Why Living in Active Addiction is Basically “Survival Mode” & How to Get Out


Throughout life, it is normal to go through various stages of “survival mode.” After the birth of a new child, moving across the country, or working overtime to make ends meet, we’ve all been there at one point or another. Some common emotions that are associated with living in survival mode are stress, anxiety and exhaustion. When we are in this state of existence we are not really planning ahead or living life to the fullest. We are simply trying to get through the next 24 hours.

While everyone will experience this from time to time, it is not a sustainable way to live one’s life. The thing about this type of life is that a person can get easily get burned out on living due to the stressful nature of living this way. While it is something that can help us get through transitional periods it is by no means a healthy way to live for an extended period of time.

Over the course of my life, I have lived through various states of survival mode, some good and some bad. My most recent experience of survival mode was getting through quarantine with my two young children while my husband was isolating due to having COVID-19. Around day five, I found myself having a hard time getting things done around the house, both my children weren’t sleeping well so neither was I and the days began to melt together. I wasn’t really thriving, I was merely trying to get through each day while keeping everyone in my family alive. This experience reminded me of a time earlier in my life when I was living in survival mode under vastly different circumstances.

My History Of Drinking Problems

About nine years ago I was what many people would refer to as an alcoholic. I had a pretty bad drinking problem and despite the continual problems that alcohol caused me I couldn’t seem to stop drinking on my own. Each day felt like a struggle to get through. I was working a dead-end and unfulfilling job while back living with my parents. I woke up each morning with a hangover. I would pray that I would be able to start my car because an interlock device had been installed on it due to a DUI charge I received when I was 21. Some days I couldn’t start my car because there was still too much alcohol in my system from the night before. I don’t know how to accurately describe the level of anxiety this caused me each day, but let’s just say it was pretty bad.

I would go through the motions at work, either feeling sick and hungover or high on pot, all the while counting down the hours until I could have my next drink. Many mornings I would wake up and swear that I wasn’t going to drink that day only to find myself in the liquor store drive-through line on my way home from work. By the time I pulled up they would have my usual order ready for me, I guess you could say that was one of many red flags that I had a drinking problem.

I wasn’t really living my life, I was a zombie that was void of ambition and the only thing I could do was try and make it through each day so I could drink again. This is part of the insanity that comes with living a life of addiction. I knew on some level that it was no way to live but I was unable to stop because I was stuck in a trap. At it’s very basic, active addiction is essentially living in survival mode. It’s hard to focus on much else when the only thing that matters is getting that next fix. No one plans on living this way, it’s something that often happens after playing around on the slippery slope of substance abuse. Some people can climb back out without any problems while others fall headfirst into the pit of addiction.

Survival Mode Thankfully Led to Narconon

When my family finally had enough of my self-destructive ways and finally asked me to get help, I switched into another type of survival mode. Early sobriety can be pretty challenging. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be any sort of need for addiction treatment centers. Each day was a challenge to make it through without drinking. Luckily I was able to get residential treatment at a Narconon center, otherwise, I don’t know if I would have been able to get through those early days without drinking. In the beginning, recovery felt more difficult than active addiction, but that is just because I had to learn a new way of living. We are all creatures of habit and change can be difficult. I am grateful I was able to stick it out during those early days because a life of recovery is so much easier than a life of active addiction.

In order to finally get myself out of the exhausting lifestyle of “survival mode” I needed to address the underlying causes of my addiction. I had to take a long hard look at myself and finally learn to confront my problems instead of running away from them. It was only by doing the difficult work of addressing the underlying issues of my addiction that I was finally able to overcome it and live a sober lifestyle.

The other thing that was essential to switching gears from survival mode to living a fulfilling life was the opportunity to develop practical life skills. Through the course of my treatment, I began to realize that my alcohol abuse was rooted in a need to “self-medicate” due to a lack of healthy coping mechanisms. By obtaining practical tools that I could use to better my life I was able to finally leave behind the crutch that alcohol had become.

There is nothing wrong with living in survival mode from time to time. Like anything else, it has its purpose. Survival mode helps us get through difficult situations and helps us “survive” through trying times. The thing about survival mode is that it isn’t meant to be a long-term solution to living life because living this way actually isn’t living up to our fullest potential. We are just trying to get through each day so that we can make it to the next day. When survival mode becomes a way of life it becomes nearly impossible to truly grow.

Family talk
Photo by Xsandra/iStockPhoto.com
 “You may be doing okay, but do you really want to go through life just being okay? Don’t you want to be doing great?”

I’ll never forget the words my brother said to me when my family asked me to get help for my addiction. I told him that I knew I wasn’t doing great but that I thought I was doing okay. After all I was still working and I wasn’t homeless or anything like that. My brother looked at me and told me “You may be doing okay, but do you really want to go through life just being okay? Don’t you want to be doing great?” That question hit me like a ton of bricks because I knew deep down I wanted to do better than living life that was just “okay.”

Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After overcoming her own addiction in 2012 Julie went on to become certified as an addiction counselor in order to help others achieve a life of recovery. She worked in the addiction field for 8 years and now uses both her personal and professional experiences with addiction as an influence for her writing.