he believes that when somebody ultimately achieves longer term sobriety or abstinence from addiction, it is for the individual’s own reasons.

“They’ve done some introspection, they acknowledge that ‘Oh, I really want to quit,’ as opposed to ‘I’m kinda doing this for someone else, because my wife wants me to do it; my daughter wants me to do it; my boss wants me to do it,’ — all these outside influences that want you to do it, but you’re just not ready.”

And until that person is ready, said Williams, they are not going to stop.

Williams’ comments corroborate a 2019 report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that out of 18.9 million people with a substance abuse disorder 95.7% of people did not consider that they needed treatment and 1.2% recognized their need for treatment and sought out treatment. The percentage of people not ready to stop using was 39.9.

The report also stated that the percentage who did not receive substance use treatment at a specialty facility because they were not ready to stop using remained stable between 2015 and 2019.

The same report stated that the percentage for people who did not receive substance use treatment at a specialty facility in 2015 because they did not know where to go for treatment was higher than the percentages in 2015 (12.5%) and 2017 (10.9%), but it was similar to the percentages in 2016 and 2018, a primary reason for this Addiction Recovery Month series of articles.

Williams, like many others, said that 12-step meetings may not be what an individual wants or needs and may seek alternative programs.

The Houghton County Corrections page lists Smart Recovery as a Cognitive Behavioral Program, stating:

“These evidence-based programs are available as an alternative to the traditional 12-step treatment approach. They provide the tools and techniques necessary to address the following points:

• Enhancing and maintaining motivation to change

• Coping with urges

• Problem solving — Managing thoughts, feelings and behavior

• Living a balanced life”

Whether a 12-step or some other longterm sobriety program, it is important to remember that, as Footprints to Recovery’s site states:

“Since addiction is a chronic condition, symptoms will change or recur, as they do with other chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease. While behavioral therapy in rehabilitation will help you understand the symptoms of addiction and triggers for maladaptive behaviors, aftercare helps you manage these with a long-term plan.”

Creating an aftercare plan, the site states, will help the individual in recovery understand the risks of relapse and why staying sober is so important. An aftercare plan will serve as the foundation the individual can rely on in ongoing recovery. This plan is critical in the early stages of recovery.

• The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), report, “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States” can be read at:


• Footprints to Recovery’s page on aftercare is available at https://footprintstorecovery.com/aftercare-plan/.


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