Beliefs help form expectations of what we can and cannot do. Research confirms many addicted individuals hold dysfunctional beliefs that keep them at risk of continued use (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993):
- General exaggerated sensitivity to unpleasant feelings
- Low motivation to control behavior
- Low impulse control
- Excitement seeking and low tolerance for boredom
- Low tolerance for frustration
- A sense of hopelessness for ever achieving pleasure in a way that does not include alcohol or drugs
Dysfunctional beliefs play a huge role in urges and decisions to use. Recognizing and breaking down your false beliefs will help you manage your cravings. Dysfunctional beliefs fuel cravings. They are often used by individuals to justify continued use of drugs and alcohol. People use dysfunctional beliefs to ignore, minimize, and deny problems arising from their drug use. They often blame problems on something or someone other than the true source of the problems, their use of drugs or alcohol.
Dysfunctional beliefs of people who are addicted are frequently centered on the individual’s sense of hopelessness about being able to stop drinking and using. These beliefs develop over time. The individual’s original belief, I should drink or use to relax and be part of the group, becomes I need to drink or use to be accepted. The belief is gradually expanded to include using as a response to a single negative emotion such as feeling angry. This belief is then expanded to include using as a response to all negative emotions. I have to take a snort when I am l lonely, unhappy, angry, worried or even a little distressed. Eventually the person is using whether they are alone, around somebody, happy or sad – it doesn’t matter. Dysfunctional beliefs gradually lead to increased use and an increased number of reasons to use (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
The depression or sadness that is always experienced after using most drugs including cocaine, heroin, or alcohol results in more craving to counteract this low feeling. The dysfunctional beliefs expand to include, I need to use just to feel better. When drugs or alcohol are taken to relieve all stress, all anxiety, all sadness, and all the natural occurring tension in our lives, it reinforces the person’s belief that they can’t tolerate unpleasant feelings or function without alcohol or drugs (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
The most commonly held erroneous belief by people who are addicted is that they have little or no control over their urges and behaviors. They incorrectly believe that craving is irresistible. Unfortunately, this dysfunctional belief leads to the acceptance of and expectation that relapse is inevitable. I have no choice. This belief sets up the individual who has experienced addiction, for the continuous expectation of failure and the continuous fear of loss of control. This belief causes a high level of stress that increases alcohol and drug use (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
The notion of total loss of control is too simplistic. It does an injustice to you and the internal resources available to you. In fact, all people who use and abuse drugs and alcohol do exercise control most of the time. When the urge is not strong or the substance is not available, you are able to abstain (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993). You have had the experience of craving and not acting on urges to use. You have been in control and you are in control now.
When you were using, craving led to routine drug taking. You immediately scanned your surroundings to act on your urge. You made a plan: I’m going to the liquor store or I’m going to the corner to get drugs. You became mobilized to act. You got ready to use. You put on your hat, your coat, found some money, and went on your way to get drugs or alcohol. While acting on the urge you experienced a variety of sensations similar to hunger or yearning for something. You operated under your appetite or pleasure principle. You ignored your reality principle, which is that you really wanted to control the urge. And you really wanted to quit using (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993).
The wish not to use is experienced as a mental state rather than a gut state of craving. The wish not to use has a thinking component (Beck, Wright, Newman, & Liese, 1993). And, it’s more than just a feeling of discomfort. What powers the will not to use is decision-making and repeated re-commitment to abstinence and your life goals. That is one of the reasons why you need to write your life goals down, keep them in your pocket, and read them frequently.