Understanding Addiction, Part 1: The Disease Model

understanding addiction“Why? Why do I keep doing this?” I get this question a lot, especially from new clients who are struggling to comprehend why they keep engaging in an addictive behavior they don’t want to keep doing. They struggle in understanding addiction.

 

I get it. I’ve been there. I wondered the same for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I continued to drink when I felt as ashamed about it as I did. Eventually, I came to understand why I started to drink and why I continued to need to drink.

 

Eventually, I came to understand that I drank to alleviate my own shame and anxieties. Understanding what alcohol was doing for me helped me learn to be more authentic and manage my feelings differently. When I didn’t need alcohol anymore, I spontaneously stopped when I got tired of how much it was taking from me.

 

Maybe you’re trying to understand your drinking, gambling, sexual behaviors, or other addictive behaviors. Really, you’re asking about what you don’t understand about yourself. That’s where looking at a few models of understanding addiction can help.

How Alternative Addiction Treatment Can Work for You

Koorosh Rassekh, MMFT, is a licensed therapist and founder of Evo Health and Wellness in Venice Beach, California. His mission is to break the stigma around mental health and create a world of healthier people, families, and communities.

 

I recently connected with Koorosh and invited him to share about how he helps his clients change their addictive behavior. Read more about my collaboration with him about sex and porn addiction here.

 

1) Evo’s website states that you respects “where you are and where you want to go.” What does this mean for how you think about and treat addictions?

 

Taking inspiration from one of my mentors and one of Evo’s key advisors, Dr. Gabor Maté, I would say that Evo understands that addiction is never the primary issue. It is a secondary response to something deeper happening for a person – trauma, marginalization, the impact of being different, bullying culture, rape culture, etc. When people suffer, they turn to whatever is available to address their suffering. With substances, people often use as a coping mechanism, and this coping mechanism becomes a problem within itself.

Four Ways of Dealing with Urges and Cravings

dealing with urges and cravingsIf you’re in recovery or trying to change a habit that isn’t working for you, you need to find ways of dealing with urges and cravings. That is, you need to become more aware of the thought patterns and feelings that led to you giving in to your desire to engage your habit. Whether it’s shopping, gambling, sex, pornography, eating, or using alcohol or drugs, you’re probably pretty familiar with the desire to engage that habit before actually acting on it; that feeling is called an urge or craving.

 

Cravings are important because they act as precursors to engaging our problematic habit or behavior. Cravings say, “Hey, we need to gamble/smoke/drink/watch porn right now!” We stay stuck in our habits because we listen to that voice without thinking. If we’re to change our habit, we need to find different ways of interacting with the thoughts and feelings associated with our cravings in order to avoid automatically giving in.