Lack of belief in free will may undermine addiction treatment

report being a past daily drinker, according to one of Vonasch’s studies.

“Even among former daily drinkers, people with stronger beliefs in free will were more likely to have successfully quit,” he said. “[These findings] are consistent with meta-analyses of successful treatments of addiction. If people do have control over their addictions, this has important implications for how to help people stop their addictive behaviors. One implication is that telling people who are struggling that they lack control may actually be counterproductive, because thinking it’s impossible to quit may make it harder for people to quit. People who think addiction limits free will seem to be more likely to give up and not try to stop their addictive behaviors.”

Vonasch emphasized that some of the most effective approaches to addiction treatment focus more on encouraging people to quit after they recognize the severity of their problems than on treating the symptoms of the substance use disorder.

“Other types of treatment are most effective when people really buy in because they really strongly want to quit,” he added. “Just because people have free will does not mean it is easy to quit or that everyone will succeed. It’s difficult, and support and understanding from their community will help them. Stigmatizing and criminalizing addictive behavior is unhelpful and likely to be counterproductive. Quitting is possible, especially when people have support from others, and they truly believe they are capable of quitting.”