Is Addiction A Choice

Is Addiction A Choice?

clip_image002IS ADDICTION A CHOICE? –


Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

I’m often asked, “If we choose all that we do, then why do people choose to be alcoholics?” I am asked this question often by those wishing to  challenge the concept that we choose our behaviors. Is alcoholism a choice? Before I respond to that question, we need to look at why people drink alcohol in the first place.

Over the last 25 years, eighty per cent of my clients have been substance abusers or compulsive drinkers/users. I’ve had a passing fancy with it myself. You can say it is my specialty as I have worked with thousands of alcohol and drug abusers and addicts over the years. The average person has their first drink of alcohol around the age of 15. The first time you had an alcoholic drink, you might recall that it did not taste good at all. What it did do, however, was create a feeling of euphoria. It could be said that your first drink was a sensation more than it was a taste.

From the sensation came the desire to experience the sensation again, regardless of the taste. In simple terms, you liked the way it made you feel. If it didn’t do that, you couldn’t give it away. The more the sensation was desired, the more one is able to acquire a taste for it. In other words . . . become accustomed to the taste for the sake of the sensation.  You liked how you felt indifferent about what others might think of you or what image you feel you have to project to others. Your inhibitions lowered so much that you began to feel relaxed, worry-free, and perhaps some feelings of elation.

Current emotions would become exaggerated. You felt pleasure which you confused for happiness. You were in the midst of others who were experiencing the same things along with you. Everyone saw each other as pleasing, fun, and acceptable. You probably laughed more and talked more. If an introvert, you became an extrovert. If worried, you felt apathetic toward whatever was bothering you. If weak you became fearless. You came out and said things that you would normally keep bottled up inside and now was easing all of your tension and stress. You had found a magic elixir that released you from all of those things that were consuming your unpleasant thoughts and unhappiness.

Not everyone who consumes alcohol has this awareness, acquires a taste, or has a fondness for the potion. There are those who feel they don’t like to lose control of their thoughts and behaviors. If they drink at all, it would be sparingly and in social situations only. They may even opt for some other beverage rather than alcohol. The same applies for those who use drugs. There are also those who may have a glass of wine occasionally when dining out. They generally won’t have more than one or 2 glasses of wine and then stop. There are also those who may wish to have a drink when they come home from work . . . to “relax” or “unwind.” Again . . . they are drinking for the effect more than for the taste.

So why do people drink? For the effect. They like how it makes them feel.  Is there anyone who has not heard or is not aware of the fact that alcohol is an addictive substance? If you are aware that what you are consuming is addictive and yet you continue to consume it anyway . . . is that not a choice?

In Choice Theory, we know that the four components of Total Behavior is Thinking, Feeling, Physiology, and Acting. Of those four components, we have direct control of only two of them: Thinking and Acting. But there is always an exception to the rule. There are two things that DO have a direct effect on one’s emotions and physiology: Alcohol and drugs, including prescription drugs. There are very few prescription drugs that cure any of the major illnesses from which people suffer.  A great many of our prescription drugs, at best, only mask  symptoms by drugging the brain or keep the condition in check without a cure.  Illegal drugs and alcohol can do much of the same thing and one doesn’t generally have to wait very long for them to take effect.

I don’t know of anyone who has said, “I think I’ll become addicted to alcohol (or meth, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, etc). All addicts/alcoholics have several things in common. One of those commonalities is how they became addicts/alcoholics in the first place. They discovered that they got pleasure from drinking and using as well as it being a cure, albeit temporary, for those things that are pressing on their mind. They are actually anesthetizing their brain and numbing all of their unwanted emotions.

To seek the pleasant to satisfy the unpleasant is a natural human clip_image003behavior. We go from minute to minute, from day to day choosing behaviors that are purposefully designed to create happiness or pleasure. If cold, we turn up the thermostat or add clothing. If too hot, we turn the thermostat down or dress more lightly. If we have an upset stomach, there are antacids to ease the discomfort. If we get caught in the rain, we seek shelter. If hungry we eat. If thirsty, we drink. The actions we take to satisfy these unpleasant situations are all choices. Alcohol and drugs provide relief for other displeasures such as conflict with spouses, relationships, jobs, kids, debt, grief, anger, disappointments, tension, anxiety, and sadness.

While being fully aware that drugs and alcohol are addictive substances, the false belief that one is in control of his/her use is why they become addicted.  They believe they will be able to recongnize if and when their use becomes a problem.  The addiction will always be recongized by others long before the alcoholic or addict ever sees it.   Once the cellular structure of one’s brain, organs, and muscles, have been altered due to regular and continued use, the body can no longer function without the substance without going through physical and emotional discomfort. This condition is more commonly recognized as withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can be very severe and are always unpleasant.  They can even lead to death.  After any period of deprivation, when the cells do not receive their alcohol/drugs, they sort of revolt and readjust causing some physical complications and emotional distress. So if we can control our temperature discomfort, our hunger/thirst discomfort, and our need for shelter, we can also control our withdrawal symptoms by giving the cells that which they are accustomed that will end the suffering . . . drugs and alcohol. Ironically, the substance that is the cause of the suffering is what is being relied upon to end the suffering.

The most insidious aspect of addition is that the addict/alcoholic is totally unaware that they are addicted even when everyone else around them can see it.  This phenomina is known in the psychiatric world as “anosognosia.”  Both the physical body and the socio-psychological part of the brain have become dependent on the substance. When an unhappy person is faced with the reality that they don’t have the things they want in life  that provide them with happiness; adding the idea that they are out of control and addicted will only add fuel to their unhappiness. When all their present known abilities to  satisfy their unhappiness has failed, they have learned that drugs and alcohol will always make them feel better, if only on a temporary basis. Therefore, they have to continue to drink or use in order to feel better. By not drinking or using, they would feel much worse and unhappy.   They know no other way to ease their frustration.  It would be too painful, emotionally and physically,  for them to stop drinking or using.

So is their addiction a choice? Yes. However it is an indirect choice. One first becomes reliant on drinking/using to satisfy social needs and interacting with others is a spirit of happiness. . . a social addiction. About the same time, one learns that drugs/alcohol is a quick fix to overcome unwanted emotions from unwanted situations.  This is a psychological addiciton. The percepiton of their use at this time is not one of addiction.  It is one of relief.  The next stage is when one crosses over the line into cellular adaptation as a result of regular or consistent use of  the substance.   The cellular structure of  the body eventually adjusts to the regular presence of the substance.  The addict/alcoholic gets blindsided and doesn’t see it coming.  They are now physically addicted and still refuse to believe it.

The overall dependency is now so strong that they refuse to believe they are out of control. They believe that they actually need it in order to survive and feel “normal.” And when they eventually do realize they are addicted, they are still defiant against sobriety because they don’t possess the means to deal with their unhappiness without it. They have tried everything else that they know in order to find happiness so they are not aware of anything else they can do besides rely on their drug of choice. They know they can rely on their drugs or alcohol and it has practically instant results. Nothing else will work as quickly. If given a choice between instant gratification versus 5 days of detoxification and 90 or more days of rehab and months or years of learning new ways to deal with life on life’s terms . . . which one do you think they will choose?

If someone has to put something into their body in order to feel happy, they are only temporarily masking their unhappiness and their life is out of control. They have not learned how to find happiness by breathing pure air. There is no happiness pill. There are only brain and emotional numbing drugs to mask unhappiness.clip_image004CONTINUE READING


Addiction Recovery

The show has to go on

By: Michael Rice, LISAC, CTRTC

Those who are involved in the arts are known to be emotional and often moody individuals. Whether it is music, drama, comedy, painting/sculpting, or writing the arts require the ability to reach deep into one’s soul to emote in their work to evoke the emotions of the reader, viewer, or listener. They want to convey their happiness, joy, sadness and despair that may exist in the roles they play, the stories they write or tell, or the artwork they create.

masksThe “high” received from the artist is their audience’s reaction and acceptance of their work. The artist thrives on acceptance, appreciation, and respect for all that they do. Appreciation and respect are genetic needs that we all have that fulfill our need to acquire happiness. Some require it more than others. The artist who receives positive feedback is rewarded with a rush of dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter that occurs when given appreciation for their work. It’s like a shot of adrenaline and a high that is not easily described.

If given psych-evaluations, the majority of both successful and starving artists would be diagnosed as “Bipolar” due to their many ups and downs. They thrive on their emotions and a common phrase used to describe them is often, “He wears his heart on his sleeve.” If not getting their “high” dose of acceptance, they often settle down to either an uncomfortable middle ground or even a depressed state of mine. When one does not receive a steady dose of the creative high, they often rely on such drugs as cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and alcohol to substitute for the void. All one need do is look at the list of those in the arts who have a history of addiction or died due to drug overdose or alcoholism.

Creativity is the life source of all the arts as well as happiness. Without it, there would be no performance worth any note to the viewer, reader, or listener. The audience wants to be moved emotionally and they get their high from the ability of the artist to deliver it to them. The artist does all the work and the audience is the benefactor if the artist is successful. The more the audience is moved, the more the artist is emotionally rewarded that culminates into a symbiotic relationship. The artist constantly needs to be” “working” or creating in order to satisfy his need for acceptance, appreciation, and respect. When not performing or creating, they often become very unhappy and feel something is lacking. It’s an addiction and even the greatest acceptance never seems to be enough.

One of the worst things that can happen to a creative artist is to put them on psych medications. These drugs have no curative powers but do have the distinct ability to destroy or cease the creative process of the brain. The result is even deeper depression than they had before taking the medication which can and often does lead to suicide. While not every artist who died from suicide was on psychotropic medication, many were relying on other drugs or alcohol to deal with their unhappiness. Added to this is the fact that all long term emotional problems are relationship problems with the important people in their lives and is something that is happening in the present. The relationship problem may also easily be their unhappiness with themselves.

Even when one has the respect, acceptance, and admiration of the world, it can be a very lonely place for an artist if he doesn’t have these things from those who are the most important people in his life.


Take Charge of Your Life Workshop

Flagstaff, AZ

July 25, 2014

Instructor: Brian Patterson, 

Registration is FREE but you will need to register for attendance

For information/registration, Contact:  Kate Gales  928-814-8068 or

Or Email Brian Patterson:

Mike Rice Becomes President of WGI-West Region

Mike Rice is now the West Region Representative to William Glasser Institute-US.  The position also makes him the President of WGI-West Region.  this is a three-year term that will end December 31st, 2016.

Your current WGI-West Region Board is as follows:

  • Arizona:   Brian Patterson
  • California:  Les Johnson
  • Hawaii:  Sue Illalaole
  • Nevada:  Danyette Duarte
  • New Mexico:  Vicki Ohrn-Lannerholm

Please offer them your support in whatever manner that you can.  The Region needs people to help with communication – including email and newsletter updates, blogs, tweets, etc. / promoting training / Regional Meeting Planning, etc.

Please use the form (included) to contact Mike Rice to volunteer your strengths/talents.

I will no longer have any Regional Responsibilities as I assume the role of President The William Glasser Institute-US President.

I wish Mike, the Board and all of you the best!   Please build the Region into a model fro all other Regions to emulate!

Bob Hoglund

Share your comments about the Internation Conference in Los Angeles!!!!

I’m hoping that a few of you will post your comments about your experiences at the WGAI International Conference at LMU! It can be a start for getting people to contribute to our blog!

WGI USA Board Meeting Overview

The WGI-USA Board met in Los Angeles March 2nd to 4th.  Many issues were discussed, but after deciding on our parliamentary procedures, the following three main topics were assigned to committees.

  1. Credibility 
  2. Membership, Recruitment, & Reaching Out
  3. Revenue & Budget

Each subgroup did a  SWOT Analysis and then created:

  • Broad Objectives
  • Goals
  • Action Plans

The official report will be sent out by the full Board fairly soon.