The relationship between Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction is an emerging topic of fascination, particularly for addiction specialists who perhaps are seeking new ways to treat clients (it’s also helpful for those in addiction recovery).
What is Cognitive Dissonance?
Cognitive Dissonance happens when an individual holds a series of contradictory beliefs, values and ideas – and is overcome by psychological stress when they partake in any action that goes against one or more of those beliefs.
As humans, we tend to strive for whatever makes us feel comfortable. Therefore, we are driven (consciously or not) by consistency.
Cognitive Dissonance theoryholds the principle that when two ideas or actions clash (i.e. they are inconsistent with each other) people will do everything in their will to change these ideas until they become compatible.
Broadly, cognition is a strand of knowledge; these include:
Let’s say, for example, a person discovers new information that challenges a deep-rooted belief.
They may even behave in a way that is incongruous to their perception of self, in this case, the individual (to restore Cognitive Dissonance) will often become motivated to change those negative feelings, which ultimately soothes psychological stress.
Cognitive Dissonance in Social Psychology
Cognitive Dissonance theory belongs to the sphere of Social Psychology.
Social psychologists believe Cognitive Dissonance to be amental conflict that occurs when an individual’s beliefs and behaviours are misaligned.
Leon Fester, psychologist and author of the book; A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957),proposed that people experience psychological unease when their beliefs are conflicting or when their actions and behaviours contradict each other.
Once individuals realize just how conflicting their beliefs are, they work hard to relieve the discomfort in an attempt to resolve Dissonance – this is titled “The Principle of Cognitive Consistency”.
According to mental health experts, mental health is the ability to handle uncertainty – and those with a higher threshold for delay tend to experience less distress and Cognitive Dissonance than those with lower scores.
Symptoms of Cognitive Dissonance
Cognitive Dissonance can create a series of unpleasant symptoms, such as:
Frequently, individuals experiencing Cognitive Dissonance may try to conceal their feelings or beliefs by covering them up. All this is done by:
Refusing to absorb new information that goes against their ideas, such as a refusal to watch the news or read an article.
Concealing their beliefs and behaviours from other people.
Excluding themselves from taking part in discussions about specific topics.
Condoning their decisions, actions and behaviours.
When a person ignores information and facts in a bid to retain their beliefs, this often results in stagnation.
For individuals to resolve Cognitive Dissonance, they must be willing to do the work required to shift their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours into alignment with each other.
Seeking professional help for Cognitive Dissonance allows those with mental health conditions such as anger issues, personality disorders and addictions to make positive changes to their lifestyle, allowing them to move forward.
Alcohol Abuse and Cognitive Dissonance
Alcoholics(and other substance abusers) often experience Cognitive Dissonance. Addicts are fully aware of the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse but will find new and creative ways to justify their self-destructive behaviours.
Alcoholics with Cognitive Dissonance will often do what they can to overcome feelings of unease by:
Being in denial about the dangers of alcohol abuse (or minimizing the risks) in an attempt to view their actions as less dangerous
Abstaining from alcohol altogether
Adopting the belief that although excessive alcohol consumption might be hazardous to others, they will be fine as it won’t affect them as much (if at all)
Risks associated with Cognitive Dissonance
In alcohol recovery, Cognitive Dissonance presents many risks and challenges for both the addiction recovery specialist and patient.
Since addicts with Cognitive Dissonance indulge in patterns of delusional thinking, they often go to great lengths to protect their current understanding.
All this might explain why certain concepts and ideas appear rational to some people and entirely irrational for others (such as an addict’s ability to justify their excessive drinking). This type of thinking makes no sense to the addicts family.
This type of increase in delusional thinking often creates many challenges for those in addiction recovery, and those hoping to avoid relapse.
The key is to notice when the pattern of delusional thinking starts to exacerbate and to challenge the feelings and thoughts to prevent relapsefrom occurring.
Examples of Cognitive Dissonance in Alcoholism
There are plenty of examples of how Cognitive Dissonance shows up in alcohol addiction – they include:
The addict believing that life is miserable and dull without alcohol
Giving up a habit means that life is inevitably devoid of any joy or happiness
Developing the belief that medical advice such as awareness campaigns against alcoholism is propaganda and that the media has indoctrinated people
Believing that teetotalers are boring and since they do not abuse substances they must lack character or personality
Adopting the belief that it’s cool to abuse substances and only those with imagination or artistic flair will fully understand the concept of substance misuse
Treating Cognitive Dissonance in Alcohol Abuse Recovery
Fortunately, there is a wide range of treatment options available for addicts with Cognitive Dissonance such as therapy andresidential treatment programs.
One on one therapy is the most effective form of treatment.
However, the addict must start with a clean slate or “beginner’s mind” for the methods in therapy to be effective. All this involves putting aside any previously held beliefs that may have been limiting or self-destructive in any way.
When people in addiction recovery begin therapy with a beginners mindset, this allows them to adapt to new thinking styles and healthier ways of behaving.
In therapy, Cognitively Dissonant individuals will start to notice a shift in previously held beliefs, and begin to acknowledge how they have justified their addictions in the past.
Therapy is delivered in a supportive, encouraging environment where people get the opportunity to share ideas and stories. This collaboration leads to mutual understanding, paving the way for recovery from alcohol (and any other substance) addiction.
If you would like to address any self-limiting thoughts and beliefs that might be holding you back in your recovery or if you would like help with an addiction – the team at Tikvah Lake Recovery are here to help.
Epidemiological studies show that breast cancer is more prevalent in those who drink alcohol daily.
A study, which included a total of 58,000 women with a breast cancer diagnosis showed that those who drank more than 45 grams of alcohol a day, had 1.5 times the risk of contracting breast cancer compared to those who don’t drink that much.
Alcohol weakens the immune system:
Other studies show that drinking too much can weaken the immune system leaving people open to conditions such as pneumonia and tuberculosis compared to those that do not drink too much.
The emotional repercussions of alcohol abuse can be devastating to the addict and the addicts family – these include:
Agitation and irritability
Not only do the effects of alcohol abuse produce emotional problems, but overusing alcohol can also trigger negative feelings such as anger, overreacting to things, and an inability to control emotions (dysregulation).
Someone that continually abuses alcohol may notice a difference in their ability to function on a cognitive level. Symptoms include:
Decreased impulse control
Clumsiness and slower reflexes (such as slurred speech and disorientation)
Top 5 emotional drivers of alcohol dependency
It is hard to say what drives a person from having the occasional tipple to full-blown alcohol abuse.
But, many factors put a person at risk of becoming an alcoholic in the future. Alcoholism is usually a byproduct of social and environmental factors, mental health and genetics.
The more risk factors a person possesses, the likelier they are of developing some form of alcohol addiction. Below are some of the emotional drivers of alcohol dependency:
#1. Mental health issues:
When someone has mental health problems, the challenges they face every day can be overwhelming.
Since alcohol is a depressant, meaning that it often slows speech or other functions, it may seem helpful when someone is feeling anxious or depressed. In the long run, though, it can lead to alcohol dependency.
#2. History of alcohol abuse in the family:
Those with a parent or close relative who abused alcohol are automatically at an increased risk of developing issues with alcohol in the future.
Alcoholism is known as a family disease as it affects not only the addict but the whole family unit. If a child is around a parent that abused alcohol, they are up to five times more likely to abuse alcohol themselves.
#3. Drinking from an early age:
Those who drink at an early age are more likely to develop an alcohol use disorder when they become adults according to the Mayo Clinic.
Not only has a person developed a dependence on alcohol early on, but they have also built a tolerance towards the substance – meaning that it takes more than just a few glasses of wine to get drunk.
#4. Traumatic experiences:
Many people abuse alcohol to numb out the unpleasant feelings associated with a traumatic experience or event.
These traumatic experiences may be single events (such as witnessing a close relatives illness) or, they may stem from childhood (such as experiencing physical or sexual abuse).
It seems that any traumatic experience can produce a dependency on a substance such as alcohol and the effects can vary from person to person.
#5. Peer pressure:
Peer pressure can happen at any age with alcohol since being social is one of the reasons behind drinking.
Going to a wedding or celebration almost always includes drinking alcohol and the pressure to drink from others is often a feature.
When a person refuses to drink at a social gathering, they might get accused of being a lightweight or a party pooper.
This form of societal pressure can be challenging for those in early alcohol recovery stages.
The pressure to drink is also normalized within certain cultures more than others, and this normalization can result in excessive drinking.
To prevent alcohol use disorder people must be aware of any red flags that might suggest that either themselves or a loved one is heading towards alcoholism.
Some of the red flags to look out for include:
People who drink more than 12-15 times a week
Pay special attention to those with alcoholism in the family
People with mental health conditions (or other addictive disorders)
A person becoming angry or defensive when talking about their drinking
Neglected personal hygiene
A person needing to drink more and more to get the desired effect
Missing work or school
Drinking alone and binge drinking
There are a number of alcohol prevention plans that can be helpful to all ages -such as:
Education – this can involve all age groups as drinking affects people of all ages differently. Understanding the facts on ageing and drinking and how to avoid alcohol poisoning are beneficial
Being as transparent as possible about how alcohol and other drugs such as prescription drugs and herbal medicines can cause complications if taken together or used incorrectly
Spreading awareness around the health implications of alcoholism (particularly for those belonging to the older generation) such as high blood pressure, memory loss, stroke, and a lack of coordination and balance
Understanding any triggers such as boredom, loneliness, loss of a loved one and depression
Seeking early treatment for alcohol abuse is crucial in stopping the addiction cycle. Early intervention can help prevent the adverse effects that accompany alcohol use disorder.
Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are also beneficial for those in alcohol recovery.
If you are worried about your (or a loved ones’) drinking habits, it might be time to get in touch with a professional who can help. Contact the team at Tikvah Lake today to discuss your options further.
“I need to drink to help me sleep,” someone may say. While alcohol relaxes the nervous system, in excessive amounts, it does the opposite. Those who drink alcohol before bed may be able to fall asleep, but then spend the night restless and unable to stay asleep. The next day, they may feel exhausted and hungover.