Magical Thinking and Substance Abuse
Substance Abuse and Delusion
Those individuals who fall into substance abuse will usually develop different types of irrational thinking. This is because their behavior is self destructive and impossible to justify by rational means. As the person develops a dependence on alcohol or drugs they come to depend on increasingly delusional beliefs to explain themselves. To other people the truth of the situation will be obvious but addict ends up completely out of touch with reality. One way that they are able to do this is by adapting beliefs and rituals that can be described as magical thinking.
Magical Thinking Defined
Magical thinking can be defined as believing that one event happens as a result of another without a plausible link of causation. A classic example of it would be the belief that performing a certain ritual will prevent something from happening. Those people who avoid pavement cracks because they believe it is bad luck are engaging in magical thinking. This type of superstitious belief is common and usually harmless, but people can become deluded by magical thinking to such an extent that it starts to negatively impact their life.
Prevalence of Magical Thinking
One study in the UK found that over 50% of the population engaged in some form of magical thinking. This included things like avoiding walking under ladders and never opening an umbrella in the house.
Mental Health and Magical Thinking
Magical thinking can be a sign of mental illness. It is a symptom that is associated with:
Causes of Magical Thinking
There are a number of possible causes for this type of thinking including:
* Beliefs such as the law of attraction are popular because they appear to offer a shortcut to success. The possibility of being able to wish things to happen without having to work for them is a tempting idea.
* Some people do seem to benefit from practices that might be considered magical in nature. The placebo effect can even make it appear that healing has occurred because of a ritual – faith can be a powerful force when it comes to dealing with things like pain.
* It is common for people to believe in things that are not based on logic. This is often due to a failure to think critically.
* If people grow up with such beliefs they might never think to question them.
* When people hold conflicting ideas in their minds it can lead to a type of discomfort known as cognitive dissonance. The individual can overcome this discomfort by adapting a new thought that rationalizes the conflict.
* If people are looking for reasons to justify irrational behavior such as addiction they will be willing to believe almost anything.
* If this type of thinking is causing problems in the person’s life it may be a sign that they are dealing with a mental health problem.
Magical Thinking and Cognitive Dissonance
Magical thinking can occur as a result of cognitive dissonance. This is where the individual holds beliefs that contradict each other. For example, they might be convinced that smoking cigarettes is unhealthy, but they also believe that it is OK for them to engage in this self destructive habit. The individual is able to overcome their cognitive dissonance by adapting a new idea to explain the conflict away. In this case the individual could develop the belief that performing some type of ritual (e.g. daily vitamin C tablets) will prevent them from ever suffering the ill effects of their habit.
Dangers of Magical Thinking
If people rely too much on magical thinking it can be dangerous because:
* If people put too much faith in things like the law of attraction it could reduce their chances of actually achieving their goal. This is because they may fail to see the need to take action to make the goal a reality.
* The individual may believe that performing certain rituals will prevent bad things from happening to them. They can then becoming willing to take unwise risks because they are convinced that they are protected.
* It can keep the individual trapped in delusion so that they are unable to perform those acts that would make their life better.
* The person can use such beliefs to justify bad behaviors. Addicts are able to create an elaborate wall of false logic that they use to defend their self destruction.
* Happiness tends to be found when people align their thinking as close to reality as possible. When what the individual thinks is in conflict with reality it tends to lead to suffering.
Magical Thinking and Substance Abuse
Those individuals who fall into addiction need to become deluded in order to continue with this self destructive behavior. This is because if they understood the reality of their situation they would not be able to justify continued abuse. By adapting magical beliefs and rituals the individual is able to make their behavior appear logical. The type of magical thinking that these people will engage in will include:
* The belief that at some point in the future they will be able to recapture the enjoyment of the early days of substance abuse.
* The idea that performing certain rituals will prevent them from suffering the ill effects of excessive alcohol or drug use.
* The conviction that they are immune from serious consequences of drug addiction.
* They will try to attribute the downward spiral that their life is taking on other causes. Addicts will often blame bad luck rather than substance abuse for their problems.
* The belief that if they adapt certain rules about drinking or drug using it will keep them safe. For example, they might promise only to ever drink beer in the future.
* The idea that if they can stay sober for x amount of time they will then be able to drink normally again. This can mean that the individual falls into revolving door syndrome where they become trapped in a pattern of rehab followed by relapse.
How to Overcome Magical Thinking
People do tend to believe in things that are illogical, but this isn’t always such a big deal. It is only when magical thinking begins to negatively impact the individual’s life, or the life of people around them, that it becomes more vital to tackle. There are other people who would claim that all types of irrational thinking are bad and that ideally people should strive to eliminate it. It is possible to overcome magical thinking by:
* Developing critical thinking skills which involved thinking about thinking and learning how to question held beliefs. The critical thinker looks for evidence to support their ideas and is completely open to any evidence that would throw doubt on their beliefs.
* The individual needs to develop the willingness to consider that their own ideas and beliefs might be having a negative impact in their life. If the person is unwilling to question their own inner dialogue they will always be at risk of magical thinking.
* It is vital that people do not associate their feelings of self esteem with their beliefs.
* The individual needs to understand that it is perfectly fine to change beliefs because of being exposed to new evidence. The real harm is when people hold onto beliefs despite the evidence.
* Practices such as meditation can allow people to examine their inner life more closely. Techniques such as mindfulness allow the individual to develop the understanding that they are not their thoughts, and that it is OK to challenge them.
* Suffering in life is often a sign that the individual is at odds with reality.
* If magical thinking is having a serious impact on the individual’s ability to find happiness it may be a sign that they are dealing with an undiagnosed mental health problem. It is vital that the person seeks professional advice if that is the case.
* Keeping a journal can be helpful because it makes it easier for people to spot illogical thinking. When things are written down on paper they become much clearer.
* One of the great benefits of attending therapy sessions is that it gives the individual an opportunity to explore their beliefs. A therapist is trained to help their client identify and eliminate any harmful modes of thinking.