Are your clients caught in a downward addiction spiral causing helplessness and frustration? While there are many reasons for addictive behavior, certain emotions such as anger can fuel the addictive cycle. This in turn increases the intensity of the emotion and amplifies distructive behavior resulting in an out of control moment.
Here are some examples. It starts with a painful event such as the loss of a job, the betrayal of a close friend or the disappointment of a missed opportunity. Each of these episodes can spark anger directed at another person or self-directed for failure to handle it properly. The feeling of anger is uncomfortable so they counteract it with a desire to escape or find pleasure. They turn to the addiction of choice: alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, spending money, porn, excessive exercising, soap operas, adrenaline, sugar, or video games. Other people in their life don’t like the addiction so they become angry withdrawn. The addict is now confused by the response because they were just trying to avoid being angry. This results in yet another painful event such as a fight, loss of respect or distrust. And the cycle repeats.
Acknowledge. The first step to stopping this crazy cycle is getting your client to acknowledge that they are repeating the same behavior over and over. This is not the time to blame others for the reason for the cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for it. The addict is responsible for their own emotions and resulting behavior. This maybe a new concept them as our culture is quick to blame others, parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations for bad behavior. But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking.
Stop at Anger. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a normal emotion which eveeryone feels. But there is something wrong with acting out inappropriately or doing an addictive behavior to escape the anger. Whether the resulting actions are aggressive, passive-aggressive or suppressive, anger is still controlling their behavior. It is normal to feel angry when hurt by someone else or when someone hurts someone else. It is not healty to take it to the next step and escape from the anger. Rather anger should be acknowledged and confronted. Just saying the words, “I am angry but I’m going to act responsibly” can restore the out of control feeling.
Understand Addiction. What is their addiction of choice? More than likely there is more than one. Begin by taking an inventory of their go-to addictions. Many times they will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the angry emotion to the additive behavior. This is because they have developed a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs. In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell. Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate. They have done the same thing with addiction. The feeling of anger is no longer needed to justify the addictive behavior; rather they go straight from the painful event to the addiction. Once the addictive behaviors are identified, they can trace backwards to the angry moment when the desire to abuse is first felt.
The crazy cycle can be stopped from destroying their life. They do not have to be a victim to addiction or allow painful events determine responds. Relapse happens but it is never too late to turn around no matter what others around you say. Who they are is NOT defined by their mistakes. Who they are is defined by their character. Ironically, it is mistakes which shapes character more than successes.