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Recovery and Willpower: Myths and Facts


The term “willpower” has often been used to describe how people make significant changes to their behavior. People often believe that willpower is an inner strength that makes it possible to do things such as exercise daily, change your diet, or change other unwanted behavior. So where, exactly, does willpower fit in when it comes to recovery? Is there such as thing as willpower?

If you love somebody with addiction, you may wonder why they can’t just “will themselves” to change. We’ll explore this mentality and why willpower is a myth, not supported by modern science at all.


Myth: Willpower Creates Changes


Willpower isn’t a personality trait, and it’s simply untrue that some people are born with it while others are not. Addiction is a disease that affects brain chemistry, and it is impossible for people with a substance use disorder to simply “will themselves” to stop using. Just as other life changes, there are many factors involved in quitting using and starting new, healthier behavioral patterns.

An athlete may describe their workout routine as a result of willpower when reaching their fitness goals requires a combination of traits – such as consistency, an ability to visualize their goals, and a solid plan for success.

Willpower is an archaic word used to describe behavior changes, but psychiatry and science don’t back the word up as one single behavior or thought process. Every behavioral change requires work that’s not simple a matter of “willing” yourself to “do better.”

In the case of the athlete, yes, it requires a commitment to get up every morning and go for a run. Commitments have been shown to work when a person dedicates themselves to a new action every day for up to 60 days. Willpower isn’t what drives the athlete, either; their thoughts and behaviors are the things that promote their life changes. Thinking about how they will win a race and visualizing it is standard practice for many athletes, while they also practice their runs and make sure they fuel their bodies with the proper nutrition, so they are in top shape when the race comes.


Fact: Changing Behavior is a Process

Recovery, and the act of quitting using itself relies on both physical changes (no longer using the drug), mental changes (replacing negative thought patterns) and behavioral changes (not picking up a drug when the person feels like using.)

These changes take place over time. Not using substances is always the first step to recovery, and this is why it’s so important to seek out treatment and a strong support network. The first weeks and months of recovery are a fragile time for the addicted; emotions feel raw, and there are many triggers in life that may cause a desire to use.

Detoxing from a substance and getting help are the primary steps toward recovery, but the process and behavior changes must be reinforced by a recovery plan. It is essential for a person quitting drugs and alcohol to seek treatment in a safe, therapeutic environment. While it would be nice to think that willpower can help with this, addiction research shows that treatment is the best way for a person to change their lives.

Getting Help

Are you interested in learning more about your sober living options? We can help you find a safe place to live with your recovering peers. You’re worthit. Learn more about sober living at 760-216-2077.


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