A new way to think about drug and alcohol addiction

The five keys to releasing addiction are:

  1. Disempowering the Addictive Inner Voice
  2. Addressing unpleasant physical states
  3. Reducing stress
  4. Finding self-fulfilment
  5. Staying away from danger zones

This treatment process can also apply to other types of addiction: gambling, sex, shopping and junk food, for example.

Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous this way of working does not assume that addiction is a disease you have for life. Rather, it assumes that your usage is out of control (the reasons are explained in what follows). Out-of-control drug or alcohol use has effects on your personal life you might rather not have. For example: legal prosecution, relationship breakdown, job loss, financial problems, personal degradation, etc. Often events like these can become a cue to change. But you don’t have to wait for a disaster to happen to give up.

In this approach, I address the underlying triggers for addiction, thus weakening the power of the addictive voice (or thoughts) that prompt substance abuse.

The four key triggers: unwanted physical states, stress, loss of fulfilment and the danger zones which make it more likely that addictive behaviour will be triggered, are shown in the quadrant on the right.

The most important key is the Hypnotic Addictive Inner Voice (centre circle) which feeds the cravings. It uses problems in each of the surrounding four zones as a persuasive ‘excuse’ for using.

For example, it can tell you you’re feeling bad (physical state) and you need a fix; that you are so wired (stress zone) you really need to get drunk now; or that life is so meaningless (fulfilment zone) that all you have left is drugs; that since you are right near your dealer’s apartment (danger zone) you might as well buy some.

Switching attention away from that hypnotic message in your head is crucial to success. However, the inner voice can be very cloying and seductive; it takes practice to defuse from it. In order to do that you also have to address each of the four zones shown in the quadrant. That way the inner voice becomes much less persuasive.

The four triggers for an addiction

Unwanted physical states

The physical state zone comprises those uncomfortable feeling states you haven’t learned to tolerate. Agitation, anxiety, depressed mood and boredom are four. As well as the physical cravings for the drug itself, and the discomfort you go through when you cease using.

To address this problem you have to find other ways of neutralising the unwanted physical state. This could be through short-term medication (as happens in rehab centres) but longer-term solutions are: exercise, meditation, acupuncture, calming techniques and emotional freedom therapy. It also helps to defuse from thoughts that make the physical symptoms seem worse than they really are.

Stress and other life problems

The stress zone relates to situations which trigger increased anxiety, tension or agitation. There is no reason stress should lead to misuse of alcohol as there are plenty of ways to improve resilience, but the Inner Voice will use this as an excuse to indulge. Reducing stressors will reduce the power the voice has over you.

If you are unsure how to address stressful events and people in your life, then you should seek coaching or therapy to assist you.

Loss of fulfilment

Nearly all the drug users and alcoholics I have ever met have been profoundly dissatisfied with their lives. Most of those people, too, suffered from stagnation and boredom. Unless you have a path to self-fulfilment and several important reasons to develop a better life, then drugs and alcohol might still have some powerful attractions for you.

The actions to take on regaining personal fulfilment depend on what it is that attracts you in life. This could be creativity, work, family, helping people, spirituality or something else. The addictive voice loses power over you as you set your sights on something more important than drugging.

The danger zones that trigger addiction

A danger zone refers to those most tempting situations in which you are most likely to get drunk or drugged up. They include your drinking buddies, your favourite bar, ‘that time of day’, having spare cash on you, a bottle of wine in your fridge, or keeping your dealer’s phone number on your mobile.

Eliminating your triggers makes it harder for you to slide in to the zone, even when your Addictive Voice is clamouring for you to get involved.

Here are a few actions I have overseen in therapy when working with addicts on eliminating danger zones.

  • Deleting phone numbers, or getting a new mobile phone number altogether
  • Avoiding specific bars and clubs where other users gather
  • Following a new activity when ‘that time of day’ comes around (Gym memberships work well)
  • Getting someone else to shop at the supermarket, leaving out the booze from the shopping list
  • Meeting friends who drink in a non-alcoholic venue

Treating addiction

Defusing from the addictive voice

Often the tone to the voice is seductive: pleasant, low, smooth and insistent. Some people describe the voice instead as loud, urgent and forceful. A smaller minority tell me they can’t hear a voice as such. Instead they feel the craving getting stronger and stronger, as if there were a ‘beast’ on the loose inside their heads. When working with this type of client I typically ask them to ‘translate’ what ‘the beast’ is telling them into words and get them to work with it that way.

Why is the addictive voice so hypnotic? 

Because it works in exactly the same way as a hypnotist. Its aim is to put you in a trance state in which every one of your choices is blotted out, leaving you with only one way to go. As in all good hypnotic suggestions the voice uses repetition, monotony and persistence – confident that, eventually, you will give in, just as you have given in many times before. As the trance state builds, it will draw you in to recalling the ‘pleasure’ to be had from indulging; more specifically the dopamine release which could follow on from drinking alcohol, using cocaine, or gambling on the roulette wheels. Conjuring up a state of carefree abandon in which you are relaxed, happy and comfortable in your skin. Or as the outgoing, chatty joker in the party. Or winning thousands of dollars at the slot machine.

Typical ‘suggestions’ include:

  • ‘You’ve had a tough day. You need to unwind/relax….’
  • ‘You deserve this…’
  • ‘It’s been six months since you last had a drink. You’ve proved your point now…’
  • ‘Just the one…’
  • ‘No one will ever know…’ (or) ‘Everyone else will be drinking…’
  • ‘You know you really want one…’
  • ‘You don’t have to believe everything that therapist tells you…’
  • ‘The jackpot on that machine is full now….”
  • The alternative is so boring…’
  • ‘You know you are going to give in, so stop messing around…’

The main reason the Hypnotic Addictive Inner Voice can seem so overwhelming is because, without your realising it, it feeds on your attention and submission to it. You give it power every time you ‘relapse’ so that it comes back stronger at you next time. You give it power when you fantasise about how good things will feel after you give in. You give it power by taking it seriously instead of treating it as a delusion. In fact, you give it power just by listening to it. Each time you listen you are providing it with the oxygen of attention. Without that oxygen the voice will wither away and die.

So the simplest and most effective way to defeat the voice is to defuse from it. Note: I said this is the ‘simplest’ and ‘most effective’ way; I didn’t say it was the easiest. Most of my clients find it takes repeated practice before they learn how to switch off. Giving up drink, or drugs or gambling means breaking a well-established habit. That’s easiest to do when you have some better habits to replace it with.

For some ex-users there is little need to do any work on the addictive voice simply because it’s power has been eclipsed by tragedy:

  • You end up in a police cell
  • You kill or seriously injure someone else
  • Your partner/friends/parents/children abandon you
  • You lose your job or your reputation
  • You are declared bankrupt
  • You lose your home
  • You lose your driving licence
  • You get beaten up, robbed or raped while under the influence

As the person goes into shock the addictive voice is seen for what it is: delusional, destructive and degrading.  When the state of shock is combined with emotions like disgust and remorse, the power of the voice is broken at least temporarily, and sometimes forever.

But you really shouldn’t wait for a disaster to make that happen.

For your own copy of the Addiction Quadrant (for Alcohol abuse) click below.


Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay



3 thoughts on “5 keys to treating drug and alcohol addiction”
  1. Thanks for covering this, John. It is so useful as it enables people to assume responsibility for their behaviour and not feel unable to control their addictions. Having mastery of yourself and your choices is necessary to live as a fulfilled human being exercising freewill in a healthy way. When talking with people who have addictions they often use excuses which other therapists have provided for them. The excuses give them permission to stay stuck and so they continue to feel and act hopeless. Your approach shows the way out. Keep up the good work!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *