I have five great tips to share with you on how to beat addiction, but first let's look at some science to see why addiction blinds its victims so much, and how flexing your memory muscles could help you to avoid some common pitfalls.
Human beings often fall into a trap of preferring instant gratification over long-term benefits. We tend to choose things that let us avoid pain and experience pleasure in the short-term, rather than looking at what the future may hold.
It's a natural psychological tool that helped us to survive in the caveman days when we had shorter lifespans and lived more precariously from one moment to the next. Back then, it was far more important to act quickly, and with today in mind, than it was think about the future, which might not even come.
You may recognise this psychological bias if you've ever eaten too much or bought something on impulse, only to regret it later. People who aren't addicted to alcohol often fall into this trap too. Many people indulge in a few too many drinks without seriously considering the terrible hangover that they will suffer the next day.
But in people with addictions to alcohol, drugs or food, this phenomenon, which is called future or delay discounting, in particularly strong. They discount even more gravely -- and they never seem to learn from past experiences.
A person with an alcohol problem will not only drink the night before work, but the night before a job interview, a wedding, a funeral, or a court appearance. If anything, the added pressure of the next day will make them drink more.
As an alcoholic, I was subject to future discounting in a big way. That's why I preferred to get absolutely trolleyed to mask my anxiety disorder for the next hour, rather than putting up with it while I sought proper treatment. In fact, I missed appointments, due to being drunk or hungover, that actually could have helped with my disorder.
I just didn't see, or recognise, the fact that my drinking would cause shame, relationship problems, and the loss of my pancreas at various points in the future. I wasn't concerned with what was down the line. All that seemed important was ending the pain, albeit temporarily, right now.
But the relative strength of this type of thinking in addicts can actually be remedied -- and in those who have experienced the biggest problems with delay discounting, the most improvements can be made.
A study on recovery from drug addiction, which was published in Clinical Psychological Science, showed that people who discounted the future the most actually showed the best outcomes from treatment. This stood, whether they were addicted to smoking, taking stimulants or injecting heroin.
Training the memories of addicts helped them to value the future more, and therefore they learned to exert more self-control.
5 Tips to Train Your Memory To Help Beat Addiction
1. Play the tape backwards
Never forget all the terrible experiences you had as a result of your addiction. I don't believe in people beating themselves up about the past, but I do believe in having a very clear picture of what actually happened.
Write out a list of all the things you lost as a result of your addiction. Include the financial, emotional and physical costs of drinking or using substances. Keep it somewhere you will sometimes see it, as a reminder of why you never want to go down that road again.
2. Play the tape forwards
If you're ever tempted to cave in and have a drink or drug, take a quick look at your timetable for the coming days. Do you have responsibilities that you will screw up if you have a hangover -- or can not stop drinking? And what awful things are you likely to do tonight with a drink in your belly? How you will feel about yourself tomorrow if you let yourself down?
3. Don't fall for faulty recall
Addicts often fall for the allure of drinking again, because they remember the days when alcohol was fun, rather than fatal. This phenomenon is called euphoric recall. What it discounts is any bad times that also occurred in the early days of drinking, and most startlingly of all, the fact that things have changed.
If the last time you had a great time drinking without any consequences was years ago, use your most recent experiences to bring you up to speed with the reality today. Your brain has changed, irreversibly, as a result of the constant stream of alcohol since these previous carefree days. You can never get it back to normal. If you drink again, your drinking will mirror your later experiences.
4. Beware the blind spot
I know so many recovering addicts who fall for some quite hefty delusions when it comes to thinking they can drink again. A common fantasy just before the point of relapse is that this time it will be possible to just have one drink and not get into trouble. This delusional thinking occurs even in addicts who, in a sane and sober state, know and accept that they can never have one without going on a bender with hideous consequences.
Keep yourself surrounded by reminders of the reality of addiction - go to Fellowships, tell your story, and read recovery books to keep the blind spot at bay.
5. Choose what's better, not sooner
Often the long-term rewards of doing the right thing are far greater and more wonderful than any short-term benefits. Drinking may provide temporary relief from pain, but not drinking leads to a whole world of freedom, self-esteem, self-respect and choices.
Addiction is nothing but a trap. It keeps you stuck with temporary gains, never moving on. When making a decision, look at what will result in the greater good. Remember what you can gain or lose in the future by making certain choices now. Be wise and wait for the beautiful benefits of doing the right thing to unfold.