The Role of Fear of Withdrawal in the Power of Addictive Disease

By: Jan Edward Williams

Persons with addictive disease continue to use their substances in the face of a long history of adverse consequences in significant areas of their lives, including medical problems, legal problems, relational problems, and employment problems. The drive to use often is stronger than one's love for a significant other or a child; stronger than loyalty to an employer or a friend; and stronger than one's values or even spiritual tenets. Persons with addictive disease continue to use long after any rational individual would choose to do so. This article provides a brief summary of one factor, among many, involved in the power of addictive disease: the role of fear of withdrawal.

Fear of withdrawal is one of the fundamental forces at play in the power of addictive disease, be it alcoholism or drug addiction. Withdrawal in this context is defined to include the physical signs and symptoms of withdrawal usually associated with abrupt cessation of use of a substance, after chronic use to the point of development of tolerance and tissue dependence. For example, here are some of the signs and symptoms associated with withdrawal after physical dependence on alcohol: cravings for alcohol, tremors, sleeplessness, diarrhea, anxiety, sweating, loss of appetite, up to hallucinations and seizures in severe cases.

The withdrawal referred to here also embraces the symptoms of a more subjective nature associated with psychological dependence upon a substance, with obsessive thoughts and preoccupation with the substance. Also included within the withdrawal definition is the apprehension felt by the recovering person that he/she will now have to face all of the pain and vicissitudes of life without the drug used as a primary coping mechanism for years. The individual will be acutely aware of the fact that recovery will require facing the pain and consequences of active addiction (e.g., harm caused to loved ones), again without his/her drug. Often the pain, guilt, remorse, and self-hatred emotionally overwhelm the individual, triggering the coping response of the addict or alcoholic, namely, use of his/her drug of choice.

Fear of withdrawal as defined here is an imposing obstacle to the development of willingness on the part of an addict or alcoholic to choose abstinence and recovery. The cumulative effect of chronic pain and consequences, if properly presented to the addicted individual by a skilled mental health professional with expertise in addictions, with a healthy dose of hope for a way out of the morass of addiction, can help the individual to face these fears though treatment.

Addictions
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