Lately, I've had success helping patients quit smoking, eat less, stop drinking alcohol and put down the drugs by changing their feelings toward addictions. I help them get angry and start fighting for real.
Many addictions actually resemble love affairs, more than the life and death wrestling matches between self-esteem and self-destruction that they really are. The thousands of men and women I have treated for alcohol dependence or compulsive gambling or nicotine addiction actually "crave" their drug of choice the way we can crave another meeting with a romantic partner. They feel weak, in the face of their desire. They often plan one more time together (a binge) before calling it quits (and, then, often starting right up again). They fantasize about a relationship in which they would not be addicted to the substance or behavior that is destroying them, but could still "enjoy it" on occasion. That's an irrational thought, of course_ Who would want to spend a little time with anything or anyone that threatens to ruin your life and/or kill you?
These feelings of craving, feeling weak and fantasizing about one's addiction contribute to being on the defensive when addicts try to quit. They anticipate being tempted, tested and overwhelmed with desire. They are lovesick.
We all know one antidote to pining for a lost love--anger. Good friends tell us all the reprehensible qualities they observed in the person we're breaking away from. We summon memories of all the times we were let down by the individual. We resolve to live well, as a kind of revenge. We stop fearing the next time we might see the person and start planning how we won't utter a word should it happen.
Well that's exactly the kind of rage that addicts need to channel when breaking up with their lovers-whether alcohol or drugs or food. I now encourage my patients to see their struggle with addiction as all-out war with a hated prior lover who has been nothing short of duplicitous, toxic and intent on their utter destruction emotionally and physically. I want them to gloat over every time they buy a package of cigarettes and toss it, unopened, in the garbage. I want them to snicker at restaurant or barroom scenes of people imbibing poison. I want them to look at lottery tickets and despise them and wish they would go up in flames.
Raging against addiction allows the folks I work with to wake up with a head of steam to defeat an adversary, not with anxiety that they may be beckoned irresistibly by a seductress. Some of them just can't wait for the next time they walk into a convenient store and get steamed up over how the manufacturers of cigarettes and the folks selling them and the parts of themselves intent on self-destruction all conspired to nearly give them emphysema and cancer and hypertension.
I want my patients to be like General MacArthur at war with Japan, not like Odysseus drawn to the Sirens.
The war against addiction must be individual and personal and filled with rage and revulsion for the enemy. Enough with planning to resist a great love. Hate your dependency. Crush it. Demoralize it. And lift yourself up.
. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com.
Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.