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Cognitive and Emotion Control in Adolescent Addicts
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In the last section, we discussed the four tasks of adolescence I have observed in my practice. These are, to determine a vocation, to establish personal values, to explore personal sexuality, and to establish personal authority.
In this section, we will discuss the four basic types of power plays I find that teenage addicts use when attempting to gain control of a situation and keep emotional pain at bay. These types are avoider, blamer, controller, and protector. We will also discuss the 5 Steps to Anger Deflection exercise
Four Types of Power Plays
♦ #1 - Avoider
The first type of power play I find in addicted teens is the avoider power play. As you are aware, this power play is linked to the denial self-defense mechanism. I find that teenagers who use the avoider power play have not met the self-esteem need to belong, and tend to feel rejected, alone, and hurt. Avoider power plays include looking for attention, whining, and throwing up smoke screens to distract others from the real problem.
Angie, 14, addicted to marijuana, stated, "I wish I lived with my friend Mia’s parents. Everyone else gets to stay out until 1 am!" I find that other common statements made by teenagers using the avoider power play are, "I don’t have a problem" "I don’t know how to do it. You do it for me." "I always have to wash the dishes. Why can’t my brother do it once in a while?" and "drinking at parties is no big deal!"
♦ #2 - Blamer
In my experience, the second type of power play is the blamer power play. This power play is an expression of the projection of self-defense, in which the addicted teen passes their self-hatred on to others close to them. In my experience, addicted teens who cannot meet the self-esteem need to be somebody, as discussed in Section 5, tend to feel inferior and disgusted with themselves.
Blamer power plays include dumping, accusing, judging, threatening, and bullying. In my experience, common statements made by addicted teens using blamer power plays include, "I hate you, I wish you weren’t my parents!" "You don’t really care about me!" "you better let me, or else" "the teachers are out to get me" "this place sucks" and "you’ll only make me smoke pot even more!" Are you or a colleague currently treating a blamer power player who might benefit from listening to this section?
♦ #3 - Controller
The third type of power play is the controller power play. I find that this power play is part of the rationalization self defense mechanism, which is a result of failing to meet the self-esteem need to be oneself. As you know, teenagers who fail to meet this need often feel insecure, fragile, and ashamed. They question their own personal worth, so they invent ‘reasons’ for their behavior, and perceive any criticism of their behavior as an attack.
In my experience, controller power plays include calculating, figuring adults out, conning, and getting ‘one up’ and the adults in their lives. As you may have experienced, common statements made by addicted teens using the controller power play include, "Straight kids are no fun to hang out with" "I don’t have to tell you where I’m going" "school is boring. I can’t stand the teachers" "it’s my life, I’ll live it the way I want!" and "I don’t need to graduate anyway".
♦ #4 - Protector
In addition to the avoider, blamer, and controller power plays, the fourth type of power play is the protector power play. As you know, this power play is used by addicted teens who have not met the need to establish a set of personal values. I find that these teens feel helpless, hopeless, and ‘not good enough’. They look for others to make them feel better about themselves.
As you are aware, these teens tend to comply and do things so others will like them. This is involved in the self defense mechanism of minimizing, trying to make one’s pain look less serious than it is. Protector power plays include pleasing people, being nice, always saying yes, and downplaying the seriousness of unacceptable behaviors.
I find that common statements made by addicted teens using the protector power play include, "everything is fine, really" "I only had a couple of beers at the party" "sure, I’ll tell your parents you were at my house" and "my boyfriend isn’t that bad. He’s had a hard time with his parents. You just have to understand him."
Non-addicted teens use these power plays as well, but as you have probably experienced, adults can usually cut through the games. Even thought these teens are also using self-defense mechanisms to mask emotional pain, they can still accept the reality presented by concerned others, and adjust their thinking accordingly. Addicted teens, as you are well aware, are far more firmly locked into their delusional system.
Tony, 16, was arrested for driving under the influence. When the police searched his car, they found alcohol and cocaine. When I spoke with Tony, he denied that the drugs belonged to him. He stated, "man, the police are out to get me. I only had a couple of beers. Besides, all the kids are doing it." Tony did agree to attend DWI classes, but only to avoid going to jail.
♦ 5 Steps to Anger Deflection
Tony frequently used the four power plays against his father, Mark. Mark told me, "no matter what I say to him, it makes things worse. He gets angrier, so I get angry too."
I suggested that Mark might try the 5 Steps to Anger Deflection exercise.
(1) I told Mark that the first step was to listen to Tony’s angry statement openly.
(2) The second step was to show Tony he understood his feelings by telling Tony, "I understand that you are angry right now."
(3) Third, I told Mark he should ask calmly for Tony to explain anything he didn’t understand from Tony’s angry statement, and listen calmly and quietly to Tony’s answer.
(4) Next, I suggested to Mark that he repeat key statements from Tony’s explanation, to show he understood why Tony was angry.
(5) Finally, I told Mark that when Tony had calmed down, he should explain his own feelings and opinions on the issue.
I suggested to Mark that it might be easier to get Tony to listen to him by expressing himself using mostly "I" statements, and waiting to explain his feelings until he was calm.
In this section, we have discussed the four kinds of power plays used by chemically addicted teenagers: the avoider, blamer, controller, and protector power plays. We also discussed the 5 Steps to Anger Deflection exercise.
In the next section, we will discuss the three types of enablers to chemically addicted teens, and the patterns in which they react to problems caused by the addiction.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Sullivan, E. V., Brumback, T., Tapert, S. F., Fama, R., Prouty, D., Brown, S. A., Cummins, K., Thompson, W. K., Colrain, I. M., Baker, F. C., De Bellis, M. D., Hooper, S. R., Clark, D. B., Chung, T., Nagel, B. J., Nichols, B. N., Rohlfing, T., Chu, W., Pohl, K. M., & Pfefferbaum, A. (2016). Cognitive, emotion control, and motor performance of adolescents in the NCANDA study: Contributions from alcohol consumption, age, sex, ethnicity, and family history of addiction. Neuropsychology, 30(4), 449–473.
Wills, T. A., Ainette, M. G., Stoolmiller, M., Gibbons, F. X., & Shinar, O. (2008). Good self-control as a buffering agent for adolescent substance use: An investigation in early adolescence with time-varying covariates. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 22(4), 459–471.
Wills, T. A., & Stoolmiller, M. (2002). The role of self-control in early escalation of substance use: A time-varying analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(4), 986–997.
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