Addiction Coping Mechanisms: Unmasking the Hidden Self

August 17, 2023
Johann Kassim

Addiction, a complex brain disease, often manifests as a maladaptive coping mechanism, shrouded in denial and shame. Individuals battling addiction frequently resort to wearing metaphorical masks, each representing a different role they play in society. These masks, however, are not the typical ones we wear in our daily lives, such as being a parent at home or a professional at work. Instead, these masks are deeply rooted in the denial and shame associated with addiction, making it challenging for addicts to reveal their true selves.

The Intricacies of Addiction

Addiction is a chronic disease that affects the brain's reward, motivation, and memory functions. It's characterized by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences. People with addiction have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point where it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.

The path to addiction begins with the voluntary act of taking substances. But over time, a person's ability to choose not to do so becomes compromised. Seeking and consuming the drug becomes compulsive. This behavior largely results from the effects of prolonged drug exposure on brain functioning.

The Masks of Addiction

Addicts wear masks to hide their vulnerability and the shame associated with their addiction. These masks serve to portray a facade of functionality in their lives. Some of the common masks worn by addicts include:

The Plastic Gangster

This mask represents an individual who appears tough and aggressive, blaming the world for their problems and picking fights with perceived enemies. Beneath this aggressive exterior, however, is a person yearning for connection and love. They believe that people would not like them if they knew their true selves, and this belief cements their aggressive attitude and outlook on the world.

The Tortured Artist/Genius

This mask is worn by those who feel they were denied opportunities to succeed in life. They harbor ambitions and yearn for fame, but their addictive behavior blocks any meaningful achievement. They see others as having had every chance to succeed, but pity their own misfortune greatly.

The Love God/Goddess

This mask is characterized by an intense focus on sex as the most important need. There is never enough lovers nor are there enough opportunities to have sex. However, this obsession often hampers the individual's ability to establish a functional, intimate relationship.

The King/Queen Baby

This mask represents a person who expects to get everything they want without putting in the necessary effort. They believe they deserve more attention, happiness, and wealth, but lack the humility to earn these things. They do not break a sweat to attain the riches they so dearly desire.

The Drama Queen/King: 

This mask is worn by those who dramatize every event in their life, seeking pity and support for their perceived difficulties. While this may be entertaining in the short term, it is exhausting and unrealistic in the long run. A simpler life can be found in the stability gained in recovery.

Mr./Mrs. Wonderful: The Pleaser

Addicts often don the mask of Mr./Mrs. Wonderful, driven by a need to please others. This need stems from a belief that they are unworthy of friendship, a result of the shame associated with addiction. They may engage in self-sacrificing acts, such as compulsive helping, to portray themselves as lovable and adorable. However, this facade can only be shed through recovery, where one learns to be authentically loving and caring.

Mr./Mrs. Nobody: The Ghost

This mask is worn out of deep self-pity and depression. It's a denial of one's personality and spirit, often leading to a lack of self-care and self-destructive behaviors. Addicts know they are meant for something greater, but it's only through treatment that they can peel away this stubborn mask of self-denial.

Mr./Mrs. Perfect: The Perfectionist

This mask presents the addict as the best in their trade or profession, hiding tremendous insecurity and difficulty accepting imperfections. In recovery, addicts learn to live with their imperfections, embracing their humanity.

Little Princess/Little Lord: The Entitled

This mask is closely related to the King/Queen Baby mask, focusing on the servitude of others rather than mere entitlement. Wearing this mask isolates the addict from others, often seen as narcissistic behavior. In recovery, addicts learn to connect with what they need from others, rather than what they want.

The Time Waster: The Procrastinator

This mask is all about wasting time, often indulging in addictive behaviors to avoid reality and life. In recovery, addicts learn to maximize their use of time and appreciate each moment.

The Clown: The Entertainer

The Clown mask is worn by those who believe they are only acceptable if others can laugh at their jokes. In recovery, the addict learns what vulnerabilities lay beneath this mask.

The Path to Recovery

Recovery from addiction involves removing these masks to reveal the true self beneath. This process can only begin when an individual abstains from their addiction, allowing them to see within and muster the courage to be themselves once again. The journey to recovery is a lifelong process, but with the right support and treatment, individuals can learn healthier coping mechanisms, manage their emotions, and lead fulfilling lives.

Recovery is not a matter of willpower alone. Rather, it often involves a combination of medication, counseling, and other support services. These treatments can help people with addiction overcome their substance use disorders and regain control over their lives.

At Solace Asia, we aim to remove these masks, one at a time. It's a process of self-discovery and re-creation, leading to a fulfilling life. For more information, we are always happy to help.

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