What is White Knuckling & How to Overcome It

What is White Knuckling?

AA’s Big Book states that “We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality—safe and protected. We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem had been removed. It does not exist for us.”

Recovering from a substance addiction is more than simply stopping the use of drugs or alcohol. Recovery is a holistic situation and means the addict must make changes to nearly every aspect of their life. Lifelong recovery requires constant learning and constant effort. Achieving recovery means that avoiding drinking or using isn’t a daily struggle.

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If your loved one hasn’t made the necessary changes to his or her life to successfully recover from addiction, they may be white-knuckling their sobriety. Here’s what white-knuckling is and how to overcome it.

What is White Knuckling?

Outside of sobriety, white-knuckling is defined as an experience or activity that “makes you feel very frightened and often excited”. During a scary ride at a theme park, you might grab on as tightly as possible to the handrails and wait for the ride to finish.

White knuckling sobriety is similar in a lot of ways. Someone who is white-knuckling isn’t making real changes; they’re relying on willpower alone to stay sober. Metaphorically, they’re holding on tight to the handrail and waiting for the ride of addiction to be over.

Alcoholics Anonymous coined the term “dry drunk”. A dry drunk has given up alcohol but maintains old habits and problems from when they were still drinking, never having fully recovered. In many ways, white knuckle sobriety and the dry drunk syndrome are closely related.

Why White Knuckling is Dangerous

Without making the necessary life changes, someone who is white-knuckling is at a higher risk for relapsing. They haven’t dealt with the emotional baggage that addiction brings. Without dealing with that baggage, they haven’t been healing.

In addition, someone white-knuckling sobriety is relying entirely on willpower to avoid drinking or using. Willpower can be easy to break if they are not truly enjoying life without alcohol or drugs. Using willpower also often leaves people feeling more tense than usual, so they may be very difficult to be around. Life around someone who is white-knuckling might be pretty miserable.

How to Overcome White Knuckling

If you believe your loved one is white-knuckling his or her sobriety, the most effective way to help them is by getting them into treatment. This will help them to recover emotionally from the disease of addiction.

12 step programs, in particular, may be very effective for someone white-knuckling. These programs teach spirituality and inner peace as methods for overcoming the desire to exert even more control over their lives.

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