Lie #1: Addicts have a choice about becoming addicted.
Truth: Addicts don’t choose to be addicted to their substance or compulsive behavior. Nobody starts drinking, smoking, gambling, masturbating, looking at pornography, taking pills, spending, or having sex with the goal of becoming dependent on it. It usually starts out very harmless. Maybe it starts with a drink with friends, a puff of a friend’s cigarette, a night out at the casino for the first time, or a prescription after a surgery. Possibly it made you feel included, a little bit of relief from your stressful life, the social aspect of it, or feeling loved. It happens innocently, but it can easily turn into a compulsion. You don’t choose it and sometimes you don’t even know you’re dependent until you try to stop, a friend expresses concern, or you start having relationship problems.
Lie #2: Addicts enjoy their addictive behavior.
Truth: The drinking, smoking, sex or gambling may have started out as fun, but addicts don’t enjoy being a prisoner to their substance or behavior. I know this may be hard for some people to believe, but it’s true. Once you cross that line into dependence it’s not fun anymore. You can’t stop any time you want to. You can’t stop thinking about it. You can’t have just one. You can’t just do it one more time. You are obsessed with when your next high will be. You forget how to have fun without it. You dream about it. You need it more and more. It becomes more important than your loved ones, your job, and your life. It completely high-jacks your ability to use good judgment. It consumes you. Does this sound like fun? Absolutely not.
Lie #3: Addicts have poor morals.
Truth: Addicts are not bad people. Most addicts have a very high moral standard, but they violate their own moral standards because they are dependent on a substance or behavior. Compulsive behavior is not a moral flaw or an indication of poor values. In fact, that is one of the many reasons why the compulsive behavior is an addiction, because it violates even your own morals and you cannot stop despite the consequences. Yes, addicts do bad things. In fact, human beings do bad things. We all do bad things, but that doesn’t make us inherently bad. Yes, addicts lie. They cheat on their spouses. They get DUI’s and get into fights. They lose their life savings gambling and find themselves looking at pornography instead of making love to their partner. They hurt people and they break people’s hearts. But, you know what? People that are not even addicted to a substance or behavior cheat on their spouses, spend way too much money, look at pornography, lie, get into fights, hurt people and break people’s hearts. The point? Non-addicts and addicts are all human beings who make mistakes. We all hurt people with our behavior and our choices at times in our life.
Lie #4: Only certain types of people become addicted to something.
Truth: Anyone can be addicted. Yes, that’s right, ANYONE! Addiction does not discriminate by social class, race, professional groups, gender, or age. Addiction happens to homeless people, rich people, middle class, men, women, adults, teenagers, elderly, White, Black, Asian, Native American, Americans, Europeans, doctors, lawyers, grocery store clerks, bank presidents, full time mom’s, full time dad’s, school teachers, and therapists. I think you get the idea here. Nobody is exempt.
Lie #5: It’s easy to quit.
Truth: If you are addicted to a substance or behavior it is NOT easy to quit. In fact, if it is easy for you to just quit, you’re probably not addicted to or dependent upon that substance or behavior. Addiction is a disorder in which the reward center of the brain no longer functions in a normal way. Once you’re addicted to something you believe you “need” that something. You have withdrawals without it. The withdrawals don’t have to be physical, they can be psychological. You need more and more and more to get the same high you used to. It takes a real commitment to quit something once you’re dependent. You may need therapy, medication, detox, inpatient treatment, group therapy, support groups, accountability partners, getting your family and friends involved. Better yet, you may do ALL of these things to improve your odds of quitting, but you don’t just quit with the snap of a finger overnight.
Lie #6: Addicts don’t care if they are hurting others or they would quit.
Truth: Addicts don’t do what they do to hurt their family and friends. In fact, most addicts believe they are hurting nobody but themselves. They don’t typically realize the ripple effect until their spouse leaves them, they lose their job, their kids avoid them, or somebody does an intervention. Let’s do a quick experiment. Try this for me. Put your hand as close to your eyes as possible. What do you see? Only the palm of your hand, right? You can’t see the room behind your hand, if someone is standing there, or what is even happening in the background. You only see the close up of your hand. That’s exactly how addiction is. When you’re into something so deep that you’re dependent you don’t see anything else happening around you except what’s right in your face. You become blinded by your substance or behavior. It consumes you. You don’t mean to hurt people. Hurting friends and family is a natural result of addictive behaviors.
I hope that these truths are helpful to you or someone you care about. Let’s keep this discussion going. Addiction and other compulsive behaviors are treatable and beatable with the right help and especially the truth!
Written by Angie Ridings, LPC, LADC