Managing compulsion is alot like managing a temper tantrum

I am certain that Addiction is based upon a compulsive response to anxiety. By definition, a compulsive response is uncontrollable and should be treated a lot like a child throwing a temper tantrum. That is, if a child throws a temper tantrum and if her parent ignores her, there’s a good chance the tantrum will blow itself out. While there may be some damage done during the tantrum, if a parent engages or tries to fight it, the tantrum will probably get worse. The uncontrollable desire to relieve the anxiety is almost exactly the same: If an addict tries to fight the desire, it will probably get stronger. If, however, an addict can allow the desire to arise but then burn itself out, it probably will. (To learn more, google “Urge Surfing” and a whole series of exercises will pop up that will teach mindfulness techniques that will help…)

Now, with many substances, the compulsive desire is also related to physical dependence. That is, for people who are physically dependent upon a substance, the substance becomes a part of the addict’s chemical makeup and without the presence of the substance; the body will go through an often painful physical detoxification that most addicts will avoid like the plague. The three (3) most common substances that are associated with physical dependence are alcohol, tobacco (nicotine), and opiates.  For these and other substances that do cause physical dependence, I argue that the anxiety associated with their addiction is even stronger, as the pain associated with the withdrawal causes even more stress than just the urges and cravings.  For physical dependence, a medical doctor needs to be a part of the physical detoxification process as to allow the body’s chemistry to find its balance without the substance. Still, compulsion can be mitigated through urge surfing, even in cases of physical dependence.

The truth about managing any behavioral change is that it’s hard. When a compulsive urge needs to be diminished as part of a behavioral change process, it becomes even harder. It takes daily mental focus and discipline in order to bring about a behavioral change and uncontrollable desires interfere with that mental focus. Therefore, I recommend mindful urge surfing to allow the power of desires to burn themselves out. Otherwise, fighting them will only make them stronger, just like a petulant child.

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