What If I Still Have Willpower?


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This is a controversial and often-debated question in the recovery community. The dynamics of power and willpower are an issue with many differing opinions among alcoholics and addicts. For some of us, we don’t bother with the idea of willpower at all. Because we know we don’t have any, whether it’s refusing a drink or an extra helping of dessert. We must rely on our higher power for access to the strength to employ anything resembling willpower. Others of us hold firm that we maintain our willpower in all areas of life, except when it comes to our disease. We can exercise our personal willpower in regards to anything other than our disease. Here is where the contention ends, and we find one point upon which we all can agree — as alcoholics and addicts, lack of power is our dilemma. When it comes to remaining sober, and in recovery, our defense against the first drink or drug must come from a higher power.

Admitting Our Own Lack of Power

All those who are active in recovery can agree upon this truth. It is a condition of our disease and the primary purpose of our solution. If we had the power to do anything about our alcoholism or addiction, we surely would have done something by now, right? That’s why it is hard to say we have much power in regards to our disease. In fact, we have no power in this area of our lives. We admit as much as we begin working the 12-Steps. The rest of the 12-Steps are designed to introduce us to a higher power of our own understanding — a power that can help us to recover and find freedom from our disease. As long as we stay connected to this higher power and keep in fit spiritual condition, we should be granted a daily reprieve from our deadly disease. Alcoholism and addiction is our disease, lack of power is our dilemma, and the 12-Steps are the solution.

Some of us who are alcoholics or addicts may find that the lack of power carries over to most or all other areas of our lives. This may manifest as additional problems with addictive behavior or other troubles. We may need to rely on the 12-Steps, the program of recovery, and our higher power for everything in our lives. This is certainly not a sign of weakness, and people who employ this tactic are often very pleased with the results. As long as we stay active in the program and connected to our higher power, we have access to all the power we could ever need. It doesn’t matter that we are powerless over alcohol or drugs, because we can stay closely tuned and connected to our source of power. Some believe that after successfully working the 12-Steps, we can stay connected to our higher power and use it in other areas of our lives. Things like work, family, health, goals, etc., become more manageable as long as we stay close to the program and our higher power.

Obviously, there is no concrete right or wrong answer here. Willpower is a vague idea. We all share a lack of power as alcoholics and addicts, but beyond that our experiences vary greatly. However, all the gray areas surrounding personal power and willpower can be dangerous for those who are new to recovery.

A Test We Cannot Fail

It may not be a danger to test your willpower in other areas of life, but we must not mistake our lack of power over our alcoholism and addiction. As alcoholics and addicts, we have no such power. Hoping against hope that we may someday have the willpower to refuse a drink or drug, without having access to a higher power, is a potentially dangerous gamble. It’s also a big sign that we may need to revisit the 1st-Step. Alcoholics and addicts have no willpower concerning drink or drugs, and we need the 12-Steps to help us access our higher power.

The truth of our condition is that our willpower concerning alcohol, drugs, and other addictions is non-existent. It might be uncomfortable to admit, but it is part of being an alcoholic or addict. If we still have willpower that we can successfully exert, it may be in other areas. But we risk our recovery when we over-rely on our own willpower. The 12-Step program strongly encourages us to discover a higher power and rely on that higher power to help us recover. When we lean on our own power, we may find ourselves coming up short. After all, if our own power were sufficient, we wouldn’t need the 12-Steps to give us freedom.

Alcoholism and addiction are complex diseases, with many misunderstood symptoms and effects on our lives. The best resource for clarification is the book Alcoholics Anonymous. The characteristic symptoms of alcoholism and addiction are the mental obsession, the physical allergy, and the spiritual malady. This three-fold disease means that a mental obsession beyond our control drives us to drink or use, unable to stop the physical cravings once they start, and powerless to overcome this vicious cycle on our own. Thankfully, there is a solution. The 12-Step program is designed to produce the necessary psychic change and vital spiritual experience that can bring about lasting recovery. At Jaywalker Lodge, we focus on helping those who earnestly wish to recover but have struggled to find freedom on their own. No matter what you’ve tried before, we believe we can help you begin your journey in recovery. Call Jaywalker Lodge now at (866) 529-9255.

author avatar
Stefan Bate, MA, LAC, CCTP Chief Clinical Officer
Stefan Bate, BA, MA, LAC holds a Master's Degree in Applied Psychology from Regis University and is a Licensed Addiction Counselor in the state of Colorado. Stefan has wide-ranging experience in the field of addiction recovery including: working as a recovery coach, therapist, and program director.

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