mindset recovery

Addiction, “Brain Lock” Plus One

Addiction and compulsion, whether to substances or behaviors, can feel like an insurmountable challenge. However, Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz’s “Brain Lock” method offers a practical and effective approach to overcoming these struggles, provided there is support and consistent effort. This cognitive-behavioral therapy technique, originally developed for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is also valuable for addressing addictive behaviors. The “Brain Lock” method involves four key steps: Relabel, Reattribute, Refocus, and Revalue. Here’s how these steps can be applied to combat addiction.

Step 1: Relabel

The first step, Relabel, involves recognizing and identifying addictive thoughts and urges for what they are: manifestations of addiction, not genuine needs. By mentally labeling these impulses, or “naming,” things like “hunger,” “craving,” or “compulsion,” as part of the addiction, individuals can begin to separate themselves from the behavior. Essential to this step is conscious awareness of what it feels like in the body as these urges initiate. For example, instead of thinking, “I need a drink,” reframe it as, “This is my addiction talking.”

Step 2: Reattribute

Reattribute focuses on understanding that these addictive urges are driven by the brain’s chemical processes rather than personal failure or weakness. This step involves acknowledging that the addiction is a result of neurological pathways that have become ingrained over time. It represents a dopamine or endorphin “hunger” on the part of the brain that, early in your life, lacked the necessary conditions for their full development. It also represents emotional needs that went unsatisfied. By reattributing the source of the urge to a brain process, individuals can reduce feelings of guilt and shame, making it easier to resist the compulsion.

Step 3: Refocus

Refocusing is the most action-oriented step, asking that individuals shift attention away from the addictive urge and engage in a healthy, productive activity that is aligned with a larger “desired” way of being instead. This might include exercise, healthy hobbies, or social interactions. The key here is to delay acting on the addiction, ideally for at least 15 (or more) minutes, to allow the intensity of the urge to diminish. Over time, consistently refocusing helps to weaken the neural pathways associated with the addiction.

Step 4: Revalue

The final step, Revalue, involves deepening the understanding that the addictive behavior is not valuable or beneficial, despite the brain’s deceptive signals. This step requires ongoing reflection on the negative consequences of the addiction and the positive outcomes of resisting it. It is useful to keep a journal to monitor your behaviors and thought-patterns. With the space that Step 3 created, perhaps the perceived value of the addictive behavior has lessened? By consistently revaluing, individuals can reinforce their commitment to recovery and strengthen the resolve to establish and maintain healthier habits.

Step 5: ReCreate

The four steps above allow you to recognize and repair beliefs, patterns and behaviors, but this additional step, set forth be Dr. Gabor Mate allow you to be a creator of the life you see yourself capable of living. Instead of living in the creation and eyes of others, paint a picture of what you really want and stay true to that intention. It’s not just about setting an intention that will allow you to succeed, as there will be stumbles along the way, but about keeping it close to your heart and getting back to it when things don’t go according to plan.

This method details a framework for addressing addiction by leveraging cognitive-behavioral techniques to change the way the brain recognizes and responds to addictive or compulsive impulses. By practicing these steps individuals can gradually gain control over addictions and obsessive behaviors, paving the way for a different, healthier and more fulfilling life. Remember, this is a process, not a short-term “fix”, and utilizing these steps might be a powerful way to achieve long-term recovery.

This is not a substitute to coaching or therapy. Do not hesitate to establish a support network with trusted professionals.


I work with mid-life men and women who want to feel younger through improving their relationship to food, movement and mindfulness.

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