Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding


Addiction, Self-determination, Flow, Mindfulness, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, and Human Bonding

What are the components of addiction? why is addiction less desirable? and what aptitudes help us to avoid addiction?

“Let’s Turn the conversation towards Efficiency and Away from Morals”

The Psychobiological and Relational causes of undesired, addictive, and compulsory behavior:

Flow (peak experience) – Humans are most fulfilled when: Goals are clear, there is regular feedback concerning progress towards the goal, and you have the aptitudes necessary to make the challenge at the sweet spot between too hard (anxiety) and too easy (boredom).

  • Implications – Many electronic devices contain software that was developed to create a sense of flow. This creates a radical craving to engage with the software.


  • Solution – We need to ensure public access to ‘flow’ promoting activities that increase biological, relational, and existential wellness. Historically this includes extracurricular activities such as the arts and sport. Self-discipline with also be necessary – such as not having your cell phone at dinner or while on hikes etc.

Implicit System Conditioning – Most human emotions, thoughts, and behaviors are controlled by the implicit system. Our implicit system is evolutionarily older and significantly faster (more intelligent) then our intentional and rational explicit system. This system is adaptive – ex. you couldn’t drive a car with you explicit system.

It is very important to note that most interventions in the past have focused entirely on an explicit override of the implicit system – for example, we attempt to ‘rationalize’ away from a person’s automatic emotional response to stimuli. Unfortunately, this is not how the brain works (If I give you a rational explanation for why something ‘isn’t’ disgusting this will have no impact on your automatic disgust response).

  • Implication – Most of us have been primed to have automatic behavioral responses (towards a vice) in response to various emotions or environmental stimuli. example of stimuli that often lead to drinking: anxiety (emotion) or watching a sporting event (environmental).


  • Solution – We can set up our environments which allow a mindful reflection on our emotional and somatic realities so that we can our observe our desired impulses, emotions, and sensations with calm attention and without action. We then can learn to feel our feelings without reacting automatically to them. Increasing our ability to tolerate intense emotional experiences will have a positive impact on our ability to avoid the compulsory behavior.

Brain wiring and neurotransmitters – there is some overlap here with the implicit system. “What fires together wires together” Experiences that happen together can wire together – this creates predictable emotional reactions to stimuli and can create associates that are not necessarily rational. 

Neurotransmitters help to control our psychological wellness – deficits and surpluses create issues ranging from depression to mania to attention issues to psychosis etc. Adding substances to a developing mind (or a developed mind) can have unpredictable effects on our neural chemistry. Additionally, substances can impact the brain’s ability to properly uptake, release, and create neurotransmitters – which then leads to deficits or surpluses.

  • Implications – Substances such as ecstasy have been shown to dramatically impact the production of important neurotransmitters.
  • Solutions – Modeling and appropriate structure – We can ensure that we are modeling healthy relationships (including abstinence when necessary) with behaviors that can be unhealthy for our biology. We also should have regular access to nutritional items that promote a healthy biology and a sense of enjoyment.

Human Bonding and Attachment – Many vices (especially substances) impact or interact with the brain area responsible for human bonding and attachment. This means that instead of seeking out a secure relationship with another human – the substance is used (ineffectively) as the relational surrogate. This often leads to isolating behaviors – which leads to dysregulation and depression – which leads to more substance use.

  • Implications – Many people will use pot or alcohol as a means of feeling less lonely and dysregulated – though this can feel helpful in the start – the process can create a feedback loop which leads to exacerbated feelings of loneliness and dysregulation without the substance.
  • Solution – Emotionally significant/vulnerable and authentic connection. It is easier to use electronics or to engage in a substance than it is to be vulnerable enough to share your true self with another person. It is hard to remain open, empathetic and compassionate in front of a person who is suffering or who is offering their authentic self in a way that we don’t yet understand (Our impulse is generally to fix or to categorize). When we grow in our ability to stay present, honest, openminded, and compassionate, we naturally dissipate feeling of loneliness… in turn we gain a felt sense of regulation (and we, therefore, are not in need of the vice to mitigate our fears).

Anthropological Importance of Inclusion – We are a tribal animal. Our cortex developed to its’ current sophisticated state in response to the need to track an ever-increasing amount of social information (currently we max out at about 200 people). Exclusion from the group generally resulted in death for the vast majority of human existence – we tracked information to ensure inclusion (and to track ‘unsafe’ people). This reality has created a substantial fear response related to exclusion – this fear will propel us to make poor decisions to mitigate our fear.

  • Implications – We will often compromise our beliefs, emotional needs, intuition, and ration in order to protect ourselves from the fear associated with exclusion – this can mean that it feels terrifying to be without social media or to ‘just say no’ when the dominant group is engaging in unsafe behavior.


  • Solutions – Create emotionally intelligent communities that promote acceptance of differences and encourage open-minded and vulnerable communication. Through a compassionate dialogue, we can create a sense of culture which is best suited to the needs of the individual and the collective. Within this space of openness and acceptance, we reduce judgment and make it safe to express differences (therefore the culture will be inclusive of people who avoid behaviors that are harmful, though ‘normal’.

Faced paced society with ever increasing stimuli, social dynamics, and expectations with a corresponding reduction of health-promoting options – Currently, our society is not set up to be optimal for our psychological health. We are over inundated with stimuli, we lack sleep, we are responsible for monitoring more social dynamics than is possible, we lack access to nature, there is less access to arts and athletics, we are constantly encouraged to think about the future as opposed to the present moment, and we are often held to unrealistic expectations (such as the average workweek for an adult).

  • Implications – Often it can feel like the only way to ‘deal’ with our life is to disassociate from it, avoid it, repress it, or escape from it. Many electronics help us to completely leave (disassociate) from our current reality. Many substances produce a feeling similar to a state of mindfulness – you are absorbed in the present moment and free from the suffering found by attending to the past or the future. Lastly, many substances give us the permission to be who we want to be – inhibition. Both electronics and substances help us to deal with our anxiety resulting from feelings overstimulated, unrested, unfulfilled, and over-extended.
  • Solution – Intentionality and authentic prioritizing our life choices and values. We can enact intentionality and discipline so as to live within a set of values that promote our well-being.  health diet, appropriate boundaries, authentic expression, secure relationships, exercise, and access to nature are vital for our psychological well-being – these should not be compromised if we have the privilege to not be oppressed from accessing them (many, if not most, people in our world are oppressed from access to these variables).

Variables Impacted by Addiction

Freedom and Self-Determination. Reduced Intentionality – Increased automaticity

  • Remember Pavlov and the salivating dog (rang a bell every time the dog was fed – led to the dog salivating by the bell – even when no food was present)? As humans, we are constantly conditioned to have predictable and automatic responses to certain stimuli (this is adaptive). We can, therefore, develop automatic (and often unconscious) emotional, biological, cognitive and behavioral responses to substances, electronics, and other vices.
  • Conditioning Targets the implicit system to create unconscious associations with the vice (drugs, electronics, alcohol, shopping etc).

Experience: you have a huge problem and there is nothing that you can do about it in the moment – what vice do you want?(sibling lost all their money and they are on their way to your house to live with you)

  • Anxiety = conditioned to have a strong desire (sensation and emotion) for vice – often followed by an automatic behavior to engage in vice
  • The teenage brain is already in a state of re-structuring – pre-frontal cortex (executive control center) is less integrated into brain functioning. (this is an important time for the development of intentionality and good habits).
  • Solutions –
    • Mindfulness – focused attention on the present moment. The ability to notice without judgment and without automatic reaction. With mindfulness, we can observe the stimulus and our mind and body’s desired reaction to the stimulus. With practice, the pre-frontal cortex can override the automatic behavior (though the automatic emotion will likely stay mostly the same).
    • Willpower to engage in life intentionally despite a strong impulse to avoid or otherwise retract from discomfort. (without self-determination we are controlled by the external world and our urges)

Emotions and Body Awareness. reduction of sensory and emotional experience along with a reduced ability to tolerate emotions or sensory experiences.

  • What sensations are experienced in an elevator with a stranger (what does it feel like in your body)What emotions do you have as a result? What behaviors are we likely to engage in?
    • Now imagine all the experiences that a teen is going through – Away from home, love interests, making friends, meeting expectations, and figuring out who they are
  • After you have looked at a screen for 5 minutes where is your consciousness?
    •       What effect might this have on emotional aptitudes such as empathy?
    • Electronics and substances often disassociate us from our body (and relationships).
  • We must learn to continually be aware of and to tolerate our emotional and somatic experiences to achieve our ambitions – substances and electronics can rob us of the ability to develop this capacity.

What normal aspects of everyday life require a high level of emotional awareness and tolerance? Public Speaking 😉 Creating an emotionally intimate relationship.

Attachment and inter-regulation through Human bonding

  • New research is finding that substances and electronics target the same area of our brain used for human attachment and bonding (bonding is a primary need like water (orphanage example & cast away example)— the pull is extreme)
  • We are a social animal, and through millions of years of evolution we have developed a very sophisticated system of bonding with other humans that radically improves our ability to survive – Human connection is the #1 predictor of happiness (slope of a hill appears less steep, reduced amygdala activation in FMRIs when shocked)
  • We need to help our teens to bond with each other, with us, with the community
  • Electronics and substances mimic the feeling we get from positive human connection BUT they do not lead to lasting happiness and they do no facilitate regulation (human bonding is the cure for stress).

Conclusion – Our goal is to mentor our community towards becoming Self-determined, Emotionally intelligent, and Relationally able people. This doesn’t need to be a moral argument – Drugs and Electronics are not intrinsically bad or good… Instead, let’s change the discussion to efficiency – what are the most efficient means of developing the above Aptitudes?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Face your Suffering on your way towards Freedom and Balance | The Effects of Resistance


Often therapy is a place for people to face their unresolved issues so that they can move forward in their lives with feelings of inner and outer harmony.

Utilizing energy to “just get over it” suggests that there is something… a feeling… a string of thoughts … a felt sensation that is being denied resolution.

From our cultures we often learn that resistance is the ‘right’, ‘stong’, ‘mature’, ‘masculine’ and ‘rational’ thing to do when faced with difficult emotions (or differing opinion, beliefs, perceptions, customs etc.).

Resistance pushes us to view right and wrong dichotomously, it uses our strength for the process of denial, it inhibits our ability to mature towards acceptance, it manipulates our masculine energy to be rigid and less compassionate, and it inhibits our self-control and ability to choose to act in ways we label as rational.

Resistance restrains our freedom as we find ourselves being unconsciously controlled by that which we resist.

Projection – one of the major ways in which resistance affects our actions is projection. When you deny your suffering you are likely to project that suffering onto other people… you are likely to see your unresolved emotions in the faces of those around you. Example: If a person is repressing feeling foolish for trusting an unfaithful partner they might be highly critical of others who have spouses whom they perceive to be ‘flirty’.

Uncontrollable Anger – frightening outbursts of anger that in no way fit the disappointments of the environment are very often the result of unresolved emotions. Difficult experiences can leave us feeling sad, alone, confused, and lost in a meaningless chaos; when these feelings are left unattended to a person may go through their day in a haze of confused loneliness… when a difficulty arises, they react not only to the specific situation, but also to the pain that they carry for denying the emotions that weigh down their shoulders. We all have a threshold of difficult emotions that we can carry… when we are given another emotion when we are already full, we lose control. Energy is used to deny and repress… when we run out of energy some people will fall into a state of mammalian rage, attacking their environment in a misguided attempt to protect themselves from the emotions they no longer hold the strength to deny. Example: a person feels inadequate for being cut from a sports team… they go home and their partner asks if the remembered to stop and get the milk (he did not remember)… the man goes into a frightening tirade about how the wife “makes him feel.”

Disassociation – People will ‘check out’ and there will be an inconsistency in the way that they are reacting to their environment. In a severe state of disassociation a person will not appear to even be awake… they will be lost in their internally created world (somewhat like a lucid dream) so as to avoid the way that the outer world makes them feel. In a moment of severe trauma, disassociation is possibly a useful adaptation… the person unconsciously knows that the experience is too overwhelming to integrate, so they leave their body. When we continue to deny the emotions that we hold, those emotions can persuade us into a disassociated state though there is not anything too severe in the present environment. Overcoming a trauma will help a person to act congruently with their environment. Ex. A disassociated person might be smiling while they are talking about attending their parent’s funeral… they are quite literally emotionally detached from the present moment.

Addiction – The process of resistance takes an immense amount of energy… it is extremely hard work to deny difficult emotions (ironically way more difficult than facing them). People often seek the assistance of an addiction to aid them in their process of denial. Addictions can numb and distract a person from their emotions… this feels especially good as it reduces the amount of energy a person must allocate to the resistance process. Examples: a person will seek out the comforting and nurturing feelings that accompany the consumption of high calorie foods when they are unable to access those feelings from people in the environment. A person will smoke pot to reduce the ruminating thoughts that surface as a result of unattended stress. A person will drink alcohol to forget about feeling hopeless about employment prospects.

Facing your emotions can look different for different people depending on the situation.

At times the held emotions are too confusing or unorganized and a person needs assistance in finding meaning.

Sometimes an emotion simply requires honest expression from the body… at times a person simply needs to cry to no longer be inhibited by a repressed emotion.

As social animals it is very important for us to feel understood and empathized for by another individual… being empathized for takes away feeling lonely, and can dramatically increase felt security.

Acceptance of an emotion emancipates a person.

A person is free to use their energy in the moment as opposed to using energy to repress their past.

A person is free to engage with their environment as it is in the moment as opposed to having the present moment unconsciously colored by unresolved emotions from the past.

To live in the present moment does not mean that you deny your past or offer inauthentic positivity to what you have experienced… to live in the present moment you must courageously accept your past… to look upon it with openness.

To find balance we must offer observance of all that is on the scale.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Addiction Intervention Debate | Increasing Freedom by fostering an increase in consciousness, reflective ability, and emotional availability | Is there always a choice or are certain stimuli too controlling?


This post will talk about the different views on treating substance abuse by looking at the themes of determinism, reflective ability, mindfulness, self-awareness of a person’s emotional self, moral compass, freedom, disassociation, empathy, and addiction.


I will propose the controversial suggestion that some addiction interventions might be unintentionally decreasing a person’s ability to freely make a choice in the space between a stimulus and a response. I will suggest that telling a person that they lack control might be encouraging and/or enabling a lacking of consciousness or growth of a person’s reflective ability.


I will finish with my suggested intervention.


Let me first submit that the degree of disassociation exhibited by the client can very often make the therapist ‘feel’ as though there is no hope in fostering increased reflection in a client. The pressure to ‘fix’ in a limited time frame (from the therapist, the client, and/or a third party payer) can make the task of dramatically reducing a dissociative state in the name of curing an addiction seem impossible or at least impractical.


Certain people’s addictions are such a liability to the safety of themselves and the community that it would be difficult to allow the space for my alternative intervention, as the risks would be very high. The unfortunate tradeoff is that by controlling a person’s addiction for them, we might foster external dependency… this is sometimes arguably the ‘lesser of two evils.’


Let me further submit that the intervention that I am suggesting can take lots of work, perseverance, and diligence. If the client is required to show some level of improvement, but is not willing to put forth a courageous amount of effort, my alternative intervention will often displays its’ deficit (as it never takes the freedom of choice from the client).


I was reading a great blog post by Laura Scheck MA, ( in which she shared the following quote from one of the most famous existentialists-

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

Her blog post and this quote brought up my question listed below.

The question that I am asking – When an addiction intervention suggests that a clients must accept “a complete lack of control” over the addiction, does doing so inhibit the growth of a person’s reflective ability?


Do you think that when an intervention claims that a person must accept that they ‘have no control over the substance’ they are impeding the client’s ability to develop a conscious awareness of the “space” in-between stimulus and response?


Are some interventions so lacking in their understanding or agreement of mindfulness that they are actually pushing “functional” cognitive rigidity on clients instead of offering the gift of reflection (Reflection, I believe, happens when there is consciousness of and in the ‘space’)?


I do understand that increasing emotional acceptance/consciousness and mindfulness is often the longer road… and yet I worry that sometimes our felt helplessness as a field pushes us to fix one form of cognitive determinism (stimulus- response without the ‘space’… behaviors dictated by rigid beliefs) with another more ‘functional’ form of cognitive determinism.


Succinctly the question becomes, “do you believe that there is always freedom in the space… or are there some stimuli that allow no freedom in the space… no opportunity for choice?


It seems that some addiction interventions are making what I believe to be a false claim. They appear to be telling their clients that their intervention can eliminate 100% of the appeal of the stimulus and if this is not possible then the person must fearfully avoid the stimulus, as they will not have the power of choice in the presence of that stimulus.

  • Ex. the client must either have no desire for alcohol or must rigidly and (ironically) obsessively avoid all situations involving alcohol.


Personally I believe more in helping clients recognize the “space” so that they can allow themselves the freedom to make the decision which is in their best interests.


By fostering a greater self-awareness and a more collaborative relationship with a person’s emotional and cognitive self, I find people are more likely to make the “right” choice.


What do emotions have to do with addiction behaviors?


I find that sometimes people are so isolated from their emotional self that they are able to successfully ignore the empathetic reasons to not abuse a substance or to engage in a destructive behavior… when therapy increases a client’s reflective ability the “space” before the reaction enters into their conscious awareness…


When therapy increases a person’s ability to ‘sit with’ and to accept their emotional experience then that increased emotional ability can influence the choice in the “space”.



What is a Dissociative state? (Note – I use the term very freely and loosely… in the DSM V the term is reserved for only the most severe ‘out of body’ symptoms. By my definition, I would contest that most of us are in a dissociative state the majority of the time and many of us are basically always in a dissociative state.


A dissociative state is when a person is on autopilot… they are reacting to their thoughts and/ or emotions without having a conscious awareness of their thoughts or emotions… or they are having no outward reaction to their emotions as they have successfully separated themselves from their own emotional experience.


It is very difficult to understand: who you are, how you impact other people, how you are truly feeling, why you are thinking what you’re thinking, and what the origin of your belief system is etc when you are in a dissociative state.


In a dissociative state a person lacks the ability to be empathetic to themselves or to other people.

  • If a person gains a conscious understanding of their own emotional experience and the emotional experience of another person, they can use that emotional information to help them in making a choice (I call this ‘creating a moral compass’).
  • As long as a person has developed a reflective ability, or a space in-between stimulus and response to exhibit the freedom of choice, the emotional content will often encourage people to make decisions in the best interest of everyone.
  • This does not mean that a person in a dissociative state will always act in a ‘bad’ way… if they are to act in a ‘good’ way it is simply because they are engaging in a learned automatic behavior.


By my definition (which again is not technically accurate) a person is in a dissociative state will believe that:


  • They are their thoughts – instead of being the observer or the creator of the thoughts.
  • They are their behaviors – instead of being the chooser of the behaviors.
  • They are their emotions – instead of being the experiencer of the emotions.


What is Reflection?


Reflection is the ability to watch or to observe your thoughts without being automatically driven to a predictable action (such as a ruminating thought pattern or a behavior).


Reflection is also the ability to watch or observe your emotional experience without being automatically driven to a predictable action (such as the outward expression of just one of the multitudes of emotions that are typically experienced as a result to any given stimulus).


Research by people such as Dr. Dan Siegel ( ) has given scientific credence to how mindfulness practices can increase a person’s reflective ability.


How does Therapy help a dissociative state?


When a person is met with genuine empathy they feel a safety to reflect upon their authentic self. The therapist then further encourages this reflection with a vast array of differing ‘techniques’.

  • The empathy from the therapist encourages the client to be empathetic to him/herself (I know this sounds weird and as if I am using the word ‘empathy’ incorrectly… but you can be aware of your emotions without being your emotions… this is different than emotional avoidance which is when your aren’t reacting to your emotions because you are either unaware of them or intentionally submitting them.)
  • This is why clients miraculously heal in therapy though it is sometimes difficult for the client to articulate what was done to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’. Many if not most therapists believe that clients have everything they need to find their own solutions… it is within this reflective development that a client gains consciousness of the solutions they carried all along.
  • You know the expression ‘listen to your gut’ or “follow your intuition’… easier said than done right? Therapy helps your find your intuition so that you can let it guide you.


How does mindfulness increase reflection?


Mindfulness is simply non-judgmentally observing the present moment.


Our thoughts generally concern the past or the future so that we are not actually ‘present’ in the present moment (we are in the past or the future in terms of our perceptual awareness).


When we project a judgment onto a stimulus in our environment we do not allow our selves to see the actual stimulus (we are looking instead at our projection).


Perhaps you can see how it would be difficult to make the right choice concerning an addiction if you were not present…

  • If your mind is in the past, the future, or lost in a projection than who is present to make your decisions?
  • Who is conscious of the external forces trying to control you?


By following the breath, engaging in a body scan, or interacting with the environment as if you know nothing about it, we use a different part of the brain than is typically more dominant in western cultures. Again see Dan Siegel’s literature and for more about mindfulness click ‘mindfulness’ on the right of this page under categories.


The part of the brain that is active while in a state of Mindfulness is also used for reflection. As with most things in the body, use increases mass and function.


My Alternative Addiction Intervention (to engage in all behaviors would be the ideal… any part is in itself beneficial)


* Offer an empathetic and accepting therapeutic environment to encourage the client to reflect upon his/her life. This process can build insight into the origins of the addiction and can also serve to heal old wounds that may be encouraging addictive behaviors.


* Offer mindfulness training and teach the client how to practice mindfulness daily. Offer a short explanation of what it means to be in a ‘mindful state’ during everyday activities and foster an increase of this state. Mindfulness skills can increase a client’s reflective ability so that they have a freedom of choice in-between stimulus and response.


* Encourage the client to follow the nutrition and exercise recommendation provided by the medical community. Often addictions serve to cover up the symptoms which arise from an unhealthy lifestyle. By practicing wellness a person can dramatically reduce stress and anxiety while increasing hope and happiness… the need for the addiction is generally diminished as health is healing and rewarding.


* Encourage the client to contemplate the addiction from multiple perspectives.

  • What are the emotional, cognitive, and physical benefits from engaging with the addiction?
  • What life experiences have encouraged the growth of the addiction?
  • What family rules, rituals, or customs etc are related to the addiction?
  • What is the goal or what value is achieved by engaging with the addiction?
  • What other activities could be engaged in that would bring similar benefits?


* Provide a safe and supportive place for the client to be emotionally available and vulnerable… allow the client to experience their emotional self with curiosity and without trying to alter or control the emotions that surface. Often our bodies or our intuition will guide us to the best decision… we must learn how to listen if we are going to hear the bodies advice.


* Once the client has attained a degree of emotional availability and has increased his/her reflective ability allow them to authentically articulate realistic expectations for each step of the process. If certain people or environments have too much control over the client… the client can choose to avoid those influences at certain stages.


* Offer family or couples counseling to increase the adult attachment. Foster an environment for the clients to learn how to successfully and authentically communicate. Healthy supportive relationships with open emotional expression can serve to motivate the client to persevere through the difficult task of change. Healthy relationships can often diminish the need for the effects of the addiction (we require healthy relationships for our biology to function optimally) – see any attachments theorist work, such as Sue Johnson, for more information.


* Allow a space for the client to process feeling, such as guilt, disappointment or embarrassment, that surface with the newfound insight and emotional availability. Guilt and shame can derail progress… Forgiveness is a gift for your self… forgiveness can come from acceptance, compassion and empathy.


* Use existentialism and narrative techniques to encourage the client to make meaning of their addiction while writing a new life story in which they overcame the vice which was controlling them.


* Validate, honor, and confirm the changed person. Help them to believe in this newly free person by genuinely believing in them.


* Offer the client the space to continue their journey towards an increase in wellness that was before unfathomable. Often therapy stops here as therapy is very often thought of as a tool for the elimination of problems. Therapy can continue here with the goal of increasing positives as opposed to decreasing negatives.


At this point the client will be functioning well above average and will be free, authentic, available, and conscious. This is undoubtedly the road less traveled… and perhaps this path might be difficult to swallow in a culture of quick fixes, but the result of such efforts will be life itself… to live free of atomization.


This intervention has the purpose of increasing consciousness, empathy, and freedom… This intervention is based on the humanistic viewpoint that we are all innately good.


I would not argue that this is the quickest way to eliminate a specific symptom… I would suggest that it is the way to empower a client to resolve most anything.


A therapist could theoretically alter a client’s belief systems, but a therapist would not be able to force an unwilling client on this journey towards emancipation… the therapist can gently and confidently lead… but ultimately the client must bring dedication.


Do you agree or disagree? I would love to here your comments.


The main question is, “do you believe that there is always freedom in the space between stimulus and response… or are there some stimuli that allow no freedom in the space… no opportunity for choice?

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

Overcoming addiction to substance – find a replacement behavior that offers a comparable result – hope involves you being both reasonable and honest with yourself


Quick summary: Overcoming a substance addiction can be truly difficult as the majority of substances that people become addicted to offer: significant results, consistent results, fast onset, and results with little to no effort. The reasonable way to overcome an addiction is to isolate what emotional state (happy, uninhibited, spiritual, relaxed, euphoric, carefree, distracted etc) you are trying to achieve with the substance and then isolate and engage in an alternative or a replacement behavior(s) that can lead to the desired emotional disposition (example: if you are trying to feel uninhibited what else can you do to attain such a feeling with less consequences?). Let me be very honest with you… it is rare to find a replacement behavior that will match the ‘quick onset’ and ‘lack of effort’ characteristics of a substance… In short, your replacement behavior will likely require more effort and the emotional disposition that you are trying to achieve will likely take a bit longer to achieve. For most people it is subjectively “more difficult” to attain a desired emotional disposition with a healthy replacement behavior than it is to ingest a substance. Being hopeful involves being both reasonable and honest… many substance abuse programs are therefore selling false hope in my opinion. There seems to be a belief that being honest about the effectiveness of substances impedes recovery… I am suggesting an alternative view… this is my view: substances are incredibly effective and there is no easier way of achieving a desired emotional disposition than to ingest something… healthier behaviors that can elicit the same emotional dispositions have far fewer consequences, often have other wellness benefits (to your physical, emotional, relational and social health), they can have more long lasting results (the emotional doesn’t always leave when the substance leaves your body), and they can help you achieve the desired emotional disposition without a disruptive dependence (you can embrace freedom)… in short the replacement is better for you, and the substance will be easier for you.

A substance is anything that can be taken into the body that will have a significant affect on the chemicals in your brain (neurotransmitters, hormones etc).

  • Everything that you ingest has an effect on your brain.
  • Certain substances have significantly more impact on your mood, energy, and the way that you present yourself etc than others do.
  • Soda, high calorie fast food, alcohol, coffee, cigarettes, marijuana, LSD, Prozac, valium, Benadryl etc are all examples of what I will be calling ‘substances’ in this post.



Technique – questions to find why you take the substance and what you can do instead?


What Substances do you ingest to a degree that might have a negative impact on your physical, social, relational and/or emotional self?



  • What is too much? How can you tell when someone is ingesting too much of a substance?



The BIG question… what is the emotional state that you are trying to achieve by taking the substance?


  • Marijuana tends to make people feel relaxed, less preoccupied by the future, and more in tune with their five senses (music and colors are said to be more “clear”)
  • A 500-calorie fast food burger can make you feel less depressed, lazy in a satisfying way, satiated, and euphoric (almost orgasmic to some) in the moment of eating it.
  • Alcohol can make you feel uninhibited, confident, relaxed, less anxious, and forgetful of things you’d like to not focus on.
  • Anti anxiety pills can make you feel less anxious, emotionally numbed, less helpless, more ambitious, and less concerned.


In what contexts does it feel reasonable to ingest the relevant substance? If you and others were to say that you had a perfectly healthy relationship with the substance, in what ways could you use it without significantly negative consequences?

Examples – these will obviously differ person to person… ex. if it ‘ok’ to drink at the ball game and you have season tickets that might be a lot of drinking.

  • A couple beers at the ball game… or a bottle of wine with my wife on our anniversary.
  • Smoking a little pot before a concert.
  • Taking an anti- anxiety pill before a once-a-year public speaking event.
  • Eating a huge burger at your favorite spot on a family vacation.


In what contexts does it seem absolutely unnecessary to ingest the relevant substance? Even if it is difficult for you to see the substance as a problem in your life, in what ways do you use the substance that “feels” inappropriate or excessive?


  • Smoking pot before you go to your college class that is costing you a ton of money.
  • Ordering a shot to take before you drink your cocktail.
  • Taking anti anxiety pills every time you visit your family.
  • Drinking a 70 ounce cup of soda.
  • Eating fast-food every week.


What is your replacement behavior? What activity or behavior have you heard of or engaged in yourself that could give you the same or a similar emotional state that you receive from ingesting the substance?


  • Cardiovascular exercise can lead to feelings of euphoria and doing such with regularity can reduce depression (this activity basically releases the same neurotransmitters in your brain as anti- depressants).
  • Engaging in mindfulness mediation can dramatically increase your ability to attend to your senses in the present moment (with regular practice you will reap the benefits commonly associated with marijuana without the consequences).
  • Working on your relationships in therapy can increase your felt security and your ability to communicate and relate to people in an authentic way (you will receive the confidence commonly associated with alcohol while still being authentic and in tune with yourself and others).
  • You could find more ways of enjoying your sexuality in your committed relationship (you will feel the same positive feelings associated with eating high calorie food – again, many of the same neurotransmitters are released).


What is getting in your way? What do you need to overcome or what influences do you need to separate yourself from in order to free your self from dependency?



  • Entering the ‘convenience’ store when visiting a gas station.
  • Avoiding or repressing a trauma or an unresolved issue that consciously or unconsciously affects your life.
  • Never having food at home to bring for lunch or not knowing how to make a meal.
  • Regularly attending situations that require drunkenness to have a good time… situations that are not enjoyable without intoxication.
  • Keeping your fridge stocked with beer… having your pot on the coffee table… keeping caffeine pills in your purse.
  • Seeking assistance from people who will encourage the “quick fix” like diet pills.


What habits do you have that might get in the way? Addictions commonly have to do with habits that encourage you to ingest the substance… commonly people create an association with an activity and the substance.


  • Having a cigarette after eating greasy food.
  • Smoking pot before watching a reality TV show.
  • Eating lots of calories when you have to work late.
  • Ordering a huge soda for your commute home.
  • Drinking excessively while playing softball.


Could you enjoy or ‘deal with’ the activity without the substance? What would make it easier for you?

What support do you need? Who can help you to free your self? Who will help you with a reasonable solution knowing that it is likely easier to simply ingest a substance than to use a replacement behavior?


  • Who or what can keep you dedicated when you are lacking in motivation?


  • Who has already overcome what you are struggling with?


  • What can be resolved to help with this process? What feelings does the substance help you avoid that could be resolved instead?


Be honest with your self… without honesty you will not truly carry hopefulness. Substances have fast onset and generally required little to no effort to achieve the desired emotional state. Replacement behaviors often require significantly more dedication, consistency, and overall effort.

  • Example: you could pop a pill in your mouth and feel euphoric and less depressed in minutes… this required you to raise your hand to your mouth. You could feel the same euphoria and reduction of depression from running… this will require dedication to get into shape and once are able to engage in sustained cardiovascular exercise the euphoric result will require to go running for at least about 40 minutes.



Imagine the new you… By being reasonable and honest with yourself you may now embrace your hope. Tell yourself a story about the new you. You have planted a seed… what will grow?


  • What benefits will exist in your life when you make this change?


  • What negatives will be removed when you make this change?


I am in no way suggesting that all substances are bad or that all substance use is bad… if your intention is to ‘feel’ the positive effects of the substance and you are not dependant on that substance to achieve a desired emotional disposition than that is your freedom.

  • Do the consequences out way the benefits? Are you dependant on the substance? Would you have no other means of attaining the desired emotional disposition without the substance? – If your answers are “no” you might be all right.


Let me clear up a quick misconception – we have arbitrarily labeled what substances are “bad” and what substances are “not bad.” The way that substances are viewed by the legal system can be incredibly misleading.

  • There are many substance which are illegal that cause significantly (almost insulting to compare) less social and physiological problems than legal substances.
  • For example: over 50% of ‘substance abuse’ is related to prescription drugs, obesity (which is often the result of an addiction to the feelings that arrive from ingesting sugar and high calorie foods) is linked to countless terminal diseases, and alcohol plays a role in just about every single social disturbance being studied.


Embrace your hope, find your replacement, and build dedication for a healthier you.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.