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Recovery from Addiction: Self-Control

Recovery from Addiction

The Coordinates to Self-Control

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

image showing map to illustrate the coordnates of self-control in recoverySelf-control is treated like a four-letter word in some recovery circles.  Many people in the process of changing a problematic pattern of behavior are told their only hope is to give-up control.  The truth is that every single one of us has the ability to control our behavior.  To improve our ability to control our behavior it is important to understand how to arrive at a state of self-control.  We either control our behavior or our behavior controls us.

Simply put, self-control is the ability to perform behaviors that will produce desired outcomes.  Researchers generally agree on three primary characteristics that, when they are the aim of personal growth, increase an individual’s self-control.

Coordinate # 1: Self-Efficacy

The first characteristic that increases self-control is self-efficacy.  Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s sense of competence and effectiveness.  People high in self-efficacy are more productive, achieve more, are less vulnerable to depression and anxiety, and are more responsive to treatment.   Thus, increasing an individual’s sense of competence and effectiveness is an essential component of effective treatment.

Coordinate #2: Locus of Control

The second characteristic that increases self-control is an internal locus of control.  People with an internal locus of control consider outcomes to be under the control of their own decisions and behaviors.  People with an external locus of control consider outcomes to be controlled by external forces like other people, environmental factors, or luck.  Research is quite clear that an internal locus of control is associated with a wide variety of desirable outcomes like higher levels of optimism and inquisitiveness, a greater willingness to take care of one’s health, and higher levels of occupational and academic performance.  Fostering an internal locus of control to promote lasting change in recovery is a critical aspect of effective treatment.

Coordinate #3: Hardiness

Lastly, hardiness is the third characteristic that increases self-control.  Hardiness grew from research into why some people are more resilient than others when faced with adversity and stress.  Research into hardiness revealed three primary aspects.  The first aspect of hardiness is commitment, or a sense of purpose and involvement in one’s relationships and life events.  The second aspect of hardiness is challenge, or an openness to new experiences and change.  The third aspect of hardiness is control, the belief that one has the ability to influence or manage life events.

Treatment that helps people increase their sense of self-control is critical to success.  Aristotle reminded us that, “What lies in our power to do, lies in our power not to do.”  Working to increase competence, an internal locus of control, commitment, and openness to challenges helps people feel more in control of their own lives and results in increased achievement and improved heath.  Increasing a sense of self-control facilitates transformational coping and reduces the negative effects of stressful life events.  Despite the controversy and frequent misinformation to the contrary, people are ultimately in control of their own behavior.  Habits are breakable, patterns are not fate.  Self-control is what makes change possible in recovery and it is a primary reason that at as long as there is life, there is hope.