The Heart of Addiction

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How psychology drives addictive behavior.

by Lance Dodes, M.D.

Treating Addiction a New Way

Understanding the psychology of addiction makes it controllable. Published on November 15, 2010

In my last post I briefly summarized the psychology of addiction. I said that treatment of addiction has had generally poor results because its very nature, its psychology, has not been well understood. Of course, this raises the next question: How does understanding its psychology allow people to control their addictive behaviors? Here is an example, taken from my book, “The Heart of Addiction.” It is the follow-up to the story of Marion whom I introduced last time.

Marion addictively used the drug Percodan. She lived with, and passively put up with, a domineering husband. On one occasion, when he called and demanded she drop everything and prepare a dinner for him and several business associates, she had quietly agreed, then immediately took some Percodans. I described her addictive action as a reaction against an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Taking her drug (or even just deciding to take it) reversed her helplessness. This worked because even though she had been powerless to stand up to her husband, now she could, and would, do something that was completely in her control, something she believed would make her feel better. In taking this action she empowered herself. And this action was driven by an intense rage at her helplessness. I pointed out that it is this powerful rage at helplessness (which is itself a normal response to feeling completely trapped) that gives to addiction its “addictive” qualities: its enormous intensity, blindness to consequences and apparent loss of judgment. Nobody has good judgment in the throes of rage at being overwhelmingly trapped.

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