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Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction

Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction

Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction

Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction

Some people can completely believe in things that would seem irrational to another person. They may also engage in certain behaviors that may clearly be illogical to others. However, the person may do this with the belief that their behavior makes total sense. This explains why people abuse drugs and alcohol despite the dangers and their loved ones’ attempts to get them help. This behavior can be attributed to a theory called cognitive dissonance. Our drug and alcohol rehab in Massachusetts explains the connection between cognitive dissonance and addiction as well as why it occurs.

What Is Cognitive Dissonance Theory?

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation that involves attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that conflict with one another. When this happens, it produces mental discomfort. A person may then change their attitude, beliefs, or behaviors to reduce this discomfort and restore the balance. There are four types of cognitive dissonance: belief disconfirmation, induced compliance, free choice, and effort justification. Cognitive dissonance theory was introduced by psychologist Leon Festinger in his 1957 book, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Below are some common things people do that are examples of cognitive dissonance.

Some cognitive dissonance theory examples in everyday life include:

  • Smoking cigarettes even when you know it can cause cancer
  • Promoting behavior that you don’t follow yourself, like exercising or reading
  • Telling a lie and thinking of yourself as an honest person
  • Buying a car that isn’t fuel-efficient, but claiming to be environmentally friendly
  • Eating meat while being a person who doesn’t like the thought of killing animals – the meat paradox
  • Procrastinating even when you know you have a lot of work to do

Cognitive dissonance is caused by the clash of contrary attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. Dissonance only occurs only when a person is aware of the inconsistency in their opposing beliefs and experiences the discomfort that opposition causes.

Connection Between Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction

Addiction often causes cognitive dissonance. The mind works to resolve the discomfort caused by opposition between desire and need, and the individual may change their perception as a defense mechanism. Simply put, a person experiencing cognitive dissonance will make any excuse to justify their thinking and minimize the anxiety and discomfort they may experience. When they’re asked difficult questions about their addiction, they may minimize the dangers of their actions. An alcoholic may know the dangers of drinking but likely tell themselves, “It’s just one drink.” Someone spiraling into addiction knows that what they’re doing is harmful. However, they may still choose to abuse these substances because they block unwanted thoughts and feelings.

A person who abuses drugs and alcohol may convince themselves that their behavior is justified because of cognitive dissonance. Any truth behind the dangers of their addiction will be hidden behind the lies, denial, justification, and minimization they may practice. It’s common for addictive behaviors to include lies, distortions, and denial because they’re all the person’s attempts to “correct” the repercussions of their behavior in their head. They want to feel better about what they’re doing, even though they know it’s wrong, so they lie about it, deny it, and minimize its severity.

At Banyan Treatment Centers Massachusetts, we understand how common cognitive dissonance is in people with addictions. This is a difficult way of life to break out of, but we help our patients do it. If you or someone you know is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, we offer intervention planning services that can help the individual realize their problem and their need for care.

Common Cognitive Dissonance Symptoms

Some typical signs of cognitive dissonance include:

  • Feeling uncomfortable when you’re about to make a decision or doing something new
    • “Do I really need a new phone?”
  • Avoiding conflict or changing your mindset to make yourself feel better or less upset
    • “I didn’t get any pie, but it probably wasn’t that good anyway”
  • Ignoring facts to avoid changes or conflict
    • Sticking with the same hairdresser even though they’ve never given you a good haircut
  • Rationalizing or convincing yourself you’ve made the right decision
    • Telling yourself you’ll only spend $30 at the store and later trying to rationalize your $45 purchase
  • Following trends for fear of missing out
    • Your friends start buying expensive cars and you also buy an expensive car because you don’t want to be left out
  • Doing things you said you wouldn’t
    • Told your spouse you’d stop smoking but you continue to do it behind their back
  • Guilt, related to the shame of doing something you said you wouldn’t
    • “I said I wouldn’t smoke anymore; I shouldn’t have done that”

If you’re struggling with drug or alcohol abuse and try to justify your actions, then you’re experiencing cognitive dissonance. We know that deciding to go to rehab is tough, but we’re here to help you through every step of the way. The partial hospitalization program at Banyan Massachusetts allows patients to receive treatment while taking care of their responsibilities at home. This program could be the right one for you or a loved one.

How To Resolve Cognitive Dissonance

People who experience cognitive dissonance can take simple steps to reduce it:

  • Recognize your actions and their impact
  • Try to incorporate sound beliefs and reject or avoid conflicting ones
  • Stay focused and committed to your changes
  • Become informed
  • Ask others to keep you accountable

Accountability is especially important when it comes to reducing cognitive dissonance and regaining control of your life. Trying to suddenly adjust your thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs can be tricky, but someone who knows the full story can help you stay on track.

Keep in mind that addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can worsen over time if no treatment is provided. Cognitive dissonance is one of the many contributing factors of addiction that are addressed at our treatment facility. If you or someone you know has a substance use disorder, call us now at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our addiction treatment in Massachusetts.

Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Cognitive Dissonance and Addiction
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