Why would smart people abuse themselves by uncontrolled consumption of alcohol or illicit substances? Do they not see the harm? The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. Some see the danger and fall prey to the "unstated agenda trap" where they say they want to quit, but only if there is no hassle (See Emotions, Decision Making, and Procrastination). Others con themselves into believing that they can drink or use and get high without a downside. A subgroup think they will stay miserable whatever they do. For members of this group, drinking or using takes away the curse of living, but also is a curse. Some just want to get high without  consequences.

Filtering reality through a prism of addiction reasoning is like looking at the world from inside a murky bottle and believing that what you see is real. However, you are stuck in the bottle only if you act as if you believe you can do nothing to change. Is it possible for you to test the waters to get past your personal barriers to abstinence? Can you educate yourself about your addiction? Can you identify and work free from addiction prism thinking?

The Denial Trap

We all operate with different belief systems or schemas. Some do more harm than good. For example, if you are in a denial trap, how do you recognize what you don't see?

Denial cloaks a problem. You don't see or admit to a serious problem. You may muddy the waters to avoid blame. Is this sidetracking intentional, automatic, or both? Is it an example of procrastination? From a self-help view, how can you know if you are in denial trap? If you suspect you are, you probably are.

You can tell denial by its results. For example, the hassles of drinking or using normally exceed their benefits. The cost of addictive substances can siphon your money. You can put a strain in your significant relationships. You may have a rotating door job pattern where you go from one job to another. You may have legal problems related to your addiction. You may have health problems. You may have none of the above but suspect a freight train is heading your way and you are tied to the tracks. When you connect the dots between drinking or using and their results, your views on this habit can change from denial to a strong desire to quit.

What is simple in principle to do may not be easy in practice to do. You figured out how denial works. Still, you may have to wade through many automatic excuses and debunk each. Through this process, you can develop reasoning skills that both support quitting and prevent relapsing. However, if you find yourself in a cloud bank because of years of using and abusing, it is going to take time to thin the cloud; the cloud will clear in time.

Coping with Procrastination

Denial is a barrier to readying yourself to cope. Procrastination is another. Like overcoming denial, most find it challenging to combat procrastination on taking corrective actions to end an addictive cycle.

When you accept responsibility for your addiction habit, and have a plan for what to do, you can start to cut away at the roots that support the thorny branches of addictive behaviors. Among the various roots, change procrastination can run deep. You resist change--even positive changes that are good for you. Here are five psychological axes to hack at the roots.

1. Simultaneously Deal With Procrastination and Substance Abuse. When procrastination co-occurs with substance abuse, it is a complex procrastination. You can find many parallels between addictions and procrastination. Here is a key linkage. An inner pressure triggers both processes. You can make a radical shift toward self-control when you accept urges to use or procrastinate as time-limited. This acceptance doesn't mean you'll feel calm about tension. It doesn't mean that you'll like the feeling once you get used to it. Nevertheless, telling yourself an empirical fact, that tension is temporary, is like paradise compared to reacting to tension by consuming and procrastinating. Adding this step can accomplish at least three positive results: (1) putting reason between impulse and reaction; (2) managing your expectations; (3) shifting from an urgency to avoid tension to feeling acceptant of that tension.

2. Challenge BS Excuses. A primary step to solve a problem is to identify and define it in workable terms. Seeing a problem, however, doesn't automatically translate into corrective action. You could find yourself in a procrastination-thinking trap, and stall out. Here is a sample: "I have to get into the right mood to quit." "I'm under a lot of stress.” “I'll quit when my life calms down." Procrastination excuses are BS excuses. In this scenario, you'll be hard-pressed to find a calm time to quit. Act as if you could quit, and see if that changes your mood.

3. Don't Fool Yourself with Reactance Procrastination. In a reactant state of mind you see quitting as losing a privilege or a cherished freedom. You think you need to drink to relax, have fun, socialize, or blur a painful memory. You believe that if you quit using your favorite substance, you'd lose freedom. But what is the difference between this view on freedom and self-indulgence? What are you really giving up? Instead of swallowing reactance BS, do a cost benefits analysis. What do you gain by quitting? What do you gain by using? How do the numbers add up?

4. Take on Self-Handicapping. Self-handicapping is giving yourself an excuse to justify what you expect will be a weak future performance. Drinking can be a self-handicapping excuse for procrastinating. "I was too drunk to start the report." "I felt too hung over to start." When you have a timely project to start, and drink instead, drinking is both a self-handicapping excuse and a diversion. You stop diverting by doing the priority you feel tempted to delay.

5. Separate Real from Specious Rewards. Low frustration tolerance, negative thinking about unpleasant sensations, and discomfort dodging activities tend to co-occur with both procrastination and substance abuse. A procrastination-substance abuse cycle includes a specious reward in the form of an immediate relief from tension. This specious reward increases your chances for a recurrence of both using and procrastinating. Instead, reward self-efficacy. This is your ability to organize and self-regulate your actions to produce positive results. 

Rational emotive behavior therapy methods apply to curbing both substance abuse and procrastination. The above is a sample of a few rational concepts and their application. If you want to know more about this system and how to use it to end substance abuse, visit the SMART Recovery website at: http://www.smartrecovery.org In addition to many self-help strategies and techniques to promote abstinence, the website has a string on procrastination and substance abuse.

If you want to know more about how to stop procrastinating in areas where change counts, any of my books or articles on this subject will do. The most recent are End Procrastination Now (McGraw-Hill 2010) and The Procrastination Workbook (New Harbinger, 2002).

Use  The Procrastination Test to Uncover Procrastination Patterns and go straight to blogs that show you how to address the issue(s) you identified through the test:

(c) Dr. Bill Knaus

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