Individual Addictions Counselling in Calgary.
Addiction: Why would anyone choose THAT?
As one scientist after another tells us that addiction simply isn’t a disease and that no-one is powerless over addictive behaviours, so many of my clients are asking one simple (though rhetorical) question: “If addiction really is a choice, then who would ever choose to be an addict?”
It’s a good question — one that exposes a lot of emotional pain. More often then not, I find that statements about, “Addiction being a choice,” are usually heard by my clients as a harsh judgment of them. Many clients have told me that all they really hear in that research is, “You’re an addict simply because you are a lousy person and choose stupid things.”
It’s a very damaging message for clients struggling to get free of addiction — most of whom will freely admit that they already engage in huge self hatred as a result of their addictive behaviours. For many, it makes that discredited powerlessness/disease based model of addictive behaviour look quite appealing. At least, that model doesn’t make them feel any worse about themselves…
But, though a disease and powerlessness based models may make many people temporarily feel better, they create a vicious cycle that, ultimately, keeps people trapped in addiction. The sad thing is, the truth about addictive patterns just don’t have to make anyone feel shamed.
Are addictive behaviours really a choice?
Really, no one wakes up one day and consciously chooses addiction. People do, however, make five key choices that, together, do amount to a choice of addiction. Or, perhaps another way of saying it is that the combined impact of those incredibly damaging choices makes addiction seem to be inescapable and seem to be something you are powerless over.
Let’s look at those damaging choices:
Five key choices people make that result in addiction:
(1). They decide to avoid change.
Life is fundamentally about change. From the moment of birth to the moment of death, life is a continual series of changes — most of which are not especially comfortable. However, as we risk growth and change, we mature and gain the ability to cope with later steps of change. For some people though, they get taught too poorly and hurt too deeply to continue to take those risks. Addiction is the result of a pain-triggered immaturity — a refusal to grow up by way of facing emotionally difficult things.
The longer we avoid those emotionally difficult things, the more they and their discomfort piles up. And, that pain seems to require a pain killer — which is really all addictive behaviours are.
(2). They don't take responsibility for what they think.
Our thoughts and beliefs are powerful. When we think and believe false things, that doesn’t make them true — but it does allow those belief systems to deliver a huge payload of chaos into our lives.
Families that produce people who struggle with addiction are also generally families that fail to guide their members in how to attend to their inner world of thoughts and beliefs and families that never teach effective mechanisms for coping with emotions. (Usually with destructive results in the most high-risk of situations.)
If you are looking for the most miserable people on the planet, go looking for those who refuse to accept change and believe everything they think, and you will have found them…
(3). They fail to acknowledge their own need to pursue fulfillment and happiness.
The American constitution has written into it the, “Right to pursue happiness.” It’s safe to say that the founding fathers of the United States likely didn’t have the Partridge Family, “Come on, get happy,” definition in mind when they wrote that. The definition they were actually working from came from a Greek word: Eudaimonia which basically translates as, “Human flourishing.”
Those founding fathers understood that we each have an internal compass designed to lead us towards a meaningful and fulfilling life. Healthy people tune into their deepest desires, take ownership of their longings and then consciously pursue things that bring them fulfillment and happiness.
(4). They fail to distinguish between what simply relieves pain and what provides real fulfillment.
People will often say that a drunk person is, “Feeling no pain.” In other words, they have numbed their ability to feel pain and then deluded themselves into believing that all their needs have been met by the alcohol — at least until the next morning.
Both water and alcohol will take away the discomfort associated with being thirsty — but only one of the two really leaves you more hydrated. The inability to distinguish between a pain reliever and something that actually meets a need usually causes a person to choose the pain reliever — because it’s so much easier to get.
(5). They believe it’s other people’s job to bring them fulfillment and happiness.
Especially in Christian circles, self-sacrifice is an incredibly popular path to a false happiness. “If you could just see how much I’ve sacrificed for you, you would automatically step up and meet my needs.” Those other people, however, rarely, if ever, step up and unhappiness continues.
Real fulfillment, however, comes from living in a way that is true to your own self and who you were made to be — perhaps, in contrast to self-sacrifice, through selflessly giving to others because it fulfills you.
Truly fulfilled people know happiness and fulfillment comes from within. They take direct responsibility for making choices that meet their needs and for choosing internal belief systems that continually cause them to become more fully human and more fully alive.
What makes someone an addict?
People who resist change, let their thoughts run wild, take no responsibility for pursuing what they were made for, numb the pain of all of the above and then expect others to provide for their fulfillment and happiness inevitably end up trapped in varying degrees of misery. And, people who hurt need a pain killer — which is what all addictions really are.
I repeatedly see that, when my addiction counselling clients understand those choices, they are far from powerless. Really, they are infinitely capable of changing thoughts and beliefs, learning new skills and making different choices!
The good news is that all five of those choices can be reversed if you will simply reach out for help. You can learn to have power over addiction and discover the ability to choose NOT to be an addict!