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Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception Paperback – April 30, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Dr. Abraham J. Twerski is the Founder and Medical Director Emeritus of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, a not-for-profit drug and alcohol treatment system in western Pennsylvania, cited nationally as one of the 12 best drug and alcohol treatment centers by Forces magazine and as one of the top 100 rehab centers in the guide to treatment, The 100 Best Treatment Centers for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Dr. Twerski, an ordained rabbi, held a pulpit until 1959 when he graduated from Marquette University Medical School and went on to complete his psychiatric residency at the University of Pittsburgh Western Psychiatric Institute. For 20 years, he served as Clinical Director of the Department of Psychiatry at St. Francis Hospital, Pittsburgh, and currently is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Twerski is recognized as an international authority in the chemical dependency field. He began the first Pennsylvania program for nurses with alcohol or drug problems, "Nurses off Chemicals," served on the Governor's Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, and was Chairman of the Pennsylvania Medical Society Committee on the Impaired Physician. He appears frequently as a radio and television guest. A frequent lecturer on a broad range of topics, including stress, self-esteem, spirituality as well as chemical dependency, Twerski has also written 29 books to date including: Substance Abusing High Achievers; Life's Too Short; I'd Like to Call For Help, But I Don't Know the Number; Do Unto Others; and collaborative effort with Peanuts comic strip creator, Charles Schulz, When Do The Good Things Start?; Waking Up Just in Time; I Didn't Ask to be in This Family; and the soon to be released That's Not a Fault...It's a Character Trait.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1
What Is Addictive Thinking?


Interviewing Ray, a young man who had been admitted to a rehabilitation unit for drug addiction, I asked, "What made you decide it was time to do something about the problem?"

"I've been on cocaine for a few years," Ray replied, "and occasionally I'd quit using for a few weeks at a time, but I'd never decided to stop for good before."

"For the past year my wife has been pressuring me to stop completely. She used to do cocaine too, but she's been off for several years now. I finally got to the point where doing coke wasn't worth the hassle, so I decided to give it up completely."

"I sincerely wanted to stop for good, but after two weeks I started up again, and that proved something to me. I'm not stupid. I now know that it is absolutely impossible for me to stop on my own, maybe."

I repeated Ray's last sentence several times because I wanted him to hear what he had just said. But he could not see what I was trying to point out.

I said, "It is perfectly logical to say, 'Maybe I can stop by myself.' It is also perfectly logical to say, 'It is absolutely impossible for me to stop by myself.' But to say, 'I now know that it is absolutely impossible for me to stop on my own, maybe,' is absurd because it is self-contradictory. It is either 'absolutely impossible' or 'maybe,' but it cannot be both." Ray, however, was unable to see my point.

I have repeated this conversation to a number of people, and even seasoned therapists initially show no reaction, waiting for the punch line. Only after I point out the contradiction between "absolutely impossible" and "maybe" do they see the absurdity of the statement and the distortion of thought taking place in this man's mind.


Distortion of Thought


The phenomenon of abnormal thinking in addiction was first recognized in Alcoholics Anonymous, where the highly descriptive term stinkin' thinkin' was coined. Old-timers in AA use this term to describe the "dry drunk," or the alcoholic who abstains from drinking but behaves in many other ways much like an active drinker.

Distortions of thinking are not unique to addictive disorders, however; nor are they necessarily related to chemical use at all. Thought distortions can be found in people who may have other adjustment problems. For example, one young woman was procrastinating turning in her term paper for a class.

"Why don't you finish it?" I asked.

"It's finished already," she said.

"Then why haven't you submitted it?" I asked.

"Because I need to do some more work on it," she said.

"But I thought you said it's finished," I remarked.

"It is," she said.

While her assertion appears illogical to most people, it can make perfect sense to someone who thinks addictively. Furthermore, although distorted thinking does not necessarily indicate addiction, the intensity and regularity of this type of thinking are most common among addicts.

We all recognize that the statements "The term paper is all finished" and "I have to do more work on it" are contradictory. But Ray's statement, "I now know that it is absolutely impossible for me to stop on my own, maybe," may not appear absurd until we stop to analyze it. In normal conversation, we generally do not have time to pause and analyze what we hear. Hence, we may be deceived by, and accept as reasonable, statements that are meaningless.

Sometimes these contradictions can be even more subtle. For example, a woman, asked whether she had resolved all the conflicts connected with her divorce, answered, "I think so." There is nothing patently absurd about this woman's answer, until we pause to analyze it. The question "Have you resolved the conflicts?" means "Have you done away with the various uncertainties and eliminated the emotional problems incidental to your divorce?" That is what the word resolved means. The answer "I think so" is thus an assertion "I am still uncertain that I am certain" and is really meaningless.


Thinking Processes in Schizophrenia


To understand more fully what we are talking about when we use the term distortion of thought, let's look at an extreme example of it, the system of thinking used by a schizophrenic person. As absurd as a particular distorted thought may be to a healthy person, it may make perfect sense to a schizophrenic.

Therapists familiar with paranoid schizophrenic patients who have delusions of grandeur know how futile it is trying to convince a patient that he or she is not the Messiah or the victim of worldwide conspiracy. The therapist and the patient are operating on two totally different wavelengths, with two completely different rules of thought. Normal thinking is as absurd to a schizophrenic as schizophrenic thinking is to a healthy person. A typical schizophrenic's adjustment to life in a normal society can be described in terms of a baseball manager who orders the team to punt or a football coach who calls for stealing a base.

Schizophrenic people do not realize that their thinking processes are different from the thinking processes of most other people. They can't see why others refuse to recognize them as the Messiah or the victim of a worldwide conspiracy. Still, many people, some therapists included, may argue with a schizophrenic person and then become frustrated when the person fails to see the validity of their arguments. But this is like asking a color-blind person to distinguish colors.

Yet the thinking of the schizophrenic is so obviously irrational that most of us clearly recognize it as such. We may not be able to communicate effectively with a schizophrenic person, but at least we are not fooled by the delusions created in the schizophrenic's mind. We are more frequently taken in by the relative subtlety of distortions caused by addictive thinking.


How Addictive Diseases Resemble Schizophrenia


Sometimes people with addictive diseases are misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. They may have some of the same symptoms, including

•     delusions
•     hallucinations
•     inappropriate moods
•     very abnormal behavior


All of these symptoms, however, may be manifestations of the toxic effects of chemicals on the brain. These people have what is called a chemically induced psychosis, which may resemble but is not schizophrenia. These symptoms usually disappear after the chemical toxicity is alleviated and the brain chemistry returns to normal.

A person with schizophrenia, however, may also use alcohol or other drugs addictively. This presents a very difficult treatment problem. A schizophrenic is likely to require long-term maintenance on potent antipsychotic medications. Furthermore, a person with schizophrenia may not be able to tolerate the confrontational techniques commonly effective with addicts in treatment. Therapists teach addicts to desist from escapism and to use their skills to cope effectively with reality. No such demands can be made on a schizophrenic, who may actually lack the ability to cope with reality.

In a sense, both the addict and the schizophrenic are like derailed trains. With some effort, an addict can be put back onto the track. The schizophrenic, however, can't be put back on the same track. The best that may be accomplished is getting this person on another track that leads to the destination. This other track is not a 'through' track. It has countless junctions and turnoffs, and at any point the schizophrenic may go off in a direction other than the desired one. Constant vigilance and guidance are necessary to avoid such turnoffs, and it may be necessary to use medications to slow the traveling speed and stay on track.

Being confronted with the thinking of an alcoholic, or someone with another addiction, can be as frustrating as dealing with the schizophrenic. Just as we are unable to budge the schizophrenic from the conviction of being the Messiah, so we are unable to budge an alcoholic from the belief that he or she is a safe, social drinker, or a safe user of tranquilizers, or a "recreational" user of marijuana and cocaine.

For instance, someone close enough to observe a late-stage alcoholic (or other drug addict) sees a person whose life is steadily falling apart; perhaps the addict's physical health is deteriorating, family life is in ruins, and job is in jeopardy. All of these problems are obviously due to the effects of alcohol or other drugs, yet the addict appears unable to recognize this. He or she may firmly believe that using chemicals has nothing to do with any of these problems and seems blind to logical arguments to the contrary.

A defining difference between addictive thinking and schizophrenic thinking is this:

•     schizophrenic thinking is blatantly absurd
•     addictive thinking has a superficial logic that can be very seductive and misleading

The addict may not always be as willfully conniving as others think. This person is not necessarily consciously and purposely misleading others, though this does occur sometimes. Often addicts are taken in by their own thinking, actually deceiving themselves.

Especially in the early stages of addiction, an addict's perspective and account of what is happening may look reasonable on the surface. As discussed, many people are naturally taken in by addictive reasoning. Thus, an addict's family may see things the "addictive thinking way" for a long time. The addict may sound convincing to friends, pastor, employer, doctor, or even to a psychotherapist. Each statement the addict makes appears to hold up; long accounts of events may even appear valid.


Obsessions and Compu...

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 156 pages
  • Publisher: Hazelden; Second Edition edition (April 30, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1568381387
  • ISBN-13: 978-1568381381
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Borne Too Loose on October 28, 2003
Format: Paperback
Being a psychyology major in college specializing in addiction, as well as overcoming my own personal addictions, I found Twerski's book was excellent. I bought it simply as a text book supplement for a college course, and ended up reading it a few times. He gives a great insight into the mind of the addict, and nice overview of life AFTER addiction and the logical, spiritual, and emotional hurdles forever in front of the affected individual and those around him. I read this just after my third year of abstinence and pulled so much from it in my personal life. Whether you are an addict or just know or have been affected by one, have been through the twelve-step meetings or struggled alone, give it a try. It still sits in my library and is a book I often recommend to those I meet and are dealing with an aspect of addiciton, treatment, and sobriety.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 1, 2004
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book in hopes of understanding why the addict does what he or she does. I work with many HIV/AIDS patients, and many of them are addicts. This book was amazing not only to me but to most of the colleagues who have been around this behavior many years. We were actually fighting over this book after everyone was taking about. It was very easy, quick reading, and very clearly stated. I just can't say enough about it. If you read it I can assure you that you will want to share the information and stories you read. Currently my copy is MIA so I am buying another few copies.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Barbara S. Reeves on November 18, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I've read a lot of books about addiction, but "Addictive Thinking: Understanding Self-Deception" by Abraham J. Twerski is the only one that describes me to a tee. Addicts are malfunctioning human beings whose thinking and concept of reality are severely distorted. Addictive diseases resemble schizophrenia in many ways. The addict may suffer from delusions, hallucinations, inappropriate moods, and abnormal behavior. I one point in my addiction, I thought that I was schizophrenic. I knew that something was horribly wrong with me, but it couldn't have anything to do with the massive amounts of drugs I was ingesting.

According to Twerski, addicts have a distorted self-image and they all have extremely low self-esteem. Even though they may have many life-accomplishments and every reason to think highly of themselves, they still feel inferior. Addicts are also hypersensitive. They are emotionally sensitive to their environment the way a sunburn victim is sensitive to touch. Drugs and alcohol offer immense relief from this hypersensitivity, numbing the emotions that bring such discomfort.

Twerski has also given me a better understanding of what is really happening when an addict reaches "rock bottom." Rock bottom is not necessarily an event, but a change of perception where sobriety is finally seen as more rewarding than continued use. This explains why I continued to use after my rock bottom experience. It took a while for my perceptions to change.

Another new revelation for me was that many recovering addicts relapse because they mistakenly believe that life will be rosy once they've recovered. But life is a succession of peaks and valleys, a series of hurdles to overcome. I held this false belief until I read this.
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89 of 99 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
Finally, in plain English, this book explains how the addict thinks and why he treats himself and others the way he does. It doesn't solve the problem, but it does offer comfort in knowing that you are not to blame. I only wish the book went one step farther in offering some advice as to how to deal sanely with addictive behavior, how to react and perhaps what to expect when you do react. Overall, well worth reading.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
A very good book with the basics on addiction. I especially enjoyed the chapter on spirituality and the addict, although I would have liked to have seen a little more on this subject.
Twerski's book "The Spiritual Self" has what I was looking for and much more. I think it is a must read for ANYONE on the road to recovery. He explains how the role of the human spirit is essential in the addict's new life and how one does not even need to be religious (although it certainly helps!).
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Steven P. Spinella on February 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up off my colleague's desk in the counseling office, realized I shouldn't take it without asking permission, and made my amends right away. With permission, then, I read with some shame, and also guilt, about self-deception. The crux: distorted thinking is not just manufactured for others, but something that inhabits the inner person. As a result, we can see it, explore it, recognize it in others, and still struggle to make lasting changes in our own thinking.
Twerski writes after 18 years running a clinic, and he has lots of the simple examples and plain talk that cut through the haze. He is a fan of AA's 12 steps and he believes low self-esteem haunts many an addicts' inner child. He has a website with a recent 40 minute reflection on his own struggle with self-esteem. He's now almost 80.
As some other reviewers note, after the first couple chapters introducing and defining the distorted thinking he calls "addictive thinking," the chapters get short, like meditations, and topical, covering aspects such as distorted time, reason, and perspective, hypersensitivity, shame versus guilt, and admitting error. I think the point we could make is that this book seeks to identify and describe the distorted thinking common in chemical dependents. Believe me, I don't have to be chemically dependent to see myself in these vignettes and struggles.
The reason for such a book is that we all need to pierce our own isolation and denial about our self-deception. Let me put it this way. If I don't deceive myself too much, it should be easier for me to admit that. If I deceive myself a lot, I just might find a way to distance myself from a book like this, maybe by putting myself above it or pointing it at someone else.
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