The Problem with Addiction
Addiction is NOT the problem!” A fellow therapist said this to me recently. She had just shared about a friend who had been in “treatment” for his addiction for thirty years, which resulted in no apparent effect on his drug and alcohol abuse. She went on to say that his doctors and therapists were just “treating” the chemical dependency and not the underlying problems that the dependency covers up. As she spoke, I remembered how many people attempted to drown out their angst with their preferred chemicals after Hurricane Katrina and the Levee Disaster destroyed so much of my home city at the time, New Orleans.
My experience with those who struggle with addictions is that they are escaping their pain. This is largely unconscious. When they reach for their cigarette, their double scotch, or their crystal meth, that pain has somehow been triggered by something inside or outside of them, and they are reaching for what they’ve learned will give comfort. Perhaps they had a thought about some behavior they feel guilty about or maybe they had a recent encounter with someone which provoked their anger or fear. Again, people are often unconscious of these dynamics. A good mental health professional will look for and help clients become aware of and work through their pain and what triggers it, so the pain-relievers are no longer necessary.
I believe this reaching for a substance that comforts is learned behavior. An infant normally reaches for mom or dad for comfort, but when mom or dad is not physically or emotionally available or is outright abusive, the baby isn’t relieved of his distress. So often the parent gives the baby a bottle and this babe learns that comfort lies in a substance, and reaches for something similar when feeling stressed. I’ve talked to many parents over the years who admitted to putting alcohol and other “comforting” substance in their baby’s milk in order to “keep the kid quiet.” I wonder how many other parents are not so forthcoming . . .
Much as we may think we have grown past infancy, the inner infant remains a part of us. (See The Awakening Storm, pp. 18-22). She reaches for whom or what she has learned will bring comfort. And she rejects who or what she has learned will cause pain. Until we embrace this “child” and offer her the human involvement she needs to grow past infancy, dependency on chemicals and the like will reign.