What Is Self-Control?

People throw around the phrase “self-control” quite often. But what does it really mean? Do we have a solid definition? And if we do, what does it mean for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation? Thankfully all of these questions can be answered since we have a sufficient definition for self-control. Self-control works in two ways. First, it is the control of a spontaneous impulse. The second part of the definition is basically delayed gratification.

Controlling Impulses

Controlling impulses means that when something comes up, like having the desire to scratch an itchy mosquito bite, but resisting the temptation to do so because it would irritate the bite. Resisting temptation extends to anything that requires a conflict between what someone wants and what they ought to do. Similarly, successful impulse control is resisting the temptation to use drugs or alcohol, even though one might want to use.

Delaying Gratification

Another form of self-control is delayed gratification. This can be even trickier, because oftentimes not being able to vividly imagine a benefit makes it less appealing, even though they might be greater in the long-run. Let us take the example of smoking cigarettes. Independent of them being highly addictive, it’s hard to quit because the benefits of “being healthier” in the long-run is not something that is easily understood in the present. Nevertheless delayed gratification is an example of self-control because it is choosing what one ought to do (choosing greater, long-term benefit) over what one would like to do (choosing short-term benefit).

Relevance to Drug Treatment

It is pretty clear that the previously defined concept of self-control is fundamental in the scope of substance use, abuse, rehabilitation, treatment, and philosophy. Whether we are discussing the resistance to triggers or convincing a user of the long-term health benefits of not using substances, self-control almost always seems relevant to talk about.

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