For an in-depth discussion focusing on the topic of this article, check out The Addiction Solution Podcast’s related episode here:
I Hate Getting Drunk – So Why Do I Keep Doing It?
“I hate getting high. I really do. But I keep doing it and I don’t know why.” This is said by nearly every guest that attends The Saint Jude Retreat. It’s usually within the first couple of classes that they express this frustration and confusion. It’s a valid question, and it lies at the heart of what keeps people in the traps of addiction, treatment and recovery.
Behind this confusion are two main ideas that fuel it. The first idea is the myth that a person can actually do something they don’t want to do; that they get high and drunk and simultaneously hate it. This is a big and powerful myth. Secondly, shame for their habit provides a roadblock to analyzing why they make these choices. They become so focused on the fact that getting drunk and high are looked down upon by the majority of their friends and family that they cannot see past their shame. The shame itself becomes their focal point, while the actual reasons for their habit remain murky or are flat out ignored. And without proper analysis, the habit remains the status quo scenario.
You Can’t Do Something You Don’t Want to Do
Situations tend to be analyzed from a backwards direction. A divorcee looks at their bad marriage in hindsight and cannot believe she stayed married for so long. The racecar driver in a wheelchair looks back in disbelief and regret as to why he would have tried to make that last fateful pass. The drug user feels the sadness and pain of losing his little girl because he tested “dirty” on his probation visit and struggles to see why the drug meant so much to begin with. And so on, and so on.
Anytime we seek answers from this backwards analysis, the benefits of getting high, racing the car, or being married are dismissed – they get ignored. The focus is on shame, should-have’s, and denying they like such pursuits when they did them. It’s a dark charade, and there are many players invested in it. But it’s a lie. On the front end, all active users enjoy the benefits of their use – no matter how meager – or they wouldn’t use.
Family and friends are quick to point out the consequences of getting drunk and high. They’ll say, “Look at her life! It’s a mess! Why doesn’t she see it?” Well, she does see it. Actually, that has been her focus all along, and it’s coupled with her blinding shame. Believe me, she isn’t oblivious to the costs of her behavior, the trade-offs she’s made to continue her behavior, or the consequences she’s faced as a result of getting drunk and high. She’s neither stupid nor diseased but she’s living a nightmare. Yet, even so, she continues. Why?
She sees a benefit to her behavior! Benefits drive one’s behavior. Benefits have more staying power in the human psyche than do costs and consequences. So to answer that person’s question, “Why does she keep getting drunk and high?” the answer is because the human is motivated by the pursuit of happiness to a much greater degree than by costs and pain. It is why the race car driver will get back in the car after a debilitating crash, a boxer gets back in the ring a month after being brutally knocked out, the mother has a second, third or fourth child after the previous pain of child birth. And it is why the teenager, who just nearly died of an overdose, goes to the drug dealer’s house on the way home from the hospital. Benefits drive use – and only the perception of greater benefits of abstinence or moderation can motivate change. Costs and consequences may help in the short term, but when dwelled upon, that short window of opportunity is shut out as the cycle back to shame and painful regret begins again. With shame and regret pulling their mental gaze away from the benefits of change, the person will always go back to the devil-they-know; they will seek happiness in getting drunk and high – no matter how small that benefit is.
Only looking forward to abstaining or moderating can motivate sustainable change – looking back at pain will always eventually fall into a repeat performance of use. But to begin the process of change, it is important to analyze one’s usage patterns from a front-end perspective.
If you look at each bender or binge and ask what part of that experience was of value; what did you see as beneficial just before you got drunk or high; what you liked about it, then you can compare those benefits to those of reduced use or abstaining from use altogether. A front-end benefits-to-benefits analysis works to promote behavior change. It’s how we are naturally motivated after all. But if you focus on the tail-end of the binge and feel shame and regret, the next binge actually becomes more attractive because it does not include a more beneficial option, and more importantly it ignores why you got high in the first place.
Any analysis that tries to pit abstinence/moderation against the consequences of the last binge will work for a brief period of time. But ignoring why you prefer getting high to begin with, never allows you to pit those driving forces against the benefits of abstinence or moderation. It is only by being honest with yourself and admitting you like getting drunk and high for some reason/s that you can then pit those benefits against the upsides of abstinence or moderate use.
People get high and/or drunk for an infinite number of reasons. Those reasons are powerful enough to drive an addiction. But the same rule applies to quitting or adjusting one’s use – there are infinite positive reasons to do so. Take the time to write down all the positives of getting drunk and high. Then write all the positives of quitting or reducing your use. See which makes more sense for you. You might be surprised with what you discover.
If you want more information on the process of analyzing a drinking or drug habit, and you’re seeking a better way to move past addiction and avoiding the recovery trap, visit Saint Jude Retreats or The Freedom Model and be sure to subscribe to our podcast at the The Addiction Solution Podcast.