When my three sons were little boys, they watched a cartoon program called G. I. Joe on Saturday mornings. Sometimes they begged me to watch it with them and we would lie down on the floor together and watch the show. Mixed among the advertisements for each show was a G. I. Joe public service announcement. The cartoon character had some beneficial statement for the children in the audience, for example, “Look both ways before crossing a street.” Following each public service announcement, G. I. Joe would say to the children, “And now you know, and knowing is half the battle.” I often use this example in counseling because it stresses the importance of knowledge.
Knowledge is empowering, and the more people know about their addictions, the easier it is for them to change their behaviors. Knowledge also casts out fear. Many people do not understand what has led to their dependencies or the nature of their addictions and, as a result, they are afraid of their own feelings and desires. Or, they are afraid because they have tried to quit in the past and failed, or they do not know how to quit. All of these fears, however, lead to inaction and helplessness. Let me illustrate by giving an example from sports.
When I was in high school, we were scheduled to play a large high school that had a good team. The team began running a play against our zone defense that was working every time. The coach called a timeout, and as I walked back to the huddle I felt discouraged and defeated because I had no idea how to keep them from scoring against our defense. The coach told us about an adjustment we could make that would stop the play they were running. As I left the huddle I felt completely different about our prospects for success because now I knew something to do. When we returned to the game we made the adjustment and it worked. Had it not worked, the coach probably would have told us another way to adjust to their offense, but just knowing how to make an adjustment to our defense gave me a whole new perspective on the game that day. For me, knowing was half the battle, and now all I had to do was go out and implement the plan.
Knowing is half the battle because knowledge can remove the false beliefs that keep people in the addiction rut. For example, if people believe they are physically addicted to alcohol and cannot survive without it, it is unlikely they will stop abusing alcohol because they believe their behavior is predestined and out of control (Marlatt & Gordon, 1985). Aaron Beck (1993) has noted a common thread of false beliefs across various types of addictions (cocaine, opiates, alcohol, nicotine, and prescription drugs) as well as other kinds of destructive behaviors, such as binge eating. These false beliefs can serve as “the groundwork for relapse” (38). So, if you change your beliefs, you can change your behaviors. Knowledge is the key to changing beliefs, which is why knowing is half the battle.
What is it that people should know about addiction to make a change?
First, people need to realize that addiction produces strong feelings, and these intense feelings can discourage them from making a change. Giving in to feelings and urges simply because they are strong perpetuates problem behavior. The fact that we experience strong feelings is natural and a part of living, so people cannot assume defeat every time they experience these feelings.
Second, people need to understand the reasons for their own behaviors. For example, people may abuse drugs and alcohol because of any or all of the following reasons: what they model, an attempt to escape some unpleasant memory, the experience of a broken relationship, or unhappiness with something in their environment. This information can be useful in learning how to cope with feelings. Knowledge about the motivations for behavior can help people view their behavior more objectively and perhaps discover possible solutions. Stanton Peele (2004) argues that the rewards of addiction sometimes disappear if they are identified for what they are; in other words, when people explain to themselves why they pursue certain gratifications, they can remove the power of their attraction. Peele argues that this “may allow you to put your finger on something you know is not right or needs to be changed” (93), which is why knowing is half the battle.
When people are chemically dependent and experience physical withdrawal because of prolonged drug use, they need to understand what is taking place in their bodies and why they are experiencing these symptoms. Knowledge reduces anxiety, and if people know that withdrawal symptoms naturally occur because the body is adjusting to life without these chemicals, then they will be encouraged to endure the discomfort of withdrawal, but if they believe physical withdrawal means they cannot live without drugs, they will never quit.
J B Myers