One common characteristic of addiction is that the addict wants to satisfy their desires now. They want their cravings satisfied immediately. They want their needs met instantly. There is little patience, endurance, and serenity. Instead, an addict’s focus is on life’s demands (cravings, pains, triggers) and meeting those demands as soon as possible with drugs and alcohol that can self-soothe.
There are a few contributing factors that create this pattern in someone. The first is the way that drinking or drug use might have started. It’s common for men and women to turn to drugs and alcohol if they are feeling pain. When there is depression, anxiety, shame, anger, or any psychological state that is uncomfortable, it’s easy to want to turn to substances to soothe themselves. As the addiction develops and gets worse, the need to self-soothe might get stronger and stronger. The need to satiate your emotional, physical, and psychological pains becomes more intense, weakening the ability to delay gratification.
Another reason why someone might not be able to delay their gratifications is because they may be impulsive. Impulsivity is also a common trait among addicts, and it might be the very pattern that contributes to an addiction in the first place. Being impulsive makes it difficult to take a step back from cravings and wait until it passes. Instead, those who are impulsive tend to jump on what their feeling in the moment.
There are some dangers that can come with impulsivity and not being able to delay gratification, such as:
- Without being able to delay meeting the demands of cravings, there may be no real control in life.
- Impulsive actions can be risky and even cause harm.
- Satisfying momentary desires usually only leads to poor results in life.
- Someone who is impulsive with their substance use is likely to suffer emotionally and psychologically.
- There will likely be a failure to adequately plan for the future.
- Someone who cannot delay satisfying their momentary desires will have a very hard time with they are forced to do so at some point in their life, such as the start of treatment.
- Lacking impulse control in treatment can possibly lead to relapse.
Because of these dangers, one of the tasks in recovery is learning how to be less impulsive and holding off on meeting cravings for drugs or alcohol. Some of the ways to do this include:
- Meditate – Meditation helps create a pause between thoughts. It creates an experience of spaciousness in someone so that he or she can think before they act.
- Have clear goals – When someone is very clear about where they are going, he or she is more likely to make decisions and choices now that will help them get to where they want to be.
- Keep a journal – Writing out your thoughts can help with not falling victim to them. You can become more aware of yourself and perhaps recognize, for example, that cravings come when you’re feeling fear. Then in the future, when you’re feeling fear, you can make a choice other than turning to drugs and alcohol.
If you want to stay sober, delaying gratification is an essential skill of recovery. Above are three ways to learn how to delay gratification and curb the tendency to be impulsive. What’s great about this skill is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
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