The 3 Phases of Addiction – MAGIC, MEDICINE and MISERY

I was listening to the Heart of the Matter, a podcast on addiction and recovery hosted by Elizabeth Vargas, and she said someone in recovery described alcohol to her as first magic, then medicine, then misery. Ouch. That hits close to home. Those were the 3 phases of my addiction.

I think I stopped drinking somewhere between medicine and misery, but I am clear that alcohol is a one-way street; if I pick it back up as medicine, there’s nowhere to go but misery. And God knows that the magic phase is pretty fleeting. 

I’ve never seen the 3 phases of addiction, the magic, medicine, and misery, more vividly shown than in this short animated video. The comments after the video are also telling. Anyone who has experienced addiction firsthand sees the progression from magic to misery in the kiwi and his golden nugget.

One of the many confusing things about alcohol addiction though, as opposed to addiction to what we see as “hard drugs”, is that we view drinking alcohol as a normal, natural, even necessary part of adult life. We encourage people to drink routinely and laugh off the occasional binge as part of living life well. Alcohol is sold as a magic elixir everywhere from our grocery stores to our family restaurants to our gas stations. When someone becomes addicted to the magic of alcohol, begins to use it as medicine, and lands in a dark hole of misery we see that as abnormal. If a drinker cannot “moderate” this drug successfully we see the drinker as the problem, not the drug, and the shame and stigma of being a problem drinker are added to the misery, making it even harder for them to get out of that hole.

The 3 phases of sobriety are the same in my experience as the 3 phases of addiction but sobriety starts the opposite way. When you stop drinking first it’s misery, that feeling like you are a crab that just lost its shell, open and exposed and totally without your protective covering. That is a hard phase, but thankfully there is a lot to focus on – the don’t-drink-today regimen is the only way through.

The next phase is medicine and heaven knows we don’t always like taking our medicine. This is the phase where you face old fears and resentments, toss out old coping strategies, and start to build the framework for the place you will live the rest of your life – your sober forever home.

The magic phase starts slow and is not a David Copperfield show. It is the magic of the sunrises we see without a hangover, the text from our kids or friend or parents that we might have missed before, the joy of watching a movie and remembering the end. It’s a journey, but you can enjoy that, too.

If you are drinking too much too often, have passed the magic, and are headed for misery, come join the conversation in our Boom Rethink the Drink community. It doesn’t get any better until you stop. Take the leap of faith away from that misery- it’s so worth it. Life is too short to waste it wasted.

More from this author :

A Lazy Girls Guide to Sober Momentum – An Alcohol-Free Gift to You

More reading on how to stop drinking:

Guide to your First Month Sober: Why and How to Quit Drinking

Demystifying Sober – Survival Guide From My First 10 Days Alcohol-Free

Ten Ways to Overcome My Drinking Problem

2 responses to “The 3 Phases of Addiction – MAGIC, MEDICINE and MISERY”

  1. Such an insightful post. My misery years were a lot longer (and felt even longer than the medicine. Wow! Doing the work of going sober, I’ve found I had magical hours even in the early days (the first 3 months). I think sticking with it is the best way to experience life Real Magic.

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