“In Willpower’s Not Enough, Washton and Boundy agree. “Addictive thinking is increasingly common in today’s society and in our families,” they write. At the core of such thinking lies the belief that “life should be without pain and require no effort.” They add, “If we insist on avoiding emotional pain, on being comfortable all the time, we will have to seek ways to avoid reality, to escape our mood.” They then go on to describe some of the thinking patterns that are driving this “addictive thinking” and our lack of acceptance of who we are:
Some authorities say we’ve become a society full of compulsive thinking and behavior. From our “gotta get it, gotta have it” advertising to our obsessive focus on celebrities, our ‘need’ to phone, text, surf or watch videos while driving to our hunger for more food, energy, sex, entertainment or shopping – i.e. anything that will give us instant gratification, make us feel better, or escape pain or discomfort – many of us are caught up in activities that we are having trouble controlling.
“If addictions are more than just a disease or an illness that affects a relative few – but are a way of coping with life and seeking better feelings – that suggests that many of us would have them. And that perspective IS widely shared. For example, Dr. Gabor Mate, a medical doctor who works with addicts in Vancouver’s “downtown Eastside” (one of Canada’s most drug-affected urban areas) writes:
World-renowned author John Bradshaw – voted by his peers as “one of the most influential writers on emotional health in the 20th Century” – suggests that our inability to face and deal with our emotional pain is causing us to become addicted. In his pioneering book Bradshaw On: The Family, he says:
“When we look at society as a whole, relatively few of us will end up becoming cocaine, heroin or hard drug addicts. If Glasser’s three-stage theory is correct, however, many of us could well be using other kinds of experiences and behaviors to deal with our lack of inner happiness. So let’s consider them.
Where Does “Choice” Come In?
My Interpretation of the Meaning of Addiction
Is My Definition of Addiction Useful?
That’s all that matters. Is my definition useful for you? It really might not be and I encourage you to honor your “truth”. I really don’t want you to take what I’ve just said as being “The” “Truth” about addiction. If this definition fits for you, great. If not, that’s great too. Personally, here’s why I’ve found it useful:
1) It helps us decide for ourselves. This definition applies to our experience, rather than a “medical” diagnosis. This isn’t to deny the usefulness of expert opinions. However, since doctors, scientists and authorities in the field don’t agree on an absolute truth, this definition encourages people to look at their own behaviors and experience, and decide for themselves.
2) It’s inclusive, and not dependent on our history. This definition applies equally to someone who believes they have a disease and someone who doesn’t. In fact, it applies to whatever someone might see as “the cause,” be it disease, genetics, environment, upbringing, social-economic conditions or something else. Again, each of those has validity. However, my focus is on what people can do in the present – instead of experiencing themselves as victims of the past (including their birth) or powerless to change because of what they observe going on around them.
3) It is neither pro nor con the 12 steps. Sometimes a person is feeling so much shame or has come to feel so powerless over their “habit,” that being told they have a disease and that it is not their fault, and that there’s a solution through a “higher power” is very helpful. Exactly how and why it works is open to interpretation. But the fact is, for many it does.
However, not everyone believes that addiction is a disease. Some can’t accept the 12-step’s “spiritual/religious” approach. And for others, the belief in powerlessness isn’t useful and can even be debilitating. Some people believe they DO still have control over their habit or addiction. And I think that all these perspectives need to be honored. That’s why I’ve tried to use definitions and solutions that can work for anyone, regardless of their belief system.
4) This definition doesn’t separate addictions from habits. Since we all engage in behaviors which have negative consequences, this definition simply applies to those things that you feel unable to stop. However, this doesn’t separate them from the rest of your behaviors. And that means you can work with ANY or all of your habits, (including those that we call compulsions and addictions) at the same time.
5) It helps to ‘normalize’ addictions and remove some of the stigma. As we come to see these ‘patterns of behavior’ in ourselves, it begins to make them more commonplace or acceptable. It helps take some of the shame and guilt out of them. And it also connects us with others instead of separating and dividing us. If everyone has them – i.e. if we’re all doing things that result in different degrees of harm, discomfort or destructiveness – then we don’t have to feel so bad and alone. (This is a core experience of people with socially stigmatized addictions, by the way.) Instead, we can begin to look at these behaviors as simply part of human nature.
From the book Addiction & Choice, by Scott Gallagher
“For those kids that are being violently abused at home and are turning to addictions as a form of relief (a relief that may even be preventing them from killing themselves), and then you teach these kids that drugs and alcohol are bad and you should stop because if you don’t you will die, what impact could that have on those kids? Or that cigarettes and drugs are a gateway drug and will lead to greater addictions. What about the kid that is engaged in this thing we are calling a gateway drug?
What if it’s actually the belief that it could be a gateway drug that is the greatest determining factor on whether it becomes one or not; but, I don’t have scientific evidence for this. (I’ve actually gotten advice from a number of medical addiction doctors on how to get funding for my school program and have learned that the program is not ideal for funding because it utilizes the “power of belief,” which in the scientific and medical community has no value because it is considered part of the “placebo” effect.
People like Dr. Bruce Lipton, author of The Biology of Belief as well as my previous ADHD psychiatrist, Umesh Jain agree. Dr. Jain has encouraged me to find ways to scientifically measure the “placebo” as being an asset rather than an element that has no value. He said “what you are doing is using the placebo effect” to your benefit.
I don’t deny the potential positive impact of educating some kids with the potential dangers of various behaviors, but when we give all of our youth the anti-whatever scare tactic message, and don’t preface it by saying that ultimately the greatest power lies not in the drugs (or whatever behavior you are engaged in) but in your thoughts and beliefs, is it not possible that our good intentions might be actually killing some of them? I don’t know, but personally I’m not willing to risk the possibility. What’s the risk of teaching our youth that substances and behaviors are more powerful than them? What if these fear-based, controlling approaches are actually causing more damage and perpetuating the weaknesses, rather than empowering the greatness of our kids?
Dr. Jeffrey Schaler, author of Addiction is a Choice, says this;
“Teaching people in treatment for addiction problems that they ‘don’t know they have a problem’ may create a problem for them. Teaching them that they cannot control themselves may convince them that they cannot control themselves. Teaching them to believe that ‘treatment’ is the only solution to their problem may persuade them that they cannot solve problems on their own. It reinforces dependency. Teaching them that addiction is all-or-nothing may influence them to believe they can never be anything other than sick. Teaching them they’re powerless encourages them to act powerless. Teaching them that abstinence is the only way to control their addiction may make them think that whenever they are not totally abstinent, they are out of control. Then, when they do take the drug, they make themselves feel as if they are out of control.”
From the book Addiction & Choice, by Scott Gallagher
“Although the words “sabotage”, unproductive habits, avoidance behaviors, bad habits, destructive habits, chronic habits, thought patterns, disorders, compulsions and addictions have distinct meanings, this book takes a look at what they all have in common, so as to provide practices, principles and strategies to support organizations and people in living more productive lives - and regardless of their spiritual or religious beliefs.
The challenge for me in writing this book is “language.” In my effort to leave no one behind, sometimes, the language I use to describe “sabotage” patterns or someone else’s might build a wall between us rather than a bridge. Therefore, throughout this book, please mentally substitute the words that fit for you whenever you hear me talking about self-sabotage, unwanted habits, behaviors, compulsions or addictions (and anything else that doesn’t resonate). Because my intention is to speak directly to you, while at the same time reach out to as many people as possible.
I know that using language this way may risk “watering down” the meaning of these words. I realize too, that for some people, calling their unproductive habit, a “compulsion” or “addiction” would be judgmental and offensive.
I also deeply respect that for others, calling their compulsion or addiction a “habit” or “behavior” could be deeply insulting to them, minimizing the depth of their suffering, and invalidating the significance of what they had to go through, or are currently battling.
To be responsible for all of this this, I have added a chapter called “The Meaning of Addiction” that speaks more directly to those who identify more closely with the words “compulsions” or “addictions”.
Although rather technical and scientific, this chapter sets up my unconventional approach in dealing with those unwanted “habits” we define or label as being addictive. This chapter could also be of tremendous value to those committed to “eradicating” the stigma attached to mental health issues, whether they be addiction related or not.”
From the book Power of Choice Leadership, by Scott Gallagher