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Face the Reality of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction


Substance Abusers Are Trapped Inside a World of Delusion

It can often seem as if the substance abuser is living inside their own little world, and this is a fair description of what is actually happening. In order to continue with the alcohol or drug use, the addicted individual has to ignore the reality of their situation. The truth of what they are doing would make it harder for them to remain as they are, so they begin to replace this truth with beliefs that support the addiction. This is not something that the individual is doing wilfully, as it all happens subconsciously. The addicted brain pulls the person into a world of delusion because this is how its needs will be satisfied.

The View From Inside Addiction

The way that a substance abuser views the world can differ greatly from other people. It is built on fallacious thinking such as:

  • Rather than seeing the reality that alcohol or drugs is destroying their life, the individual who is addicted is more likely to believe that it is the thing that is helping them to cope. This person will be able to reattribute the suffering in their life to other causes. They will blame anything other the one thing that is the source of the suffering. The excuses for why their life is a mess will include things like a bad childhood, bad luck, uncaring society, disloyal friends and family, the government, or even the weather.
  • They will often believe that those who are trying to get them to quit the alcohol or drug use have a secret agenda – for example, they may believe that friends and family who complain about the behaviour are just killjoys. This means that they feel victimised by people who they believe are trying to interfere in their life.
  • The individual will usually hold onto beliefs that justify their behaviour such as “sober living is boring” or “substance abuse is a sign of creativity.” As the person progresses through addiction, they will pick up more and more of these untrue beliefs and this will further reinforce their addicted worldview.
  • The addicted person has a strong motivation to keep their worldview intact, and this means that they will cherry pick information to suit them. They will also find it easy to ignore any information that challenges their worldview.

Addiction and Cognitive Dissonance

There are a number of ways that the addicted individual is able to hide inside a reality of their own creation. The theory of cognitive dissonance may be able to explain how they manage to do this. When people have two conflicting beliefs, behaviours, or ideas in their heads it leads to a type of psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance. In the case of the individual who is addicted to alcohol or drugs they will have a strong desire to continue with the behaviour because of the physical and psychological addiction, but the person is also going to know that such behaviour is bad for them. The discomfort of cognitive dissonance associated with addiction forces the individual to take action, which could include:

  • The addicted person resolves the conflict by getting help to end their addiction. This way they remove the behaviour that is causing the cognitive dissonance.
  • The person can decide that that the claim that the addictive behaviour is bad for them is false. This will also mean that there is no longer any cognitive dissonance, and it explains how so many addicts can appear completely oblivious to the harm that they are causing themselves. This method of denial means that they will attribute the pain of addiction to other causes.
  • Another way that the individual can resolve the cognitive dissonance is by taking on another belief that will resolve the conflict. Therefore, in the case of the addicted individual they may accept that the behaviour is dangerous, but that they are somehow special and therefore immune from these dangers. This type of resolution to cognitive dissonance is very common.

The healthiest way to end the cognitive dissonance will be the first option above, but in the case of most people who are addicted they will choose the bottom two (often the two combined). It is important to keep in mind though, that this is not something that the individual is doing deliberately – it all happens in their unconscious, and they really do believe the claims they are making.

How to Face the Reality of Addiction

In order to escape the pain of addiction, the individual must be able to face reality. Here are a few suggestions for how this can happen:

  • There will be times when the addicted individual will find it harder to ignore the reality of their situation. This can happen when they have done something particularly bad, and they feel full of remorse. At these times, the person can be far more open to the idea that their substance abuse is out of control, and they need help.
  • An addiction therapist will be able to help the individual come to terms with their situation. This can be done using not only the therapy sessions, but by also getting the individual to keep a journal. For example, the therapist might ask the person to keep a record of the amount they are drinking, and this will make it harder for them to deny the reality of their problem.
  • An intervention is when the loved ones of an addicted individual come together to confront this person with their behaviour. The intensity of this type of intervention can be strong, that it does knock the individual out of their denial. In order for this type of action to work though, it will usually be necessary to have a professional lead it.
  • If the person begins to spend time around those who have managed to break away from addiction, it can chip away at their denial. Humans are highly influenced by the people they spend time with, and by spending time with positive role models, it can lead the person in a positive direction.

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