Seven Steps to Help Generation Z Fight and Beat Addiction

Is it just me, or have you noticed the disproportionate number of students who have addictions today? I hear Generation Z students freely acknowledge addictions to pot, vaping, sex, alcohol, and even their smart phone. The negative stigma for being an addict seems to be evaporating.

Wait. I just read the research. It’s not just me noticing this. And it’s not just kids.

Let’s examine the narrative of alcoholism.

“Global alcohol use continues to rise, and it’s expected to continue to rise in the years ahead,” according to a new study from The Lancet; “in the past 27 years, the total volume of alcohol increased by 70 percent, from 5.5 billion gallons in 1990 to 9.4 billion gallons in 2017.”

According to the report, Europe and Australia consume more alcohol than people in North America do (the U.S. and Canada); however, there is a big difference in ability to handle alcoholic intake. Those in Europe and Australia seem to be able to handle their drinking. They mind their Ps and Qs, (their “pints and quarts.”) On the other hand, those in the U.S. are more prone to become alcoholics. We are always into bigger and better. We love to supersize our consumption. We lose control.

According to a May 8th report in USA Today, by the year 2030 it is forecast that half the world’s population will be drinkers, and almost a quarter (23%) will binge-drink at least once a month.

Why is this addiction so widespread?

The Facts Behind Addictive Behavior

I believe addictions are on the rise today because people haven’t developed healthy coping skills. Instead, addictions are appropriately called coping mechanisms. We are a generation that is stressed out and overwhelmed and drinking is an escape. It’s a way of dealing with the anxiety. It’s a way of medicating.

And if students see adults cope with life in this way, what do we expect them to do?

Couple this with teens’ ever increasing “external locus of control” and you’ve got a powder keg on your hands. An external locus of control, according to psychologist Julian Rotter, is a person’s outlook that assumes some person or outside force is in control of their outcomes. It’s embraced by those who feel overwhelmed, victimized, or otherwise irresponsible for their own life. Because this is a growing reality for students today, they are more prone to addictive behavior.

Consider this reality: If you are a student and you feel overwhelmed by your daily life, you’re prone to assume an external locus of control. With that outlook, it is difficult to combat addictions since you don’t really believe you’re responsible. You feel more like a victim who needs someone else to intervene.

Mark is a vivid example. He struggled with depression and could not seem to get the dosage right on his medication. When he drank, he felt relief from his mental health issue. So, he drank. And drank some more. Soon he was binging. He felt better for a while, but then he found himself in greater need of wine, whiskey, or vodka. Finally, he turned himself in to a rehab clinic and was treated over a period of four days. He’s not consumed alcohol since but is now on “this side” of the battle. He needs a plan. 

Seven Steps to Help Them Win the Fight

Let me offer the following seven steps to fight addiction, that can complement getting professional help. Whether it’s you or a student you know, try these simple ideas. Each one is about a “fight” they must put up in order to overcome addictions:

1. Discuss how addiction makes us slaves and how we must fight for mastery.

I believe humans are at their best when they’re free from the bondage of any substance. When I’m addicted to anything in order to cope, it makes me a slave. I must fight for self-leadership- the mastery of myself.

2. Encourage them to “own” their life by fighting for an internal locus of control.

With an “internal locus of control,” I begin to take responsibility for my life and my problems—even addictions. I stop blaming others for my problem, and I stop depending on someone else to fix it. I can say, “if it is to be, it’s up to me.”

3. Teach them to fight cognitive distortions by speaking a hopeful narrative.

Cognitive distortions are “lies” I tell myself when I’m feeling badly: I can never overcome this; my future is bleak; I’m no good at math; etc. The best solution is to speak words that describe a growth mindset: “I’m not good at math…yet.”

4. Request they fight isolation and join a supportive community.

One of the surest ways to be trapped in an addiction is to go it alone. Most of us need support and accountability, like an A.A. or N.A. meeting. We must find people we respect and who love us unconditionally to join us in the journey.

5. Enable them to fight a “cold turkey” approach by finding substitutes.

Most addictions or habits are overcome when we find a healthy substitute for them. Over the years, millions of people have chewed gum in order to quit smoking. Help your students replace an old addiction with a positive habit.

6. Point out any progress they make and encourage them to fight for more.

Learned helplessness (as Martin Seligman taught us) occurs when we see no progress after lots of effort. We stop trying. When we point out progress, endorphins flow from seeing improvement and the feeling of hope.

7. Help them to not merely stop “using” but to fight for a different life.

Free people who stay free don’t just “will” their way to stop practicing the addiction. Transformation happens when we actually choose a different life. We must see ourselves differently and swap our old lifestyle for a new one.

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Seven Steps to Help Generation Z Fight and Beat Addiction