An addict’s social systems must de-stabilize in order to find Recovery

One of the many things I teach is something I call, Social System Homeostasis, and it is composed of:

  • Stable Social Systems (SSS) = Occur when an individual’s mental constructs are in harmony with others’ perceived views of the individual.  A person is in a social system that is homeostatic when all his roles and beliefs about his roles are in fact reinforced within the social system.
  • Instable Social Systems (ISS) = A social system where an individual’s mental constructs are in a state of confusion with others’ perceived views of the individual.  A person is in an instable social system when his roles and beliefs about his roles are denied within the social system. This type of social system is filled with mixed messages concerning an individual’s identity or sense of self (SOS).

A generally well-adjusted person can belong to many social systems but will identify most strongly with those social systems that are stable and that offer the highest amount of emotional reward or security from the greatest emotional fear.  Furthermore, a healthy individual will seek a SSS that provides the highest level of sense of self.

Addicts, however, don’t seek social systems in which they receive a strong level of sense of self.  Rather, addicts tend towards social systems that reinforce their negative sense of self.  Really, the addict also seeks an SSS, it’s just that the SSS doesn’t bring them positive messages about himself; it does the opposite: It allows the addict to remain in an adverse headspace such that they can continue behave in such ways as addicts will.

In contrast, someone in early recovery actually seeks to destabilize the social system such that a new identity can emerge.  If a person wants to change, then the social system must also change.  If an addict seeks an SSS that reinforces addict behavior, then to recovery from addiction, the person must go through a process of redefining what his new role will be within social systems that negate addict behavior.  This process can be difficult, especially since recovery often requires leaving social systems in which addict behavior is tolerated and reinforced.

To illustrate, think of “Joe.”  He is addicted to heroin and actually likes his addiction. While Joe tends to wallow in negative emotions until he fixes, he prefers to remain in social systems that allow him to continue to use heroin.  His “friends” use and probably sell heroin (and other drugs), his family sees him as a screw-up, and he doesn’t really have many other social connections outside of his heroin addiction.  While it may seem that his life is chaotic, it’s actually quite stable.

Now, if Joe decides to become healthy, he will have to leave the heroin-based social system and join (or rejoin) social systems that do not involve heroin use.  Because it’s a high probability that Joe’s non-using friends and family see him as a “heroin addict,” then Joe must demonstrate that he no longer wishes to be seen as a heroin addict.  Joe’s desire is in conflict with others basic view of him and his social systems will be unstable for a time.  Once he has left all aspects of heroin user behavior behind, then his new role will emerge and his social systems will stabilize around his new non-using identity.

Because it’s natural to want social system stability, whether positive or negative, it’s easy to see why change can be challenging.  People, like nature, want homeostasis and don’t tolerate changes very well.  But social systems must be accounted for in dealing with Addiction, otherwise, the addict remains isolated and alone.


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