If you have ever thought, "I'm a hopeless addict with a disease that I will never beat” “I have no choice but to fight this forever"; or "l have no choice but to keep using"; try changing your thoughts to, "l used to have an addictive behaviour but I choose not to act that way anymore.'
Those words may help you feel more confident, especially in the beginning of your recovery.
If you can feel that you will triumph over your unwanted behaviour, then it's likely you will. If one of SMART's tools, strategies, or exercises doesn't work for you, try a different one until you find what makes you successful. Recovery is possible. Urges fade away. Abstinence gets easier. Your addictive behaviour becomes a thing of your past. You find meaning and enjoyment in your new life.
Abstinence vs. Moderation
SMART is an abstinence-based programme. The idea of abstinence may be intimidating to you - as you begin your recovery. Even if you're unsure about abstinence, you're still welcome at our meetings.
For alcohol and drug use, the meaning of abstinence is usually obvious: stop drinking or using. It is however important to realise that the goal of abstinence can mean different things to different people. For example, some people are on opiate substitution therapy (such as methadone) and they might use SMART Recovery to stick to their medication and not use on top. For others, SMART Recovery might help them reduce and stop their medication. In either case, these goals are welcome at SMART meetings because both are about abstaining from addictive behaviour.
But what about other activities such as eating, shopping, and sex? People with eating disorders still need to eat. Compulsive shoppers still need to buy things. For these, we can define abstinence as stopping the compulsive or self-destructive aspects of the behaviour: Buying one watch instead of five, eating a cup of yogurt instead of a gallon of ice cream, being intimate with your partner instead of engaging in anonymous sex with others.
If your Addictive Behaviour is of this type, you may need professional help setting boundaries, defining abstinence, and developing skills to moderate your behaviour to keep it from becoming compulsive.
If you're considering the benefits of abstinence, think about this: The more years you engaged in addictive behaviour and the more serious the compulsion, the more likely abstinence - rather than moderation - will help you reach your goals.
If you're thinking about moderation, here are some points to ponder:
• Programmes aimed at controlled use or moderation usually recommend an extended period of initial abstinence. Stopping completely for a period can be a healthy choice, even if moderation is your long-term goal.
• Most people find it is easier to abstain rather than control or moderate their addictive behaviour because it's difficult to know where to set the limit and then stick to it. Even people with the most committed intentions often find their behaviour inches back to the point where it causes problems again.
• Instead of applying your efforts to control and moderate the addictive behaviour, you can focus that energy on dealing with other aspects of your recovery.
Why you might prefer abstinence as a goal:
• It's a safe choice.
• It's simple - no counting, no precise decisions, and it's good for all situations.
• Any level of using may aggravate existing medical conditions.
• Even moderated use of a substance may worsen psychological or psychiatric problems.
• Some medications become hazardous or are rendered ineffective when combined with alcohol or other drugs.
• There may be strong social (family, friends, employer) and legal (courts) demands to abstain.
• You believe it will be easier to abstain because of your long or severe history of use, or because of background risk factors (family history, seriousness of related problems such as depression, violence, etc.).
A significant period of abstinence will help you feel better and may:
• Enable you to find out what abstaining is like and how you feel without mood-altering substances or behaviours.
• Help you understand how you became dependent on substances or behaviours.
• Help you break other old habits.
• Allow you to experience significant life changes and build confidence.
• Please others such as your spouse, partner, children, employer, parents, and friends.
If you're considering moderation because you've tried to abstain but it didn't work, it doesn't mean you won't maintain your abstinence now. Previous attempts and lapses or relapses aren't failures. You can learn from them and they will provide you with valuable insight to help you in future attempts.
You might be ready to abstain right now, or you may want more time to decide. Don't make that decision until you're ready. Abstinence is not a commitment to be perfect. Many people do lapse or relapse in their efforts to abstain; however, some people never do - and that maybe you. Committing to abstinence means that you are committing to change. It requires patience, persistence, and practice. Breaking a commitment to abstinence is not the same as giving up on it. You may find abstinence easy. If you have reached a point in your life in which you have had enough of the problems and disappointments from your Addictive Behaviour, abstinence may be easier than you think. For most, however, it's more difficult than that.
Please note: If you have been drinking or abusing drugs heavily for some time and are planning to stop, consult your doctor first. It may be dangerous, even life threatening to stop 'cold turkey" after a long period of continual heavy use.
You may want to do an assessment of your alcohol use. The Down Your Drink
- website offers a free, confidential, professionally developed and tested self-assessment. It considers many risk factors and provides measures of risk, tolerance, dependence, and consequences on several scales. It then offers some self-help tools that are consistent with SMART Recovery.
Wherever you are on this decision, you're always welcome at SMART meetings and on SMART Recovery Online.