A Thinkpiece and Guide to Getting Where You Want to Go When Alcohol
Controls Your Life.
To Quit or Not to Quit
To Drink or Not to Drink.
To Reduce, Moderate or Abstain.
Temptation? Boredom? Anxiety? Self-medication?
You know that you have an addiction when your life and your drinking or your “bad habit” keeps you stuck in what appears to be a revolving door. You tell yourself -- “Just say NO!” And, that seems to be a realistic expectation of behavior – when you’re in a 6th Grade “D.A.R.E.” class, or Mother was always there to reinforce that you will say no.
A lot of the obsessive or compulsive behaviors (too much food, can’t resist chocolate, crave being a “high roller”, can’t say no to cocaine, won’t say no to a fifth drink) are really tough to quit “cold turkey.” All of the anticipated or imagined horrors of quitting seem to block our path in convincing ourselves to say “no” and really, really mean it. Alcohol dependency, over-using prescription medications, marijuana, cocaine or heroin use, are all various paths to addictions.
A powerful tool that we use in Cognitive Therapy is called a “Risk-Reward Analysis.” It helps you get your own particular addiction situation in perspective.
The Risk-Reward Analysis shows the “risk” (negatives) versus the “ reward” (positives):
1. The things that terrorize us about stopping can be called the risks of quitting. The perceived risks include having anxiety or not being able to go to a bar with friends.
2. And, the risks of using are the immediate, real problems caused by drinking or drugging or bingeing or purging or buying or gambling. You know, DUI, divorce, etc.
These two categories involve the daily reality of your actions. The here and now.
The “I couldn’t cope without my dope” versus “What in the hell have I done” (to myself, my family, my employer, my future …)
3. We must recognize that there are rewards for using. There must have been rewards or we would not have kept it up for so long – long enough to make it an ingrained behavior. The present day “Real Me.” Some of these involve relaxation or socializing or hiding.
4. To provide a complete scenario, there are rewards for quitting. Love, self-respect, happier family life, no fear of DUIs, etc.
These two reward categories reflect and involve the longer outlook of our lives. The “Real Me I Want to Be”. For many people, it is not just a matter of “wanting” to change, but because of life stressors, he or she must change, has to change, has no option but to change. And that type of pressure of required change can be overwhelming and fearful.
At CDA, we want you to be responsible for your future involvement with intoxicants and/or “bad” habits. Here are a few things for you to consider.
You are a normal human being. You got started in this by seeking pleasure and relaxation, or to avoid some perceived pain. At that time, this was OK thinking. You are not defective. It’s just that certain substances or behaviors can lose their lustre and become a major problem for some of us. For some people, it is alcohol, for some it is food, for some it is shopping, and for some it is drugs. In addition, for some, no matter how much “punishment” they experience (humiliation, divorce, jail, and bankruptcy) they think they “cannot stop”. But, with guidance, motivation and empathy they can.
Looking at the big picture is essential to decision making when thinking about treatment or your life goal, and is a big part of keeping your commitment to your goal. Your goal may be to reach a harm-reduction level. For some people, due to the nature of the substance to which they are addicted and the ultimate outcome for them personally, (permanent injury, early death, loss of family) the decision may be to abstain. You may need to think detox.
The “Risk-Reward Analysis” will help you clearly see what you are doing to yourself and others, and most importantly, give you a “heads-up” of what you can expect in both a negative way and a positive reinforcement of what your life should look like after you have overcome your addiction. It will also allow you to see what you “fear the most” -- and perhaps, what you fear the most can be easily accomplished with help from others.
This is not a “one time” exercise for you to do and throw away. Along the path to moderation, controlling, recovery or abstinence, there will be urges to deal with, and by going back over this material, you will have an anchor to refresh your memory on the good reasons there are to maintain your goals.
Each of the categories is listed on the following pages. You have even helped along with some statements that are common to most people. Now you need to personalize these pages with your own ideas.
This is where the real work starts, so don’t rush it. You are worth thinking about.
The back page has a form that can be copied and filled out by each member of the family who is impacted by the addiction either personally or on a “second-hand” basis. It can be the eye-opener that is needed to make the decision to quit or to relearn to control their alcohol consumption.
Of course, many people do a great job of trying to keep their alcohol use a secret from their family and friends so they will not want to share the form with their spouse/S.O./kids. If that is your decision, that’s okay, too. But, getting professional help almost becomes a critical necessity if you decide to “go it alone”.
Risk –Reward Analysis
Part 1: THESE ARE SOME OF THE RISKS I FACE IF I QUIT
Check those items that you can see apply to you, add in others you are aware of, or are suggested to you. These are some examples of things that we think about or worry about when we consider adjusting our lifestyle – that is either moderating or quitting drinking. It is important to make your list the best you can and face the issues, rather than avoid them. Consider this opinion: many of these fears may be based on faulty thinking that you may have been using to justify your behavior.
1. No more fun
2. No more getting high, having a rush or feeling stoned
3. I will have to stay away from some familiar friends, places and contacts
4. I will have to face the uncomfortable things that cause me to drink
5. I can’t think of how or where to find anything else better to do
6. I hate AA groups and won’t do 12 Steps
7. People will think I am different if I don’t drink
8. I won’t be able to resist the temptation
9. I’ll being doing something that makes me uncomfortable and fearful
10. I’ll lose my best friend (bottle, cigs, baggie, potato chips, pills)
11. My spouse is my drinking buddy and he/she won’t quit
12. I’ll get the shakes (fear of withdrawal)
13. I won’t have liquid courage to fall back on
14. I’ll begin to see my real self and I’ll be embarrassed
15. I’ll have to be a goody-goody
16. If I fail, I’ll be worse off than before
17. I’ll have an empty place inside and nothing to fill it
Write down how you really feel about this change – cutting back significantly, controlling or quitting. Summarize all of this privately – but make it real. Remember, this will be the hindsight of tomorrow when you treasure your triumph over your “past bad habit.” Coming to terms with these “risks” is the shortest route to escape from addiction.
Risk –Reward Analysis
Part 2: THESE ARE SOME OF THE RISKS I FACE
IF I CONTINUE TO DRINK
This is only a partial list of risks of drinking. Like others in this series, it was taken from comments that people have brought up with their counselors. Be as honest as you can, you can keep this list to yourself. Let this list be the start of your own personal journal of a new life.
1. DUI or multiple DUI’s, possible loss of driving privileges
2. Possible jail/prison sentences: public drunkenness, disturbing the peace, domestic abuse, violation of parole
3. Problems with employment. Loss of job or advancement
4. Financial cost including cost of habit, loss of income, fines, penalties, reckless spending
5. Relationship problems. Alienation of others including family, spouse, possible divorce, loss of respect from others
6. Loss of self-respect, including anxiety, panic, guilt, self-hatred, suicide
7. Loss of health, improper nutrition, liver damage, sleep problems
8. Loss of ambition
9. Disruption of sexual performance
10. Fear for your own future
Usually, risks of drinking are very personal. There usually has been some event or accumulation of circumstances that brings these items into a dramatic focus. This is important: Just because there may be devastating events presently that compel you to quit, if you stop here, you only partially deal with the real problem. Look into the bigger picture and try to truly understand what addiction is, how you got that way, and be prepared with the knowledge and strategy when you are “tempted” in the future.
There is a good definition of addiction as the condition of finding yourself continuing in a behavior when you know it is against your better judgement.
In other words, you find that you have been “hooked” into continuing what you really do not want to do or should not do. That is probably why things got to this stage. At CDA, we are interested in a clear picture of the problem. This is where we start.
Risk –Reward Analysis
Part 3: THESE ARE SOME OF THE REWARDS
I GET FROM DRINKING
Here is a very important category although it is only a partial list of rewards of drinking. It might seem counterproductive to draw attention to the attractions of a bad or unwanted habit. Like others in this series, it was taken from what people have brought up to their counselors. Be as honest as you can. At CDA we believe in looking at all the facts – and nothing but the facts. Together, we will examine what kept you going back and back again even after the habit became a problem.
1. Deep feeling of pleasure, feeling a buzz
2. Escape: from problems, reality, people, boredom, pain
3. Loss of inhibition, sense of assertion and/or courage
4. Enjoy social gathering, let the good times roll
5. Like the taste
7. Drown sorrow
8. Mask regret/guilt
9. Enjoy feeling like a big spender
10. Feel more creative, more intellectual
11. Makes me like my spouse/family/friends more that I do sober
Once again, please make this personal by adding to and editing this to where it fits your particular situation. There must have been positive reinforcement or we wouldn’t do it.
Note that some of the “rewards” are reverse nature. Escaping pain or masking guilt might be thought of as reasons or excuses to use or drink. But they belong in this group because when we look into the rewards of quitting, we will want to compare alternatives that might be greatly preferred. Especially of the bad habit makes the situation worse in the long run.
Let’s emphasize that to seek pleasure and to avoid pain are healthy, normal, even smart things to do. It is only when the substance or behavior takes over our better judgement that we need to reassess the pro’s and con’s of continuing what have become a habit and then a bad habit.
If you want to end your addiction there are many studies of modern medically-supervised ways to change with the least physical/emotional pain and best prospects. Seeking out and developing new alternative rewards is an important part of recovering the life you really want to enjoy.
Risk –Reward Analysis
Part 4: THESE ARE SOME OF THE REWARDS I GET FROM CONTROLLING OR IF IQUIT DRINKING
These are the normal, everyday reasons for controlling/quitting. Please cross out those that do not apply to you and personalize the list by specifically naming the rewards. Include the names of family members or the name of people/places/pets/things that give you a reward for controlling/reducing/eliminating your drinking. Note that several of the areas mentioned have to do with how you feel about yourself. This is a BIG ISSUE. If you are contemplating controlling/quitting, just the obvious benefits alone are not all there is to it. It is how you feel.
1. I’ll have better health
2. I’ll get treatment and recovery for my depression, anxiety, and alcoholism
3. I’ll have more money in my pocket and savings account
4. I’ll have no more fear of a DUI
5. I’ll be stronger for my family and my family together will be stronger
6. I’ll have increased self-awareness
7. I’ll have peace of mind
8. I’ll have better job security
9. I’ll have improved relationships
10. I’ll have new friends and interests
11. I’ll feel optimistic
12. I’ll be the person I want to be
13. I’ll feel myself growing up
14. I’ll not feel guilty all the time
15. I’ll make family proud of me
16. I’ll enjoy my life
Please take a minute here to read back over all of these four lists of risks and rewards. Which holds the most meaning for you? Which is the most desirable? This is the area where you will find your real self. Here you have the opportunity to make life judgements. This entire exercise is based in your willingness to see the good and the bad of your life and exercise your power of choice. Addiction, it is written, is the ambivalence between your better judgement and your appetite for short-term gratification. Give yourself a pat on the back. Think positive thoughts. Don’t forget your past, but do forgive your past, and look positively to your future.