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Why it's so hard to resist an addiction

Thursday, August 22, 2019

I am reading a book about willpower right now, by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney. Baumeister is a researcher in social psychology.

First of all it is stated that willpower is one of the rare predictors for success. Children who are able to exert self-control at the age of four earn more money, have less illnesses, and less chances of getting incarcerated as adults than children who struggle with self-control.

I have only read the first few chapters so far, but one thing that strikes me is that the authors talk about 'ego depletion'. This means that if a person uses up a lot of 'willpower-energy' to suppress feelings or by making a lot of difficult decisions, they have little willpower left to keep working on a tough task - or to resist booze ,cigarettes and I assume, tempting food, too.
Emotions will be experienced much stronger if one has ego depletion.
It means, says the book, that a person who is trying to stop using an addictive substance, has TWO problems: they have less willpower due to suppressing their desire for the forbidden product, AND their emotions and that desire is much stronger than usual.

The willpower it takes to prevent oneself from giving in to the addiction, means the person will experience stronger feelings and desires, it is not just the need for the substance that is felt in a stronger way than usual, all events are felt in a more intense way.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Your post says it all. I love Doug Lisle's TedX talk on "The Pleasure Trap."


    McDougall Plan Co-leader
    659 days ago
  • SEAGLASS1215
    I have read similar things about will power only lasting so long before you end up giving in to whatever it was you were trying to resist. I can't remember specifics but I seem to recall something about not relying on willpower to get you through the tough stuff because there is only so much of it before you use it up and end up giving in...I think instead they suggest "want" power - focusing on what you want rather than what you are trying to avoid (example: "I WANT to eat healthy" rather than "I Must Not eat candy" because then I will spend my energy focused on making healthy choices instead of fretting over the candy I am depriving myself of.
    660 days ago
    Interesting concepts. Never heard about the concept of ego depletion. Makes sense that the energy used to suppress feelings and make tough decisions depletes will power to work on difficult tasks. I think that does apply to food addiction, too.
    660 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/23/2019 11:59:19 AM
    That sounds reasonable to me. I know I've spent a lot of energy in my life resisting
    my obsessive-compulsive tendencies and my poor impulse control. But I doubt that I'd have been better off if I'd have given in to the use of street drugs and alcohol (both of which I've finally successfully avoided) but I've rewarded myself by using tobacco and refuse to give it up. I have recently purchased a vaping system in an attempt to reduce my use of smoking tobacco and I have hopes in succeeding at that. (It was agony for me to stop smoking for 6 months some years ago but I'm hoping to reduce my shortness of breath which is not good.)

    I've had a mix of success and failure in impulse control. The failures resulted in behavior that caused my arrest and associated life disruption. I feel that I've survived that and am on track to turn failure into success.

    I am now 70 years old and have spent most of my adult life dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness that has left me wondering whose side treatment favors. I've developed my own treatment priority and have not been hospitalized or jailed for 39 years now. I take this as a sign of success, but it's an exhausting experience.

    All this combined with the typical lifestyle changes of growing older, like changing sleep
    and other patterns of bodily function cause renewed distress and expense of energy
    when I was thinking I had almost won out. But I think it's all worth the effort. My Mother is still living at 95. What a terror I'll be if I live that long!

    I wish everyone success in their lives, however you measure it!

    660 days ago
    I have no willpower. That's why I'm here
    660 days ago
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