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The Role of Ego in Addiction


This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

This content has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified addiction therapist and a board-certified physician.

Table of Contents

You’ve probably heard it said before: addiction is a disease that breeds in isolation. For many people who struggle with substance abuse, the biggest factor preventing them from getting better is their own ego. People can feel compelled to hide or cover up their destructive habits, allowing them to build and worsen over time. Once you realize you need help, it may be too late for you to reach out to someone without experiencing intense shame, stigma, or judgment. These fears can keep people locked into addictive cycles for a long time. The best thing you can do for yourself is to understand that your well-being is more important than how you are perceived or perceive yourself. It may be painful to break the illusion of having everything figured out and under control, but it’s not as painful as allowing addiction to take over your life because you’re afraid to get help.
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Addiction Drives a Wedge

Most people try not to expose their addiction to the special people in their lives. Suppose you spend time doing addictive drugs or engaging in risky behavior. In that case, you’ll only share those experiences with the people you’ve mentally accepted into that circle of your life–dealers, fellow users, and people “in the know.” Otherwise, most people tend to remove their substance abuse or destructive habits from the important people around them. It’s a form of mental compartmentalization that allows a person to justify their actions without worrying about hurting someone, being looked down upon, being misunderstood, or being reprimanded.

Unfortunately, humans are social creatures and social safety nets exist for a reason: they tend to work. Admitting that you have a problem requires you to cross that gap and be vulnerable to another person. If you don’t do that, you run the risk of being stuck and having your life slowly deteriorate. Addiction isn’t like a room you can simply walk out of; it creates a chemical dependency in your brain that can’t be solved simply by deciding to quit one day. It’s harder to get out of than it is to fall into, and just because you decided to indulge in these behaviors on your own, you will still need help when you want to stop.

Digging a Hole

The reasons that someone chooses to hide the extent of their substance abuse habits from others are the same reasons that will eventually lead them to dig themselves into a hole. Isolation begins because a person may not want others to worry, judge, or misunderstand them, so it seems easier to simply keep one’s habits to themselves. In this way, a person’s drug habits or other forms of destructive behavior become an issue contained within their own mind. This begins to drive a wedge between the version of the self which other people know and the “true,” or inner, self, which includes their substance abuse and any other habits they choose to hide.

As a person’s habits intensify, keeping up the dual-personality act becomes more difficult. By the time you begin to realize that you might have a problem, your addiction may have spiraled to the point that it causes you shame or self-loathing to admit it. You may be deterred from reaching out for help by the fact that, since you’ve been lying about it for so long, opening up about it now would mean coming clean in a major way. Your ego might interpret this as a chance for you to appear untrustworthy, weak, or needy. These are all opposite sides of the same coin: ego as an isolating factor that prevents you from getting help.

Making Decisions Based on the People You Trust

Whether they realize it or not, when a person gets to a point where their addictive behavior drives a wedge between them and their loved ones, they are falling into the trap of ego if they are offered help and don’t receive it. The temptation to deal with one’s problems alone comes from the idea that you don’t need help and can understand and take care of yourself just fine.

Accordingly, learning to reduce your ego is a key component of a successful recovery. For many, this may come all at once, as a person accepts that they need other people’s assistance to get out of their hole. For others, this acceptance happens gradually, as they slowly begin to understand the importance of honesty and listening to the people around them.

The work of reducing the ego and opening yourself up to the help of others can happen in therapy, treatment, or, in some circumstances, at home. When it happens, beating the desire to keep everything inside can make a difference when breaking free from addiction. For many, taking the first leap of faith and opening up to people who can help you can be the most difficult mental barrier to overcome. It means finally confronting and accepting a version of yourself that you might not want to admit exists. At Cornerstone Healing Center, we treat the whole person, not just the addiction. Our expert counselors work with you individually to take that crucial step and make lasting changes in every aspect of your life. We offer a personalized approach that uses evidence-based treatment to help you reach your recovery goals. Call (800) 643-2108 to learn more.

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lionel estrada lisac clinical director


Lionel, a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with over 4 years at Cornerstone. Passionate about helping those with addiction, he has trained as an EMDR therapist  adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues of addiction, providing an empathetic approach to addiction.

Articles written prior to August 2023 were also clinically reviewed by Karen Williams, LPC 

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