Humans do not usually like to consider themselves as bad people. Even those who commit terrible acts are likely to have justifications for their behavior – sometimes these explanations may even appear reasonable. In most instances the justification for maladaptive behaviors will be appear weak to other people, but the individual may hang onto them as if they were life rafts. Addicts are a perfect example of people who put a great deal of effort into justifying unreasonable behavior. They want other people to view them as rational because this is how they view themselves.
To say that something is justified means that it has been proven to be just, right, or valid. If a person can justify their behavior it means that what they are doing is reasonable. If they are unable to justify their behavior it implies that they are doing something wrong.
The ability to justify behavior is important for a number of reasons such as:
* There may be legal reasons for why a person has to justify their actions. A good example of this is when people defend themselves using physical force – if they are unable to justify the force they used in relation to the threat posed they could end up in jail.
* If a person is behaving in ways that are not reasonable it may bring their sanity into question. Their failure to justify their actions could even lead to forced detention in a mental health facility.
* Humans do not feel comfortable when they are unable to self justify their own behavior – it leads to uncomfortable feelings of cognitive dissonance.
* If the individual is unable to justify their behavior to family and friends it is likely to cause these people to become concerned. These loved ones may even try to interfere with the individual’s actions – for example, they could arrange a family intervention over concerns about drug abuse.
* The community of people who abuse alcohol or drugs need justifications to bond them together.
* The individual may believe that the miserable life of the addict is all that they deserve. A common characteristic that many addicts share is low self esteem.
The reason for why people need to self justify their behavior is because of the uncomfortable feelings created by cognitive dissonance. It occurs when the individual’s beliefs and behavior come into conflict. So long as this conflict continues the individual will continue to experience an inner tension. They can resolve this cognitive dissonance by either:
* Altering their behavior so that it fits in more closely with their thoughts.
* Altering their thoughts so that they fit in more closely with their behavior.
* Adopting new ideas to explain away the cognitive dissonance.
The substance abuser can use either one of these strategies to eliminate their cognitive dissonance. They may choose to:
* Stop the substance abuse and begin living a more healthy life that is more in accord with their ideas.
* Dismiss any thoughts that seem to contradict their behavior. The individual may begin to believe that concerns about substance abuse are grossly exaggerated.
* The individual may adapt new ideas to justify their drug abuse. They may believe that while substance abuse may harm other people that they are a special case who won’t suffer the same consequences.
The common justifications that people use to remain addicted to alcohol and drugs include:
* Life with substance abuse is boring and unfulfilling. It is not possible to really enjoy life without a chemical helper.
* Those people who do give up alcohol or drugs are never happy. They spend the rest of their life missing the one thing they really want.
* Life is completely meaningless so the best strategy is to just party hard.
* Those people who use alcohol or drugs are highly creative. Substance abuse is a sign of artistic talent and is responsible for most of the best art and music.
* The individual justifies drinking or drug use as a response to their unfortunate life. They blame other people, the government, or bad luck for making sober existence unbearable.
* People believe that intoxication helps them deal better with things.
* Substance abuse helps them deal with insomnia.
* The individual may claim that their drug use makes them more sociable and it has reduced their experience of anxiety.
* They may claim that the recovery community is full of charlatans who are not really there to help.
* The individual can justify their drug abuse by claiming that they are going to die anyway.
* Life is hard and substance abuse means that the individual can escape the worst of the pain.
When the addict uses justifications to explain away their problems they are not being deliberately deceitful. The problem with cognitive dissonance is that the unconscious mind can adapt ideas that seem perfectly reasonable to the individual – even when they may seem illogical to other people. The individual believes their own justifications and this is why they are able to continue with their maladaptive behavior. The dangers of addiction justifications include:
* These justifications can keep the individual trapped in their misery indefinitely. No matter how bad things get the addict may feel that their behavior is reasonable.
* These ideas act as a barrier to communication. It means that those people who try to offer a counterargument to the justification might as well be speaking a different language.
* Even when the individual has entered recovery they can hang onto some of these justifications to abuse alcohol or drugs. They can later use such ideas as an excuse to relapse.
* People can use their justifications to excuse even the most appalling behavior. When people are convinced that their actions are reasonable they become willing to do unspeakable things.
* A community of substance abusers can encourage each other to remained trapped using these justifications.
Even when people have stopped drinking or using drugs they can still hold onto some of the justifications for addiction. This means that they can hold an ambivalent attitude towards their recovery – they have not fully given up on the idea that they can drink or use drugs safely again. The individual may only be waiting for an excuse to relapse back to their addiction. They will have plenty of justifications for this such as:
* They felt let down because their life wasn’t perfect after giving up their addiction.
* They felt that their family and friends didn’t offer enough support. They may even have relapsed in an attempt to punish these individuals.
* The individual may not fully trust the addiction professionals who they interact with. They may then claim that it was a failure of these professionals to give them enough attention that led to the relapse.
* People can claim that life in recovery is boring. They fail to appreciate that it is up to them to find ways to fill their time.
* The individual can feel lonely and miss their drinking and drugging buddies.
* The individual may feel that their life in recovery is meaningless. Substance abuse gave their life structure and purpose.
* When people become sober they will usually have to face some painful emotions. The individual can feel justified in trying to escape from such uncomfortable feelings.
In order for the individual to overcome their addiction and develop lasting sobriety it is necessary for them to shine the light of reason on their justifications for the abuse. This can occur by:
* Those individuals who hit a personal rock bottom are put in a position where they can no longer ignore the reality of their situation. The justifications for addiction now appear to be weak in relation to how bad their life has become.
* An addiction therapist is highly trained at encourage the addict to examine their own justifications for the behavior. The therapist can guide the addict towards the truth.
* When people first become sober they are likely to have many beliefs and opinions that are wrong or only half-truths. The skill of critical thinking can encourage the individual to weed out any irrational ideas and justifications for bad behavior.
* Those who belong to a recovery fellowship can hear other people discuss their justifications for drug abuse and hear why such justifications are wrong.