“I like it TOO much”

The pictures on my web site are pictures of places I’ve been. I love backpacking and mountain climbing. One year I went with my regular backpacking buddy and an old friend of his from back in Western Massachusetts where they grew up. They spent a lot of time getting up to date about old friends. I particularly remember them talking about a common friend who had been going in and out of rehab: “He gets out and he looks like Fabio; in three months he looks like a camp survivor.” Or something like that. Apparently the buddy had some first hand knowledge of drug use himself, because he said something about cocaine that really struck me: “I like it too much. That’s why I don’t do it any more.”

Anyone who’s dealt with an addiction can recognize the remark. In some ways, it’s the story of addiction in a nutshell. You like it a lot. You like it more than anything else. So why is an addiction different from having a passion? I love to play my guitar. I practice every spare chance I get. I hope to be an excellent guitar player some day. I only see my day job as supporting my guitar playing passion. Or maybe I’m an avid traveler. I save all my money for trips, and I spend all my spare time watching travel shows and reading travel magazines & looking at travel web sites & blogs. Why are these things not addictions?

There are lists of criteria that one can use for officially diagnosing a substance use disorder– or addiction, if you will. But my real favorite, which isn’t found in any official list of criteria, is this: does it make me a) lie to myself and then b) believe my own lies? I was recently working with someone who binges on alcohol. The rationalization for a binge worked like this: “First I have a couple of beers and then stop. Then I buy a bottle of vodka because it’s cheaper, and I plan to make it last four or five days. then I drink it in one night.” There was a person who lied and then believed it– “it’s cheaper and I’ll make it last” when they knew that their history was only one of bingeing, drinking it all in one night.

that’s why many who get into recovery choose a path of abstinence: not so much because they lie to themselves, but because they fall for the same threadbare lie over and over again.

copyright James Matter 2013


About jamesmatter

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in private practice in San Francisco. I work with adults, adolescents, and couples, with focus on substance use and abuse and co-occurring disorders (having both a mental illness and an addiction).
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