Who am I? Self-concept in drug and alcohol recovery

Addiction is a people problem. In drug and alcohol recovery, we need to start by treating the person behind the disease. Here we address one of the roots of addiction: self-concept.

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What is self concept?

In the addiction field, some people often go off and get involved in the details of what drugs mean and what they contain without first addressing the person’s real need – to find out who the person is and what they believe in the first place. After years of counseling experience in the field of addiction, it is my opinion that the foundational truth upon which all other topics must rest—is the self-concept. But what is self concept? And how can we integrate self concept into addiction recovery?

The self-concept is a basic concept of how we all “see” our world. This literally encompasses the whole of the belief system, or core values of the person. From the self-concept springs the ideas, thoughts, behaviors and destiny of the person.

Concept of self is at the core of addiction treatment

Addiction is a people problem. Many people who treat addiction start out by focusing on the erratic behavior, the addiction cycle, even the alcohol or drugs themselves and hope to find answers through the various substances people are taking.

However, the beginning point must be the self-concept for the destiny of that person is wrapped up in the core beliefs of that person. What we usually find is a person with low self-esteem, a person who is caught up in shame based behavior, and is headed toward the dark world of addiction.

How to begin a recovery from addiction?

There are as many twists and turns in the addictive experience as there are people using drugs/alcohol. Their lives are strewn with broken promises, empty bank accounts, bleary eyed parents, abandoned or neglected children and are experiencing a great deal of hopelessness. Sound familiar?

Recently, I saw a driver go over a bridge and—in the face of a ONE WAY sign—turn the wrong way and head toward oncoming traffic on an interstate. I blew my horn and waved trying to get their attention. They had to pass a car at a stop sign obviously going the OTHER WAY! They turned around and looked at me with a stare and wondered why I was honking and waving. The went on their merry way—IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!

This is sometimes how addiction plays out. The family, friends, and counselors may be waving and trying to get the addict’s attention, but until they are ready, they just turn and stare wondering why you are wasting their time. Keep doing it anyway. One day they will turn and say—OK, I’m ready to try something new! Here are some steps I have found to be essential to becoming a new person in recovery.

1. Hitting a bottom and wanting help

Some people have gone to a treatment center for doctors, for friends, for counselors or for family members … until the moment they come to the end of SELF destruction and hit the bottom and look up for someone to help them. They have to want it. Parents and other care givers CANNOT want it for them!

2. Admitting a drinking or drug problem

The person—usually with the assistance of a 12 step group and/or a professional in the field of addiction—comes to terms with their addiction, and ADMITS they have a problem with addiction. From that bleak beginning, the possibilities of sobriety can spring forth.

3. A new beginning is possible

From that point the person can begin anew. About that time, their caregivers are usually burned completely out, their friends have left, and their money is gone. Your notice that the “good time party goers” are gone when the money runs out. (The roaches leave when the light comes on.) It is time to rebuild—their self-concept. A sense of relief sometimes comes, sometimes the person was court ordered placing them in a treatment center for addiction. Sometimes it is a state agency that has leverage that pressures them to seek treatment. However, when it comes, many awake to a new beginning.

Positive self concept in sobriety

As an addict or alcoholic begins recovery from addiction, they begin to see themselves as a valuable person, who is loved and can somehow love and forgive themselves. With qualified staff who are there to give assistance, they start over and rebuild a foundation for sobriety. Self-esteem begins to arise. Hope begins to build.

A new beginning is in the making! A butterfly is ready to emerge from an old dead cocoon. Its time to spread your wings and fly towards a brighter future!

About the author
Jon Penoi is the author of Freedom From Addiction and Other Life Controlling Problems and has been a Drug and Alcohol Counselor for 14 years. He earned both his B.A. in Psychology, and Master of Public Health, from Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center. Jon also brings extensive experience in sober living management and served as Director of a halfway house treatment center in Lawton, OK for 4 years.
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