Addictions are one of the biggest mythical areas in psychology and mental health.
Most people hear the word “addiction” and immediately assign a negative value and connotation to it. Very few teach the fact that the psychology of addiction, when properly focused, has great value.
Addiction doesn’t have a positive or a negative value to it, it’s about what you are addicted to. If you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, that’s not good.
But you can be addicted to marathon running or religion or a healthy level of work and it can be very empowering. When you look at great addictions, they have great outcomes.
In this article, I hope to address some common myths and provide a different framework for thinking about addictions, and overcoming the ones that do not serve you.
The Power of Labels
If someone is addicted to alcohol and people are beating them up, and they have to stand up in a 12-step program and habitually say, “I’m an alcoholic,” that has severe, unintended, negative consequences.
Now, don’t get me wrong here, I am not disparaging AA or anyone who is affiliated with the program. They mean well, they are trying to help, and I absolutely commend anyone who has had success with the 12 steps or knows someone who has.
I am addressing the fact that many people who attempt to overcome their addiction with these programs have a really hard time and ultimately fail at some level.
The main reason is because at a deep, psychological level it is reinforcing, programming, and embedding the fact that these people are broken and powerless.
- Step 1 consists of members admitting they’re powerless over what they’re addicted to.
- They are constantly forced to identify themselves as an addict.
- They are always “recovering” and must attend meetings for the rest of their lives
We had a client that wanted help with a personal challenge, and he said, “But first, you need to know I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for 19 years, and I am very involved in AA and still go to group meetings. But I’m an alcoholic.”
Ponder this, think of something you did 19 years ago, and you stopped doing it because it wasn’t serving you. Is there any area in life where you go around saying “19 years ago I was that person and I’m still that person today, I just don’t do it anymore”?
Does that make sense? Should we teach people to habitually identify themselves with an old, un-resourceful strategy they don’t use anymore?
When you label someone as having a deficit, and they believe they have a “disease” and no power over something like alcohol, it can be more harmful to their psychology and create challenges and limitations in other areas of their life. That is the power of labels like “I’m an alcoholic.”
People are not “broken” by choice, they desperately want to be fine, and they will do what they believe they are and act in accordance with their label.
The power of labels is enormous, DO NOT reinforce and repeat a label that makes you believe you are broken and powerless.
Understand addiction as a strategy
Having an addiction DOES NOT mean you are broken. There’s nothing wrong with you; there are only things wrong with your “programs,” your strategies, and your patterns. You wouldn’t look at a corrupted piece of software and go, “Oh, the computer’s bad—let’s throw it away.” You would just install software! Same goes for your mental operating system.
When you look at addiction as a strategy, it allows you to examine why it exists and the root cause of the psychology driving it.
What benefits do you get from the addiction? What does the thing you are addicted to provide?
- Pleasure/pain avoidance
The pattern started somewhere, the strategy was initially used for specific reasons. You must get to the core of this and know why you use it, and what it is used for.
That allows you to arrive at a conscious design and choice of how to get those same benefits using a different strategy. If you are going to apply addiction differently and pick a new strategy, it must match or exceed the same benefits you were getting with the old one.
Addiction is great psychology and really a superpower when applied to the right things. Focus on your strength, find an addiction that serves you!
If you know someone who has struggled with an addiction, please share this message. Let them know there are options available, they can take their power back and create new, empowering strategies.
As always, we are here to help as well.