In order for people to sustain an addiction they need to become dishonest. This not only means that they will lie to other people but just as importantly it means lying to themselves. The destruction caused by substance abuse is usually obvious but somehow the addict is able to ignore it. They fall into a world of denial and delusion, and they develop the ability to excuse the inexcusable. The greatest lies that addicts believe include:
Sigmund Freud once claimed that:
> Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent.
Terminal uniqueness develops when people have a particularly strong sense of ego. It is the belief that what the person is facing in life is unlike anything faced by other people. It is called terminal uniqueness because this way of thinking can get people killed. It explains how substance abusers can continue with their behavior even though they see the harm it causes to other people. They just keep on telling themselves that they are different and they will not end up suffering these same consequences. Even when there is ample evidence that their world is falling apart the individual will still hold onto the idea that they are a special case.
One of the most common myths that substance abusers like to hold onto is that this behavior is a sign of creativity. They may even believe that it is only through using alcohol or drugs that people can be creative. This myth has arisen because of the history of famous artists, writers, and musicians who were also addicts. What people fail to realize is that these people managed to remain creative despite their substance abuse problems. In fact people like Jackson Pollock were at their most creative during sober periods. The idea that using alcohol or drugs makes people more creative is a dangerous lie that has been amply proved false.
Addicts can try to justify continued alcohol or drug abuse by claiming that life in recovery would be boring. The strange thing is that it is the life of the substance abuser that is full of repetitive behavior and predictability. When people abuse alcohol and drugs they drastically reduce their options in life and things only get worse over time. Eventually addiction leads the individual into a miserable existence where their priority is trying to keep feeding their habit. If these people become sober they will be able to take their life in any direction they choose. They will have endless options to choose from. Those who are in long term recovery will often complain that there is not enough hours in the day to do all the things they want to do.
Those individuals who suffer from low self esteem may believe that the misery of addiction is the best they can hope for in life. Their low self worth means that they are willing to accept the bare minimum in life because they don’t feel that they deserve any more than this. It is common for those who fall into addiction to suffer from low self esteem and this keeps them trapped until they finally realize that they deserve better. Once people enter recovery they can begin to rebuild their confidence so that they never become willing to settle for so little again.
Another dangerous myth is that beer drinkers cannot be addicts. This idea has developed because of the association of alcoholism with a taste for hard liquor. In fact it is perfectly possible to become an alcoholic while only ever drinking beer. One reason for why alcohol abusers turn to spirits is that it can be a cheaper and faster way to become intoxicated. Many of these people might have been happy to stick with beer if they had the money to do so. Beer is as harmful to the body as any other alcoholic drink and those who think otherwise are misinformed.
This lie is a type of cognitive dissonance that helps the addict deal with their own miserable situation. It is an attempt by these people to protect their ego by developing rationalizations for their behavior. A classic example of how this works would be the Aesop Tale of the Fox and the Grapes. A fox is walking through a forest and he notices some delicious looking grapes. He realizes that the grapes are too high for him to reach so he decides that they are not tasty and just ignores them. Addicts suffer from a similar pattern of thinking. They develop the belief that the sober life is beyond their reach, but they make themselves feel better by deciding that sober people are miserable anyway. A similar idea to this is the poor person who is convinced that rich people are always going to be unhappy.
Another dangerous myth is that high achievers cannot be addicts. The reason for why this misleading idea has developed is due to the stereotypical image of the addict portrayed in the media. It hides the reality that successful people are just as susceptible to addiction as anyone else – some might even say that the personality of high achievers may make them more prone to addiction. The high functioning addict is better able to hide their problems, but alcohol and drugs will still be causing a great deal of discomfort in their life. If they fail to get help for their problems they could lose everything or die much younger than what would normally be expected.
Addicts have a genuine fear that if they became sober they would spend the rest of their life battling their cravings. Because of this recovery sounds more like a prison sentence than a more joyful way of life. It is true that even people who have been sober many years may develop cravings for the substance they were once addicted to, but this will be a rare event. Most sober people will spend hardly any time missing their former drug – months or even years can go by without the slightest craving. The incidence of cravings tends to be highest in early recovery but after this they drop off dramatically.
There is some truth in the claim that, everyone is going to die anyway so it is best to part hard. The problem is that such behavior does not lead to a better existence. If permanent intoxication was the answer to existential angst everyone would be doing it. It is obvious though that substance abuse does not make people happier. It robs them of everything worthwhile in life and it often leads to a painful death. The advice to party hard may still be valid but not if it involves using alcohol and drugs.
Most addicts will have a history of failed attempts at getting sober. They may take this to mean that recovery is just not an option for them. These people fail to realize that those who have successfully built a life in recovery will also often have a history of chronic relapsing. The difference is that they kept on trying until they eventually managed to sustain their sobriety. Just because people have failed in their recovery attempts previously does not mean that their next attempt is sure to fail. Of course, it will be a great help if they can understand why they failed before and approach things differently next time.
The idea that relapse is a normal part of recovery is not a lie, but it is often misunderstood. Most people who achieve lasting sober will have a history of failed previous attempts prior to this. The problem is that some addicts will use this as an excuse to keep on relapsing – they will claim that what they are doing is normal. There is absolutely no reason for people to relapse before achieving lasting sobriety and some people do manage it on their first attempt.
The reason why addicts view substance abuse as normal behavior is that they tend to surround themselves with likeminded people. This group will reinforce the maladaptive behavior and will view non drug users as the deviants. The reality is though, that in the larger society substance abuse will always be viewed as abnormal and self destructive. When people become sober and begin spending more time with sober people they will begin to see this too.