Winning the Tug-Of-War Against Addiction

Motivating Recovery in a High Functioning Alcoholic or Addict

As a professional who specializes in treating high functioning alcoholics and addicts, I spend a lot of time assessing what motivates people to seek treatment, and what motivates people to stay engaged with habits and activities that support the biomedical changes necessary for contented sobriety.

I find that I often come up against the Myth of Readiness, which I addressed briefly in the linked blog post. Today, I want to elaborate on that idea using the metaphor of a tug-of-war and the pushing and pulling that characterizes that game.

As pointed out in the Myth of Readiness, the myth that an addict or alcoholic needs to be “ready” or to have “hit bottom” persists. There is no research that supports this, and “readiness” and “bottom” are vague terms that are difficult to quantify.

Instead, let’s look at the disease of addiction as a tug of war. The disease is on one end and the motivation and impetus towards treatment and wellness on the other. The disease pulls the high functioning alcoholic or addict away from treatment energized by the brain’s neurochemistry. The brain of an alcoholic or addict is structurally and chemically changed and different than non-alcoholics and addicts; that is precisely why logic-based guidance such as “just stop” or “you have so much to live for” do not “work”; they do not impact brain chemistry. The power of a diseased brain is enormous; I am careful to never minimize or dismiss it. A brain with an aggressive addiction can and does lead people to destruction, decline in health, isolation, and even death. In the case of high functioning alcoholics and addicts, though, the context of their lives masks the severity of the addiction. The disease is playing tug-of-war, but the high functioning alcoholic addict has less on his or her team to pull back.

For an addict facing a stereotypical bottom (for example, losing a marriage, facing a bankruptcy, chronic unemployment, legal issues), the pull away from the disease is aided by life consequences OF the disease. While the disease side of the rope is clearly aggressive and strong, avoiding the continued pain, fear, and consequences of the addiction are factors that line up to pull the rope away from disease.  In the case of my clients, high functioning alcoholics and addicts, while they are spared the life impact of the most egregious indications of addiction, they are also without the benefit of life consequences “teaming up” to pull against the disease. The LACK of major and obvious consequences become a barrier to treatment and recovery.

This presents a challenge to me and my clients. We need to develop team members to help pull the high functioning alcoholic and addict away from the disease and towards a contented sobriety. We can’t use what does not exist (such as unemployment, marriage loss, loss of property). We need to develop team members with sufficient strength and force to wrench the client away from the diseased brain.

I have found that developing enthusiasm towards recovery, moods, mental states, and integrating a client’s potential with their reality can become team members on the recovery side of this tug of war. Ultimately, it is more powerful to work towards something than to sustain energy to avoid something; the high functioning alcoholic or addict may have to BEGIN at that stage.

What are some specific team members that a high functioning alcoholic or addict can add?

  1. Many of my clients feel like their life is a lie or that they are an imposter – Working towards feeling worthy of their life through being sober/clean can be a team member.
  2. Many of my clients feel like an imposter; that if “people” knew who they really were, they would be exposed – shedding the imposter can be a team member.
  3. Many of my clients border (or sometimes cross) the line legally in efforts to secure their drug or drink – moving away from choices that make the client and their life vulnerable can be a team member.
  4. Many of my clients lack authentic joy in their lives – Many of my clients participate in the community, their kid’s lives, church or other activities, but they lack authentic connection and emotion with those activities (the disease is a barrier). Experiencing authentic joy can be a team member.
  5.  Many of my clients feel under-productive and distracted – The pull of the disease (needing the substance, securing the substance, interacting with the substance) can be a consuming task, taking even high functioning alcoholics and addicts away from their to-do list, priorities, and objectives. Moving towards being the family member or professional they want to be can be a team member.
  6.  Legacy – a significant percentage of my clients wanted to be a different parent, professional, and person than their own parents or grandparents but they find the pull of the disease shapes them into having and exhibiting the very behavior and characteristics they hoped to avoid – Becoming who they WANT to be can be a team member.
  7.  Gratitude and Appreciation – It’s common for people aware of the addiction or alcoholism in high functioning alcoholics or addicts to remind that person that they have so much to live for, to be grateful for, so much to “lose.” That’s all true, of course, but in an of itself it is not enough of a team member against the pull of the disease. However, standing with the team members above, a high functioning alcoholic or addict can develop habits of gratitude and appreciation that literally change the brain on the other side of the rope and not only pull away from the disease, but weaken its pull.

Metaphors are useful, but imperfect. Nonetheless, let’s continue with this one. Let’s envision a high functioning alcoholic or addict lining up in a tug-of-war against their disease. Let’s imagine that the high functioning alcoholic is ambivalent (a common mental state, given the tug of the disease). Without the dramatic life consequences lining up behind the alcoholic or addiction, it’s the brain against the high functioning alcoholic and addict and it’s likely that person has lived in that place for years. Adding desired self-concepts, habits, experiences, mental states such as those above, the high functioning alcoholic addict begins to have sufficient force against the diseased brain; enough to be a catalyst towards initiating treatment and the opportunity of transformation of the brain, atrophy of the muscles behind the other side of the rope, and the development of the muscle necessary to win.

Contact me to discuss this concept and how I can be part of your team in the tug-of-war against your addiction or alcoholism.



One thought on “Winning the Tug-Of-War Against Addiction”

  1. Ben Russ says:

    Thanks for the great blog Joanne.
    Worth to read.

Speak Your Mind


903A Avenue D
Katy, TX 77493
(281) 740-7563

Got Questions?
Send a Message!

By submitting this form via this web portal, you acknowledge and accept the risks of communicating your health information via this unencrypted email and electronic messaging and wish to continue despite those risks. By clicking "Yes, I want to submit this form" you agree to hold Brighter Vision harmless for unauthorized use, disclosure, or access of your protected health information sent via this electronic means.