Lots of people in our society today are dealing with addictions.
One popular cultural story about addiction is that it happens as a result of a lack of willpower.
Another common belief is that an addict has a genetic predisposition to addiction from birth and it is in their biology.
But what if neither of these are true?
Gabor Mate, a renowned addiction expert, has the belief that there’s no such thing as an “addictive personality”. And nor is addiction a “disease”.
Instead, he believes “it originates in a person’s need to solve a problem: a deep-seated problem, often from our earliest years that was to do with trauma".
We all have cravings from time to time, but did you know that this might be a sign that you are subconsciously looking to escape emotional pain?
We all have cravings from time to time, but did you know that this might be a sign that you are subconsciously looking to escape emotional pain? And how does this occasional habit escalate into a full blown addiction?
The difference is that with addiction something is happening that is making the person return to it again and again.
What begins to occur is that as well as giving the person temporary relief and pleasure, the addiction also starts to have negative consequences.
Having an occasional drink is one thing but regularly missing work because you are hungover could be an indication that there is a problem developing.
Again, while addictive behaviour is harmful in the long run obviously it must have short term benefits otherwise there would be no point.
The benefit is that it brings happiness.
It is human nature to want to be happy. So instead of buying into the story that someone’s brain is wired for addiction from birth, we can recognise their humanity and see that their brains are quite naturally wired for happiness and that in the absence of this happiness they will do the best they can with the choices they have available to them.
The past impacting the present
How this ties in with childhood trauma is that unresolved past hurts make the present painful and robs a person of their happiness..
For example, a person might be left with a very fragile sense of self from years of being put down by their care givers and now find it hard to assert themselves and as a result they might get walked all over. They might try to alleviate the pain of this and gain feelings of well-being and self-esteem by using cocaine.
Another person might have very little sense of safety in the world since the very people who were supposed to keep her safe growing up, her parents, actually caused her to feel frightened.
She might have high levels of anxiety and see life as basically unsafe as an adult and turn to drinking alcohol as a way of regulating her autonomic system. Over time she might find she needs increasing levels of alcohol, more regularly, to get the same effect. And then an addiction may be born.
I too was traumatised by my upbringing and developed addictions to substances and alcohol.
Over time, working deeply with my trauma by revisiting the past and experiencing for the first time what it was really like for me back then and reclaiming the fragmented parts of myself, my state began to improve.
With this improvement, the addictions began to lose their control over me.
I would from time to time have the urge to drink and would still get drunk occasionally but I noticed a pattern running which was that soon after I had this urge to drink a lot of emotions would surface. I realised that when I got the urge to drink it was a sign that something from my past was coming up from my subconscious ready to be felt and integrated and I was reacting to this by wanting to escape with alcohol.
The way out
People are consistently finding that when they resolve unaddressed trauma, the addiction can fall away quite organically and permanently.
Wouldn’t this be preferable to managing an addiction for the rest of your life in 12 step programmes like Alcoholics Anonymous and having lots of relapses?
You might like to ask yourself the next time you reach for that one drink too many or find yourself eating a whole tub of ice cream…’What am I actually feeling right now.’