Before addiction became a problem, it was the solution
Addiction is a complex and often misunderstood phenomenon that affects individuals from all walks of life.
It is a topic that demands empathy and understanding, especially for those who suffer from addictive patterns of behaviour or chemical dependence.
This dependency started out, perhaps quite innocently at first, as a solution; a coping mechanism for individuals who have experienced trauma. At HOMS, we aim to shed light on this perspective, to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction, encourage open dialogue, and provide context for those supporting someone through their journey of recovery.
Addiction is rarely a standalone issue; it is frequently intertwined with a history of trauma. Traumatic experiences, such as abuse, neglect, or significant loss, can leave deep emotional wounds that individuals desperately seek to numb or escape. Who wouldn't want relief from simmering emotional turmoil? Who wouldn't want a momentary escape from the overwhelming emotions and memories associated with trauma? Dr. Carl Hart, a professor of psychology and psychiatry, explains, "Addiction is a response to suffering, a way to cope with life's challenges. It is not a moral failing or a lack of willpower."
According to Dr. Gabor Mate, a leading expert in the field, addictive behaviors often develop as a coping mechanism to soothe the pain and distress resulting from unresolved traumas. He emphasizes, "Addiction is neither a choice nor a disease; it is a response to emotional pain and disconnection. It is not the problem, but rather a misguided attempt to solve the problem."
There are many recovered individuals living sober who do believe that addiction is a disease and that they have an "allergy" to their substance of choice. This highlights another very important point, which is to respect the lived experience of the addict. There is more than one path into addiction, and more than one path out.
Trauma isn't always with a "capital T"; the wars, assaults or accidents that we commonly recognise as such. Smaller incidents we perhaps brushed off too quickly, prolonged periods of lack, even well intentioned but harmful acts by others can leave a traumatic imprint on us. That imprint creates a pattern of belief or behaviour that impacts how we show up in the world and in relationships. To soften the damage, we seek out or avoid situations and thoughts that threaten to return our memories and bodies to the trauma. When we find something that works as a temporary relief, we stick to to, and often increase our dependence upon it. So in the beginning, it's a tool that works.
Many people are able to use their coping tools in an effective way, long term. There are the traditionally illicit substances/behaviours like alcohol, gambling, narcotics etc., or more conventionally accepted ways to act out, like with food, work, love and validation, status/success, exercise, shopping, social media or sex. Most people are able to "dose correctly", meaning that they consume just enough of the substance or partake in just enough of the behaviour, that it soothes and nourishes, without harming them or anyone around them.
For some people, it goes too far. The hit they get from the emotional, chemical or behavioral act is so comforting that they crave more. The escape is too alluring. The numbing is too soothing, and they will return to the coping tool, instead of healing the wound.
To truly support individuals grappling with addiction, we must educate ourselves about the complexities of trauma and its connection to addictive behaviors. By staying informed and promoting evidence-based approaches to prevention, treatment, and recovery, we can empower both individuals struggling with addiction and their support networks.
Silence and shame often surround addiction, making it challenging for individuals to seek help or share their struggles. By cultivating safe spaces for open dialogue, we create opportunities for people to speak up without fear of judgment or rejection. Let us encourage honest conversations about addiction, trauma, and recovery, thereby breaking down the barriers that hinder healing and growth.