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Is recovery from addiction possible?

After 10 years of sobriety, I tell you if I’m recovered and give my take on if recovery is possible at all.

Ed Latimore
Ed Latimore
Writer, retired boxer, self-improvement enthusiast

December 23rd, 2023 marked ten years of sobriety for me. I haven’t felt the urge to drink in quite a long time. I can sit in a bar with the smell of booze and feel nothing at its strongest pull. But most of the time, I feel a combination of mild disgust and gratitude.

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The disgust isn’t a moral judgment but rather a physiological reaction. After all, alcohol is a poison and a carcinogen. All things considered equal (age, level of fitness, and pre-existing conditions), the only thing worse for your health is smoking. After not ingesting the substance for many years, I take it that my body can recognize that it’s bad for me and reacts accordingly.

I imagine this is similar to the experience of smelling country air for the first time after living in the city. At first, it smells awful. Then, gradually, you realize that the overstimulation of the artificial superficiality of city living has numbed your senses. Before you know it, sleeping in a city is impossible because it’s too bright, noisy, and stressful.

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As for the gratitude, I’m just happy I recognized my issue and did something about it. Prisons and graveyards are full of people who only realized they had a problem when they did something irreversible while under the influence of alcohol. Sometimes, I imagine an alternate timeline where I didn’t stop drinking. This visualization always ends in loneliness, poverty, prison, or death.

I was an alcoholic. By even the most liberal definition, I had a problem. But for the past 10+ years, I haven’t had a drink. It’s customary for many sober people to say they are “in recovery,” but what does this mean?

What does recovery mean for the addict?

Taken literally, it means they are healing from addiction. Like any healing process, it requires the absence of the agent of destruction. If you keep walking on it, you can’t recover from a broken leg.

But the leg is fully healed after some time, and you can walk on it again without protection or assistance. So, does the alcoholic ever fully recover, and if so, what does that look like?

I consider myself recovered, but I’ll never drink again. Why? For the same reason that I don’t eat tree nuts (I’m highly allergic), even though I’ve recovered from anaphylactic shock several times. I can’t do anything about the genetics that nearly kills me every time I eat a pecan, but I can avoid them.

This line of thinking is no different from how we look at other diseases. You recover from the flu, but the flu still exists, and you will suffer if you become infected again. I view recovery from alcoholism the same way.

A person can get addicted to anything. Drugs, alcohol, sex, food, video games, you name it. The defining feature of addiction is when you continue the behavior despite the negative consequences you suffer. There are variations in what each person’s reward system responds to, but anyone can become addicted to anything, but this doesn’t mean that we’re all addicts.

I know a guy who tried crack on a few occasions and didn’t like it. His reward system wasn’t attuned to crack. Or, look at it this way. If someone has a propensity to be addicted to drugs but never tries them, does that mean he is an addict?

Addiction, like allergies, is so complex that we don’t fully understand it. I can’t ever recover from my allergies in the same way that people can’t recover from their dopamine-driven reward-seeking behavior that leads to many addictions. However, you can recover from the effects and avoid what causes you to suffer those effects.

We recover from the damage, but the conditions that caused the damage are beyond our control. I will never recover from the part of me that responds to alcohol in a way that leads to alcoholism, just like I will never recover from my allergic reaction to tree nuts. But I have recovered from alcoholism. Those are two separate things.

One person’s alcohol addiction is another person’s opioid, porn, or gambling addiction. Anyone can get addicted to anything. People even get addicted to work or the gym. You can’t cure or recover from that, only from the damage and dependency on the substance.

I have done that. How can I be so confident?

Well, I don’t drink, and I don’t have the desire to drink. I’ve made amends and apologized for my behavior under the influence to all the people I even remotely hurt. Well, the ones who would listen, anyhow. I’ve taken responsibility for my life.

In closing, I want to make sure my point is clear.

Everyone is a potential addict. Or no one is. That’s the way addiction works.

You can’t recover from it any more than you can recover from a genetic defect.

However, you can recover from the harmful manifestations of your internal wiring. And sometimes, depending on the co-factors of your addiction, therapy, counseling, and a change in environment can also be highly effective at managing it. But you can never recover from it.

You can only recover from how you’ve dealt with it.

Ed Latimore
About the author

Ed Latimore

I’m a writer, competitive chess player, Army veteran, physicist, and former professional heavyweight boxer. My work focuses on self-development, realizing your potential, and sobriety—speaking from personal experience, having overcome both poverty and addiction.

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