Addiction, Schema, and Reason: Emotions and Cognitive Structures

The addict, and others in general, are influenced through a variety of factors. From the influential factors of an addiction, impressions are made in regard to who an addict may be. For this discussion I would like to acknowledge a psychological component that can allow for further discussions of compassion, empathy, and the paradoxical experience of addiction. The cognitive structures that are secured within addiction leave an individual grappling with the existence of, and estrangement from, awareness of one’s concept towards an individualized self, which I am referring to as knowledge. I am pulling at the notions of an addict’s awareness and cognitive structures that allow for one to formulate reason, and the cognitive structures of others who observe the addict grappling with the paradoxical estrangement from knowledge.

“Cognitive schemas are considered to have a key role in the development and maintenance of psychological disorders as well as in their recurrence and relapse, and so an understanding of schemas may help to explain vulnerability” (Cockram, Drummond, and Lee, 2010, p. 166).

Though my studies have not focused on the cognitive psychologies, it is appropriate to speak to the cognitive orientation, as we can set the attention upon our individual biases and our tendencies of intellectually assessing an individual’s situational and dispositional justifications. In discussing the cognitive schema’s of addiction, I am speaking from a cognitive orientation, at the moment separate from a behavioral approach, which usually “stressed the impact of early events on the later experience of psychopathology through the development of negative cognitive styles” (Cockram, Drummond, and Lee, 2010, p. 166). The behavioral aspects of addiction are of importance as well, and should be acknowledged. I appreciate how from a cognitive model we can consider the biases that both the addict and other may hold in regard to addiction.

I had written more on the topics of compassion, empathy, and paradox in regard to addiction:

Empathy and Addiction: A Quest for Connection, September 7, 2013
Torment and Addiction: The Shadow and Paradox, December 15, 2012
A Paradox: The Chaos of Truth, October 20, 2012
The Struggle Towards Compassion, July 8, 2012

To briefly define the mentioned terms, an individual’s schema consists of knowledge that has been integrated and allows for the individual’s judgments to predict outcomes. “Schemata allow us to form theories about the world which we then test out by our actions” (Hayes, 2000, p. 361). A person’s scripts, then, is the succession of behaviors that are appropriate for a given situation, which “are built up through our experience, and applied in the relevant situations as seems appropriate” (Hayes, 2000, p. 372). The individual’s prototype consists of the most symbolic pattern or characteristic, which may categorize an object or person.  As “schemata incorporate domain-specific knowledge about the world…schemata represent everything that is plausible” The prototype then is of “all the characteristic default values…prototypes are often used in the formulation of metaphors to depict what we commonly consider the outstanding salient feature of a concept” (Way, 1994, p. 117).

As the addict engaged in an addiction may experience an element of awareness, it is the ego’s desirousness within addiction that creates an estrangement from knowledge, which I refer to as dissociative states. The addiction may become a spirituality from which a supposed knowledge and cognitive structure may originate. The addiction provides a way in which the individual may attain an existence, a ritualistic relation that unifies one with knowledge of that which is greater than ones self. “Schemas can filter information, selecting certain stimuli to be attached and remembered, affecting the way inferences are drawn about that information” (Aronson, and Reilly, 2006, p. 372).

The intention here is to consider the biases that may affect reason and proclaimed truths; to have our schemas, scripts, and prototypes considered, to acknowledge the existence and reasons for our own biases that may interfere with the attempts to address what addiction may be. Might we consider how our cognitive schemata’s, prototypes, and scripts will formulate reason; to look at how our cognitive reasoning may shape the ways in which judgment, stereotypes, blame, etc. shield us from alternative perceptions? Considering the notion of scripts, for the most part we “follow scripts unconsciously—in fact, we often only become aware of them when something happens which is outside the script” (Hayes, 2000, p. 372).

Returning to the struggle of addiction, the attention for this writing is on the cognitive schema, prototypes, and scripts that may seemingly encapsulate how one may integrate, acknowledge, or conceive of an addiction. “Schemas are networks of associations used by the individual to organize and process information about the world” (Aronson, and Reilly, 2006, p. 372). The addict’s schemata struggles to assimilate, or integrate knowledge that might expose factors which indoctrinate the psychology, or behaviors and reason, the justifications are separate from the physiological responses to the addiction. Note that it is not only the addict who encounters evident difficulty to assimilate material that what would not confirm a schemata. It is a struggle we all encounter at some point.

In addition to the cognitive structures of addiction, when we discuss addiction, there is an emotional component seemingly interwoven within the cognitive assertions in how the symbolic pattern or characteristic of addiction is conceived. The cognitions of an addict and other are important factors to consider when attempting dialogue in regard to addiction as “human processing of information is often mediated by schemas (Aronson, and Reilly, 2006, p. 372). An understanding of how the addict interprets this experience of life would shed light on the seemingly forgotten relation of reason and history; how history has shaped the cognitive structures that allow for reason to exist. The actions of addiction, then, conflict with and support aspects of societies common scripts. We use the “schemata to decipher the components and elements of what is happening around us; similar to the process of deciphering a sentence by breaking it down into its grammatical and meaningful components” (Hayes, 2000, p. 362).

The focus is on the schema of addiction, for both the addict and other to potentially accommodate, or even assimilate the various cognitive underpinnings that give structure to an individuals understanding of addiction, meaning, to incorporate views of addiction that may allow for a more malleable individualistic approach to the occurrence of and to the individual who is addicted. The incorporation of information, the capacity, or ability to incorporate information illustrates the malleability of an individual’s cognitive structure. Assimilation then is the way in which “new information is absorbed into the schema without particularly changing it…accommodation, in which the schema itself has to be developed and extended because it is not adequate to cope with the new information if it does not” (Hayes, 2000, p. 360). As we continue to consider the personal, cultural, and societal reasoning that defines our individualized conceptualizations of addiction, how may we seek to understand how our reasoning was formulated? How might we integrate additional knowledge that may expand our understanding and allow for what biases that exist to become more malleable? I would appreciate any further insights you might have regarding addiction and schemas.


Aronson, Z., and Reilly, R. (2006). Personality Validity: The Role of Schemas and Motivated Reasoning. International Journal of Selection and Assessment. 14(4), p. 372-380.

Cockram, D., Drummond, P., and Lee, C. (2010). Role and Treatment of Early Maladaptive Schemas in Vietnam Veterans with PTSD. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 17, p. 165-182

Hayes, N (2000). Foundations of Psychology. Thomson Learning, Bradford Raw, London.

Way, E. (1994). Knowledge representation and metaphor. London Road, Oxford: Intellect Books.

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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
- Author of The Addiction Complex
- Article: Addiction, Schema, and Reason: Emotions and Cognitive Structures

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