A Trait That Protects Against Addiction

There’s a problem many people who struggle with drugs and alcohol repeatedly run into when they’re trying to quit: that despite the often disastrous consequences of abuse and addiction, using substances can often be an effective way to temporarily feel better and respond to life’s stressors.

Many with substance use disorders don’t necessarily even enjoy the effects of their chosen substance all that much anymore, but they continue using it because it’s the best strategy they’ve worked out for navigating life’s difficult terrain.

And the terrain of life can be very difficult indeed — no one’s to blame when someone resorts to using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope.

Having said that, the consequences of substance abuse are severe. There’s a reason we often try to protect our children from drinking and using drugs; we know the behaviors end in negative outcomes too frequently for our liking or for their safety.

The good news is that there’s a key trait that protects children and adults alike from addiction and gives them a different way to manage the problems they face in life. It’s called self-efficacy.

What Is Self-Efficacy?

The concept of self-efficacy was pioneered by psychologist Albert Bandura. Bandura describes self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs in their efficacy to influence events that affect their lives,” going on to say that self-efficacy “is the foundation of human inspiration, motivation, performance accomplishments, and emotional well-being,” and that “Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to undertake activities or to persevere in the face of difficulties.”

In other words, your self-efficacy is how much you believe you’re able to get what you want — without any outside help from anyone or anything.

It should be noted, of course, that great things can be accomplished with the help of others and by helping others; if one feels reliant on external aid, however, self-efficacy suffers.

How Does Self-Efficacy Relate To Addiction?

According to a piece in the New York Times, “People with a weak sense of self-efficacy…tend to be pessimistic, inflexible, quick to give up, have low self-esteem, exhibit learned helplessness, get depressed, and feel fatalistic and hopeless. Not coincidentally, people who exhibit these traits are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate these negative feelings.”

Clinical research backs up this idea; an article published in Addictive Behaviors declared that “self-efficacy has been found to predict the quantity of alcohol or drugs consumed.” Specifically, it’s been observed that higher self-efficacy is linked to less frequent episodes of binge drinking, fewer instances of Marijuana use, and lower rates of relapse.

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How Do We Learn Self-Efficacy?

There probably aren’t many people who wouldn’t want to have a stronger confidence in their own ability to achieve their goals. Frequently, however, peoples’ beliefs on this issue are tied to their fundamental and internal perspectives on the nature of themselves, of life, of fairness, faith, fortune, and fate.

Therapy might help, especially in the long-term, with deep-seated and negative beliefs about life or yourself. In the meantime, however, there are some simple ways we can build our self-efficacy for ourselves.

They include:

  • Giving yourself tasks, even small ones, to accomplish during the day to build a sense of self-worth and competence (Like doing the laundry, cleaning a part or all of your room or home, experimenting with cooking something in the kitchen, or making a piece of art).
  • Choosing to see negative life developments as narrow, changing, universal, and passing things — rather than broad, heavy, personal, and permanent things.
  • Trying to see your glass as half-full when you can.
  • Giving positive feedback, compliments, and praise to yourself and others over specific and explicitly-identified good behavior. This encourages more of it – vague, unspecified praise can be hollow, unrewarding, and unhelpful.
  • Pursuing a hobby or interest that you can gain a sense of mastery in over time.
  • Valuing your own ability to do hard work, not necessarily the results of that work or whether or not your effort is recognized by anyone but you.
  • Watching others do great things – in the football stadium, the concert hall, the pages of history, or their own personal lives. This can allow you to see what’s possible for others and therefore for yourself.

By identifying opportunities to accomplish things, reward ourselves for putting the work in to do so, learn skills and pursuits, and admire and grow from the exploits and efforts of others, we not only guard ourselves against addiction but also do ourselves a huge service: we begin to make the most of our lives.

If you’re struggling with a substance use disorder, you have the ability to make a change. And if you’d like some help or want to get some questions answered, you can contact a treatment provider right now for free.

You deserve to realize the truth: that your life is within your grasp, and you can make choices to take you to exactly where you want to be.

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William Henken

Photo of William Henken
  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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