Anyone who has worked with addictions (or lived with an addicted parent) knows how wrong a person can be by continuing to use drugs.
In this article I will explain to you what cognitive dissonance is, why it is a very important concept to understand how addictions work., and I’ll give you examples of how this happens in people with different types of addictions.
What is cognitive dissonance?
Cognitive dissonance is a phenomenon invented by psychologist Leon Festinger around 1957. This term refers to psychological conflict a person faces when they encounter information that challenges their already established beliefs. That is, when faced with information that challenges what you already believe in.
Many broadcasters, such as the brilliant psychologist Ramon Nogueras, have pointed out how cognitive dissonance explains fake news, anti-vaccine movements or that cult victims refuse to abandon them.
How cognitive dissonance affects self-deception in people with drug addiction
When a person develops an addiction to a substance or behavior, he will tend to filter reality in a way that justifies his actions.
For example, when a family member reminds him that he drinks too much, a common response from an alcoholic might be “there are a lot of people who drink as much or more than me” or “my grandfather drank. alcohol everyday .live and lived for many years “or” do you hate that i have fun “.
For observers, the signs of addiction will be obvious, except for the person themselves. Self-deception is a defense mechanism to avoid shame or fear of acknowledging the loss of control in one’s life.
Besides, no one would like it admit that he wasted part of his life, money, health or relationships on something that also makes him feel like a slave.
Therefore, cognitive dissonance will cause the person to raise mental barriers in the face of any evidence that they have an addiction problem. He will reject any information that calls his current world view into question., and will use all their imaginations to continue their destructive habits.
Cognitive dissonance in people addicted to marijuana
The case of cannabis users is very curious. Since the popularization of this drug in the Western world in the 60s and 70s of the last century, crowds of marijuana-loving communities have thrived. They even have a day (April 20) to celebrate their love of marijuana, a movement known as 420.
When a person begins to use cannabis (in the form of marijuana, hashish or otherwise), they meet a global community of consumers who deny the harmful effects of this drug, and only pay attention to the possible benefits. They share advice on self-cultivation of cannabis, on the different varieties and promote a lifestyle around habitual consumption of this drug.
This is the perfect example of cognitive dissonance between drug addicts, because when their loved ones, their partner or even psychologists confront them by pointing out to them how the extreme use of marijuana destroys their life, they will defend its use with arguments such as:
- “It’s a soft drug, it’s safe.”
- “It is not addictive, it is not like other drugs.”
- “I have known people who have been smoking everyday for years, and they are great.”
- “If marijuana was dangerous, they wouldn’t legalize it in other countries.”
I most of these arguments will have been supported by the “community” 420, which is spreading all kinds of bullshit about the alleged benefits of marijuana use. (and ignore the serious drug addiction or psychosis problems that thousands of people around the world suffer from).
Also, let’s not forget that the marijuana business moves a lot of money, including merchandising, growing paraphernalia, seeds, and more.
As you can see, the person will ignore almost any scientific evidence presented to them, to justify the less uncomfortable story (psychologically speaking).
Nobody likes to admit we’re wrong, so we will tend to manipulate information to be always right. Cognitive dissonance is one of the many psychological biases into which all people fall (psychologists too), but which is more pronounced in certain profiles, especially in dependent people who do not want to admit their problem with consumption.
Cognitive dissonance in people addicted to tobacco
Among tobacco smokers, cognitive dissonance can be seen in arguments such as these:
“If smoking was that bad, it would be illegal. “
“Better to smoke than to take drugs.”
“I smoke very little, less than X cigarettes a day.”
You might be interested in: “The 4 Lies That Can’t Quit Smoking”
Cognitive dissonance in people addicted to alcohol
Among people with alcohol problems, cognitive dissonance can be seen in arguments like these:
- “Everyone drinks.”
- “If you don’t drink you’re a boring person.”
- “My father drank his whole life and lived for many years.”
How to deal with the self-delusion of a drug addict
As you will have noticed in the different examples, the person with cognitive dissonance will try to minimize the perception of harm, delegitimize the data provided to you (consider it invalid), change the focus of the conversation, or use the strength of the group / community to justify its consumption.
The most important thing is not to humiliate or disrespect the other person, no matter how bad we think it is. Many of our arguments will cause the other person to be rejected, defensive, or even more distant from us.
It is best to generate conversations with affection and with a lot of patience. Overcoming an addiction problem is not easy, and recognizing that we have a problem is not easy either.
Once the person recognizes the problem, you should encourage them to see a professional. that can help you take the next steps to overcome your addiction.
My name is Luis Miguel Real and I am a psychologist specializing in addictions. Contact me and I will give you an online appointment as soon as possible.