Program 4



  1. The Benefits of Overcoming Your Addiction
  2. Deciding on Your Goal
  3. The Purpose of Addiction in Your Life
  4. Rational and Irrational Beliefs
  5. Challenging Irrational Beliefs
  6. Staying in Control in High Risk Situations
  7. Increasing Your Discomfort Tolerance
  8. Tolerating Boredom
  9. Self-Acceptance
  10. Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle
  11. Conclusion

  1. The Benefits of Overcoming Your Addiction

The initial step to give up your addiction is to understand the gains of doing so rather than focusing on the difficulties and loss of pleasure this accompanies. At first it will be uncomfortable to face daily living without the relief provided by your addiction. You may be motivated to change after losing your job, addiction related financial or health problems, loss of custody of your children after a divorce etc. It may be clear that your addiction is preventing you from moving on with your life.

Learn from your mistakes – it may take several attempts to succeed at giving up your addiction. Do not overgeneralize and label yourself as a ‘failure’ - try, try and try again until you do overcome your addiction.

List the benefits of giving up nicotine, drugs, alcohol, junk food (e.g. my relationships will be better; my senses will be sharper; I can excel at my job; people will respect me for my good qualities; I will avoid risky situations such as fights and dangerous sexual practise; I will be healthier).

On a flashcard write: ‘Focus on your gains, not your losses’. Put the list and flashcard where you can see them frequently. Your struggle to overcome your addiction will eventually lead to genuine joy and relaxation rather than the superficial pleasure of using addictive substances.

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  1. Deciding on Your Goal

You need to decide whether to make your goal total abstinence or controlled intake. For alcoholics with a long history of drink related problems, abstinence is the safer option. Controlled drinking may be an option for younger drinkers who are not experiencing drink related problems and are functioning well physically and socially.

Similarly, if you have been using drugs for a long time, abstinence is the rational option. However, with highly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin, controlled use is unlikely whatever your experiences with the drug.

List the pros and cons of your addiction and of both abstinence and controlled use. This will clarify the best goal for you.

If you do not want to set abstinence as your goal, try controlled use. Monitor clearly the quantity of drink or drug you will intake, the time you will spend in taking it, and the number of times you are allowed to consume it per week. When your records show a maintained change for a period of six months you can consider that you have achieved your goal of controlled use.

A better approach is to maintain complete abstinence for a period of six months, followed by gradual controlled use. After abstaining for a short time you may decide it is the best strategy and remain abstinent.

However, you may want to try controlled use in which case you need to consider the advantages and disadvantages of your decision. Always be open to returning to total abstinence if controlled use is difficult for you.

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  1. The Purpose of Addiction in Your Life

Your addiction (e.g. drinking, bingeing) is often a form of escapism to avoid the stress and discomfort of daily living. However, addictive substances only provide short-term comfort and you need to find alternative ways to cope with or eliminate your discomfort.

Consider how you use these addictive substances – do you use them for anxiety, depression, to relax, or to go to sleep?

In a notebook monitor the date and time you experience the urge, for example, to smoke or drink. Write down the situation and any triggers (activating events). What were your thoughts or worries at the time? By keeping a journal you can discover how and why you use addictive substances.

First you have to understand that your substance use is a way of getting rid of discomfort. These substances give short-term happiness in daily life by blocking painful emotions such as depression, shame, anger and anxiety. Rather than continually resorting to say alcohol, to relieve discomfort, try to change your negative thinking as this primarily determines how you feel and behave.

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4. Rational and Irrational Beliefs

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

You know now that it is your beliefs in a situation that cause the consequent emotions which you then sooth by taking say alcohol. Irrational beliefs interfere with your ability to deal with a problem and are illogical. Rational beliefs allow you to respond to a problem in the best way without harm to yourself or others, and are logical.

Some irrational beliefs are:

Life should be without problems (rigid demand).

I am a weak person for being addicted to…(depreciation).

If people are not nice then it is terrible (awfulizing).

I can’t stand not giving in to my addiction (discomfort intolerance).

These beliefs have no evidence to support them and some rational alternatives are:

As much as I would like life to be easy, it does not have to be that way (full preference).

There are many reasons to give up my addiction but my worth will not change if I do (full acceptance).

It is annoying but not the end of the world when people are not nice (anti-awfulizing).

I can tolerate the discomfort caused by a problem rather than resorting to substance use which would impair my behaviour and motivation, making me less tolerant (discomfort tolerance).

Identify your irrational beliefs that cause self-defeating feelings such as anger, anxiety and depression. You can then consider how to change your beliefs so that you do not feel disturbed when problems arise and do not resort to substance use.

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 5. Challenging Irrational Beliefs

Irrational thinking can cause a low discomfort tolerance which leads to substance use. To gain control over your irrational thoughts, challenge them when you feel discomfort which leads to addiction.

To dispute your irrational beliefs you first need to identify them:

What do you believe is upsetting you?

What are you telling yourself that causes substance use?

What demands are you making that upset you so much?

What are you deluded to think is necessary that makes your discomfort high and results in low discomfort tolerance?

How are you making yourself feel negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, jealousy or hurt?

Are you catastrophizing?

Next, you need to be motivated to challenge the irrational beliefs you have identified. By taking responsibility for your beliefs, feelings and behaviour you can learn to control them. When you have identified your irrational beliefs, challenge them with persuasive rational alternative beliefs.

When you feel discouraged consider what you will gain by disputing and learning to have a higher discomfort tolerance. The more you practise thinking rationally, the easier it gets, and keep in mind the rewards of learning to tolerate discomfort without resorting to soothing with your addiction.

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       6. Staying in Control in High Risk Situations

You need to use rational thinking to keep away from high-risk situations where you could be tempted to give in to your addiction. Instead of thinking about how things would be if you were still addicted, think about new activities and ways to meet people to pass your free time enjoyably. Otherwise, you will return to your addiction.

Identify irrational thinking such as: ‘I must drink to relieve my anxiety’.

Challenge irrational thinking:

Why do I feel this way?

What evidence is there for these thoughts?

What are the pros and cons of such thinking?

What are the worst and best case scenarios?

Try rational alternatives such as: ‘It may be hard but I can tolerate not going to the bar to drink’.

Urge surfing can help you endure cravings or urges to give in to your addiction. Imagine the craving or urge is like an ocean wave – it will eventually subside. See yourself riding it out successfully.

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  7.  Increasing Your Discomfort Tolerance

Signs of low discomfort tolerance are:


Lack of persistence in thinking about the best option.

Lack of persistence in taking action that is beneficial in the long-term.

Complaining about negative emotions such as anxiety, anger and depression.

Addictive behaviour.

You can raise your discomfort tolerance by recognizing the signs and consequences of low discomfort tolerance:

Acting to comfort you in the short-term but risking long-term well-being in the process (e.g. smoking cigarettes) is a sign of having low discomfort tolerance.

Avoiding exercise which will maintain your blood pressure, weight and cholesterol at a healthy level and keep you off addictive substances, is an example of low discomfort tolerance.

Make a list of the costs of your addiction and another of the benefits of giving up your substance use. Also, keep focused on your long-term gains. In this way you will sustain your motivation to deal with your addiction, especially when you experience setbacks.

If you are to raise your discomfort tolerance, you need to identify your irrational beliefs responsible for your low discomfort tolerance, resulting in self-defeating avoidance and addiction. For examples of irrational beliefs:

See Rational and Irrational Beliefs.

Next, you have to challenge these irrational self-defeating beliefs and replace them with rational alternatives which will raise your discomfort tolerance.

See Challenging Irrational Beliefs.

Write your new high discomfort tolerance beliefs on a flashcard and keep it where you can see it often. Live according to your new beliefs, confront and tolerate discomfort rather than avoiding it through substance use. You need to understand that unless you maintain your high discomfort tolerance by continually challenging yourself with uncomfortable activities, you will slide back to low discomfort tolerance and may return to your addiction.  

Learn to relax when anxious.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Controlled Breathing and Relaxation Techniques.

Deal with your distress in situations you fear by exposure – FEAR (face everything and recover).

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Eye Movement Technique (EMT), Mood Induction Procedure, Rational Emotive Imagery (REI), Imago Graded Exposure and In Vivo Graded Exposure.

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                  8. Tolerating Boredom

Boredom can lead to mild depression in some people which can result in a relapse in overcoming your addiction. Identify the irrational beliefs that are causing your boredom and depression, such as: ‘I must have a cigarette to escape my boredom, otherwise I will get depressed’.

Learn to tolerate boredom without giving in to your addiction. Challenge your irrational thinking and find rational alternative beliefs, such as: ‘I do not need a cigarette to escape boredom. I can learn other ways to alleviate boredom and prevent myself from becoming depressed’.  

To counter boredom, make a list of activities you enjoy. Choose from these activities when you feel bored. You may irrationally believe that the list is too hard to make and that you cannot start and persist with constructive activity till your boredom goes away. Push yourself to do it. Rationally you can handle the discomfort of this if you choose, instead of the temporary relief of addictive substances. Your addiction is holding you back in many ways and the longer you fight it the more you will gain.

Boredom can lead to a relapse. Plan ahead how you will spend your time daily and include activities to counter boredom should it arise. If you still get bored be aware that you can tolerate the discomfort.

An activity schedule can ensure you make optimum use of your time.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Planning an Activity Schedule.

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                  9. Self-Acceptance

From childhood experiences you may have been taught by adults to rate your self-worth as good or bad on the basis of your actions. These self-ratings cause shame, guilt and depression which can make you want to give up trying to beat your addiction, and prevent positive change.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Troublesome Emotions, Forgiveness, Program 6: Overcoming Anger, Program 8: Overcoming Anxiety, Program 12: Overcoming Depression and Program 15: Overcoming Grief And Bereavement.

Try not to demand perfection - accept yourself unconditionally.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Competitiveness and Perfectionism, Frustration, Procrastination and Persistence.  

Learn to deal appropriately with criticism.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Criticism, Countering Self-Criticism, Improving Your Self-Image and Combating Self-Harm and Coping with the Need for Approval.  

You may have irrational beliefs such as: ‘I am worthless because I have an addiction’. You can change such depreciation to self-acceptance statements such as: ‘My addiction negatively affects the quality of my life but it does not make me worthless’. You need to stop denying your problem and accept responsibility for your actions without shame, guilt or depression.

Build your self-confidence.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Assertiveness Training, Social Skills Training, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Building Confidence I, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence II, Building Confidence IV and Program 16: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem.

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                  10. Adopting a Healthy Lifestyle

Put yourself first usually and others a close second. Stop trying to please other people. You need a balance between self-interest and interest in others. Others or certain situations may tempt you to resume your addiction – avoid these people and places until you learn the coping skills to deal with them effectively. Accept you are fully responsible for your actions and you choose your addiction.

Find new ways to gain pleasure instead of resorting to your addiction. It is necessary to stop demanding certainty and start to live with probabilities (e.g. the harder you work the more likely you are to succeed).

Your addiction was time consuming and when you give it up you need to fill the resulting vacuum with new interests you look forward to which allow you to meet people as well as combating boredom. An activity schedule of planned activity including pleasurable activities and eliminating unhelpful pastimes can facilitate a new improved lifestyle.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Planning an Activity Schedule.

Adopt scientific thinking – experiment and create hypotheses which you then try to prove with evidence. Avoid irrational biases (e.g. dichotomous thinking/all-or-nothing thinking).

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Modifying Maladaptive Thinking.

Develop unconditional self-acceptance by accepting responsibility for your negative actions and rate traits or aspects of yourself and not you in totality. Learn to take calculated risks by considering the long and short-term advantages and disadvantages of any action.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Problem-Solving, Program 22: Overcoming Stress and Program 23: Overcoming Stress At Work.

Increase your discomfort tolerance by thinking about a decision and sleeping on it before implementation. Learn from your mistakes so that you are better prepared in future. Your addiction is a short-term pleasure which is harmful in the long-term. You need to seek a balance between short-term and long-term achievements.

As you persist with abstaining from your addiction you will gradually break free of your addiction and learn to enjoy life without being an addict. Be realistic in your goals and acknowledge that it will take hard work to get things you want. Do not demand perfection and give up after a setback in your abstinence.

Laughter is healthy so always try to see the humorous side of things and choose healthy living. Make time for relaxation and recreation as well as attaining a healthy diet, regular exercise and get sufficient sleep.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice –Nutrition, Exercise, Managing Your Time and Sleep Management.

Also – See Program 5: Overcoming Alcohol Abuse, Program 14: Overcoming Gambling Addiction, Program 3: Overcoming A Smoking Habit and Program 25: Overcoming Weight Problems.

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                  11. Conclusion

Challenge your irrational thoughts and find rational coping statements, for example: ‘The sooner I am free of addiction, the better I will be’, and ‘I can stand the discomfort of giving up my addiction’.

When you have a relapse you are likely to stop exercising. Resume exercise as soon as possible to get back into the routine. Find non-addict friends with whom you can discuss the gains of being free of addiction.

Act in a way consistent with your new beliefs so that they become part of your belief system. You need to be focused on the benefits of an addiction free life to maintain the motivation to continue fighting your addiction. Do not let setbacks discourage you but try, try, and try again.

See Program 1: Coping Strategies Counselling Advice – Relapse Prevention.

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