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Who’s in Charge: You or Your Addiction?

You are an addict. You are physically and/or psychologically enslaved to the use of a substance or a behavior that is causing serious problems in your life.

Are you responsible for your predicament?

Are you responsible for changing your circumstances?

Are you even capable of changing the addictive behavior, if this is your intention?

These are not idle questions. They are, in fact, fundamental questions that have been – and are still – debated among addicts and the professionals who help them. They have been used since the development of self-improvement and recovery programs like AA were introduced in the early 1930’s. How one answers these questions fundamentally influences both the process and the outcome of any treatment utilized to address the addiction problem.

At the heart of the debate is the issue of responsibility, both as a moral act and as a potential – the “ability to respond”. Who (or what) is responsible for your personal actions depends on where you perceive your locus of control to be.

Locus of Control: Who (or What) is in Charge of You?

Behavioral psychologists use the term “locus of control” to describe the “location” where an individual perceives their response-ability to lie either inside themselves (internal locus of control) or outside themselves (external locus of control).

If you believe that your voluntary responses can have an impact on your life events, you have an internal locus of control.

If you feel you have no control over the circumstances in your life, you have an external locus of control.

Failure to meet a goal might be perceived by a person with an internal locus of control as poor preparation, poor timing or lack of sufficient effort – all factors that are within the power of the individual to change or modify.

Failure to meet a goal would more likely be perceived by a person with an external locus of control as circumstances beyond their control (ex: rules and regulations made by others, bad luck, unforeseen changes in options).

Locus of Control and Models of Addiction

The field of addiction recovery utilizes a number of theories and models to describe the behaviors of addicted people. Four of the most common models are:

  • Moral Model

The moral model (one of the earliest) suggests that individuals are responsible for both creating and solving their own problems. This model subscribes to the internal locus of control model, where the individual accepts responsibility for his or her actions and believes that they must fix their own addiction problem.

In general, this is a good outlook, but it can sometimes lead to self-blame and shame, which would likely make it harder for the person to seek help when they need it.

  • Medical Model

[The medical model] depicts an external locus of control approach – neither the problem of addiction nor its solution are seen as the responsibility of the individual.-Rita MiliosThe medical model, which is used by many treatment programs today, depicts an external locus of control approach – neither the problem of addiction nor or its solution are seen as the responsibility of the individual. The addiction problem is described as a medical issue. The solution requires the assistance of experts who can suggest options and monitor the progress of a program or other therapy choice.

While this model dispels guilt, which is a good thing, it is sometimes viewed as being too dismissive of the role of self-efficacy, self-empowerment and belief in the ability to change one’s self.

  • Enlightenment Model

The enlightenment model also depicts an external locus of control viewpoint. It proposes that people are responsible for creating their own problems, but they are not responsible for solving them.

Like the medical model, it seeks to eliminate self-blame, which is good. But it relies on a willingness to lean heavily on an authoritative outside source of assistance, rather than one’s own inner resources, which can weaken a person’s initiative and self-discipline.

  • Compensatory Model

The compensatory model promotes an inner locus of control viewpoint. It says that an individual is not responsible for creating their problem of addiction, but they are responsible for fixing it. It focuses on healthy self-reliance but encourages people to recognize their personal limitations and to ask for help when they need it.

This model only becomes problematic if a person is unable to obtain the knowledge and skills they need, and yet they are too proud or stubborn to ask for help in doing so.

What About Motivation?

All four models of addiction mentioned above require the addicted person to be motivated to change, whether they see themselves as the cause of their addiction problem or not, and whether they see themselves as capable of going it alone or needing some help.

Motivation is an inner drive that encourages us to move toward a goal. Most addicts want to get sober, but they may not have sufficient motivation….at least not at the right time. Motivation changes over time and is influenced by many outside factors. It also varies in intensity; it falters when doubts surface, it increases with encouragement. Just because a person had insufficient motivation at one point, it does not mean that this will always be the case.

Outside influences on motivation include:

  • Concerns of family and friends
  • Emotional status (current mood, worries etc.)
  • Community resources and support
  • A life-crisis-type experience that often leads to an awakening and re-appraisal (ex: “hitting bottom”)
  • A recognition of the harm that one’s addiction has caused others (perhaps learned during an intervention)
  • Positive outside incentives (avoiding a job loss, jail time, etc.)

How You Can Be In Charge

Just like motivation, a person’s locus of control is not set in stone; it can be modified through learning and practice.

Just like motivation, a person’s locus of control is not set in stone; it can be modified through learning and practice.-Rita MiliosResearch has consistently shown that having an internal locus of control greatly increases a person’s ability to achieve their goals. So regardless of which model of addiction you or your program subscribes to, you can modify your beliefs and decide that you, not outside influences, have a greater influence over your chances of success or failure…and in believing this you can make it so.

To increase your internal locus of control viewpoint, think “move to the middle.” In each model above, there are extremes of too much or too little self-efficacy, or self-reliance, self-discipline and self-confidence. Strive to place yourself in the middle ground, where you rely on your own inner resources, but also seek outside help when you need it.

Be proactive; learn or strengthen your own skills, education and family or community support. Re-evaluate and re-prioritize your goals and make concrete plans for achieving them. With the right balance of inner and outer assistance, you can be successful in your recovery efforts.

Image Courtesy of Shutterstock

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