Can you prevent addiction? This question can mean two different things:
- Can an individual prevent themselves from going down a path to addiction?
- Can a parent or sibling prevent a loved one or a friend from becoming addicted?
The answer to the first situation is yes – any individual can prevent themselves from becoming addicted and can move past an addiction if they’ve already gone down that path. The answer to whether someone can prevent someone else they love or care about from being addicted is a bit murkier.
In reality, the individual is the only one that can prevent themselves from becoming addicted. Humans are autonomous – they have their own unique thoughts and emotions and perspective on their world. Our mental world is wrapped in this private place we call the human mind. My thoughts and views are mine and mine alone, and no matter what outside influences might demand my attention, I still get to decide what I think about them. This is the same for everyone.
As people, we tend to believe we have some level of control over those around us. This is actually an illusion. Even a judge who places a convicted criminal in prison has zero control over the criminal’s ideas or thoughts. However, the illusion exists that the judge has some influence through the courtroom proceedings because he can decide the fate of the individual standing trial. But does he? Does the judge and/or the jury really wield that level of mental control? The answer is no, and here is why: when we endeavor to exert control over another person, or attempt to coerce their behavior in a direction that is pleasing to us, we are unable to do so on an emotional or mental level. Only when that person decides to agree with us and our plans for them, do they change their behavior and acquiesce to our wishes. This makes us think that we have some control, but in reality without that person agreeing within their own mind that they can be happier making the change, they won’t make it. And in some cases, they may make a change outwardly, while continuing the behavior out of sight of those trying to control them.
The illusion of control begins with young children. When kids are toddlers they are a blank slate. It’s not happenstance that children act like their siblings and parents to a certain degree. They learn their world from those around them at this initial stage. But it’s also not happenstance that as they get older, and their sphere of influence gets larger, they develop personalities all their own; their true autonomy begins to show.
Often parents fail to evolve and recognize these changes in their children as they age. They begin to see their child exerting independence through what may appear to be misbehavior. These are behaviors the parents find annoying, unacceptable or dangerous. As kids get older and gain more freedom, that is when parents begin to apply all sorts of measures to coerce and attempt to save their kids from themselves and alleviate their own fears. When it comes to substance use, this attempt to control the behavior of the child can be extreme. Fearful parents treat their teenagers like young children, and they treat adult children like wayward teenagers. This is not only ineffective but is enormously frustrating and drives a wedge between parent and child.
Part of the illusion of control is that we CAN control physical things. We can “ground” our children or take away their phone when we don’t agree with a particular behavior, but in doing so we aren’t changing the child’s mind or making them not want to do the behavior, we are grounding them physically. We are limiting their movements or their access to things. Parents conflate the control they have over their child’s physical being with what they are thinking or wanting. While sometimes a behavior changes based on “grounding” their body (“You can’t leave your room until you apologize!”) oftentimes they outwardly agree to free themselves from the physical cage in which they’ve been placed. An extreme example of this is the prison system where we warehouse the physical being, while the mind of the criminal remains focused on getting out and doing what they want to do. The high recidivism rates of paroled felons returning to a life of crime shows that the felon’s mind is not changed regardless of the prison “grounding.”
How Can We Prevent Addiction?
The truth is, with respect to heavy substance use, people change only when they prefer less use, or no use, over their current heavy use. This is a wholly internal process with each individual. Their mind must change first, as that is where their autonomy lies. There is no external coercion or force that can make that change happen faster, not even the manipulation of the courts mandating someone to rehab, or a family applying external pressure to conform to an abstinence standard, etc. However, meeting someone where they are, with a keen understanding that they are not sick or immoral or even selfish, but that they simply have a preference for intoxication; and then providing that person a clear message that they absolutely have the ability to change is a much more effective place to start.
Try to remember, once they take on the identity of the “addict”, people believe they will always crave and struggle (because that is what our recovery-centered culture teaches) so any model that does not address this myth will not provide a positive alternative to getting high or drunk. Struggling “in recovery” will NEVER adequately compete with getting drunk or high, hence the reason treatment fails so miserably. The knowledge that a person is not powerless, can change, will not always crave, has control over their consumption, and can change their preference for intoxication and thus change their behaviors, is the key to preventing of addiction. Notice I didn’t say the individual needs to go to rehab. Notice I didn’t say the person needs to go to AA or any other prescribed process. Coercing or manipulating a person to change is a charade that has never worked.
If the person decides to quit or moderate after being coerced, then that individual is still the person making the decision to change! However, those around the “addict” that are doing the prescribing and coercion might pat themselves on the back just as a judge or jury might feel good in the rare case when the convict changes his/her ways years later. But that is all an illusion – the choice can only come from the individual and the quickest path to personal change is by the substance user knowing that there are paths out of their current situation that are preferable to getting high. In this small way loved ones can make a difference by providing the knowledge that a change in one’s substance use is real, doable, expected, is preferable and is normal. The research shows this! Most people with a substance use problem – more than 90% of them – quit with or without treatment when you factor in age. In other words, it is normal to prefer something other than heavy use as we get older and wiser.
So can someone prevent a loved one from becoming addicted? No. But you can provide the right fact-based information and present that information to your loved one and let them decide their own future path. If you are ready to provide that path, all the information about making a change in regards to substances and their use is laid out in fine detail within the pages of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. We hope you read it, and learn how to become free from all the cultural addiction myths that have kept millions trapped for more than 70 years. It’s time for a change, and The Freedom Model lights the way.