A paradigm is a conceptual model. It puts a frame around ideas and assumptions in order to give a sense of direction for understanding and action. In the field of alcoholism and addiction, the frames of reference most commonly used until recently have encased pictures in the frames of the personal: struggles, challenges, control and acceptance that come with looking alcohol and what it does to one as an individual. It is the "me" who is powerless against this mysterious (though possibly biochemical) force of compulsion, and thus it is "I" who must come to terms with the reality it imposes. The step programs that most people know reflect this understanding and take the initiative to bring together people who are framed by a similar life.
A different picture gets framed when one looks at the issues of drugs and addiction from a social constructs perspective; a conceptualization that turns most forcefully towards the powers of cultural interactivity and how we effectively absorb these understandings into what be called our catalog of understanding the work about us (Adams, 2008). Within this framework, alcoholism and other compulsives come from the way that we internalize and almost literally define (as in a dictionary) the elements of living and how we use those understandings as we confront just about every experience we have.
This emerging social conceptualization of framing an addiction paradigm is moving (it hasn't gotten there yet) to a fuller appreciation of the many kinds of relationships, understandings, even symbolic representations that we create as we grow across a lifespan (. Somewhat like a personalized, internal Wikipedia, we effectively assign definitions and usage rules and expectations into social frames of reference. Then, whenever we engage with others or participate as social or cultural beings, our actions are guides by these understandings. Everyday experiences can thus be used to affirm or deny the rights and wrongs of living, including the ways in which we might develop patterns of addictive or compulsive behaviors. Even biological or physiological attractions toward chemical or drugs, for example, would be selected in part based on how we use these understandings to determine the paths of our actions. Which, not surprisingly, in a culture heavily guided by addictive tendencies, means that ultimately we begin to adjust our entire thinking scheme toward affirming or diminishing particular addiction activities.
In framing addiction this way, we need to understand the broader social context in which we live and the ways in which individuals come up with their own framing definitions; that is, how we each box what they learn in life in ways that can be pulled out and used for the various daily encounters we have. If any given task (whether positive or negative) is interpreted to affirm drinking, drug taking or a compulsive behavior, appropriate actions will follow; if any given task or setting is seen as being counter to supporting compulsions, addictive patterns will (presumably) be less likely to happen. And as we go through this process over and over again, we effectively lay the foundation within an addictive culture for our own addictive tendencies.
A variety of scientists have begun to use this concept of framing to help understand what is essentially each person's own understanding of pro- or anti-addiction circumstances. It is well understood that partying or socializing with alcohol is often a positive experience -- actually a behavior well rewarded by society or one's social or biological family. And yet for some, these settings can become very powerful for some as key ways to strengthen addictions. The fact that I have assigned in my collection of understanding the notion that going bar hoping with friends where I might get "pleasantly drunk," may mean something much different from my opting to drink heavily and dangerously at home when I feel the loneliness in a different setting. In my collection of symbols and understandings, however, both activities are conducted in accordance with the "correct" definitions of the settings as I see them at the time.
Addictive Thinking (using Twerski) fits perfectly into this social model for a simple reason: just as with other interpretations and understandings, we as individuals want to protect and defend our definitions of reality. Thus, we should have no problem using denial, rationalizations and even projections to keep safe our symbolic understandings of the terms and concepts that use to interact with the world around us.
DENIAL: A socially-based model of addiction in this light is perfectly set up for denials. I don't have to lie at all to say to people around me that "this works for me," or that this is how I see the situation and why I react as I do. I have defined the rules accordingly and am acting just as those rules require.
RATIONALIZING: On a similar plane, the next logical step is for me to rationalize them both when the choices that I make to implement my understandings either work or don't work. If they work, I can simply accept an "I told you so" mentality. If they do not work -- if bad or destructive consequences from the addiction prevail at some point -- I can easily convert the circumstances to the point of saying that some unique realities made my proper understanding not fit so well. It happens; but that has little to do with the validity of how I define the world.
PROJECTION: And, of course, when challenge to face the ultimate of confrontations with realities that don't fit my understanding, I can project the problems to others to somehow deal with the challenges. I can, for example, close off these experiences to ease the discomfort, lash out at those who don't understand, or even use the opportunity to redefine my symbols and concepts. But, of course, on the surface it may not be clear whether any of these reactions results in pro- or anti-compulsion modifications of my view of the social context. Many other factors come into play, including the entire family of people who surround me.
As noted above, the social cataloguing of terms, experiences and understandings of the interactions we have as humans grows with time and experience. Not surprisingly, one of the most important influences will likely be the connections that we have as children and with intimate others as we age and define our own collection of significant others (our families). As children we start early and grab from those around us the essence of understanding that becomes the basic for social cataloguing. We define first from our parents or caregivers and siblings what kinds of terms need to be in our Wikipedia of the world, and then we proactive using them with those that are literally or figuratively nearest to us. After all, it is they who are supposed to be loving and supportive as we grow into the beings (or monsters) that we ultimately become.
In looking at social addiction in this way, it makes perfect sense that some children will learn to play hero or heroine roles as they assemble their collection of concepts to make their families work better or get around problems. Some of these choices will help to use or hide or confront addictions; others may even make substance abuse a justifiable tool of avoidance. In which case it makes perfect sense that children of these types will begin to incorporate elements of guilt, fear and even shame into their repertoire of weapons of control and confrontation. Thus there is no surprise either when children catalogue their tools in ways that convey them as being lost (unable to handle certain settings), scapegoats or even mascots -- where they respectively hide, blame others or deflect the discomforts to others. In any of these cases, however, it would only be if they have assigned an element of each term as being pro- or anti-addiction that we might begin to see the building of a foundation where compulsion becomes a highly adaptable tool later in life. (For a good breakdown of the descriptors, see http://www.healandgrow.com/FamilyRoles.en.html.)
Growing numbers of people have begun to see the world around them as being much different than the ways that they have been conveyed to us in the past. Everything from widespread access to technology, travel and entertainment and the growing incorporation of interactive connectivity -- public and private -- has exercises a new degree of influence on how we see and interpret the world and the options that surround us. This has allowed us to in many ways have hands-on experiences with far different visions of the possibilities for what circumstances can mean. As a result, it is now possible that we can individually begin looking at the catalogues of acceptance terms and conditions in our Wikipedia and starting including much different understandings of when they are available for us to use.
We can all see now that the world is full of compulsive people. We cannot help but see others who indulge in repetitive patterns of…