Throughout my career as a therapist I've heard people describe the effects of their addictions — drinking, eating, gambling — with deep regret, shame, and anger. Anyone can understand their pain. And effects do matter: They color how we relate to the people in our lives, and how we gauge the risk of future behaviors. But focusing on consequences does not help to stop addiction. Indeed, it is a waste of valuable time that could be spent looking at its causes.
Looking at consequences also induces guilt. It's understandable that those who have been hurt by addictive acts will confront those who have hurt them. But no good therapist would make this mistake. Over the past 40 years I've never encountered an addict who was not already sadly aware of the damage he or she was causing. People suffering with addictions are neither evil nor stupid, and adding to their guilt is simply pointless. If guilt could solve addiction there would be no addicts.
It is far better to focus on the fact that addictive actions are not random. They are precipitated by emotionally meaningful factors: loneliness after being abandoned by a boyfriend or girlfriend, shame and anger after being treated disrespectfully, embarrassment after a humiliating loss, or a repeated feeling of being unheard, with a helpless sense you have no control over your own life. These emotional precipitants are what people need to recognize, explore and understand, so they can predict when they will next arise, always followed by addictive urges. If people can predict when their addictive drive will occur, they are much closer to being able to control it. (I described this process in detail in my book, Breaking Addiction.)