What can we do to quiet the loud, obnoxious voice of addiction?
I was doing supervision with my teammate, Chris, yesterday when she said something that got me thinking. She’s new to our team at Halcyon Health and already off to an amazing start as a Certified Peer Recovery Coach. This was her first week working with members (clients), so I was eager to hear how everything had been going. As we were talking about her coaching session experiences this week, I was struck by how she framed addiction. She talked about it like a voice; how it can be so loud even in early recovery after you leave a treatment facility. I thought it was such a great way to think about addiction because it’s a brain disease. Addiction “speaks” to the brain through different pathways and neurotransmitters.
“We understand that it is not enough to just stop using, because the voice of addiction is still loud. It continues yelling at the brain that it needs help and using substances is the way to make it better.”
This got me thinking about recovery support in a new way. The reframing of the question I’ve been thinking about, how to be of support to people working towards recovery, could now be thought of as: “How do we quiet the voice of addiction?” How do we make it so that the voice gets quieter and quieter. We may not be able to make it go completely away, so how can we make it so it is just an inaudible whimpering whisper?
Chris and I paused to think through this a little bit. We weren’t going to come up with the complete answer, but here are some initial thoughts:
Substances Served a Purpose
Usually, that purpose was to help make the person feel better and cope with whatever the addiction was making them feel negative about. In order to help a person quiet that voice, we need to understand what the addiction did exactly for the person. Did it help them cope with stress, anxiety, depression? Was it a way to escape from problems, arguments, situations, or people? Finding out the root purpose of why the addiction got agitated and resulted in substance use to cope, is a key first step. From this, we can begin to find ways to help people build behaviors that create a feeling of safety without needing to reach for alcohol or other drugs.
Stopping May Feel Like Losing Someone
If we look at addiction as the opposite of connection, then the substance may be used to fill that void. The purpose of substance use may be to fill that need for feeling connected to someone or something. In this case, it’s easy to see how some people may not feel safe to stop using because it’s been a constant source of support. When someone stops using, there has to be time to adjust to not having it as part of their life. There may even be a sense of grief and a mourning period for that loss of connection to the substance. They may even need to mourn or grieve for that person they felt they were with it in their life. We can and need to give people time to explore those feelings. In turn, we must also find ways to build connections to people, places, and resources that can fill the void left by ceasing to use substances.
The Voice Doesn’t Disappear Just Because Someone Stops Using
That’s because addiction is the disease and substance use is a symptom of it. We cannot simply remove the substance and expect that person to get better. This is why Chris, myself, James (Another fantastic Certified Peer Recovery Coach), and the rest of our team have committed to filling that void. Chris and James bring their lived experience to the table in a way that shows our members that they can be connected to someone who cares deeply about what they are going through.
We understand that it is not enough to just stop using, because the voice of addiction is still loud. It continues yelling at the brain that it needs help and using substances is the way to make it better. It can only stop when we provide enough connections that make the voice of addiction so soft, that people can concentrate on living their life to the fullest.
The voice of addiction may be loud and strong, but when we are connected with people, places, and resources that are valued— we can live our lives louder.
If you, or someone you care for, would like to get help and quiet that voice of addiction, please reach out to us. We are here for you and want to be of support in your recovery journey.
Matt DeMasi — Matt@HalcyonHealth.co