There are many things that can be stumbling blocks to an addict. I’d like to cover the addictive thought process here. And please remember I’m not academically trained in addiction, so I don’t know if the terms are correct. I am, however, experienced enough in addiction to explain the concepts from an addict’s point of view
Addictive thought process
This is how Greg defines the addictive thought process: making decisions (whether intentionally or subconsciously) that comfort the person in question, in some way, that is (ultimately) selfish, destructive, and habitual in nature, with the person being unable to stop the pattern for an extended period of time without help.
In more layman’s terms
OK now, let me boil it down. If a person repeatedly makes choices that make them feel better, but in the end, they cause more harm than good, and they apparently aren’t able to quit, then there’s a great chance they are an addict. Sometimes these choices might be planned out. Sometimes they are reactionary, and without initial intent. It doesn’t matter. The root (unwanted emotional burdens) and the outcome (destruction of self and loved ones) are exactly the same.
What exactly does this look like?
The addictive thought process I’m speaking of seeks to handle the stresses of life with an outside activity or substance. The brain gets into a pattern of feeling uncomfortable in some way and in finds a means to deal with that discomfort other than processing the emotions in a healthy way. It might not even be a conscious choice to start with. The brain can shift into “autopilot,” and the addict finds themselves in this pattern before they ever realize it (which doesn’t excuse the action).
Cross Addiction: I define this as trading one action or substance of addiction for another activity or substance that is addictive.
Many addicts experience recovery from their “Drug of Choice” and eventually trade it for another. Maybe they give up heroin and start gambling. Maybe they give up alcohol and start using sex as a means to comfort themselves. You have cigarettes, alcohol, sex, drugs, exercise (too much), over-eating, All these activities (and many more) can be addictive. You can give up your addiction and pick up another one in its place. All of these things cause a release of chemicals in the brain that activates the pleasure, or reward, center of the brain. That’s why we feel good, or at least better when we engage in addictive activities.
Matthew 12:43-45 – “When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.
It is important to understand that for a considerable amount of time after an addict stops using his/her body and mind work against them. The brain, especially, seeks to restore equilibrium. The brain became adjusted to the drugs in the system and accepted that as the new normal, so the brain desires to keep that pattern going. All the withdrawal symptoms when the addict stops using is the body’s way of screaming “WHOA COWBOY! THAT STUFF YOU STOPPED DOING OR TAKING IS STUFF WE NEED! YOU NEED TO PUT THINGS BACK LIKE THEY WERE NOW!” The addict is literally in a life and death battle with their own mind and body. This is why even though the addict knows they need to stop, they cannot.
The body may lose its initial source of comfort, but it will gladly replace it with another if a substitute can be found. The second addiction, or the return to the initial addiction, is usually worse than the previous because you are further cementing patterns that were previously broken.
How to prepare for this particular stumbling block
Let’s look at some strategies:
Clear understanding going in:
If an addict (and the people around them) understands what an addictive thought process looks like they can try to keep a vigilant watch for red flags that the addict is cross-addicting.
Having a sponsor or accountability team:
As good as a loved one’s intentions might be, if they are not familiar with addiction, their ability to help will be minimized. They won’t be able to see or properly interpret small signals and clues. Somebody that has been there and “speaks the language” will be more able to see those things.
Openness, transparency, and accountability:
This one is difficult. The goal is to establish a new pattern. The pattern was being “closed, opaque (not transparent), and no accountability. If you can establish this new pattern, it can HELP ward off slipping into another addiction. This is very difficult though because the addict can be 100% open and honest about where they are with their previous drug of choice and not notice the addictive thought process opening another door that isn’t being watched. If that new activity or substance is opened, you can easily lose openness, transparency, and accountability. Then the addict finds himself locked in an old pattern that is difficult to break alone, and now he is isolated.
Pay careful attention to how many stressful things they are handling at any given time
If you see the stress starting to pile up around them be extra vigilant. Ask more questions about how they’re doing. See if there is anything you can do to relieve any of their stress. Be more intentional than you probably are already not to add stress during these times. The bottom line is these extra stressful times are when we as addicts are at our most vulnerable.
To the addict:
Brothers and sisters. I understand that you are doing the very best you know how to do. I know others may not always understand that the effort you put forth really is your very best. Even when you fall, I know that your desire wasn’t to hurt or disappoint. Your desire wasn’t to be right back where you were before. I may not know each of your individual motivations in each circumstance, but I know what your motivations were NOT! It is important to know that somebody believes in you. I know you are fighting with everything you have. I also know that satan seeks to destroy us all by whatever means necessary. If he can’t catch us with the old drug of choice, he will try to use the old pattern with a new activity or substance.
It is also important to understand that you have to make the choice to be open, honest, transparent, and accountable, EVEN IF IT GETS YOU INTO TROUBLE! Because getting into a little trouble being open and honest is A LOT better than getting caught doing wrong and concealing it. Your effort won’t matter very much then. Take responsibility for damage you do and the people you hurt.
1 Peter 5:8 – Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.
To those who love an addict:
I, by no means, intend to excuse your addict when they make the wrong choices. And I freely admit I am biased here so take what I say with a grain of salt and pray about it. The one you love is in an all-day, everyday battle for their lives, their sobriety, and for you, believe it or not. For years and years after they quit, some would even say for the rest of their lives, when they find themselves in emotionally burdensome times or situations their brain can become overwhelmed and say, “Hey, when we did this before it helped a lot. let’s do that again.” It can also say, “Hey, I hear this other thing helps. Let’s do that.” So not only are they battling their emotional discomfort, they are battling their own brains. Again, this does not excuse anything we do when we fall. We have to be confronted and held accountable. However, it should be helpful for you to understand their initial goal wasn’t to do harm; it might not have even been a thought-out choice. It could have been a reflex reaction to a set of circumstances. And once more let me be very clear: these facts don’t make negative decisions and actions OK. But they might better enable you to respond from a place of mercy, grace, and love, if and when it happens.
Are all of these extra burdens of responsibility that are being placed on you fair? Absolutely not. You didn’t choose to travel the road of addiction for them. The truth is they didn’t choose to either. This lifestyle of addiction was never their goal regardless of why they first used. You have immense power to help save them. If you’ve hung in there this long, you must genuinely love them. And they need YOU if they have any chance of remaining clean. Is it your fault if they fail? No. Not at all. But your love might just be enough to see them continue to be successful on the path of recovery. You are their knight in shining armor. YOU are THEIR hero that helps defeat the darkness, save them from defeat, and deliver them safely to the other side.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13 – 4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.