So whats the benefit in quitting an addiction?
If motivation is the force that drives you to act, then rewards are what you gain from that activity. People quit their addictions when they begin to get more rewards for living without the addiction than they got from feeding the addiction. Put into economic terms, you give up your habit when you believe that its costs exceed its benefits.
Of course, the nature of rewards is highly subjective. You incur all sorts of costs from an addiction—health, financial, legal, interpersonal, and so on. However, you also are getting benefits from it—rewards that often loom larger than life because they are so immediate and familiar to you.
The Rewards of Addictions
The disease model regards addiction as an unfortunate genetic inheritance. You are unlucky enough to have been born with an intrinsic urge to drink, to take drugs, or even to shop—or perhaps your brain is wired in such a way that these activities create unmatchable “reward impulses” for you. Conventional therapy is only interested in the negative consequences of your addiction. But it is important to explore the reasons behind your addiction.
Excessive alcohol consumption, eating, and sexual activity provide you with feelings and sensations that you desire and need. Some of these essential feelings are a sense of being valued, of being a worthwhile person, or of being in control. It is critical for you, or anyone trying to help a person with an addictive problem, to understand the needs that the addiction fulfils. This understanding is necessary in order to root out the addiction.
In fact, as you’re no doubt aware, addictions don’t really provide the addict with positive experiences or benefits. Although they provide short-term or illusory rewards, addictions ultimately lead to negative feelings and life outcomes. In the long run, you are worse off as a result of your addictive behaviors.
Moreover, over time, addictions take on their own momentum. Once you get used to relying on your addiction, your whole life begins to revolve around it, and your indulgence in overeating, drinking, smoking, shopping, or gambling becomes the first place you turn when you are under stress or simply looking to please yourself. You lose focus on how the addiction is damaging you—you begin to take the sensations and rewards it offers you as a given, as though you had no other way to obtain them.
It is these short-term and habitual rewards in your addiction to which you are attached. And people are simply not ready to give up these benefits until they find an alternative source of satisfaction. No one wants to jump off into space, leaving behind the habits that they have relied on for years, until they can find another source of positive feelings and gratification on which they can rely.
The task for you, in order to overcome any destructive habit, is first to get a handle on why you turn so regularly to the same sensation or experience—what you get from the addiction and the role it serves in your life. Examining what underlies the addiction will help you to get your automatic responses under control. Only then can you identify how you can find superior, non-addictive rewards to take the place of the addiction.