Addiction is often described in terms of enslavement to some substance or even process. People are identified as having ‘addictive personalities’, meaning they have some sort of predisposition to dependence on something, such as alcohol or prescription medications. In fact, SBS’s ‘The Feed’, recorded compelling case studies regarding prescription opioid dependence back in 2017. It seems things have not improved since.
Addiction has steps that have a certain predictability, a certain structure. Within such structure lie possibilities.
For the person whose one time happy choice is now a desperate need or obligation, a certain path has been followed. This involved some changes in thinking feeling, deciding and acting. there is potential for changing structure. Even just a little. In this brief piece we view addiction as process, a series of steps…
Destructive gambling is another example of a process dependence and there is increasing discussion of ‘device addiction’.
In his book, ‘Healing the Whole Person’ (2000), Dr Rob McNeilly, points to a solution-focused approach to therapy. Here, the person is regarded as not broken but equipped with resources to overcome currently unhelpful behaviours and habits. He suggests that people can often reconnect with their resourcefulness and achieve improved functioning.
Most ‘addictive’ behaviours include habitual resorts to mood altering experiences through some vehicle or other. That vehicle may be heroin, prescription medication, alcohol, or gambling, for example . All of these actions have one purpose; to ‘feel better’. Feeling better may eventually become feeling less bad. Feeling ‘better’ may not be much of an improvement on a current state but it will count for something. And something is better than nothing when connected to a powerful sense of absence, a profound need for change in state.
Apart from features of reliance, the term ‘addiction’ usually infers preoccupation with the substance (or process) to the point where normal daily living is disrupted or, even destroyed. Whatever the substance, or process, there are often common elements in the person’s thinking styles informing their actions.
Focus is narrowed, and time distorted. Preoccupation with acquiring the needed experience takes prominence over day to day responsibilities and functioning. Usual demands on the person such as family or work responsibilities come a poor second to the pursuit of experience. At least in the stereo-typical depiction of addiction. Other elements supporting habitual reliance involve the person doing the following …
- Believing they are powerless to make positive change – entertaining limiting beliefs
- Over-reliance on feelings as guides to action. Emotional reasoning.
- All-or-nothing thinking – either 100% or zero!
- Engaging in anxiety based thinking – expecting the worst to happen and feeling disconnected from personal power.
- Disconnection from skills to handle day-to-day frustrations, uncertainties – Poor conflict management skills – low assertiveness skills – low self-esteem.
- Avoidant coping – coping by not coping – motivation primarily to avoid discomfort.
- Fear of failure – especially with attempts at sobriety. A version of self-negotiation whereby the person sees no point in attempting abstinence as failure is the outcome – a logical result of hopelessness.
- Poor time management – time frames are largely present focused, with an emphasis on how one feels right now. Future perspective is usually very short term. Past is forgotten or rarely referred to.
- Unhelpful self-negotiation – tendency to negotiate self into unhelpful behaviours e.g. “”I’ll just have one drink on the way home” or, ” I’ll just put another 10 dollars in the poker machine”, or, “one more line…”.
- this can express in avoidance of risk, or avoidance of criticism, protective behaviours which do not serve the person well.
Addiction as Process
Those parts listed above are just some elements supporting unhelpful habits. When cognitive distortions like those mentioned above are present, choice appears very limited. However, it can help to see the unhealthy strategy as providing some need satisfaction. The strategy delivers logical, if unhelpful, outcomes. Different strategy different results!
Having is not being
Seeing the person as ‘dependent’, powerless to act in any way other than a user is not only unwise but unhelpful. Even if the person themselves believe they’re hopeless. Taking a different view, and regarding the person as having the problem rather than being the problem, can sometimes be a powerful start in change-work.
Engaging in avoidant coping strategies with little or no consideration of future consequences, makes sense if options are seen as limited. Detours from normal, resourceful, functioning by the unhelpful thoughts leading to unhelpful behaviour, damages life’s progress but relieves pain in the short term.
There are many reports which indicate interruptions to seemingly hopeless and damaging patterns of behaviour (addiction). For example, a client shaving off the smallest fragment from their illicit drug tablet as being the beginning of a path to eventual sobriety (See Bill O’Hanlon’s; ‘Do One thing Differently’, included in the list of links below), or the person who saw themselves in a mirror and were so shocked at the incongruence with their reflection, they changed a long-standing habit of starving. The paths to recovery are many and varied. Recovery, however rapid or lengthy, involves dismantling dependent processes, changing structure of personal experience. Recovery involves replacing unhelpful steps with new, more resourceful ones.
Elements in Change Work
Changing perceptions is a very important part of the change process itself. The idea of addiction as process, a sequence of perfectly logical steps, implies the possibility of changing that sequence. Doing just one thing differently can set up a new, alternative process. One which ultimately defeats feelings of reliance, dependence. Hopefully for good.
In terms of making change, self-discipline can be useful initially. Felt dependence can persist however in the face of powerful cravings. The call for comfort can be powerful indeed. The calming, absorbing effect of the substance can again receive priority from the person and relapse results as the old strategy is activated.
In early change work, it is important for the person to apprehend the possibility of change. To this end, the possibility, as applying to the person, is one starting point. They can come to regard change as both desirable and possible within a therapeutic setting.
The supporting elements (the benefits) of addiction can now be addressed. Finding exceptions to the current set of assumptions, helps dismantle the distorted thinking that holds unhelpful processes in place.
In clinic, where there is an emphasis on solution focused therapy, there is considerable attention applied to the resources the client has, but is currently disconnected from. A targeted combination of strategic psychotherapy and clinical hypnosis can be helpful here. Of course, there are many successful methods of addressing behaviour frequently referred to as ‘addiction’, and, viewing the unhelpful behaviour as ‘process’ rather than ‘affliction’ can assist with supporting recovery of the person with efficiency as well as efficacy.
It is true that any consideration of ‘addiction’ must acknowledge the many complexities involved. Behaviour follows thinking but some thinking is unaware. People have reported ‘finding themselves’ at the bar drinking for example. Cultivation of deliberate choice can be helpful initially although clients can find this tiresome. If thinking styles are unhelpful to the person’s well-being, then consequent behaviours will be unhelpful to the person’s well-being.
It follows then, that helping a person shift their processes, their strategies of engagement in life, will consequently change their outcomes. It is not always necessary or useful to explore underlying causes of current unresourceful behaviours. Psychotherapeutic tailoring to fit the specific requirements is important. The application of clinical hypnosis in therapy is just one tool to support some realignment of the person’s thinking styles. When we consider addiction as something the person does, as process, this suggests an element of choice. The person is having a problem rather than being the problem.
If you know someone challenged in some way where habit is experienced as necessity, it may just make sense to talk to a professional. Talking to a professional skilled in helping dismantle unhelpful processes may well be the difference that makes the difference!
Links you may find interesting: