maladaptive behavior and addiction

What is maladaptive behavior?

Maladaptive means not providing adequate or appropriate adjustment to the environment or situation. Maladaptive behaviors are those which some people use to avoid directly confronting the discomfort of new situations or environments. They ease the pain of not being willing to adjust to new situations. The use of drugs and alcohol to reduce this pain without having to change is a common maladaptive behavior.

Unfortunately, this almost never works out well. Avoiding situations because of unrealistic fears may initially reduce anxiety, but this avoidance is just that: it does not solve the actual problems. Eventually, problems can become so big that the pain of avoiding them is overwhelming. They can no longer be ignored. This is when turning to alcohol or drugs for refuge instead of working to address a challenge is considered maladaptive behavior.

How do we determine if a behavior is maladaptive?

In the beginning, these substances create the impression for their abusers that they are escaping their problems, but this is only a temporary reprieve. They are actually making things much worse, and they risk falling into addiction. Some of these people may have an undiagnosed mental health condition— such as depression or anxiety disorder—and they begin to self-medicate. Whatever the underlying cause, as time passes the damage caused by the substance abuse outweighs any benefits that people exhibiting this maladaptive behavior may be getting. These people often do not recognize this. Sadly, by the time they escape their denial they will already be addicted to these substances.

Examples of maladaptive alcohol use

  • Drinking due to your job, relationships, or other stressors
  • Drinking because of your anxiety.
  • Drinking due to boredom.
  • Drinking because you feel like something is missing in your life.
  • Drinking to forget.

When Maladaptive Behavior Catches Up with You

Eventally, a person struggling with drugs or alcohol can lose all hope. Hopelessness fuels more substance use, as the person struggling figures there’s no way out anyway. Although this is a very common feeling, it’s simply not true. If that’s where you are, please know you are not alone. Reach out for help. Recovery works!

Speak to a iWILL ’til iRECOVER counselor who’s been where you are now.
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