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How to Starve the Monster of Addiction

All things are difficult before they are easy - Thomas Fuller

There are 5 recognised stages of quitting an addiction

  • Pre contemplation: ‘Problem? What problem?’
  • Contemplation: ‘I might have a problem here.’
  • Preparation: ‘I need to cut down, cut back’
  • Action: ‘This habit has got to go’
  • Maintenance and relapse: ‘I’ve got to stay free of this now. If I lapse I have to get back on track’

When Anna attended her first coaching session, she was definitely in the action phase. She’d already enrolled on a 12 step programme but felt she needed some one-to-one support as well.

Like most, Anna’s addiction to crack cocaine didn’t appear overnight. It happened slowly and insidiously and, right up to when she hit her lowest point, she still thought she had it under control.

Like most too, Anna had a story that was tough to hear.

Anna’s Story


 I lived in the rough part of London, with my mum and alcoholic father.

The violence began when I was just 9. It was already hard enough living on the estate; let alone coming home to get beaten up by my father.

I remember once seeing him lying on the couch, knocked out to the world. I crept past to my bedroom and shut the door quietly. But he woke up and came in, shouting and swearing, kicking and punching me over and over, leaving me hospitalised with a broken jaw, cracked ribs and bruises. He attacked my mum too, but I was my father’s favourite target.

At 12, I got into a girl gang. Now, just getting to school became a problem cos I had to get past rival gangs. Sometimes things would spiral out of control and end up in a brawl and people would end up beaten up or even stabbed. This was at 7.30 in the morning. What a great start to the day!

One time, me and my friend Rose, were walking through the estates on the way to school and got attacked. I was stabbed 7 times; Rose 22. Three weeks later I woke up in intensive care only to discover Rose had died next to me on the floor. I was lucky to survive but felt a real burden of guilt.

I started using cannabis at the weekends but, before I knew it, was smoking every day, which led to petty crime to fund the habit and I started experimenting with different types of drugs.

I took my first hit of Crack Cocaine when I was just 17 and thought, ‘I know it is bad but one hit can’t harm me, can it?’ But it started escalating. I became dependent and was using every day, but still telling myself everything is fine and under control. By 20 my habit had grown from £20 to £50 per day.

Even so, I decided to get back into studying and went to uni. Another year went by and, instead of giving up my habit it had escalated to £100 per day but I still never thought crack was the problem and carried on smoking. It escalated to £120 per day, but I thought I was doing really. I even managed to get my degree.

At 29 I met the love of my life and, in the first few years of being with my boyfriend, my drug taking went down but never stopped. We had a privileged life with a wonderful relationship, going on holidays and managed to buy a home as well, but there was still something missing. My boyfriend knew I used to take drugs before we met, but I lied to him about still taking them. He questioned me a number of times about using, but I would get angry and defensive and just palmed it off whenever he confronted me.

The next few years nothing changed much. I was smoking crack and telling myself ‘I have had enough of this’ but still couldn’t stop. By 34 my drug habit escalated to £150 to £200 per day. The next few years were the worst, lying to my family saying I was going away for work but really going on massive benders spending up to a £1000 a week on drugs, and still telling myself everything is under control.

By 38, I had spent every single penny I had, and it was only when I was trying to remortgage my home to fund the drugs, that I said to myself ‘what the **** am I doing?’

I looked into the mirror and finally admitted to myself I had a major drug addiction.


Restoring hope

How do you give people hope of change when they have hit rock bottom?This is not so. This is a belief system that began in 1934 and has not been challenged enough.

The mis-diagnosing and mis-interpretation of behaviour has led to an epidemic of people believing that they are powerless. NOT SO. How do help people find their place of empowerment, their place of hope, the place where their truth lies.

How do we get them to realise that they have empowered the substance with magical powers, something we do in childhood to cope and develop psychologically?

How do we get them to recognise that at this moment in time the are placing their power into a bottle or joint, or a bong, or a powder?

How do we get them to take the power out of that substance and put the focus on growing the truth of who they are….

Reclaim their dreams, hope and aspirations and grow.’

Dr Hugh Quigley, author of ‘Starve the Monster’, says:

One of the things we have to remember when we use any substance, be it alcohol, be it drugs, is that the frontal lobe of the brain; the part that actually helps us look at the consequences of our decisions, switches off a bit.

 Therefore, we are not able to think about the consequences of doing this or doing that.

 We wake up the next morning with foggy brain. We’re not functioning properly during the day. We think we’re brilliant and we’re doing absolutely wonderful but we’re only functioning at a very, very small part of our potential because part of the brain has been switched off by the substance.

 The monster takes control in order to be fed.


Starving the monster

It can be very useful to think of an addiction as a monster; something alien, something separate from who we really are.

Addictions are driven by the emotional brain and we know that emotional arousal switches of rational thought. The two hemispheres of our brain are, in fact much of the time, locked in a battle for dominance. So anything that ‘buys time’ between reaction and response will be a useful mind management tool.

Mindful awareness techniques like the Fusion STOP System™ help clients ride the waves of emotion until the emotion, and the urge, subside and they are back in control again. Many years ago, holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and creator of Logo Therapy, Viktor Frankl, famously observed: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom’


Reclaiming dreams

Dr Quigley is in favour of restoring hope through any kind of personal empowerment. He says:

‘Often, when I get to see clients, they have been through all the services; had all the mislabeling and have started to believe that this will be them for the rest of their lives.

 This is not so.

 The mis-diagnosing and mis-interpretation of behaviour has led to an epidemic of people believing they are powerless. We need to help people find their place of empowerment, their place of hope, the place where their truth lies, so they can recognise they have been placing their power into a bottle or joint, or a bong, or a powder.

 My role is to help them take the power out of that substance and put the focus on growing the truth of who they are, reclaiming their dreams, hope and aspirations.’


Two wolves

For my part, I love the power of a therapeutic story and think this version of an old Navaho tale makes the point well:

Late into the evening, an old man sat by the camp fire, his grandson beside him on the ground. The heat of the fire warms their outstretched hands.

Gazing into the embers, the old man spoke softly:

 ‘My child, ‘ he said ‘Inside you, and inside all of us, there is a ferocious battle going on between two large and powerful wolves. It is a fight to the death.’ 

One is the wolf of greed and desire. The other is the wolf of peace and freedom’.

The old man gazed deep into the fire.

The young boy, unsettled by the old man’s words, turned to his grandfather.

‘But grandfather,’ he whispered, ‘which of the wolves will win the ferocious battle?’

The old man looked into the eyes of the boy and replied

‘That is easy to predict, my child’ he said

It is the one you choose to feed.’



Thanks to Alexis Dudley-Smith for the anonimised client case report and to Dr Hugh Quigley for case comment.

Mindfulness Based Mind Management (advanced MBSR), Post natal depression, solution focus, guided visualisation, addiction, epigenetics, mapping the connectome, polyvagal theory, the reticular activating system (RAS), secondary gain, trauma resolution, coaching for kids, treating depression, worrying well, working SMART, therapeutic stories, insight, psycho education, suicide prevention, affirmations, positive mental rehearsal, imagery, dissociation, goal setting, new paradigms, reframes, fast track learning, perception shifting, self actualisation, positive psychology, reframing, metaphor, personal empowerment, motivational thinking, lifting depression, the happiness principle, resilience and resourcefulness, human flourishing, anchoring, rewiring your brain, the STOP System, the SAFE SPACE happiness recipe, holistic coaching and working on the continuum of wellbeing plus many other professional theories, tools and techniques underpin the content of the fast paced, fast track, Fusion training programmes. 


Frances Masters

Frances Masters is a BACP accredited psychotherapist with over 30,000 client hours of experience. Follow her @fusioncoachuk, or visit The Integrated Coaching Academy for details about up coming training.