The Risks of “White Knuckling” in Sobriety

Shahzad Masood

White Knuckling

White knuckling is a term used to describe the approach to quitting drugs or alcohol on your own without getting exterior support. White knuckling is a difficult and often unsuccessful approach, as most people struggling with addiction need the support of an addiction program or sober peer groups to stay sober. 

Even if some people feel white knuckling is an efficient path to recovery, this is rarely true in the long term. White knuckle sobriety not only is lonely but also is sometimes dangerous physically, mentally, and emotionally, and has a very low chance of continuous success.

Getting rid of drugs, alcohol or any other substance on your own is a great feeling that will make your willpower strong. Good determination is a quality that is important for sobriety. However, those feelings might be halted as white knuckling does not produce long-lasting and permanent results.

Risks of white knuckle sobriety

If you are thinking of white-knuckling sobriety, then keep in mind the following risks:

  • Evading the main issue: Refraining from drugs and alcohol as an approach to managing addiction is working on the problem itself. It is not dealing with deep and real issues that are causing the addiction or addressing negative behaviors that must be assessed for curing addictions in the long term. Traditional therapies and rehabilitation programs dig into your past and look for the real cause of addiction. They help in recognizing the pitfalls like the people you are getting involved in drugs with, a place that triggers you, etc. They also offer you the tools for recovery you require to circumvent the daily challenges and urge for addiction that people dealing with addiction have to face.
  • Symptoms of withdrawal: Symptoms of withdrawal are an outcome of attempting to quit drugs and it varies from drug to drug. Those symptoms are nausea, seizures, fatigue, paranoia, insomnia, and many more. Other than being unpleasant, these can be dangerous when you are managing to quit drugs on your own. In contrast, a rehab facility has good therapists where the withdrawal symptoms are monitored well, and a procedure known as medical detox is used for weaning off from drugs in a safe manner. With white-knuckling sobriety, you cannot deal with withdrawal securely.
  • Less motivation: People abstaining from drugs on their own might not have the required motivation for doing it. They might do it out of fear or to avoid certain things like losing jobs or any negative results. To recover correctly, you should have a real urge to bring in change and not just avoid any adverse results. There should be a strong wish for living differently otherwise there is less chance of staying sober.
  • Recall of euphoric feeling: People with white-knuckling sobriety might get a feeling of clinging frantically to sobriety rather than positively taking the approach. They might experience the recall of euphoria where they will remember the addiction experience positively and forget the negative aspect of this. They might focus on the pleasing aspects of substance use and lessen the side effects, bad relationships, financial problems, and legal issues. 
  • Looking for substitution: There is a high chance that when somebody opts for white-knuckling sobriety, they might look for a substitution of one substance with another. The person will become addicted to another substance such as alcohol rather than heroin. In some worst cases, they will become addicted to both the substance thus leaving them in a worse condition than before.
  • Reversion: Reversion of drug use is one of the most significant risks for someone dealing with addiction. However, people with a sound recovery system are less likely to relapse than those who do it on their own. White knuckling sobriety is not pleasurable and lonely, which increases the chance of reversion or relapse. In addition, rehabilitation needs strong commitment, people who go for white-knuckling have less to lose, which makes it a tempting option.

Alternatives to white knuckle sobriety

There are several reasons for which people dealing with addiction might feel the urge to recover from addiction on their own. Some of the reasons include insufficient financial resources, less desire to be committed to rehab, and other reasons. If it is something happening to you or your loved one, then try the following alternative approach:

  • Look for support and advice from family, professionals, or friends. You might find that some people would love to assist you financially, physically, or emotionally. If you get some good support group or any rehabilitation center that accepts insurance or means for paying, try that alternative before you white-knuckling.
  • Look for ways to take good care of yourself emotionally and physically. Good habits include eating in the right manner, maintaining a good sleeping schedule, doing regular exercise, spending time with emotionally healthy people, and using relaxing methods. Those behaviors help you stay in a perfect mind frame and assist you in overcoming the urge to manage your addiction on your own.
  • Keep in mind that addiction is also a kind of disease. Just like you will not attempt to deal with cancer or any other disease on your own, like look for skilled professionals having experience in managing drug addiction and can assist you in recovering entirely in the long run.
  • Several therapy modalities can help you heal by addressing the real issue. It is most efficient when paired with another recovery form like the support group. Then there is medicine-assisted treatment where medicine is used to weaken the withdrawal symptoms and relieve the depression and anxiety associated with addiction. This should happen in a secured medical facility and be supervised by any mental health professional.


If you feel exhausted because of white-knuckling, you have several other options. There are several resources available that can assist you in quitting substance abuse and many of them are of low cost or free. Many local or online recovery groups help build a sense of community and learn from other people’s experiences.

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