People throw around the phrase “self-control” quite often. But what does it 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 of self-control. Self-control works in two ways. First, it is the control of a spontaneous impulse. The second part of the definition is delayed gratification.
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 it.
Another form of self-control is delayed gratification. This can be even trickier because often, not vividly imagining a benefit makes it less appealing, even though it might be more significant in the long run. Again, 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 are not 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
The previously defined concept of self-control is fundamental in the scope of substance use, abuse, rehabilitation, treatment, and philosophy. Whether we discuss the resistance to triggers or convince the user of the long-term health benefits of not using substances, self-control almost always seems relevant
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