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Therapy and Treatment

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Treating Addiction

Carrying on from last article, the next series of articles will be looking at theories and approaches to addiction.  The first theory is called Addictive Thinking and was put forward by Abraham J Twerski in his book “Addictive Thinking”. There are many components to this, but this approach centers on the fact that as a society we are taught addictive thinking by things like advertising and an instant gratification mindset. This is because addictive thinking has a superficial logic that can be very seductive and misleading, for example convincing yourself you need something using a reason that makes superficial sense at the time but in reality you don’t need what you are encouraging yourself to believe you do: “I need a new pair of shoes because I have a party to go to and don’t want to look stupid wearing something I already own” – in reality you probably have a perfectly good pair of shoes you could wear to the party, the second part of the quote referring to “looking stupid” describes another component of addictive thinking, distorted thinking. Why on earth would you look stupid wearing a pair of shoes you already own? This is something we have been taught by the media, if a celebrity “recycles” a piece of clothing they’re berated for it by the media. Distorted thinking doesn’t necessarily indicate an addict but it is a component of addictive thinking depending on intensity and regularity. Our culture embraces addictive thinking because of the “instant gratification” – this can be clearly seen with things like social media. I see it A LOT in my therapy room: “it takes two minutes to send a text!” “He hasn’t replied to my Facebook message!” “She hasn’t tweeted me in 2 days!” and my personal favourite and bane of my life….Whats App “I can see they’re online, why haven’t they sent me a message? They can see I’m online too!”. Young people can be taken in by promises of euphoria, be that through drugs or through attention, but they ignore the negatives (addiction to drugs, possible poisoning or bad reaction, being stalked by a weirdo or peadophile on social media) because of society’s embrace of addictive thinking. 

Addictive thinking is self-deceptive but can also mislead others, these other people are called co-dependents. This is especially common in the early stages of addiction when an addict’s perspective and account of what is happening may look reasonable on the surface. Addictive thinking is different from logical thinking because it doesn’t reach a conclusion based on the evidence or the facts of a situation – it’s the reverse. The addict begins with the conclusion: “I need a drink / drug / to gamble etc…” and then they build a case for that conclusion whether it’s logical or not and whether the facts support it: “…because I’ve had a bad day / I feel down / I need to have fun with my friends in the pub / drug den / casino etc” Everyone gets taken in by addictive thinking but the person most affected is the person doing the deceptive thinking (the addict or the co-dependent).

Much of the denial experienced in addictive thinking is due to the intense resistance to change. When the alcoholic says “I wouldn’t have to drink the way I do if my partner were more considerate” they are really saying “I don’t need to change. Make my partner change, I’ll be fine then”. This is reminiscent of the theory put forward by Eric Berne MD – author of “Games People Play” – he suggested that we all play games in life and one of these is “If it Weren’t For You”. He also put forward a game called “Alcoholic” and a game called “Addict” – both of these I’ll discuss next time as I’m running out of word count!

The self deceptive features of addictive thinking and co-dependency have much in common:

  • Denial, Rationalisation, Projection
  • Contradictory ideas co-exist
  • Fierce resistance to change oneself, desire to change others
  • Delusion of control (“I can stop whenever I want”)
  • Low self esteem

Most emotional problems in terms of addiction probably stem from low self esteem (unless there’s a physical problem) but a large part of the addiction is the immediacy of the high, again demonstrating the instant gratification we have all come to expect from life.

Abraham Twerski quotes Dr David Sedlak MD and I think this will be a good note to end on as I want to reiterate that addicts are not bad people. We have to bear in mind that there are many levels of addiction and Sedlak says that addictive thinking comes from an inability to reason with oneself. This is not a moral failure of a person’s willpower but rather a disease of the will and an inability to use the will. This thinking disorder does not affect other kinds of reasoning so an addict can be intelligent, intuitive, persuasive and capable of valid philosophical and scientific reasoning. In my opinion, and in Twerski’s opinion, using this approach with an addict would mean helping them to become aware of and then changing the pattern of their addictive thinking.

Next time I’ll discuss Eric Berne MD’s approach to addiction and alcoholism. If anyone has any questions or comments please get in touch! If you would like to speak to a therapist please visit our website and contact one of our advertising therapists...

by Jenny