What drives addictive tendencies?
To understand why people take drugs, you have to first understand individual motivations. But are some of these motivations universal? And can one unified message help people quit? For a better understanding on how addiction works, we have invited Mikolaj Czyz, a psychotherapist based in Poland, to share his perspective with us.
Mikolaj has created an online app called, “WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR” to raise drug awareness and help people better understand what exactly lies behind their choice to use drugs. With the help of this anonymous site, drug users can respond to a few questions and get insight into their drug purpose.
An online app to understand drug use
Here, we’ll explore the science and theory behind Mikolaj’s idea. At the end of this interview, if you have any additional questions for Mr. Czyz, or want to leave a comment, please email him directly at m[AT]mikolajczyz[DOT]pl or use the section at the bottom of the page. We try to respond to all questions or comments with a personal, prompt reply.
ADDICTION BLOG: Mikolaj, thanks for joining us! What does the term “addictive tendency” refer to?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: Thank you for having me!
“Addictive tendency” is a term that belongs to the Process Oriented Psychology framework. It refers to the pursuit of an individual to access experiences that are important to her and — for various reasons — are difficult to achieve.
If the use of a psychoactive substance or ritual helps in accessing the desired experience, then it constitutes an addictive tendency. It is the case even if she does not develop an active addiction.
An addictive tendency is a widespread and common dynamic. This is a useful approach towards addictions also because it is non pathologizing. It helps to deal with phenomena that precede the development of an active addiction and – perhaps more importantly – is a rich source of knowledge about oneself.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are some of the common experiences people yearn for through addictive behaviors? Are they universal?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: In the data we gathered from Polish users, the dominating experiences yearned for were referred by the following labels:
were used describing the experiences that people try to escape.
The labels address individual experiences, but at the same time they are rooted in the values and beliefs professed by a given culture. So they are universal to some extent.
I would like to emphasize here that a single label (eg. #pleasure or #emptiness) may connect to but vary according to person to person experiences. This means that the label is an anchor, or association, which is backed by a rich world of personal experiences, states and values. They are obviously tinted with emotional reactions.
ADDICTION BLOG: Further, what is Process Psychology and how does this type of treatment help address addiction or drug abuse?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: More here: http://www.iapop.com/history/
Processwork (Process Oriented Psychology) is a theory, a psychotherapy method, and orientation used when working with individuals, relationships, organizations and communities. Drs. Arnold and Amy Mindell and their colleagues have been developing it since the 1970’s.
Processwork stresses the importance of diverse perspectives and experiences. It supports both the efforts to set oneself free from addictions as well as the states that are accessible through the substance or behavior.
Process Oriented Psychology explores the structure of psychological boundaries (edges) that make some important experiences inaccessible. These structures at the same time form the foundations of an addiction.
ADDICTION BLOG: Can you explain to our readers how WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR works?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: The app helps to keep the attention on the topic of one’s active or potential addiction (tendency). It facilitates learning the context of one’s addiction: desired and unwelcomed experiences. The app also shapes the understanding of the tendencies in terms of choices, and models the decision making processes.
These steps seem trivial, but it is important to take into consideration addictive phenomena are happening on the very border of one’s identity, where consciousness and access to psychological competencies are limited.
ADDICTION BLOG: What are the aims of WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR app?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: There are many useful and well-developed models of understanding addictions. This tool draws from one (Processwork) and I consider it an experiment. The goal is to promote a creative approach towards addictions. One based on curiosity, acknowledging personal needs and challenging limits. It is also a research tool.
ADDICTION BLOG: What is the purpose of the questioning process used in the application?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: It is to facilitate one’s reflection and understanding of an addiction in the context of the internal conflict which fuels the addiction (eg. between #emptiness and #pleasure).
ADDICTION BLOG: Can the application be used as a tool during a drug addiction treatment?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: I see it as a tiny awareness tool. It can be useful in the search of meaning of personal addiction tendencies, especially before an active addiction is developed. This reflection can be valuable but obviously it cannot substitute therapy if one’s goal is to stop the substance abuse or behavioral addiction.
ADDICTION BLOG: How does WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR contribute to a better understanding of addiction and drug abuse prevention? Ie. How have you used information you’ve collected from Polish speaking contributors? What do you plan to do with data collected from English language contributors?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: You can see the preliminary results (in Polish) on the charts here.
On a personal level, the online application we’ve created helps people to get in touch with and conceptualize conflicting, troublesome experiences. Let’s imagine someone who strives for #pleasure and runs away from #sadness. It can be an existential issue or a temporary problem, one that can be further investigated, questioned, worked upon.
For some people, this perspective extends to the understanding of psychological dynamics and supports long term life change. Maybe a solution could be a position that would embrace both experiences of #sadness and #pleasure and a fluidity in moving between them. Or developing a different standpoint from which this conflict is no longer relevant. Here I can see a preventive potential.
Learning about one’s problem is practical and gives alternative to dismissing the whole world of experiences and just letting it go wild in the unconscious.
In a broader sense, the experiences that people address via WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR are troublesome to whole cultures. In other words, they are challenging not just individual boundaries but the values and identities of communities and the society at large. Eg. in a productive, goal-oriented community experiences of #pleasure or #relaxation may be disavowed.
And that is the area that I’m very interested in researching now.
ADDICTION BLOG: Can you tell us the impact of WHATAMIDOING THIS FOR? How do you measure possible influence it has over drug awareness and prevention? Do you have feedback from users? What are the success rates?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: I don’t have hard data in this area.
I’ve received emails from people who discovered something important about themselves through the introspection that the app facilitate. Another thing is that people seem to be naturally curious and the app helps with these creative explorations. The collected data indicates that this model is intuitive and users have little problem finding experiences associated with their tendencies.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you have any plans for further development of the app? Do you plan to use input from other mental health colleagues (psychologists or psychiatrists), for example?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: The preliminary data that I worked upon consisted of 6000 records. My goal now is to build way bigger dataset (as the app is online it grows steadily) to verify ideas that I already have.
It is a work in progress. I welcome suggestions and impressions from other professionals.
I don’t plan to extend the app itself at the moment. Its simplicity was an important design decision: it makes the app accessible and intuitive.
ADDICTION BLOG: Can you share with us some “success stories” or anecdotes about WHATAMIDOINGTHISFOR?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: I think the biggest success is the amount of focus that people direct to get in touch with the experiences around addictions.
Sometimes it’s very insightful (from an email: “I had no idea my addictive tendency relates to this important area in my life!”). Usually, it’s just taking a different perspective for a couple seconds.
The articles about the app were published in a couple of big Polish online newspapers:
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
MIKOLAJ CZYZ: Addictive tendencies indicate important personal experiences and internal conflicts. It is not just about long-term and persisting tendencies; even short-lived fascinations can be very insightful.
It’s crucial to go beyond the addiction. The path of discovery of a satisfying and sustainable solution can be exciting too!