Controlling Addiction is More Than Applying Will Power

By the time clients have come to see me they have tried to give up their addiction many times with will power, so I am not going to make them just do that again. What I try to do is look at the addiction from a multitude of viewpoints. First we need to find a motivation for change, tell stories about what led to the addiction, explore deep feelings of self-worth, discuss what the addiction is robbing them of, review and consider new values to live by and discuss deeper default reactions when confronted with feelings of; loneliness, anxiety, depression or stress that lead to the GO TO addiction.

This comprehensive awareness helps to create an implicit reason for change, rather than just relying on an explicit ‘must do’ behaviour change. In the end what the client wants is to get in control rather than the addiction controlling them.

Not having personal control is deep down frightening to clients. We are all prone to addiction as our brains are built that way. How addicted to your mobile or other Internet cyberspace platforms are you? If you feel pulled to look at your phone more than you secretly want to, and you are not in complete control of this behaviour, then you have a form of addicted behaviour. If you feel a loss without access to a mobile or Internet then your brain is wired to the dopamine hit of finding something interesting, new or exciting. Our brains do not enjoy boredom.

Welcome to the human race. Whether it is Tinder, pot, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, porn or whatever, you will know if the compulsion to repeat uncontrollable behaviour is causing you stress and feelings of negative self-worth by not having complete control. You will feel weak.

With the client’s permission the following is a story written about an addiction to alcohol – an addiction that was destroying a young man’s life and the potential to find a life partner and life happiness. Writing stories like this achieves two things; once written it is history and it then becomes something external for the client to observe the problem – the problem is the problem, they are not the problem. Names and places have been changed for obvious confidentiality. By calling the addiction a name like, IT, the addiction can be seen as a thing. 2 – 3 bottles of wine a night was the problem.

Dear IT (Alcohol)

You have been part of my life for some time now. You began during, if not before, my last relationship. When I was bored you were there, when I was lonely you were there. When I was frustrated and wanting to leave the relationship you were there. As I moved to Sydney, surroundings made me choose you to be there too. You were there every night.

We did a lot together and you were a constant in my life. When Bob came along you increased as Bob had his own IT. When we moved you now became a secret. Drinking in my room to hide IT. Fill the void, Escaping. Excessive and Growing.

Though I was super fit and enjoying being active and sociable, you, IT, were still a big part of outings with friends. I moved in to live with a flatmate. As it turns out he had also an issue with IT. Again you became acceptable and we all drank together. Then I sat up late in my room alone at night consuming so much IT I’d be calling in to work ‘sick’. More damage to myself and my room continued.

I have now decided again to try to let go of you IT. Small steps and more control.
So far I have now taken nights away from you. Begun gym, lost 7kgs, walk to work with no hangover. Now more alert at work. No more drinking IT watching Internet till late and drinking in my room.

As I slowly approach the point of no return, it’s time to begin to let you go IT. You have been there for some horrible times, just yourself being many of them. Only in the good times ahead are you are allowed.

You will still be around and it is very, very hard to let go. Harder than I ever imagined it would be. Can’t sleep without you but I’ll keep trying. I don’t want you this much in my life when I move to another state but I’m sure we will still cross paths again, just socially is my goal. Though it has been extremely hard, and it will get harder, I have to let go, I have to let go and build my own life without you IT.

I left you jingle, IT…

“Oh the weather outside if delightful
Drinking alone is frightful
There’s only one thing to know
Let IT go, Let IT go, Let IT go”

My client has made incredible progress and can experience faith rather than fear. He has a long way to go but he has the courage to take control of this addiction rather than it controlling him. Will power only is a tool that works for a small number of clients. There is neuroscience proof that if we stop doing a habit for a certain amount of time that GO TO pathway will become smaller. Providing the client with an implicit reason for change rather than just explicit behaviour change with a comprehensive look at the addiction story greatly assists in beating the addiction.

Gerry North is a couple counsellor who also specialising in the treatment of addictions, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and sexual matters.
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