The Positive Side of Addiction

By: John Mark Krejci, Ph.D. | January 31, 2020

What could possibly be positive about addiction? You know the emotional pain, destructive behaviors, and chaos associated with this increasingly common and unfortunate phenomenon. This unhappy situation surely cannot have a “rosy” side, but it does.

The positive part of addiction starts with realization and motivation

When addiction makes one’s life untenable, the motivation to seek help often increases. The addicted person then has an opportunity to seek healthy solutions to put an end to the pain. The process may take years, but I believe that the addicted ultimately realize that they have a problem. When they share this realization with someone else, they then begin crossing over to the positive side of addiction.

What is good about addiction?

The good that can come from addiction is the discovery of the root issue that initiated the march to addiction and its potential resolution. To start the process, I first ask the question, “What is good about addiction for you?” (It matters not what the addiction is, whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, pornography, food, gambling, whatever.) The answer almost always is that it helped them to escape from their problems, however brief the relief. The addictive behavior served as a coping mechanism, albeit flawed. It helped them to deal with the discomfort they would otherwise experience.

As a psychologist with experience treating substance abuse and addictive behaviors, I learned that alcohol, drugs, and other abuses such as gambling, food, or pornography do not cause the addiction but rather serve as symptoms of the problem. Almost invariably, an emotional issue underlies addictive acts, thoughts, and behaviors.

Why do people use substances that hurt them?

Chaotic and self-destructive addictive behavior serves as a survival mechanism. Addicted persons use the substance to shield themselves from the emotional pain of their problems. This includes people with unresolved trauma, grief, depression, anxiety, and other issues. Self-medicating through substance abuse can persist for years or decades. Some come to treatment saying they were a “functional alcoholic.” To me, this term really means a “less-than-fully-functional human being.” The person may be able to work and make money, but their addiction still impacts their lives in profoundly negative ways. Successful treatment uncovers the potential for much higher functional levels in all aspects of the person’s life.

What is addiction?

Mental health professionals use the term “substance use disorder” instead of addiction, but here I use more common terms. As a professional treating addiction, I learned that it is an epidemic. It will affect you or people you know during your lifetime.

To help you recognize addiction, its clinical indicators include:

    • You use the substance more than you mean to
    • You want to or have tried to cut down but haven’t been able
    • You spend much time trying to get the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects
    • You crave it and cannot get the thoughts out of your mind
    • You keep using despite the problems
    • You give up or miss out on activities because of the substance
    • You use, despite its physical dangers (e.g., drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana and driving)
    • You use even though you know it makes you worse off psychologically or physically
    • Your use interferes with school, work, or your home life

If you experience just two of the above, you meet the clinical definition of a drug or alcohol disorder. Thinking that you do not meet any of the criteria does not mean you don’t have a problem. If you use something excessively to avoid coping with unresolved emotional issues, you will struggle and have problems in your relationships until you get help. You may feel distressed but don’t know why. My clinical opinion is that facing your issues will make you better in the long run. This may seem scary or even impossible, but if you know you have a problem and are ready to improve, what do you do?

Get help in stages

Make an appointment with a mental health professional. Doing so will increase your chance of successful treatment. Seek a trained addiction specialist for formal treatment. Individual and group therapy exist as primary resources for maintaining long-term sobriety. Maintain social support, be it from family, partners, friends, or others committed to the successful treatment of the addiction.

For some, the problem may necessitate residential or inpatient treatment, such as Passages in Malibu or ATON in Encinitas. These residential programs offer different types of therapy from 9 am to 5 pm on weekdays. Insurance may pay for stays of a few weeks up to a month. Afterwards, intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) usually follows, consisting of 4 hours per day for 2 or 3 days per week of therapy with the person returning home nights and weekends.

After residential and IOP treatment, or if you are already in the maintenance stage, a combination of weekly individual and group therapy helps to maintain continuing sobriety. Going to meetings for the rest of your life is not necessary in my clinical opinion, but for those feeling strongly that they need to go to meetings after the first few years of sobriety should by all means do so. Therapy Changes will be offering a Solution-focused Sobriety group to assist clients in establishing long-term maintenance of their sobriety. Visit our Groups and Workshops page in the coming weeks for more information.

Encourage from within

Overcoming addiction may be the hardest thing you ever do. You have to want to get better. You need to put in the effort. Seek support from others. Talk to mental health professionals. Talk to others with similar struggles. Face the issue. Find the courage that exists within you. You will see that you can reconnect and form better connections with romantic partners, family, and friends. You can enjoy life and discover that there actually is a positive side to addiction.

 

Image: Lennart Tange on flickr and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0

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