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Do People with Addiction Have No Control?

Does Addiction Mean No Control

A greatly discussed topic in both medicine and psychology is the concept of control and whether or not the loss of it is at the core of addiction. However, it’s difficult to come up with simple answers considering the many aspects of addiction. It’s important to first understand the concept of control and human will, addictive behaviors, and substances, and other aspects that circle each individual facing addiction. We cannot lump all people who misuse drugs into one category because it’s illogical to approach everyone with addiction the same way. Looking deeper into the concept of control and addiction can open the conversation and help end the stigma that surrounds addiction.

 Primary and Secondary Addictions

Taking a look at the two basic kinds of addiction can help us understand control and addiction much better. Primary addictions are related to addictive behaviors. For some people, this means being addicted to an activity that gives them a rush or high. Adrenaline seekers may find it by jumping from great heights, while some find the thrill of gambling irresistible and are drawn in by the simple act itself. These activities give those who engage a euphoric high and sense of excitement that they specifically seek. On the other hand, secondary addictions are when a person seeks out an activity or substance in order to deal with a deeper-lying feeling or problem. Simply said, a person dealing with a secondary addiction is looking for a cure for their blues, a way to take their troubles away or make them forget about their problems. In both cases, the person dealing with addiction is knowingly acting on their desire for a specific feeling, but the secondary addiction is where one behavior or substance is being used to fix another issue.

While some people who deal with primary addiction have a harder time seeking treatment because their behavior is generally something that elicits a “happy” response, they can find themselves feeling a loss of control when circumstances from their favorite activity begin to negatively affect their lives.  Those dealing with secondary addiction are simply not dealing with their root issues, but instead are choosing to deal with them with a band-aid solution, like substance misuse. Most people dealing with primary addictions may not be seeking help actively because they do feel they are in control of their behaviors while those deal with secondary addiction, or substance misuse, feel they may be losing their way. 

Addiction and Control

It has been argued that those who deal with addiction have no control whatsoever. However in science, the term “loss” does not mean “complete absence”. While it is expected that those who deal with substance misuse will struggle with self-control while using, it does not mean that they are completely powerless. The ability to control their choices may have led them to their addiction because of their method of dealing with underlying issues. Perhaps they believed they could fix their troubles by using whatever means necessary to feel better. This is where a lot of emotional and societal factors come into play that are, essentially, out of a person’s control but they are attempting to control the way it makes them feel by using. Effectively, someone who has a secondary addiction may have been controlling their choices all along, using their drug misuse as a means of coping and improving the way they feel, even if momentarily. It’s very common for those who feel that they cannot control anything other than their specific actions to seek out both primary and secondary addictive behaviors since they aren’t mutually exclusive. This is why the word “control”, in and of itself is so powerful and the concept of control is highly misunderstood.

Control and Will

While control is an extensive topic on its own with many interpretations, the difference between the theory of “control” and the definition of “will” is polarizing. Think of “will” as motivation. This could be striving to make the right choices, like most dieting or taking on a challenge. However, someone’s will is not directly related to control when dealing with addiction. In terms of “control”, it’s someone’s ability to make a choice. While this may sound like splitting hairs, the differences between the two are actually heavily studied by neuroscience. It has been shown that people who have an addiction have a reduced ability to make the correct behavioral choices when dealing with a secondary addiction. However, just because they do not possess the ability to make these right choices, doesn’t mean they don’t have the will to do so. Though they may try and fail, the motivation still exists inside of them.

It could be said that who are dealing with addictive behaviors may attempt to cease misuse and fail, because they are lacking the capacity to stop, while still maintaining the motivation to do so. This is why choosing treatment over “cold turkey” is so effective for those dealing with addiction. Much of their motivations are influenced by success rates. Treatment can give those struggling with addiction the tools to achieve success and use their will to conquer their addiction, instead of having complete loss of control with no support system in place.

The deliberate actions surrounding control may not be clear until the root of addictive behaviors is uncovered. Science continues to research deeply into the disease of addiction to bring to the surface the tangled web between mental illness, addiction, and the human ability to control their actions. There are still many myths surrounding those who are dealing with addiction and they continue to face a lot of stigma from the world. It’s important to see everyone with an addiction as an individual that possesses the power to change and get better when given the proper tools.

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