Addiction has long been characterized by researchers and observers as a result of a lack of willpower. Many assumed that those who struggled to achieve sobriety just had a weakness and so it was necessary to remove temptation.
A recent study found that just the opposite is true. A study of 69 participants in recovery over the span of three years found that most identify as being strong-willed and yet they still have addictions to various substances. This suggests that addiction is less cognitive and therefore requires prevention strategies that are not focused on cognitive processes.
Those who participated in strategies rather than sheer willpower had more success in staying sober and in progressing in their recovery.
This is not to say that willpower is irrelevant. The researchers explain, “It probably takes willpower to deploy strategies at all. Because willpower is likely fragile…such a use of willpower is successful because it need not continue; the person who effortfully deploys the strategy of blocking out the sales pitch of the dealer with headphones doesn’t need willpower to resist that pitch. Willpower is best used strategically, and the participants mention several strategies for doing so. They ‘pick their battles’.”
Treatment can teach those in recovery how to harness willpower and deploy strategies to lead to a more effective and long-lasting recovery.