The gravitational pull inside of a black hole is said to be so strong that beyond a certain point, known as the ‘event horizon,’ nothing, not even light, can escape from it. In some ways, addiction is like a black hole. At the top, the slippery slope is subtle, such that we might not even feel the gravitational pull. But as we drift toward the center, we begin to pick up speed and it becomes more difficult to stop or climb out.

There is at least one critical way in which addictions and black holes differ. With black holes, I presume the point of no return, the event horizon, is knowable. I suspect astrophysicists can calculate exactly where that line is and tell us how close you can get to the black hole without going over the edge. 

The wolf in sheep’s clothes

In a sense, addictions can be more dangerous because it’s difficult to tell how far we can go before it’s too late. We see others skating around the the periphery of the black hole of addiction all the time, seeming to be having fun, maybe going overboard a little bit once in a while, but usually able to climb out with little consequence. Of course, sometimes people don’t climb out and they lose everything, maybe even their lives, but we seem to see this as more of an exception.

We would not be surprised if someone entered a black hole and never came out. It’s what we would expect. We have a healthy respect for, and fear of, black holes, as we should. With addictions, we have a tendency to kid ourselves—“It’s not that dangerous.” “I’m fine.” “I can stop whenever I want.”

The greatest risk with addiction is that we get completely sucked in and pay the ultimate price of sudden loss of life. The other, more common danger, is that we don’t go fully over the edge, but we keep slipping in and out of the addictive behavior year after year as our lives slowly deteriorate. We pay many prices along the way—loss of quality of relationships with family, friends and colleagues, loss of health, job, finances, self-esteem and hope for the future.

Risk management

The best way to avoid getting caught by a black hole is to not go near it in the first place. If you’ve never tried cocaine or vaping, you’re better off keeping it that way. You won’t be missing out on anything if you “Just Say No.” Other substances and behaviors are more complicated. We can’t simply avoid food, spending, sexual desire or certain medications. And, of course, alcohol is everywhere you turn.

Once hooked on an addictive substance or behavior, the challenge is how to best manage the addiction. The first step, which may be the hardest, is a brutal self-honesty. This is to admit, “I feel the pull of this thing. I thought I could handle it, but I cannot. I am struggling.” Along with this, it is important to begin what may be the long process of letting go of whatever shame you might feel about having gotten caught by the addiction. It is not your fault that you have it, but it is your responsibility to manage it.

Faith, hope and humility

Take comfort in knowing that a great many have gone before you. Many have not made it, but many have, so it is possible. They have all left behind them a collective wisdom which can help show you the way. They can help you learn how to deal with the triggers and the cravings, and how to begin to live a life without relying on the addiction. But they might not come to you. You might need to go to them.

Art Frenz, Ph.D.

Photo by Kamesh Vedula on Unsplash 

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Psychological Fitness

“Psychological Fitness” is my monthly column featured in the Binghamton, NY Press & Sun Bulletin since 2004. This page highlights articles, or adaptations thereof, from that column.