Cultivating Self-Control to Battle Addiction
If you love an addict and you’ve ever asked yourself, “Why doesn’t he/she just stop?” you’re far from alone. However, the reality is that the nature of substance use disorder is complex. Unfortunately, many people fail to understand the degree to which addiction takes over both body and brain — often rendering addicts unable to stop using even when they want to and desperately wish they could. This isn’t to say that learning and practicing self-control can’t be an important part of the recovery process.
Here’s a closer look at the issue, along with tips aimed at helping addicts find balance.
Drugs and the Brain
It’s a common misconception that addiction is a character flaw. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Brown University professor of psychiatry and human behavior Dr. Robert Swift told the Providence Journal, “Drugs of abuse change the structure of the brain. It’s a brain disease, not a weakness of character.”
“Control” is a word that comes up again and again in substance abuse treatment.
Another way to look at it, according to addiction specialists? No one sets out to become an addict. However, drugs hijack the brain and take over. This occurs as part of a vicious cycle. People take drugs because of the way they make them feel; these positive effects lead them to continue taking the drug. Over time, this leads to the distortion of two brain systems: the limbic system, which is responsible for pleasure; and the frontal cortex, where decision-making happens.
While these two systems usually work symbiotically together, drugs feed the limbic system and starve the frontal cortex. Ultimately, the former completely outpowers the later, and the result is that addicts lose their judgment — and themselves — in substances.
It’s also important to note that vulnerability to addiction varies from person to person, and is influenced by many factors including an individual’s genetics, environment, and experiences. While ideally, people predisposed to addiction would use their frontal cortices to avoid venturing into drug use in the first place, this simply always isn’t the case.
Tips for Cultivating Self-Control
Unfortunately, once people do fall victim to drug use, addiction, and the consequent brain changes, the damage is permanent, which is one of the reasons relapse is such a threat. But this doesn’t mean there’s no hope. Rather, people who are in recovery can learn and hone practices which can help them control their urges. “In other words, addiction needs to be vigilantly managed like any chronic illness, such as diabetes and asthma, which have similar rates of relapse,” contends the Providence Journal.
Certain attitudes and practices can help support self-control in the addiction process. These include having a positive outlook and maintaining the mindset that we are ultimately in control of our actions; setting definable and attainable goals; monitoring progress; using visualization techniques to enhance motivation; gradually building self-confidence; practicing willpower; avoiding temptations and triggers; reminding yourself how and why improving self-control matters; and understanding the role that each positive act has in supporting subsequent one. While none of these strategies can complete “fix” self-control issues, self- control will increase with routine use of these techniques.
“People who are struggling with addiction work harder than anyone I know. They have to fight the urges and compulsion to use the drug.” The more addicts understand addiction, the more prepared they’ll be to fight the battle. Furthermore, the more an addict’s network of loved ones is aware of these challenges, the better prepared they’ll be to support him/her on the journey to wellness.
Substance abuse treatment play an invaluable role in raising understanding and awareness in both addicts and the people who love them, while also teaching and reinforcing the development of critical self-control skills. St Louis drug rehab Harris House has a long and successful history of helping addicts on the path to recovery. Call us today to learn about admissions.