Knowing why something happens is not the ultimate solution to any problem.
If you go to the dentist and say, “Doc, my tooth is killing me”, is the pain resolved if he teaches you about the importance of enamel, sensitivity of dentyne, or the molecular make-up of the goop that goes on inside a tooth?
No. GET THE DRILL!
You could read about addiction theory until you are blue in the face, but it will not do you any good until you begin to put theory into action. Knowing about addiction is not the ultimate solution, but knowledge is power. Over the next few weeks we will be moving from theory to action and how to begin changing behavior around addiction.
I like to define behavior as observable activity.
This can include things like:
- How we choose to live.
- Who we choose to be around.
- What activities we choose to be included in.
- When (Setting) of choices we make.
It is important to understand that our behavior is driven by the things we want most. Wanting begins inside the mind. In fact, we are all engrained with a basic systematic approach to how we process thoughts that later lead to action.
It looks something like this…
A trigger leads to a thought.
Thought leads to a craving.
A craving leads to action.
A trigger is typically an object that sparks an emotion or desire inside of us. Traditionally, seeing a happy baby triggers something inside of us to forget the King’s English and engage in cooing and smiling. However, with addiction a trigger is the beginning stumbling block to using. An addiction trigger is typically a person, place, emotion, or experience that we have subconsciously connected to drug/alcohol use. Some examples of triggers include:
- Passing by the bar where, “Everybody knew your name.”
- While getting groceries you see “that person” you used to get high with.
- That “scent” that reminds you of the cologne Mr. Boyfriend in college wore. You remember him because he first introduced you to Meth.
- A feeling of excitement on Christmas morning that reminded you of the way you felt when you finally scored some dope after a long day.
- Stress, Anger, Joy, Sadness, Friends, Family, Shopping Malls, Freeway Exits, these can all be examples of triggers to individuals.
The mind is where the battlefield of the heart is fought. You either win with logic and rational, or you forfeit by acting on emotions alone.
Once a person has been conditioned to respond to a trigger, it is very difficult to ever break that bond. For example, I love Jimmy John’s sandwiches. At one point in my life I weighed 368lbs and I loved food, especially Jimmy John’s. To me, every time I saw the billboard or a commercial for Jimmy John’s I immediately thought about eating. Their billboard and commercials were triggers for me. They still are! However, when my trigger is tripped, I have now trained myself to stop the thought process from taking action by using 3 coping skills.
- Evaluate the thought by using a pros and cons scale. Pro, my mouth gets what it wants. Con, I’m no longer able to see my feet. By taking the time to evaluate each side of the equation I am empowered to make a better choice.
- Redirect my attention to something else. If I’m driving and my JJ trigger has been activated, I know its time to turn on the radio, make a call, or roll the window down in order to get my mind of off things.
- Have a go-to activity that can be initiated on command. For me, when I am triggered to make a bad decision, it is time to play some basketball. Playing basketball is what physically redirects my attention and uses all the focus I can muster rather than giving into my trigger.
If you are able to redirect your thoughts, you have won the war and live to fight another day. Failures to tame triggers at this level increase the likelihood of a relapse.
A craving is defined as physiological compulsion to do something. In my example, if I have not intervened by using my coping skills, my mouth physically begins to water and my stomach is miraculously hungry. The same is true with addiction. The body will release chemicals or create a discomfort that is usually soothed by using the substance of your choice. It is very possible for your cravings to take the form of shakes, seizures, nausea, irritability, aggression, or depression.
Your thought has been activated by a trigger, and now your body is physiologically craving something. This will lead you to an action. Typically if it has gotten this far you are going to give in and do what your body wants you to do. Your body will not be denied… on its own. This is where you call in the reinforcements of a sponsor, friend, or family members and verbally share with them how you are feeling. You might be ready to give up, but they can provide the strength you are looking for to get you through to live another day.
Controlling behavior is hard enough for a sober person, let alone when a person is deeply under the influence of a mood altering substance. The first step for an addict to move towards recovery has to be getting the poisons out of their system so that they can once again be in control of their rationality.
When drugs enter the body, logic leaves the brain.