Barely a day goes by that we don’t hear some “expert” refer to alcohol and drug problems as medical diseases. Though some in my field still maintain those false beliefs, many more are finally waking up to the fact that addictions are not physical maladies like cancer, or a problem that can be improved with surgery, pills, etc. Cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy attempts to challenge these illogical beliefs in order to address the individual’s need for drugs or alcohol.
Some of these beliefs include, “Life without using is boring; I can’t have fun unless I do drugs.” Such a view suggests that pleasure must be mindless. Individuals who can enjoy a book or a stimulating discussion are much less likely to develop substance abuse problems than cynics who sneer at the “nerdiness” of such activities. Genuine pleasure need not result in jail time.
“I can’t control my usage; I’m powerless over it.” This idea ignores the existence of free will. The fact that it’s not easy to control a behavior doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to do so. Free will requires a 24/7 commitment to reality. Drug and alcohol abuse of drugs and alcohol is an attempt to escape reality. Many addicts I’ve spoken to can readily identify circumstances in which they felt like using, but chose not to. These situations often signal the beginning of recovery.
The fight against addiction can be undermined by the idea that a setback wipes out all progress. Instead of viewing it as a regrettable occurrence and a learning experience, addicts will use it as a rationalization to start using again, since “it’s all hopeless anyway.” Convenient, isn’t it? Another convenient excuse: “I can’t relax without drugs.” Vast numbers of people manage stress without using drugs or alcohol.
“Having this drug problem means I’m a bad person.” Sadly, too many addicts have bought into the puritanical nonsense that pleasure is evil. So it’s only natural that they rebel against such irrational ideas by sneaking short-term forays into chemically induced pleasure.
“I don’t need to stop using; it’s not hurting me.” This excuse only works when significant others enable the addict by shielding him or her from the consequences of their habits. Instead of forcing the addict to take responsibility, loved ones make excuses for the abuser. They call her boss to say she’s sick when she’s actually hung over. They buy him a six-pack, rationalizing it by maintaining that addiction is a disease over which the abuser has no moral responsibility. It’s difficult to overemphasize the role of enablers in extending the course of an addiction!
“I can’t control my anxiety without drugs.” Much anxiety and depression stems from ideas grounded in myth. Examples include, “I have a right to happiness; I shouldn’t have to work for it.” Or, “Only ‘selfish’ people seek happiness in this life” or, “Disaster is always around the corner.” Debunking these beliefs is challenging and may even require professional assistance. But one thing remains true: You can’t manage problems by chemically shutting down your mental functions. It may feel better in the short run, but anyone who believes they can control their problems by denying their existence is living in a fool’s paradise.
“I’m not ready to stop using.” The longer you put off a demanding task, the more difficult it becomes. By avoiding it you develop a distorted view and will often see it as harder than it really is. Think about all the times you put off doing something – something simple like making the bed or emptying the dishwasher. When you finally did it you realized it wasn’t so bad. In fact, you probably felt some gratification at removing this small obstacle from your day. Imagine the overwhelming emotional satisfaction of overcoming an addiction that was destroying your life!
Take charge of your own mind! It’s really the ultimate high. And your sense of control and mastery will finally be real, not fake.
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