Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions of a drug or alcohol addict is that they are weak, lacking willpower. However, according to the latest research this is simply not true. In fact, addicts have willpower, but it is other issues that are often at play when an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol sets in and especially when it comes to relapsing.

Researchers at Macquarie University in Australia studied 69 patients who were all addicted to either drugs or alcohol. These patients were all interviewed several times over a three-year span. Through these interviews, researchers were able to determine what was most helpful in preventing relapse. At the conclusion of the study they were able to determine that willpower was not the thing that was keeping addicts sober, and that lack of willpower was not causing recovering addicts to relapse.

They found that recovering addicts that implemented learned recovery strategies had better chances of maintaining sobriety, than those that completed treatment and did not use the tools given while in rehab. This means that patients who utilized the aftercare services and maintained their pursuit of goals laid out while still in treatment were more likely to remain sober after treatment. Researchers also noted that the most successful test subjects moved away from the area they lived in prior to treatment and focused on controlling their emotions before they got out of hand, potentially causing a relapse.

“[An] important thing that arises from our article is that addicted people do have a strong willpower. The fact that they fail to control their substance use is not due to lack of willpower, but because willpower alone is not sufficient. I think that many people, also treatment providers underestimate the willpower of addicted people. If they learn how to use this willpower strategically they could greatly benefit from it,” explained Anke Snoek, lead researcher of the study.

The researchers also went on to explain why willpower so often gets tied to those in recovery. Oftentimes people who are not addicted to drugs, stop themselves from doing something by using their willpower. When they see a recovering addict fail to do this for themselves and relapse back into drugs, onlookers assume it is because of a lack of willpower. But, as the research shows it is more likely because the recovering addict is not implementing something they should be in order to maintain sobriety.