Why are addictive behaviors, well, so hard to resist? We know they are bad for us. We know they won’t give us what we ultimately want. We’ve had times where we assure ourselves that we will not return to behaviors that have hurt us in the past…and hurt our families. We’re sure we would never find them appealing again.
And then we find ourselves returning to the habit again.
I’ve written more recent blog posts here and here on the topic of addictions (you can also use the search engine on this page to find others). You may also check out my “Slides, Articles, etc.” for links to talks on the cycle of addiction. Here, I want to help non-addicts take the mystery out of why addictions are so addicting.
- I feel a particular “need” (craving, desire, want, …and I feel desperate about the “need”
- I solve the need with something that fills the need, at least temporarily.
Think about it. You wouldn’t drink alcohol for 2 days in order to get the benefit. You drink because in 20 minutes you will get the benefit. You wouldn’t view porn for a week in order to finally get some payoff. You view porn to get the pay off now.
Of course, when we solve with the addictive behavior, we rarely calculate the cost because the cost does not seem all that nearby. But the cost is there nonetheless. Cover-ups, deception, use leads to shame, self-hatred, distance from family, and ironically, increased desires or “need.”
On the other hand, “waiting” delays the use of the “substance.” When waiting includes using spiritual resources, friends, and other helpful mechanisms, it often encourages careful self-assessment. In time, the “need” may become more distant and the addict may come to see how unhelpful the “substance” really is. In Christian terms, this casting our burdens/desires on the Lord reminds us that we are not in the fight alone.
Why is it so hard to resist addictive behavior? Because they always give a pay off now. And Godly, wise, mature, delay or waiting tactics will never pay off in the immediate at the same rate of power. Praying IS powerful but God is not a vending machine and so praying rarely gives a person a cellular high.
If you are walking alongside an addict, remember that addictions make lots of sense and resisting almost always means increased pain, angst, and desire. So be sure to encourage them along the way. Telling them that their “I need” isn’t accurate may be true but probably won’t help them let go of desire. Rather, try hanging out with them in the “decision” spot pictured above. Sometimes when we delay deciding to use for a bit, we actually gain capacity to say no.
§By “work” I mean how we move from desire to action. I am not speaking here of the biological processes of addiction.