Using willpower to change a behavior means working hard to achieve something; Merriam Webster defines will power as “energetic determination.” If you need willpower to accomplish something, then you are attempting a task that you feel some level of conflict about doing.
Like part of you knows you need or should do something, but another part of you feels resistance to doing it.
For a person who has completely decided to stop using drugs or drinking or smoking cigarettes, and has done all the research and self education around quitting, no willpower is necessary. You are not attempting a task that you feel conflict over. Internally, you are at peace with your decision to stop using drugs. You know it is right. Using drugs is no longer an option. Your resistance to ending your drug use is over.
Perhaps the most important part of getting to this place of not resisting the path to freedom from drug use is creating an environment conducive to succeeding.
Resistance Decreases in the Right Environment
This week I put a 34d naltrexone implant in my patient, Slim (not his real name). Slim, 37 years old, is just over 1 year off of fentanyl-laced heroin. He spent 6 years behind bars for crimes directly related to his addiction. He never wants to be incarcerated again.
In his earlier attempts to get off opioids he tried to remain loyal to his old friends who were actively using. These were childhood friends he grew up with, many were blood relatives. Through willpower alone, he was able to stick to his decision not to use drugs when he was with them. But Slim was not 100% successful. When stress was high, the feeling of deprivation was overwhelming, and willpower dwindled. Slim relapsed.
During his last stint in prison, he worked on his sobriety. He went to every meeting that was offered and took advantage of one-on-one time with sober leaders. He made it a point to hang out with clean guys as much as possible. He spent time learning everything he could about recovery. Even given the constraints of being in prison, he found ways to change his environment. He learned that as soon as he started keeping the commitment to himself, he was rarely bothered by other prisoners to buy drugs.
“It was kind of like I was wearing a new set of glasses,” said Slim. “And the only things I could see were things associated with being clean. Like everything else was filtered out. My brain felt peaceful. It was weird—but wonderful.”
A Commitment to Environment, Self, and Recovery
The most important thing Slim learned while in jail, was how changing his environment, who he spent time with, what he spent his time doing, was critical to his success. After he was released, he made plans to meet up with the people who brought meetings to the prison. He made—and kept—a promise to himself not to contact old friends that might still be using.
He also made a commitment to come every 2 months to the Coleman Network for Addiction Medicine to get a naltrexone implant.
Naltrexone is a pure opioid blocker that does not cause physical dependence, unlike some other medication-assisted treatments (MAT), such as buprenorphine or methadone. The small implant, about the size of a vitamin pill, goes under the skin in the abdominal area and lasts for about two months, sharply reducing physical cravings.
The implant works for people who are not only stopping drugs like heroin, but also for pain medications such as fentanyl, Percocet®, Vicodin®, Oxycontin®, and other variations of oxycodone and hydrocodone. (It is also extremely effective for blocking alcohol cravings). Using naltrexone therapy has been the focus of treatment at the Coleman Network for over 20 years.
Change Your Environment, Change Your Life
Slim is convinced that the secret to his successful recovery this time is that he changed his environment to support his vision of the man he wants to be, the man he is, and the man the people in his life deserve. He is highly motivated, and it is paying off for him in all areas of his life.
He was recently promoted at his job. His children love that their dad is hanging out with them, attending their sports events, and helping them with homework. His fiancé — pregnant with their first child together— has a new level of trust for the man she loves. But perhaps the most touching testimony this (6’2, 220 pounds) man gives is when he talks about his mother and the pride and gratitude she feels, having her son back.
As Benjamin Hardy, author of Willpower Doesn’t Work says that if you remain in an environment that conflicts with your personal rules, you have only two choices:
- Conform to a bad environment
- Battle it through willpower.
Hardy notes that, “both of these are very poor options and ultimately lead to the same place.”
I hope you will allow us to be a part of creating the best possible environment for you or your loved one. A life of recovery is waiting for you.
Joan R. Shepherd, FNP