Wants Versus Needs and the Importance in Sobriety

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These are the definitions for “want” and “need”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

  • Want (n): “deficiency, lack”; “something wanted”; “desire”
  • Need (n): “necessary duty”; “obligation”; “a lack of something requisite,desirable, or useful”;  “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism”

For men who have lived with an active addiction to drugs and alcohol, telling the difference between a ‘want’ and a ‘need’ can be tricky to navigate. Drugs and alcohol are mind altering chemicals, causing changes in brain chemistry which leads to dysfunctional behavior. Part of the dysfunction in addiction is confusing the difference between wanting and needing for the addicted brain relates to its substance of choice in both ways. For example, when the brain starts to withdraw from drugs or alcohol, the brain is experiencing a “deficiency” or “lack” of mind altering substance(s). The brain most certainly wants more drugs or alcohol to fill that deficiency because the brain has become chemically dependent upon those substances. Drugs and alcohol rewire the brain in such a way that the substance become a crucial part of survival. “Need” is part of the definition of “want”. To the addicted brain and body, drugs and alcohol are needed as part of an “obligation” to the process of addiction. Drugs and alcohol are “something requisite, desirable, or useful” to addiction. The brain and body become convinced that drugs and alcohol are the only way to stay alive. As a result, the substances become “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism,” even though they are creating great harm. Many men in recovery will explain to someone who has never experienced addiction that in the beginning, they want to use drugs and alcohol. In the end, however, they need to in order to get by.

It is of little surprise that learning to define and identify the difference between wants and needs in recovery can be a challenge. Knowing the difference between a want and a need is critical for many areas of life in recovery, from diet and nutrition to financial management to relationships. Addiction causes the balance between wants and needs to become unbalanced. Recovery is, in many ways, about reinstating and maintaining balance in life. Often, men who come to recovery can no longer define what their needs are. After living life for the first time in a long time without drugs and alcohol can lead men to even have difficulty defining what their wants are. However, learning to define both is important for combatting the voice of addiction which may try to tell men in recovery that they need to use drugs and alcohol when they are simply having normal thoughts of wanting to use drugs and alcohol. More importantly, men must learn to want their sobriety as much as they realize they need their sobriety. Sobriety and life in recovery becomes as much a want – something desired – as a need – both “a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism”.

Tree House Recovery is a men’s addiction treatment facility offering long term partial care options. Our program combines the best of clinically proven therapy, intense fitness regiments, and the adventure of the great outdoors. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474

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