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TOOL: Cost-Benefit Analysis

Have you ever asked yourself what you get out of your addictive behaviour? You must be getting something - it's hard to imagine you'd do it if you didn't get something out of it, even if the behaviour causes you or others harm.

Do you drink because it helps you cope with the stress of being a parent or the challenges of your job? Do you find anonymous sex partners to make you feel more attractive and wanted? Do you harm yourself because it calms you?

Completing a Cost-Benefit Analysis or CBA will help you answer these questions. At some point in our lives, we told ourselves - either consciously or unconsciously - that the benefits of our behaviour outweighed the costs. But have you ever looked at your behaviour under a microscope and examined all the benefits and all the costs?

People who want to stop an addictive behaviour have two types of thinking about their behaviour, but never at the same time: Short-term thinking and long-term thinking. 

• Short-term thinking: Using makes you feel immediately better.
• Long-term thinking: You want to stop the behaviour to lead a healthier life.

Because short- and long-term thinking don't happen simultaneously, the CBA brings them to one place to help you identify and compare the far-reaching consequences of your behaviour with its "right now" benefits. The CBA also will help you compare long- and short-term benefits of abstinence. To start, consider the costs and benefits of your addictive behaviour.

The Costs and Benefits of Using 
Using the CBA example, start by looking at what's pleasurable about your addictive behaviour. Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of writing, "My addictive behaviour helps me cope," write how it helps you cope. "My behaviour makes me brave enough to say what I'm really feeling," or "Acting out helps me forget my loneliness."

Benefits (advantages and rewards) 
• What pleasures, benefits, or advantages does it bring to my life?
• With what feelings or moods does my addictive behaviour help me cope (frustration, anger, fear, boredom, depression, anxiety, loneliness, stress, etc.)?
• How does it help me cope?
• What positive feelings, moods, or situations does my addictive behaviour make even better?
• What things does my addictive behaviour help, or at least seem to help me do better?
• Does it help me avoid reality or escape?
• Does it ease or reduce physical or emotional pain?
• Does my addictive behaviour help me socialise and fit in?
• Do I need my addictive behaviour to seem more fun, charming, interesting, or more confident?
• Do I need my addictive behaviour to feel normal?

Costs (risks and disadvantages)
• What is it that I dislike about using?
• How is it harming me?
• What will my life be like if I continue to use?
• How much time have I lost to my addictive behaviour?
• How many people do I lie to in order to hide my addictive behaviour?
• How do I feel after the effects my addictive behaviour wear off?
• How is using affecting my health?
• What legal problems do I face because of my behaviour?
• How does using affect my relationships?
• What effects has it had on my self-respect and self-confidence?

The Costs and Benefits of Not Using
Now, do the same exercise for your life without addictive behaviour. Be honest and realistic.
Benefits
• How will stopping affect my health?
• How will stopping affect my relationships with the ones I love?
• How will stopping affect my job?
• How much money can I save?
• What will stopping do to my self-respect and self-confidence?
• Will stopping affect my ability to deal with my problems?
• What will I do with the time freed up because I'm not pursuing my addictive behaviour?
• What goals have I abandoned that I could accomplish?
Costs

What will I miss about using?
• What issues in my life will I have to find new ways to deal with when I stop using?
• What thoughts and emotions will I have to learn to accept?
• What will change about my life that I like now because I use?

Example Cost-Benefit Analysis

Using or Doing
Label each item short-term (ST) or long-term (LT)
Benefits (rewards and advantages)
Relieve negativity (ST)
Relieve stress (ST)
Feel more confident (ST)
Socialising is easier (ST)
Relieve physical pain (ST)
Makes me feel "normal" (ST)
To reach a state of oblivion (ST)
Helps me have fun (ST)
Costs (risks and disadvantages)
Hangovers (ST)
Damages health (LT)
Damages relationships (L T)
Divorce (LT)
Get arrested (LT)
Financial troubles (L T)
Lose home (LT)
Lose family (kids, parents, siblings) (LT)
NOT Using or Doing
Label each item short-term (ST) or long-term (LT)
Benefits (rewards and advantages)
Improves health and hygiene (LT)
Improves relationships (LT)
Improves work and job safety (LT)
Stay out of jail/prison (LT)
Finances improve (LT)
Won't lose home (LT)
Won't lose my kids (LT)
Regain self-respect, improve mental
health (LT)
Costs (risks and disadvantages)
Get bored (ST)
Can't relieve stress (ST)
Have to manage pain other ways (ST,
Have to cope with problems (ST, LT)
Short- And Long-Term Benefits
Once you have your list of benefits and costs for each section, identify each one as either short-term benefit (ST) or long-term benefit (LT).

Are you surprised that most of the benefits of using and costs of stopping are short-term while the costs of using and benefits of stopping are long-term? In SMART meetings, we often hear gasps from people as they realise their addictive behaviour has only short-term benefits but long-term costs.

This may be the first time you've taken a hard look at the price you - and those around you - have paid for your behaviour.

Now that you're considering your behaviour in terms of immediate and lasting benefits, the decision whether to use or stop is clearer.

Keep your CBA handy and refer to it when you have an urge. Make copies and keep them within easy reach. Make it a living document: Revise and update it whenever you need to.

The CBA is a great tool to use for any change or decision you want to make.

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