Over my years as a counselor, much of my professional life has been spent in dealing with those suffering from some form of negative addiction. These present in various ways: alcohol, gambling, or other drugs. We can harm ourselves with food, compulsive shopping, and even social media obsession.
Ironically, many of us are puzzled by the addictive behavior of others while engaging in our own form of self-defeating conduct.. “How can smokers do that to themselves?” we wonder while we are enjoying an extra cocktail or craft beer. “Why do gamblers blow their paycheck?,” we ponder, as we take in an extra jelly donut. Thanks for a baker’s dozen!
The point is obvious: The shortcomings of others blind us from our own weakness or harmful predilections. But let’s look a little deeper into this puzzling behavior. Let’s explore the nature of all negative action. As diverse as the manifestations of negative behavior may be there is also this common component to them:
All negative behavior generates a perceived positive initial benefit, followed by a longer-termed problem or damage.
So why does a person who is struggling with a weight problem indulge in a loaded pizza? First of all, because it tastes good. Second, because it provides a sense of escape, or respite. Perhaps, even revenge. One person sneaks a drink while another succumbs to an ill-advised trip to a casino. Each is essentially seeking a good feeling. And that can come via the alcohol ound in red wine or the adrenalin produced making your point on a craps table.
As the italicized statement above suggests, addictive conduct flows from short-term thinking. It is generally driven by emotion rather than carefully considered, rational thought. While working with clients, I often pose the question, “What were you thinking?” when a client lapses into some addictive behavior. My query is neither sarcastic nor critical. It is meant to be taken literally. It invites us to examine the thought and emotions that led to our pattern of self-harm. The drink, bet, or buy simply blur our thinking and provide succor from painful or fearsome situations.
Think about it. Consider it. Examine it. Then act accordingly.
As Socrates counsels us, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Addiction is the only prison that has the locks on the inside!