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Creative Journalling

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Adrian Torres
Adrian Torres

Delusions And Self-Deception In Addiction

Objectives: It is argued that drug and alcohol addiction centers on denial and self-delusion, and successful recovery depends on coming to terms with such problems. Mutual-help programs for substance abuse recovery (eg, 12-step programs) and self-run recovery homes (eg, Oxford House) might decrease self-deception through emphasis on facing reality, strict abstinence rules, and empowering people to direct their own course of recovery.

Delusions and Self-Deception in Addiction

Methods: The present study examined how recovery processes (12-step programs vs. recovery residence), substance use, and race/ethnicity predicted self-deception among adult residents of self-run recovery homes (359 men, 152 women).

Results: Twelve-step participation but not recovery home residency significantly predicted decreased self-deception across a 4-month period. In addition, race/ethnicity was a significant predictor of self-deception, with African Americans reporting higher levels of self-deception than participants of other racial groups.

Conclusions: It is suggested that substance abusing individuals look to 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to reduce denial and gain a realistic self-view, critical steps in addiction recovery.

However, in recent years theologians have not given self-deception much attention even though philosophers have been vigorously debating the topic since the 1960s. This lack of scholarship is a dangerous oversight because self-deception, a universal phenomenon caused by the fall, is intimately related to sin and detrimental to our spiritual life if left unchecked. I have a modest goal for this article, which is to discuss a few aspects of self-deception as a theological concept. I will address, first, how self-deception is closely related to sin; second, how it often creates false assurance of salvation; and third, how it is caused by disordered love. Then I will discuss some of the ways the problem of self-deception can be solved. In the process, I will interact with theologians such as Augustine, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards who have wrestled with the problem of self-deception, and also with the Scriptures that address and warn against the dangers of self-deception.

In the traditional analytic philosophy, philosophers appeal to self-deception to explain ordinary, counter-evidential believing, and they tend to reduce self-deception to biased, false belief.11 However, in theology, self-deception is considered much more seriously as a willful sin. The unbeliever will not believe the truth because he is a sinner and his judgment is fatally infected by his sin. He is comfortable with his sin and does not want to accept an unflattering account of his life.12 Modern echoes of this description of self-deception are found in various fields:

According to Pascal, then, the greatest threat to the moral life is neither ignorance of the moral law nor moral weakness but self-deception.22 Sin, or moral wrongdoing, is usually a product of self-deceptive moral reasoning in which one recognizes some course of action to be immoral but persuades oneself that it is moral.

In summary, our fallen self-will and distorted self-love distort how we see things and how we handle evidence. Things are true or false according to how we judge them, and when the will likes something, it deflects the mind from considering an evidence against it.58 We can also spin the evidence and convince ourselves that we believe something we do not really believe.59 Furthermore, we are naturally inclined to deceive and credit ourselves for good outcomes and refuse responsibility for bad ones. Thus, Augustinian tradition holds that pride is the archetypal sin, and the prideful sinner loves himself with an immoderate love that ought to be directed to God.60 Pride and inordinate love for self are the results of the fall and the root cause of self-deception. As the turn away from God constitutes sin, the turn away from truth constitutes self-deception, and both are motivated by our fallen, disordered love.61

According to Fingarette, to stop self-deception, the disavowed engagement must be avowed. Undeceiving ourselves means accepting responsibility.69 So we need to recognize our tendency to select the evidence that best suits us and commit ourselves to paying attention to all the available evidence in search for the truth, no matter where it leads us. When we want to believe something because it serves our self-interest, we tend to manage our attention and allow into our minds only the things that will support our desired belief.70 If the evidence cannot be avoided, then we direct critical attention to it not to learn from it but to creatively discount it.71 Therefore, in order to avoid self-deception, we must force ourselves to pay attention to unwelcome evidence with the willingness to give up our cherished beliefs no matter how painful it is.

In this article, I discussed how self-deception is closely related to sin, often causes false assurance of salvation, is itself caused by disordered love for self, and how God often uses trials to bring us out of self-deception. Sin hides itself by nature and self-deception is one of its major tools. It averts the truth, and since an aversion to truth is also an aversion to God, self-deception is sinful.83 Sin involves turning away from God just as self-deception involves turning away from truth, and both are motivated by our disordered love, which is the result of the fall.

The self-deception is the process by which the psyche seeks to reconcile these two conflicting outcomes: a) the physical need to drink; and b) the negative physical behaviors that come with intoxication. In other words the mid-brain, the site of the altered neurochemistry of addiction tells the body I have to have this chemical and yet when it is ingested the drinker engages in conduct governed by his intoxication that is at odds with his or her own values. These two conflicting internal messages create a pressing need in the psyche for reconciliation, to bring about an inter-psychic truce so that the person can drink and not have severe mental anguish.

For some the pressure on the value system of the psyche is such that in order to reconcile the compulsion to drink and the negative behavior caused by it the mind creates a delusional system of thinking. This is a further extension of the type of self-deception described earlier. Examples: I know that I have a drinking problem but I read in the newspaper that if I drink then my cholesterol would be better. Or, my doctor told me to take one or two stiff drinks after work and all I am doing is following my doctors instructions, as to what is a good way for me to handle my stress (despite the fact that I have just gotten my third DWI and my wife left me a year ago).

This is the same thing that an alcoholic does, but in the case of the alcoholic there is not just fear of a fatal disease that drives the self-deception, but also a physical compulsion to drink. This is why it is so hard for people to understand the chemically addicted person, because his or her behavior often looks crazy or anti-social. Actually their behavior reflects the operation of ordinary defense mechanisms attempting to allow them to survive, and it makes logical sense in the state of compulsion existence they are in.

Self-deception flourishes under uncertainty [20], and in laboratory tasks, paranoid individuals expect more volatility but also fail to learn appropriately from volatility [18]. It is as yet unclear whether paranoia and self-deception share underlying psychological mechanisms, and whether they are similarly sensitive to uncertainty or social affiliative processes. A shared mechanism might suggest that paranoia could amplify self-deceptive behaviors, thus bolstering misbeliefs and causing more distress.

To investigate the relationships between paranoia and self-deception, we adapted a perceptual decision-making task with varying levels of stimulus ambiguity. The task has two sources of information, one social and one non-social, that can allow us to dissect differential contributions to the decision-making and explore interactions with paranoia. Using computational modeling that explicitly quantifies these contributions of social and non-social information to decisions, we sought to delineate whether and how self-deception and over-confidence are related to paranoia. We hypothesized that paranoia would be associated with enhanced self-deception, as well as higher confidence reported overall due to the shared characteristics and relationship with delusional beliefs. In prior work we showed non-social mechanisms contributed to paranoia, whilst others have posited a specifically social, coalitional mechanism. We sought to adjudicate by examining the impact of group identity on perceptual decision making. If group identity interacts with paranoia status then we would favor coalitional accounts. If instead non-social mechanisms prevail then we would favor a domain-general explanation of paranoia.

If a classification changed between sessions (C1 and C2) to either agree with the bet (cooperation condition) or to disagree with the bet (competition condition) the response was self-deceptive [26]. Response patterns determining a self-deceptive trial are also shown in Fig 1E. The raw self-deception score for a participant was computed as the sum of the number of self-deceptive responses divided by the total number of responses. To explore whether participants were merely guessing when they changed their minds to conform to or defect from the bets, we multiplied their number of deception trials by their normalized confidence on those trials:(1)

Statistical analyses were performed in RStudio, Version 1.2.5033. Model parameters and self-deception scores were analyzed using ANOVAs, with Bonferroni correction for multiple-comparison (as needed). We performed ANCOVAs for model parameters using three sets of covariates: (1) demographics (age, gender, ethnicity, and race); (2) mental health factors (medication usage, diagnostic category); (3) and metrics and correlates of global cognitive function (educational attainment, income).


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