Magazine article Psychology Today

The Truth about Addictive Triggers

Magazine article Psychology Today

The Truth about Addictive Triggers

Article excerpt

THE URGE TO DRINK OR USE DRUGS IS NOT AN ENEMY TO BE SUMMARILY VANQUISHED BUTA SIGNAL TO FERRET OUT THE ROOT CAUSE, by Lance Dodes, NI.D.

PEOPLE WHO SUFFER ADDICTIONS are handed plenty ofbad advice. "Don't think about addictive thoughts" is one memorable catchphrase.The fact is that addiction has neen deeply misunderstood for decades, and in some ways the field is worse off today than ever. Society has failed to understand the psychology behind addictive behavior, which not surprisingly has led to most treatment failures.

Addiction is all about seeking a remedy lor overwhelming feelings of helplessness, and the exact form of an addiction, whether drinking or eating, is no more than a focus for the addiction, not its cause. This is why people so often change the form of their addiction, moving from alcoholism to gambling to compulsive shopping. Wouldn't it be strange if people really were powerless over the focus of their addiction? When a person switches from alcoholism to gambling we'd have to say he was now helpless over something new. As the focus shifted there could be no end to the things he was powerless over-it could spread like wildfire. "I used to be powerless over just alcohol, but now peanut butter has me in its grip."

The notion that people are entirely powerless over the focus of their addiction is demoralizing. Addictions are neither more nor less than compulsions, behaviors most people have to some degree. That fact has been a great relief to people with addictions who have been made to feel less than the rest of humanity. But if you buy the idea that you are powerless over a chemical in a bottle-or the peanut butter on the shelf-then you are deprived of this honest relief.

Addictive behaviors arise because they serve as an antidote to feelings of immense vulnerability in specific situations; the addictive behavior is a way to take control against feeling helpless. With alcoholism, for example, instead of taking action (say, confronting an unhappy marriage), the act of drinking becomes a "displacement," or substitute, for dealing directly with the source of the helplessness. As a result of this displacement, all the intense fury at feeling powerless is channeled into the drive to perform this substitute action, drowning in whiskey.

It's essential to pay attention to the first sign of addictive thoughts. That moment happens sometimes hours, or even days, before the act. …

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