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Once An Addict, Always An Addict?

Anyone who has struggled with addiction or continues to struggle likely has heard the phrase, “once an addict, always an addict.” You may have a love and hate relationship with that saying. Many see it as a label of hopelessness, sort of a lifelong branding while others may look at it as just a warning…a reminder of seriously continuing to practice your sobriety plan. It certainly can be (mis)interpreted and discouraging for not only the person who battles their addiction but for the partners of addicts too. Thoughts like, “will my partner always grapple with their addiction? Will they continue to hurt me again?”

The stage of your recovery may also alter whether you believe in this saying. In my experience, people who are just starting out or in the earlier stages of recovery often find the notion of always being an addict discouraging. Usually there is a lot of energy in making positive changes and a will power to eradicate the behavior altogether. They are looking to put their addiction in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible. This is not as true for those who have been in recovery for longer periods of time. The relationship with their addiction certainly changes—some are able to stop the behavior while some still have the occasional slip—but there is an acceptance that addiction may be somewhat of constant companion.

Many of my clients who are further along in their recovery tend to resonate with the “always an addict” belief. Not that they see it as a hopeless label rather instead it is viewed as a mixed blessing. Struggling with an addiction forces our hand to practice self-awareness, likely more so than those who do not have such battles. Addiction serves as a reminder that it does take a lot of work and continuing to put the work in so you don’t slide back into your addiction. Continue to maintain your recovery—there is no “finish line” but rather it’s a marathon and not a sprint as you continue to make longer-term lifestyle changes.

Addiction need not be a lifelong sentence but you do need to respect your addiction. Understand why your addiction has been put in place as a coping strategy. There is hope in the truth behind addiction recovery. If you are a recovering or recovered addict, you might not like the idea of being called an addict. You may roll your eyes when someone says, “Once an addict, always an addict.” You never plan to return to that old way of living again. If that’s how you feel, your feelings are valid. You should be commended for your strength. However, many believe that there is no cure for addiction and that you cannot actually heal from it. Rather you must never forget the fact that you have an addiction, even if it’s inactive. The addiction you suffer from is a disease that requires ongoing care and treatment.

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