Deconstructing Mechanisms of Powerlessness for Clients Seeking Recovery: Learning to Be Powerless Over Addiction


addiction, behavior, therapy, recovery, habituation


Addiction is characterized by a subjective experience of powerlessness over one's behavior, yet articulation of precise mechanisms of powerlessness is essential to inform recovery. We assert that straightforward behavioral learning processes produce powerful habituation of behavior and comprise a significant but overlooked dimension of powerlessness. A behavioral learning model captures this neurobiological mechanism of habituation and addiction, while informing intervention in everyday terms. After presenting the model, we then describe it in more accessible instructional language that might be used with clients. A second paper (Butler, Meloy, & Call, 2014) articulates how a learning model informs rehabilitation of learned powerlessness, for recovery. The model can be presented psychoeducationally or clinically.

Original Publication Citation

Butler, M. H., Call, M. L., Meloy, K. C., & Zitzman, S. T. (2014). Deconstructing mechanisms of powerlessness for clients seeking recovery: Learning to be powerless over addiction. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 21(2), 92-113.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor