Why Fighting Alcoholism Doesn’t Work

It’s a pervasive cultural message that if you want something and it’s really worth it, you need to fight for it. Pain and struggle are simply a necessary part of the game. If it’s simple, it probably isn’t real.

We carry this message into our attempts to get sober. We think that fighting alcoholism means we just have to work harder, or find the pattern of drinking that will keep us from getting drunk, or exert a lot more willpower. And we try, and then we try harder. But if we are truly alcoholics, the result, each and every time, is failure. We are left defeated, demoralized and despairing.

That’s because fighting doesn’t work. Alcoholism is an impossible foe, a disease. It isn’t your weakness that is to blame. Just as we wouldn’t blame people who have cancer for not having enough willpower to cure themselves, we shouldn’t lay blame upon ourselves or other addicts for being unable to get over addiction. This kind of mindset is shaming and it doesn’t promote sobriety or recovery in any way.

One of the most important things to learn in Christian recovery is that we are no longer fighting alcoholism. God is fighting for us. On our own, we cannot heal from this disease, but with God, sobriety and recovery are no longer elusive possibilities; they become realities.

A 12-Step model of addiction treatment presents the first of many paradoxes with Step 1: Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. Many of us will have a hard time with this admission. Usually the reason is pride; we don’t want to admit we couldn’t fix the problem on our own. For others it is fear; we can’t imagine how we’ll manage without alcohol and we’d rather not even find out. Others will be terrified of this admission; if we’ve lost control over our drinking, what other areas of life may be spinning out of control? Many will persist in denial, unable to see or admit there is a problem at all.

This is the central paradox of recovery and it flies in the face of everything we have learned about personal strength, willpower and choice. We are conditioned to believe that if we lay down our weapons and wave the white flag, we’ll be utterly overcome by our enemy. We’ll lose the battle entirely.

However, we have to look at how much headway we’re currently making as we attempt to do it our way. As scary as it can be, not to mention humbling and even humiliating, an amazing thing happens when we admit we have no power. Rather than being steamrollered by the addiction, we become open to receiving a power we had never known – that power is God.

God is always powerful to move and work – regardless of human willfulness. But He often waits until we’re ready, until we’ve come to the end of ourselves. It is then, when we cry out, when we are all too ready to admit we’ve lost the battle, that He swoops in to take the win and to carry us onward into a life of sobriety and recovery. It isn’t our fighting that does this; it is our defeat. When we embrace powerlessness we are filled with power.