We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.

--"Step One, AA 12-Steps

After many years in recovery, I know that I must not forget this one principle: "I will always be an addict.

--Joe Herzanek

Whether you are a fan of twelve-step programs or not, the first step an attendee will hear offers a great deal of wisdom. The alcoholic/addict should never venture into the world without remembering the important bit of knowledge that Step One provides: Chemically dependent people will not ever be able to gain control over their substance use. Millions of addicted people have tried, and many have even died trying. Not one person has ever successfully returned to social use.

Admitting Powerlessness

After many years in recovery, I know that I must not forget this one principle--I will always be an addict. Confusion on this matter can lead to disastrous results. My substance use took me places I didn't want to go, cost me more than I wanted to pay and kept me longer than I wanted to stay. My addiction is now in remission. Just the same, it is alive and well--ready to inflict a lot of pain on me. To forget this would be my greatest mistake.

I have a friend who owns a treatment center in the Colorado Rocky Mountains called Jaywalker Lodge. He accepts only men who are highly motivated to change. The program is a four-month-minimum-stay facility, cash only, no insurance. The entire focus is on Step One. It's for men who have made several attempts to quit, only to find themselves stumbling again and again. Frustrated and broken, they arrive at the treatment center willing to do whatever it takes to regain their sobriety. This facility teaches men that the key to recovery starts with a true admission of powerlessness.

Once a recovering addict is convinced of their inability to ever control their using, they will no longer attempt to do so if they want to maintain their recovery. Incorporating Step One into a person's life requires a daily ongoing shift in thinking--sometimes referred to as "one day at a time." Lifelong recovery obviously involves much more than this one crucial admission. Recovery and rebuilding what was lost takes substantial time and effort. But it will all be in vain if this one fundamental principle is forgotten.

A Humbling Realization

Once the power or ability to control how much a person can use is lost, it is lost forever. Any attempt to regain control is futile. This applies to the user who is brand new to recovery as well as to someone with over two decades of abstinence. No one is tougher than addiction, and it's one wound that time cannot heal. You, as a person close to the situation, should understand this fundamental step as a foundational principle. It's a humbling realization.

This article is excerpted from the book "Why Don't They Just Quit?"

Author's Bio: 

Joe Herzanek, a man who battled his own demons of addiction over twenty-five years ago, says, "I know people can change. If I can do it, anyone can!"

A recovering person himself, Joe is the president and founder of Changing Lives Foundation and author of the award-winning book "Why Don't They Just Quit?" As an addiction counselor in Colorado he has spent over fourteen years working in the criminal justice system.

His passion for helping men and women struggling with addiction, as well as their family members and friends, inspire him to offer hope and solutions.

Joe offers words of encouragement: "Addiction is not a hopeless situation," he writes. "Addicts and alcoholics aren't crazy, and they can quit."

Joe and his wife Judy have three children, Jami, Jake, and Jessica, and enjoy the beautiful Colorado outdoors with their two Cairn Terriers, Lewis and Clark.