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A Guide to Building on Your Values to Beat Addiction

To put it simply, values are what that are significant and important in your life. [1] They can be behaviours or features that guide and motivate our daily decisions. Understanding your personal values can help you find direction and fulfilment – especially as your progress in recovery.

Your values could serve as a mental compass, giving your life meanings and leading you to better personal life choices. When you are presented with options o decisions that make you feel stuck, determining and staying true to your values would ensure you take the right path.

Nobody is the same. What a person considers to be true and happy might make another feel scared or uncomfortable. Thus, it is important to think carefully and define your own set of values. This can be helpful in the journey to fight against addiction.

For instance, a good way to predict the risk of alcoholism in college students is to assess their values toward drinking. [2] The possibility can be higher in those who see it as a source of happiness in life.

How can addiction lower our values?

Addiction can have a devastating effect on our values. Excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs, in the long run, affects our ability to make good judgements.

The way substances alter our brain chemicals eventually leads to actions that are out of character, and it is often difficult or impossible to think clearly, morally, and rationally when our cognitive abilities have been impaired by drugs or alcohol.

As a result, we are unable to think clearly and follow the path that we set over the years. When the euphoric effects of alcohol or drug are enhanced over time, an addict is highly likely to go against their own standards or rules.

At the beginning, violations to personal existing moral codes can be subtle. But when the addiction becomes worse, we might experience more noticeable behaviours or thoughts that are not right.

An honest husband might lie to his family and consume alcohol in secret. A responsible manager might be distracted from her job due to drug effects. These are just some typical cases that show a negative association between addiction and personal values.

This is not to say that the husband who is hiding alcohol is a pathological liar and a sinner. Or that the manager is irresponsible and selfish for failing to manage her team.

Understanding that it is addiction that warps the thoughts and actions of these people who once held high values and morals is key to understanding how values can impact recovery.

How can values help fight addiction?

When we accept and comply with our values, the chances of success in fighting addiction would go up. The same goes for our level of happiness and fulfilment after recovery. Addiction is about feeling better with the help of alcohol or illicit substances.

They give us pleasure sensations via neurochemical relief that depends on external elements rather than our inner components. When we have a set of clearly defined values, it is much easier to make better choices that can be helpful and healthy in treating addiction. [3]

A list of common values

As said above, personal values can vary, depending on our family background, lifestyle, culture, religion, and many more factors. It is important to determine your own set that can guide you to a better life. Below is a shortlist of the most common values that many people have. [4]

Read on and create your own list, possibly with a priority order:

  • A close-knit community or family
  • Good friends or colleges
  • Always honest and sincere
  • Caring and loving
  • Support the poor or elderly
  • Become famous for a good cause
  • Live independently
  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Always look good
  • Have fun
  • Protect justice
  • Improve equality
  • Value experiences
  • Respect diversity
  • Think positive
  • Live a quiet life
  • Try to be perfect every day

How to identify and clarify your values

Life can be unstable and full of unexpected events. Therefore, identifying and clarifying your values would be helpful in guiding you through daily challenges and living happily.

Even when you think that your core values have not changed much over time, it is still advisable to engage in values clarification.

You should start by listing the most important things in your life. Next, choose several features or behaviours that you truly feel attached to. This is not a simple task as it requires a lot of time for trials and errors. Keep in mind being honest to yourself as the values will live with you for the rest of your life.

How to apply behaviour to values

Once you have identified and clarified your values, it is time to change your daily behaviours and make sure they comply with these values. Firstly, you need to make some related goals with specific details. Based on that, you can act to achieve your goals.

For instance, you choose the community and family as a core value. Then a possible goal would be to spend a lot of time with your kids and wife. To achieve this goal, an alcoholic should try to reduce their drinking time.

Instead, you can cook, go on a picnic, or have parties with them. Also, you might not want to argue with your friends over minor issues. Not drinking can help because you can stay alert and conscious at all time.

Important values for addiction recovery

There are some values that play key roles in the process of rehab and recovery from addiction. These include:

Having a group of close people in your neighbourhood, church, family, school, or workplace can give you the necessary support in necessary cases.

Setting and completing socially valued goals like acquiring a degree, trying to be promoted, providing finance for the family, completing a project.

Leading an active lifestyle that combines a well-balanced diet, regular workouts, and positive thinking.

Always stay awake, alert, and aware of the surrounding world. Make decisions based on your intuition and self-perception. Practice mindfulness.

Care for yourself and other people, and treat others how you would want to be treated. Only make decisions that will benefit you or society in some way.

How to use personal values during recovery

It takes time and efforts to apply your personal values to the recovery from addiction. The exact approach can vary, depending on the individual and their medical condition. Below is a general guideline to help you increase the chance of success:

Make sure to take the time and determine the most important values in your life that can help with addiction recovery

Before starting each therapy session, always try to think about your values and the reasons why you choose them

Inform your therapists and healthcare providers about these values. By doing this, you can be sure they would respect your choices and suggest better options

In cases there is a clash between your values and treatment options, consider making some adjustments. How much you accept the changes will completely depend on your personal characters. Make sure to discuss with your therapist to make an informed decision

Social learning & shared values in addiction recovery

We are born and raised in society. Thus, most of our values can be learned and developed from other people. This process is also known as social learning. One of the key things that allow humans to thrive over the last thousands of years is to give and share.

Both social learning and shared values play an important role in preventing alcohol and drug addiction.

Living in a family with alcoholic parents can determine the thoughts and behaviours of children in early years. They might think that beer and alcohols are good ways to seek relief and pleasure in life.

Similarly, living in a neighbourhood with a high level of drug use would increase the risk of addiction, especially in young children and teenagers. [5] Therefore, we should teach our future generations about the importance of moderation and how to refuse. In other words, show them the right values to become good citizens.

Practical & universal values in addiction recovery

Universal values are those things that matter everyone. These include order, autonomy, integrity, love, health, security, meaning, safety, or self-respect. Practical values are more specific versions of universal values that are applied in our daily lives.

For instance, independence is an important aspect of your life, so you will decide to walk to school rather than have someone pick you up. The former is a universal value and the latter is practical value.

Both forms play a decisive role in addiction recovery. While universal values help you stay on track and believe what you are doing is completely right, practical values can help you overcome obsessive thoughts and addictive desires daily.

Respect and follow both of them can increase your chance of success and reduce the risk of relapse in the future.

The link between CBT and core values

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a common treatment option for people with alcohol or drug addiction. It is a goal-oriented, short-term technique that helps change the patterns of behaviour or thinking.

The therapist will try to help you clarify your core values again, which are temporarily lost by the addiction. The main goal is to improve your mental health after recovery. More importantly, CBT can improve your belief in the most important things in life, thus reducing the risk of relapse later in life.

Those who undergo CBT might be aware that their values are confronted with the discomfort or desire caused by addiction. The direct exposure can be very effective in helping you stay away from alcohol and drugs as you now understand how miserable it can be.

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