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Preference Reversal Creates Recovery Pitfalls

alcoholism - Bergand Group

At times, many people may comment that they feel as if they are fighting against themselves on a day-to-day basis.  Even outside of addiction, most would agree that they face off against their own desires and impulses regularly, having to decide whether to do the more difficult and often healthier thing or to give in to the easier and more pleasant choice.  These choices could revolve around anything from ordering dessert in a restaurant to watching another episode before bed, but when tied together with addiction, the struggle is more challenging than ever.

It Isn’t Easy to Keep Promises to Yourself

The phenomenon is called “preference reversal” and has been described as “the hallmark of addiction.”  Preference reversal refers to a promise made to oneself at one point and then a going back on one’s word at a later time because, in that moment, preferences have changed.  An example in this case might be someone struggling with alcohol abuse who wants to make lifestyle changes, but when faced with an offer to meet friends at the bar, those changes seem less important or pressing.

Preference reversal can also be called “time inconsistent behavior” for fairly obvious reasons.  To be consistent with goals is difficult enough without the pitfalls of addiction and without having to battle against one’s own mind.  “The most basic consequence of preference reversal is that we are strangers to ourselves. When you are making a promise to yourself, but you fail to keep the promise, then you can’t rely on yourself. The result is unhappiness.”

This experience can occur in any lifestyle, but can be particularly dangerous when the behavior involves drugs or alcohol.  Humans are creatures of instant gratification and thus it’s much easier to accept the immediate gifts of the feelings associated with food, fun, or substances when they appear rather than to wait for less-tangible results (long-term health and happiness, for example) to develop in the future.  This “delayed value” of abstinence seems distant and hard to reach, particularly when offered opportunities that used to or may still be comforting, despite their ill effects.

The old adage “everything in moderation” is highly relevant; if a person has an extra snack or an occasional drink, it isn’t necessarily intensely damaging to his or her life.  A lifestyle is developed after “repeated indulgence,” where an occasion becomes the norm and a habit becomes an addiction.  Once an action or decision becomes a part of a person’s daily life, it’s much more difficult to let go than if it were a more infrequent leniency.  A person has to make a serious commitment in order to change and that is only the beginning of the uphill battle.  Willpower can be difficult to summon, particularly in the face of old attractions, but it’s a step in the right direction to surround oneself with people and situations that encourage healthy habits rather than chancing being faced with the potential of preference reversal.

“One approach is to use self-control strategies that influence the value of options in the choice situation by attaching penalties to temptation and rewards to long-term goal pursuit.”  After all, parts of our psychology are simpler than we think, and a system of punishment and reward can be extremely effective in trying to direct one’s life toward a more desirable future.

For more information on preference reversal and detox programs in Harford and Baltimore County, get in touch with The Bergand Group. The Bergand Group is Maryland’s leading addiction recovery center, and offers support for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues.

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About The Bergand Group:

At The Bergand Group in Baltimore and Harford County, Maryland, our therapists have more than twenty years of experience in the mental health and addiction fields. Our focus is on providing comprehensive mental health care and appropriate care for addictive disorders. We offer both alcohol rehabilitation and drug rehabilitation. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or substance addiction, there is help available. We also offer several other services, including family therapy and counseling. We can help. Contact us today.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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