Addiction comes in many forms: drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling—anything can be a vice to someone who is hurting. This week is National Addiction Awareness Week in Canada, and it’s time to change the narrative surrounding addiction. Instead of discussing how to treat addiction, let’s shift the conversation to what caused the addiction in the first place—emotional pain that comes from trauma.
Addiction has been linked to trauma through numerous studies over the years, it’s the one thing every addict has in common.
Trauma has been associated not only with drug addiction but also overeating, compulsive sexual behavior and other types of addictions. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which is based on data from over 17,000 Kaiser Permanente patients, found correlations between severe childhood stress (e.g., abuse, neglect, loss of a parent, domestic violence, or having an addicted or mentally ill parent) and various types of addictions. [Psych Central]
In understanding this fact, it’s important to understand that an addict needs to take on dual treatment plans, one to deal with the addiction and one to deal with the problem at the heart of it all—trauma.
“Addiction is a coping strategy for pain. That pain can come from many different life experiences. Many times addictions arise and the person is unaware of their unresolved feeling. People may just feel better when active in addiction and the feeling is relieving compared to their natural state.” — Kim Barthel
In our most recent Twitter chat, Kim Barthel and Theo Fleury shared some helpful insights on how addicts will replace one addiction with another.
“Addiction in its simplest form is a coping strategy associated with emotional pain left from a traumatic experience. We will gravitate to anything that helps us numb the pain of our most hurt self.” — Theo Fleury
As Kim explains, until the underlying trauma is resolved, an addict will continue to find quick (and often negative) ways to cope.
“All addictions involve the chemical of dopamine, and different sources can provide that chemical. Take one away, need another.” — Kim Barthel
If you are concerned you may be struggling with an addiction or addictive behaviours, the best thing you can do is ask for help. Asking for support is a sign of courage and strength If you are looking to support someone in your life struggling with addiction, simply hold the space for them. Be emotionally safe and vulnerable yourself.
If you’re interested in learning more about trauma and healing, read our other blog posts. You can find out more about ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ on our website.