This week I wanted to talk about the role of fantasy in the disease of Addiction. It is important to remember that Addiction is a brain disease and, therefore, impacts thinking. The disease can create cognitive distortions, which can mean completely fabricated stories or elaborations on situations that are real and the disease spins portions of it to become unreal. For example, a barista in a coffee shop has talked to you before (that is real) but the brain spins a whole story about a relationship with that barista starting (which is unreal, it has not happened). Fantasy operates in this way within the disease. The fantasy stories (which are often quite appealing) can be completely made-up by the brain or they take real situations and distort them.
Living in fantasy provides a dopamine hit for the brain much like drugs, alcohol and other behaviours so it can be enticing to live in the world of fantasy. However, it comes at a cost as Addiction is aggravated by fantasy and, therefore, other behaviours are more at risk of being activated, including use of drugs or alcohol. Fantasy also serves as a distraction and escape from reality, including real relationships, work, challenges, and feelings, so often real world problems grow while fantasy is active because you are not tuned in to reality.
It can be hard to know when your brain is living in fantasy compared to when it is living in reality as the scripts and stories will seem very convincing and believable. This is the reason that it is so important to have supports who understand the disease and can provide you their perspective. Check out what your brain is telling you with others, this would be called a “reality check” so that if you are living in fantasy, that you can come back to reality.
These messages are developed by Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist and Clinical Services Director at HUM
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