All addicts will have days when they are unable to ignore the reality of their situation. At these times, they will clearly see just how far their life has gone off track. During these moments of lucidity, they can see beyond the denial. Some of these addicts may be so affected by this realization that they decide to end the misery. Unfortunately, many addicts will just continue with business as usual. Even though they can see how miserable their life has become, they feel powerless to escape it. They have learned to be helpless. It is this feeling of powerlessness that can keep people trapped and that prevents them from ever experiencing true happiness.
Learned Helplessness Defined
Learned helplessness involves feelings of powerlessness. The individual has developed the idea that they have no real control over what is going to happen to them in the future. They feel powerless to control their future so they just accept their current situation no matter how unfavorable it happens to be.
The ideas of learned helplessness originate from experiments on animals. Researchers put test subjects in a situation where they were faced with unpleasant stimuli from which they could not escape. Eventually, these animals would just accept their situation. They would stop trying to escape. Later, when researchers added a means of escape, these animals would fail to make use of it. They had learned to be helpless. This same type of learning can also occur in humans if they are frequently put in a negative situation in which they feel powerless.
Symptoms of Learned Helplessness
Those individuals who have developed learned helplessness can exhibit certain symptoms such as:
* Low levels of self-esteem
* A tendency to delay taking important actions, or procrastination
* Feelings of frustration
* Believing they have no control over future events.
* Believing that whatever they decide to do things will still turn out bad
* Feelings of incompetence
* Likelihood of giving up in the face of difficulty
* Difficulty problem solving
* Feelings of lonliness
Learned Helplessness in Addiction
Some individuals who feel powerless in their life may turn to substance abuse as a means to escape this discomfort. In the beginning, they may feel that alcohol and drugs helps them, but in reality their problems are only starting. The situation is described perfectly in the lament of the alcoholic: alcohol gave me wings but then it took away the sky.
There are also those individuals who will develop learned helplessness as a result of their addiction. This occurs because of failed attempts to quit or control their substance abuse. The individual develops the idea that they have no choice but to accept their current situation. There can be any number of reasons for why people fail in a recovery attempt. It never means that they will be always destined to fail. Sometimes, it can just be that the individual had not managed to summon up enough willingness, or that they failed to use the right resources. Unless the individual understands this they can begin to feel helpless and just accept their miserable situation.
The Dangers of Learned Helplessness in Addiction
The combination of learned helplessness and addiction can be highly destructive for the following reasons:
* The individual will feel completely powerless to escape the alcohol or drug abuse.
* The person will accept the misery of addiction as the best they can expect from life.
* The individual may believe that giving up their addiction will just be a waste of time. No matter what they do, they believe their future is going to be bleak.
* Some people believe that they deserve to be addicted.
* The person may expect family and friends to take care of them. They may become completely dependent on other people. This makes life miserable for everyone involved.
* It can mean that the addict is unable to trust those individuals who are trying to help them. They just cannot believe the promises that their life will get better if they give up the substance abuse.
* The individual can become so upset by their feelings of powerlessness that they become depressed. They may even decide that the best solution is to commit suicide.
How to Overcome Learned Helplessness and Addiction
These are measures that the individual can take to overcome learned helplessness and build a life in recovery:
* Helplessness can be unlearned. This can be achieved by experiencing success when trying to influence the outcome of future events. The individual can learn to have trust in the reality that their actions can have a positive impact on their future.
* It is vital that the individual develops the understanding that these feelings of learned helplessness are not based on reality. These are self-imposed limitations that can be overcome. Nobody deserves the misery of addiction and it is possible for anyone with sufficient willingness to escape it.
* If people have failed at previous attempts to quit their addiction, they need to understand that this does not mean that they will always fail in such attempts. The majority of people who have made it into long-term recovery will have a history of many failed attempts in their past. It would be wonderful if people could just give up an addiction with their first attempt, but it often does not happen like that. This does not mean that there is something so wrong with the individual that they can never get better.
* The individual can learn to begin challenging these negative thoughts. Such beliefs fall apart when they are put under close scrutiny.
* Addicts tend to spend most of their time with other substance abusers, people who will also have developed a degree of learned helplessness. Humans are heavily influenced by the other people they spend their time with. It is therefore beneficial for addicts to spend time with people who have already overcome an addiction. Such inspirational individuals will be a living demonstration of what is possible and will encourage the individual to get over their feelings of learned helplessness.
* Sometimes addicts just have to take a leap of faith. They may not really believe that giving up their addiction is going to make life better, but they can at least give it a try. The misery of addiction will still be waiting for them if they choose to return to it later. They really have nothing to lose by giving it a shot.
* Attending therapy sessions can allow the individual to discover the truth behind their feelings of powerlessness. The therapist will be able to suggest strategies for how the individual will be able to get beyond their current self-imposed limitations.
* Those who agree to attend a rehab can develop the skills they need to build a successful life in recovery. Part of this will be learning to overcome feelings of learned helplessness. By the time an individual has made it through rehab, they should have developed a more optimistic view of the future and feel far more in control.