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The Psychology of Addiction and Recovery

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D. , edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

We have introduced the Bio-Psycho-Social-Spiritual (BPSS) model of addiction. We will use this model to answer the question "How do people get addicted?" So far, we have reviewed the biological reasons people can get addicted. The biological portion of the BPSS model considers addiction a brain disease with biological, chemical, and genetic roots.

We now turn our attention to the psychological portion of the BPSS model. The psychological portion of the BPSS model views addiction in different ways. People may get addicted because they learned it from others. People may find recovery difficult because of the way they think about things. They may also lack good problem-solving skills. Addiction may occur as a means of coping with uncomfortable feelings. Addiction could also develop because of a personality defect or mental disorder. Addiction may be due to developmental immaturity.

We will explore the psychological factors that affect addiction and recovery. Even if addiction originates because of some biological process, recovery from addiction requires people to become motivated to make significant changes. Psychology is a science that studies what motivates people to behave in certain ways. People can improve the quality of their lives by learning new behaviors and changing old thought patterns. People also benefit from increasing their maturity, and improving their copings skills.

We begin by reviewing the principles of learning theory. This helps us to understand how people can learn an unhealthy behavior such as addiction. Perhaps more importantly, it helps us to understand how they can unlearn it.  We then discuss cognitive theory. This helps us to understand how thoughts, beliefs, and expectations can contribute to the formation of an addiction. More importantly, by modifying dysfunctional thoughts we can promote recovery.  Next, we review developmental theory in order to understand addiction as a form of arrested development.  Since psychotherapy is a form of accelerated growth and development, it can be highly beneficial during the recovery process. Finally, we will discuss the process by which people change. This includes the importance of motivation. An understanding of these concepts furthers our understanding of both the addiction and the recovery processes.