Will Power

In this blog I’m focusing on the consumption of alcohol as that’s where I’m coming from, but over consumption can be of anything; drugs, food, booze, social media, sex – similar drives are behind them all.

Is Willpower Enough?

There’s a perception that anyone who over-consumes just doesn’t have the willpower to cut down or resist, that they are weak in some way. And boy, do we use that as a stick to beat ourselves (or others) with.

That’s simply not true. Will power alone will not get you to reduce intake to a healthy level or stop consumption altogether for the vast majority of people.

That’s because there is a problem to which “the substance” (for our purposes, alcohol) is the solution. An unresolved trauma, a lack of connection, chronically low self-esteem.

Nobody takes up drinking to a harmful level for shits and giggles. Usually, someone finds out (or is taught) that alcohol is a very quick way to make themselves feel how they need to feel but don’t – whether that is confident, happy, less alone, less angry, more in control or less in need of being in control. This list could go on for ages.

It’s all about dopamine

The brain then gets used to this need being met via alcohol and rewards us with a hit of dopamine (the nervous systems reward chemical) and we feel good. Our nervous system is a bit of a “here and now” kind of system – it’s not thinking about how you’re going to feel in the morning, the damage you’re doing to your liver or whether drinking is going to give you dementia in 20 years.

That’s why, even though we know intellectually that having a drink is doing us harm in the long term, we know how we’ll feel in the morning, it can be very difficult to resist the call.

Willpower Plus

Willpower is important. The power of will to get you started on your journey. The power of will to face into what’s going on for you. The power of will to reach out for help.

But lack of willpower was never the problem. What you need is to take steps to change the thoughts, patterns, beliefs, or outward situations that are driving the need to begin with.

For some people, if they moved to the other side of the world and changed their lives completely, they would never feel the need to touch a drop again. Others could do that, and nothing would change until they managed to silence the little voice in their head that whispers “you’re not good/clever/fit/thin/insert your own word here enough.” Many will need a bit of both – changes to the outer and inner world.

Once you understand that overconsumption is a symptom of a problem, and not the problem in itself, it makes it easier to understand why struggling to resist doesn’t just make you weak willed. In fact, the hit to your self-worth if you hold that belief can make it all the more difficult to cut back.

You do need willpower to get you started and to keep you going. You need dedication to a new routine and a new way of doing things. You need to decide each day that, for today, your health is the priority. Then, you need to do the hard work of changing the things (internal or external) that consumption was the easy answer to, until you get to the point you don’t need that medicine anymore.

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