Get Confidential Help 24/7
Although they may make up half the general population (official estimates range from 26 to 50 percent), introverts often feel like a second-class minority. The American ideal is the gregarious, standout extrovert who can talk to anyone, who has a boundless supply of energy and the ability to manage multiple tasks. People whose brains aren’t wired that way—introverts—often feel ashamed of their natural inclinations and pressured to get out more, talk more, be more social. Often, they attempt to “fit in” by forcing themselves into “extrovert” molds. (Maybe that’s why there are such wide discrepancies in estimates of the introvert population: many introverts hide their true nature even from themselves.)
The question of whether introversion makes a person more vulnerable to addiction—or causes additional difficulties in recovery—is a multifaceted one. In this article, we’ll look at what detox and recovery mean to introverts, and how introverts can benefit from inpatient drug and alcohol programs.
INTROVERTS AND ADDICTION
Are introverts more likely than extroverts to become addicted in the first place? It depends on how you look at it. When the overall population is considered, extroverts develop chemical addictions more often, perhaps because their socializing exposes them to more situations where drugs are available. However, when only those people who actually use drugs are considered, introverts become addicted in larger numbers.
In both addiction and recovery, there are disadvantages and advantages to being an introvert as opposed to an extrovert:
- Introverts are more prone to feeling they need chemical “help” to cope with social situations. Many introverts start on the path to alcoholism by drinking to ease social anxiety.
- As already mentioned, many introverts feel pressure to be what they aren’t—and ongoing stress is a major factor in addiction and relapse.
- Introverts tend to be uncomfortable with large crowds, especially if there’s any chance of being expected to stand up and say something—exactly the situation encountered upon walking into many AA meetings. Even in smaller groups, introverts are often less than thrilled with the idea of shared therapy.
- Introverts are less dependent on group energy and less prone to go along with the crowd, which provides a head start on resisting peer pressure and on staying home from parties where alcohol is served.
- Introverts are better at examining things in depth, which helps them get more from therapy and (small) support groups. They lean toward processing information thoroughly and toward thinking before they speak, which helps them contribute valuable insights to discussions.
- Introverts are naturals at the vital recovery qualities of forming one-on-one relationships and sharing empathetic support.
- Introverts are better at delaying gratification and at understanding the consequences of yielding to cravings.
So as in most of life, introverts are no better or worse off when it comes to chances of successful recovery—it depends on approaching the situation in a way that suits you.
COPING WITH ADMISSIONS
Contrary to popular belief, introverts are not necessarily shyer than extroverts—just more sensitive to stimulation. Many introverts can talk for hours to friends and family, but find it torture to meet new people—especially under stressful circumstances such as entering rehab. You’re introducing yourself to people who know you have a serious problem and are there to help you solve it … but what if they ask personal questions way out of your comfort zone? What if they bully you to make changes you aren’t ready for? What if they make you stand up in front of 100 people and announce, “My name is Karen and I’m an alcoholic”?
There are things every introvert should do in preparing for inpatient treatment:
- Do your homework on every center you’re considering and make a personal advance visit. Besides verifying that a center is overall reputable and effective, make sure it’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to ask about details of treatment and therapy—or to cross a place off your list if you don’t click with the people you meet there.
- Bring a friend or family member along for support during advance interviews and admission.
- Pack books or craft projects for your spare time. (Do remember there are often restrictions in what you’re allowed to bring onto treatment center grounds—check in advance.)
- Accept that you will have to answer some personal questions—especially on details of your drug use. As with any medical problem, addiction treatment specialists need to know the specifics of a problem to treat it safely and effectively. If you’re really nervous, prepare an advance written report on how the problem started, what you’ve used, how often you’ve used and under what circumstances—then you can give a copy to the admissions counselors and they won’t have to ask as many direct questions.
- Don’t be afraid to admit you have difficulty coping with groups, need daily time alone or don’t want to be prodded to “say something” during therapy. Again, providers have to know what you need before they can provide it.
AFTER DETOX – LONG-TERM INPATIENT CARE AND BEYOND
During acute detox, you’ll probably be too sick to worry much about your introversion, or much of anything else. Once you’re feeling physically better, however, you’ll have weeks of inpatient care and therapy to go and may start to worry again about how you’ll fare in a group of strangers sharing their deepest secrets.
Good coping hints:
- Make a few good friends among fellow detox clients. Look for people who are quiet like you, or naturally understanding, and who share other interests.
- Keep time for yourself and use it well: journal your experiences, work on a hobby, read inspirational books.
- In group (or individual) therapy, don’t feel obligated to “say something.” Make use of your gifts for thinking through a situation and choosing the best things to say. If anyone asks what you think, don’t be ashamed to admit you aren’t ready to contribute.
Finally, after you’re released back into the larger world, remember that ongoing human support is essential to staying sober—and so is understanding and appreciating your unique natural self.
- Continue with therapy. Look for a counselor who relates to your natural style, as you did in detox treatment.
- Join a support group—and it doesn’t have to meet in a huge auditorium where you stand up and announce, “I’m an alcoholic.” There are many smaller, more intimate groups.
- Have a good friend/support partner to call when stressed out or tempted by old cravings. Make use of your natural gift for building solid one-on-one relationships.
- Embrace all the advantages of being an introvert. Be glad you don’t have to try to morph into an extrovert, nor make excuses for not doing so. You are you, and you have unique gifts to share with the world!
Buettner, Dan. “Are Extroverts Happier Than Introverts?” Psychology Today, May 14, 2012. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Cook, Gareth. “The Power of Introverts: A Manifesto for Quiet Brilliance.” Scientific American, January 24, 2012. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Inland Detox. “What Should I Bring to a Drug Detox Treatment Center?” January 19, 2018. Accessed June 6, 2018.
Recovery First. “How Introverts Can Succeed During Residential Inpatient Treatment.” May 16, 2012. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Recovery.org. “Do Introverts Have a More Difficult Recovery Than Extroverts?” November 2015. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Smith, April. “An Introvert’s Guide to Rehab: It’s Time for Group!” Rehabs.com, January 18, 2017. Accessed May 31, 2018.
Smith, April. “An Introvert’s Guide to Rehab: Meeting the Others.” Rehabs.com, January 17, 2017. Accessed May 31, 2018.