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5 Things I Learned About Addiction After 5 Years Sober

It's been a couple of years since I wrote on this subject, but the short version is that I used to be a slobbering drunk. Quitting was a huge positive change in my life that led to massive improvements in my family, finances, career, and overall happiness. Without sobriety, I wouldn't be writing for Cracked. I'd most likely be crammed into a high school barn party, playing acoustic covers of grunge songs that none of them remember, but they tolerate it because I bought all their booze for them and I've threatened to call the police if they don't pretend that I'm awesome.

The thing about quitting an addiction is that just when you think you have a solid grasp on the process, you realize that there are a ton of things happening that you were never prepared for. If you know someone who's battling for sobriety, maybe this will help you understand why they're so edgy, because for many of them, they're finding out for the first time that ...

#5. The Addicted Mind Searches for Anything to Be Addicted To

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There's a common misconception about addicts that always drove me a little nuts: People tend to blame the substance instead of the physiology of the user. For instance, my drug of choice was beer, but it wasn't the beer itself that made me addicted. If that didn't exist, I would have been on meth or pain pills or binge sex sessions with retired porn stars. I just so happened to like beer, and it was the cheapest, most attainable substance to feed the part of my brain that constantly screamed for something to latch onto.

I know this not only from personal experience, but from talking to other recovering addicts. Once the drug of choice was gone, every last one of us found something else to obsess about. The ones who recognized the dangers chose small things like coffee, tea, and video games. The ones who had to feel a physical buzz went with things like pain pills, cigarettes, weed, and the ever-echoing screams of the lamented.

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I'M TRYING TO FUCKING WATCH TV, ASSHOLE!

That's the danger. You have to constantly be aware of your actions and desires to make sure you're not overindulging on every little fun thing you pick up. That's hard for someone with an addiction-prone brain. Playing video games is fun and awesome, but playing them 14 hours a day is unhealthy and a little psychotic. It's also why a lot of therapists tell you to pick up healthy things like working out and running. The release of endorphins naturally fulfills part of that desire for a buzz, and the side effect is that you get wicked abs.

Of course, the number of people who take that advice are few and far between. The only way I'm running is if I have a TV in my hands at ground zero of a riot that I started. Personally, I'm on coffee, tea, cigarettes, video games, and binge watching old TV series on Netflix while chugging Red Bull. All at the same time. And if I gave all of that up tomorrow morning, by sunset I'd have 10 new vices, each one stupider than the last, until I ended up with a salt lick on my desk, telling people that it helps me "lick away the stress."

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I'm totally sledding down that head first. Suck it, stress!

#4. People Only Accept Your Commitment After a Certain Amount of Time

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One of the weirdest things an addict has to adjust to is the reactions of his friends. When you first tell them that you're quitting your vice, most of them will assume that you're giving it up for a couple of weeks to detox and reset. After you've hit the finish line that they set up in their own heads, they'll show up again to invite you out. When you tell them that you've given it up for good, they'll be completely blown away. "Why? You're not an addict! You just really like heroin. There's nothing wrong with that. It's not like you're some back alley junkie like the guy we buy it from."

After a few months, they'll say that you've proven you can handle life without the booze or drugs or amateur rooftop wrestling. "That proves that you're not an addict. You should come out and get blasted like old times. If you've been clean for this long, one night of fun isn't going to hurt." If you resist the temptation, they'll once again leave, and you'll spend the rest of the night coping with the realization that your friends are collectively the devil.

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Is it horny in here, or is it just me? I'm not good at puns.

After a year, it's like some switch is thrown, and everyone treats you like a hero. Especially people you haven't talked to in a while. It's surreal. "You quit? Oh, wow, that's great! I'm so proud of you!" Then it's usually followed with a variation of "I really need to quit myself. I don't do it nearly as much as I used to, but I'll occasionally still go up to the old apartment rooftop and do a few suplexes. Nothing big. Just socially."

It's such a relief when that happens, but it ends up being too little too late. Don't get me wrong -- the support is awesome. But in those first few months, quitting is hard enough on its own without other people trying to talk you out of it. That support could have really come in handy when you were at your weakest and losing the internal debate to just say fuck it and give in to the temptation. There's an extreme upside to that happening, though.

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You can use it as an excuse to totally kick the shit out of people.

It's a milestone that lets you know that people have recognized your effort and ability to kick this thing right in its skin sack filled with balls. Just knowing that people now have that perception of you is enough motivation to continue the nut-stomping. You're no longer an addict battling for freedom. You're a normal person who overcame his demons. There's power in that.

#3. People Want You to Diagnose Them

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At a later point in your recovery, you'll be perceived as an authority on the subject. Not by everyone, mind you, but to your friends, acquaintances, and the pets that you supply voices for when you're super lonely. The reason a recovered addict gets that label is because not many of us make it. Relapse rates range anywhere from 50 to 90 percent, so someone who has beaten the statistics is somewhat of a rare commodity. People tend to latch onto that like the Internet to the slightest of assumed injustices.

The most frequent question people asked after I was into my solid grove of sobriety was "Am I an alcoholic?" The thing is, without knowing them personally and intimately, I can't answer that question. If my dad asked it, I'd be able to answer it before he even finished the sentence. And then I'd flip out, because he died like 10 years ago, and I sold my ghost-busting equipment to pay for beer at the time. For everyone else, I just don't have that kind of insight. I'm not around them when they're doing their normal routine out of the public eye. I'm not in their heads, analyzing their true unfiltered thoughts. Nor would I want to be, because ew. They tend to think that addiction comes down to the amount and frequency of use, and that just isn't true. That's just a small part of a very complex problem. It's like trying to figure out if they're good at gaming by watching what they do at the character creation screen.

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You didn't even make her name filthy. Loser.

More times than not, people have already made up their minds when they ask that question, and they're getting around to asking you for help or advice. Which is frustrating, because I'm not sure I've ever seen someone take the advice and put it to practical use. While I'm on the subject, if you really need to talk to someone and you don't know where else to go, go to this thread in our forums, skip to the end, and tell your story. There are tons of people in there going through exactly what you are, and they can give you legitimate real-world advice.

If you're expecting a miracle-working secret, however, you have the wrong idea. None of us, no matter how successful, has a shortcut cure-all. I frequently get the feeling that this is exactly what the advice seeker is looking for, though. All of the info is out there and easily found with simple Google searches, but the common thread among them all is "It's as hard as a golem orgy."

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That is so hot.

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