- In some cases, when severely addicted people "bottom out" they may experience a sudden release of their addiction.
- Addiction release is an aspect of "transformation through turmoil," when intense turmoil and trauma bring about a sudden identity shift.
- The emergence of a new identity may be the key to understanding addiction release.
During his childhood, Parker was bullied and had few friends. Desperate to gain some status and popularity, at the age of 14 he started selling drugs to his high school friends. At first, he sold pot, then moved on to psychedelics. However, he was caught selling marijuana and was expelled from school. His parents threw him out of the house too, so that at the age of 16, he found himself living alone. This led to a period of heavy drug use, which lasted for two years. As he told me, “I ended up getting heavily addicted to cocaine, as well as doing meth and other drugs. I couldn’t see any purpose in my existence. I was very unwell, mentally and physically. There was a period in the end when I was awake for close to a week, constantly doing drugs. I was expecting to die of an overdose, and I was kind of okay with that.”
However, the next day Parker woke up and felt completely different, for no apparent reason. As he told me, “I suddenly wasn’t addicted anymore. It was incredibly bizarre. I called my sister and said, “I’m done with all this. I’m not taking drugs anymore. Can you come and pick me up?”
Suddenly, Parker felt that he had a new wide and deep awareness, as if he had had a form of awakening. “It occurred to me that everyone was running around worrying about this and that and missing the picture. I felt like everyone around me was crazy.”
However, as an 18-year-old, he didn’t know how to communicate his insights and was confused by the sudden appearance of his addiction. He went to see a psychiatrist, who also couldn’t understand how someone so heavily addicted to drugs could spontaneously become free of them. Parker’s confusion led to a period of frustration and depression, but he remained sober. Some 20 years later, he is now a successful professional, with a wife and child.
What Is Addiction Release?
Parker’s story seems almost incredible. How can someone wake up in the morning and simply find that they are no longer addicted? How can a severe addiction suddenly disappear for no apparent reason?
Overcoming addiction is often a long struggle. Recovering individuals usually have to proceed carefully, day by day, with a lot of support and personal courage to keep themselves from relapsing. But this is not always the case. When addiction is at its most extreme—when a person has “bottomed out” and reached a state of complete hopelessness, close to death—then the strange phenomenon of “addiction release” may occur. The addiction that has dominated a person’s life for years suddenly and spontaneously falls away.
Through my years of researching transformational experiences, I have found many other cases of addiction release. There is a story of a Scottish woman named Eve who was a severe alcoholic for 29 years and was so broken down by her addiction that she attempted suicide. Somehow, after her suicide attempt, she felt like a different person. Her mother assumed she had to give Eve a drink to ease her withdrawal symptoms, but Eve couldn’t drink it. When she looked at herself in the mirror, “It was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had. I didn’t connect with my reflection. I felt like a completely different person.”
Eve was slightly confused by her transformation at first, but soon it settled down, and she began to feel liberated, with a heightened awareness and an intense sense of connection to the world. She has never felt the urge to drink again. When she first went to AA meetings, people would tell her that she was on a “pink cloud” and it would only last for a short time. But it became a permanent state.
It’s worth noting that one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, also had this type of experience. After relapsing more times than he could count, Wilson was close to insanity and death. After checking in to a New York hospital, he was in bed wracked with physical pain and mental torment, when an awakening occurred: “My room blazed with an indescribable white light. I was seized with an ecstasy beyond description. I lay on the shores of a new world.”
There is also research confirming that addiction release is not unusual. A 2014 study by researchers at the New York University school of medicine examined the experiences of 161 long-term AA members who reported spiritual awakenings. For 57 percent, the awakenings occurred suddenly after “bottoming out.” 67 percent reported that at the present time they had no craving for alcohol or drugs.
Transformation Through Turmoil
Addiction release is one aspect of a wider phenomenon that I refer to as “transformation through turmoil” (TTT). Sometimes, when people are in the midst of intense suffering and trauma, they undergo a shift of identity, in which their previous self dissolves away, and is replaced by a new, higher-functioning self. I have been researching transformation through turmoil for 15 years and have found examples across a wide range of contexts. In Extraordinary Awakenings, I describe the transformations of soldiers on the battlefield, prisoners, bereaved people, addicts, people who suffered from severe depression, and so on.
Transformation through turmoil involves the emergence of a new identity and is the key to understanding addiction release. A person’s addiction dissolves away with their old identity. Their new identity that emerges doesn’t carry any addictions. Strictly speaking, although it may appear that an addiction has suddenly dropped away, what has actually happened is that the person who was addicted no longer exists. It is not the addiction that has disappeared, but the person.
This may sound miraculous, and of course, it is. But addiction release is a real phenomenon that requires further research. It is one example of the extraordinary awakenings that human beings sometimes undergo at times of deep crisis and turmoil.
Galanter, Marc, Helen Dermatis, and Cristal Sampson. “Spiritual Awakening in Alcoholics Anonymous: Empirical Findings.” Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 32, nos. 2–3 (June 2014): 319–34. doi: 10.1080/07347324.2014.907058
Taylor, S. (2021). Extraordinary Awakenings: When Trauma Leads to Transformation. Novato, CA: New World Library.