Science and Sensibility

A psychological potpourri

Five Addiction Prescriptions for Actress Lindsay Lohan

Five abstinence prescriptions for Lindsay Lohan and others

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ellen Fox ordered actress Lindsay Lohan to undergo rehabilitation until January 3, 2011. This is Ms. Lohan's fifth trip to rehab for her drug and alcohol abuse habits. Thereafter, she got into trouble again. Is this unusual?

Because of her celebrity status, Lindsay Lohan's Court appearances, brief jail terms, and rehab stints are publically visible. But like millions, Lohan currently stumbles in a darkened, circular, addictive tunnel. She will stay running in circles until she seriously decides to do and get better by permanently abstaining.

Lohan doesn't stand alone when it comes to getting hooked on addictive substances and relapsing. Relapses are common, complex, and often discouraging. However, anybody who feels disappointed following a relapse signals that they care enough to want to quit. That's the light in the tunnel.

How do you exit the tunnel? Let's start with dispatching the procrastination dragon and then move to five prescriptions.

Beware of the Procrastination Dragon

Why concern yourself about exiting the tunnel now? You have plenty of time. Tarry. Party. Enjoy your old friend. Hear that wheedling voice? That's your procrastination dragon speaking.

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Your crafty procrastination dragon creates a double-agenda dilemma to impede freedom from addiction. You recognize that your addiction spells BIG TROUBLE. In your lucid moments, you know that you don't want to live life in a tunnel world. You want to end a persistent, relapsing, addictive pattern. That's your first agenda. However, you also want something else: (1) drinking or using without consequences, or (2) quitting easily. When the second agenda dominates, you stay stuck in the tunnel.

Blame is woven into our social fabric and personal identity. Often perilously overlooked, blame-avoidance procrastination is a huge impediment to corrective action. See: This post for how to recognize and get toxic blame-avoidance procrastination out of the picture. This is a huge change stopper.

Our metaphorical dragons, like images in an imbedded figure test, lurk hidden everywhere. Recognizing the procrastination dragon is a start. Without this awareness, freedom from an addiction is slowed.

Five Prescriptions for Positive Change

People with addictions tend to engulf themselves in a persistent, change resistant, relapsing, self-destructive, pattern. Despite withdrawal issues, and other complications, countless millions have permanently kicked their addictive habits.

Exits from the addiction tunnel exist at every turn. You can find time- and scientifically-tested approaches to find the way out. However, what works for one may not work for another.

Without firsthand knowledge of Lindsay Lohan's addictive circumstances, the best I can do is to give generic prescriptions that may apply to anyone. So, if you find yourself struggling with an addiction, know someone who does, or work with people with substance abuse habits, here are five prescriptive tips to add to your self-help mix:

1. A sly dragon tells you that you'll quit someday, but not right now. Is that a goal? Hardly! It's a rouse. Start with a meaningful, measurable, and attainable short-term goal. For example, learn about SMART Recovery® Internet meetings: Smartrecovery.org. As a long-term goal, decide to have your next addictive fling on your ninetieth birthday.

2. The powerless dragon hollers: "You can't change. It's too hard." When powerless thoughts char your brain waves, you are primed to quit before you start. Can you join a group or read a book on building resilience against addictive thoughts and urges? If you can do these things, you can't be completely powerless over your addiction. You may discover tools that you can ably apply to help yourself.

3. In an addictive tunnel, your mind goes in circles. A circular reasoning dragon says that you must drink to relax (have fun, etc.). You may not catch the other half of the message: "I can't relax unless I drink." Here's the full circle: "I must drink to relax. I can't relax unless I drink." That's nonsense! Raise a few questions for perspective. Do you feel relaxed when hung over? Have you lost your driver's license for DUI? Do you have domestic squabbles over your drinking or using? What relaxation do you find in such drinking or using consequences?

4. A dragon roars, "You cannot resist the urge to use or drink." The more you mentally force yourself to rid yourself of this thought or urge, the larger it looms. This is a classic pink elephant setup. Here is how it works: Try not to think of a pink elephant for the next minute. Then, in the following minute, think of this line in a Beatle's song, let it be. Accept the elephant as transitory. Accept reality. If you think of the pink elephant, you think of the pink elephant. Bottom line: Let it be. An unfueled urge soon runs out of gas.

5. You see a beer commercial with happy people frolicking on the beach kicking up their heels and drinking and singing. You hear a soothing dragon voice, "Join the crowd and kick down a cool one right now." Here's the problem: You had a serious alcohol abuse habit and have been addiction free for a month. If you listen to the dragon, you head to the bar for a beer. Since images can be powerful, consider an adverse image, such as puking after binging and then going through the often painful process of quitting once again.

There are tipping points where corrective prescriptions have greater value. The tipping point likely comes when the pain of using visibly exceeds the pain of abstaining.

It is a myth that you need to hit bottom before you can kick an addictive habit. Catch yourself progressively losing control and you can choose to quit earlier rather than later. You'll have fewer psychological and social bumps and bruises and other substance-related complications in your life. However, kicking an addictive habit and staying abstinent is rarely easy. Nevertheless, an initial struggle to exit the tunnel is less difficult than a lifetime of abusing.

You have available many general prescriptions to get past the dragons and exit the tunnel. Millions quit without help. Some (1) learn behavioral self-control methods; (2) read and apply information from self-help books; (3) exit when they simultaneously deal with negative moods, anxiety and procrastination; (4) engage in a 12 step program; (5) apply evidence-based cognitive, emotive, and behavioral ways of knowing and doing; (6) stay away from substance abusing "friends;" (7) use SMART Recovery® groups and self-help methods. Some profit from multiple approaches.

Start your trek out of the tunnel and you'll soon enough find out if you are on the right path. If not, try a different way.

Dr. Bill Knaus

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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