Have you ever wondered why people with addictions can't just stop what they're doing? Have you ever been addicted to something that was hurting you but kept doing it anyway?
A recent study shows that a drug's effect is equally determined by our expectation of it as the actual biochemical changes in the body and brain. See the full article here:
This study focused on the effects of nicotine, but similar results have been found with alcohol and cocaine. Likely, the same is true for many drugs. The beliefs of the person using substances is not always emphasized as an important component of the addiction process, but this evidence suggests we should pay close attention to it. Using this evidence, counselors can intervene in the thinking and belief process as a primary part of treatment, and provide better outcomes for clients earlier in the process of recovery.
For instance, if a person uses cocaine a time or two and experiences the exaggerated sense of confidence and increasd energy the drug is known for, it's likely they will come to expect those effects the next time they take it. They will start to associate using cocaine with the state of being confident and having energy. That association may lead to a belief that confidence comes from using cocaine, even when the drugs' effect begins to change with repeated use into sleeplessness, agression, and irritability.
Beliefs are different than thoughts or feelings. Beliefs are global assessments of the world, ourselves, and others, and are not easily changed once established. Beliefs are established from thoughts that are repetitive and seem to be grounded in reality. Hence, the thought "it's important to be confident and energetic" combined with the feeling "I feel confident and energetic when I do cocaine" turns into the belief that "cocaine can help me with my fundamental problem of lacking confidence and energy." And the individual keeps using because they believe this is true, even when the negative consequences of the drug start to outweigh the perceived positive ones.
Likewise, in recovery, new beliefs are formed and, with reinforcement and social support, can replace old ones to encourage abstinence. For instance:
Thought: "My boss just threatened to fire me, and without my job I'll lose my home."
Feeling: "I'm afraid of losing job and home."
Belief: "Using cocaine can cause me to lose what's most important to me."
These findings are important, not just in the context of how addiction develops, but also in how it's treated and overcome.
What beliefs of yours might feed a negative habit? It can be a helpful question to ponder.
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Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.