Addiction is one of the most poorly understood things on the planet. We tend to point to the thing a person is addicted to as the cause of the addiction itself when that couldn’t be any further from the truth. That is like noticing there are flies on a pile of garbage and thinking that they created the garbage. Every single addiction is in fact a coping mechanism that people are compelled to repeat because it brings some form of specific relief.
To cope is to make a specific alteration mentally, emotionally or physically so that you can manage or adapt to something that is causing you distress. A coping mechanism is a specific procedure, process or technique, which manages or creates adaptation to distress. Stress is serious business. A human being cannot thrive in an atmosphere of stress. When a human being goes into a state of distress, wellbeing immediately declines. And so, it is only natural that we should want to make a change to the situation as fast as we possibly can. But often the situation that is causing us distress cannot be eradicated. It is out of our control to eradicate the stressor. Or at least we think it is. So we feel we are forced to manage with it, deal with it and adapt to it. This is especially true in childhood, when we did not call the shots about our own life. The people around us did. To learn more about this, watch my video titled: How To Let Go of a Coping Mechanism.
To understand addiction, imagine that someone has a deep wound, but there is either no way to directly address the wound so as to heal it or the person believes there is no way to do so. The person therefore has to alleviate the pain of the wound so they can live with it. This is addiction. Another analogy is to imagine that there is a deep hole in the ground that a person has fallen into. There is either no way to reliably get out of this hole or the person believes there isn’t. Every time the person engages in a certain substance or behavior, it acts as temporary wings that can lift them up, but not sideways beyond the rim, essentially it allows them to hover out of that hole. It is in essence, self-administered pain medication.
We will be looking for a physiological variable for addiction for what seems like forever to explain why one person becomes addicted and another doesn’t. What we are missing is that the variable is the type of mental and emotional wounding a person received or the type of distress they are in.
Specific variables in terms of the type of pain often dictate what substance or behavior a person will develop an addiction to. So you can get an idea of what I mean, here are a few examples. People who experienced a serious rejection and whom internalized the negativity projected at them from the person who rejected them, tend to become hyper-critical of themselves. They experience self-hate. They might have more of a tendency to become addicted to cutting or bulimia. A person who feels empty and powerless to getting the kind of emotional needs they need from others might have more of a tendency to become addicted to S&M porn. A person who is terrified of their own emotions because those emotions have never been validated or resolved and who has been taught that the only acceptable behavior is emotional suppression might have more of a tendency to become addicted to meditation. A person who feels unsafe to be themselves in relationships and therefore feels they constantly have to live in a state of pretense, might have more of a tendency to become addicted to alcohol. A person whose nervous system is always on alert and whom potentially suffers from anxiety might have more of a tendency to become addicted to opiates. A person who feels severe powerlessness and whom potentially is prone to depression might have more of a tendency to become addicted to “uppers” like cocaine or amphetamines. The specific kind of relief that the addictive substance or behavior offers is an indication of the kind of pain that specific addictive substance or behavior offers relief from.
There is one study that I find illustrates the fact that mental and emotional distress is the root of addiction particularly well. In this experiment, rats were placed in a cage containing a feeder bottle of water laced with cocaine. The rats consumed the cocaine in enormous quantities until they died. This experiment was thought to display that even simply trying an illicit substance could definitely get you addicted. But then the researcher, Bruce Alexander, changed a variable in the experiment, the cage itself. In the original experiment, the rats were in a small cage by themselves with no company, no space, and no toys to play with. In Bruce’s new experiment, he constructed a rat park with tunnels and turn wheels and most importantly, other rats to play with. This time around, none of the rats got hooked on the drug-laced water. The conclusion was that it wasn’t the drug that created addicts, but the cage and isolation they were trapped in that drove them to become addicts. If the necessary elements of a person’s wellbeing are met, they will not develop an addiction.
Loneliness is something that is unanimous amongst all addicts. While specific variables in terms of the type of pain often dictate what substance or behavior a person will develop an addiction to, all addicts suffer from loneliness, whether they realize it or not. Most of them feel in pain in some way and alone with that pain. And the ‘tough love’ strategies that most people will encourage you to carry out in order to try to stop someone else’s addiction, will only exacerbate this sense of loneliness and emotional pain and thus, will give the addict even more reason to engage in their addiction or switch to a different one. For this reason, if you are suffering from an addiction or know someone who is, I encourage you to watch my video titled: The Most Dangerous Parallel Reality. I also encourage you to pick up a copy of my book titled: The Anatomy of Loneliness, in which I explain the exact makeup of loneliness as well as what causes it and also how to solve it so you can feel connection instead.
All this being said, I am going to make a bold statement. Loneliness, as well as the specific mental and emotional wounding that the person is trying to alleviate through the addiction, are the most important things to directly address and resolve when someone is addicted. They are far more important than addressing the specific substance or behavior itself. The addiction itself should be treated like a symptom. The only successful addiction programs are those that understand this. They deal with the addiction itself as a side note to the wounding or distress that the person is using the addiction to alleviate. They do this because they know that if there is resolve to that wounding or distress, there is no longer a reason to use. A person does not need pain medication if they are not in pain. It will no longer even register as relief, especially if there are negative side effects.
Now that I have said that, you need to know that not even many, but most addiction programs and centers are total BS. Most addiction centers are run with completely outdated ideas and by people who are not even educated about addiction. Instead, many of these centers are started by businessmen looking to make lots of money off of the astronomical prices they charge individuals or can get from insurance companies. Most also do not understand that social and family dynamics outside the center are the single biggest factor for reinforcement of the addiction. This is why people relapse when they are released from the supportive environment of an addiction center. And so they fail to recognize addiction recovery as a process that must include family members and friends or a complete change to a person’s post-release social setting, otherwise it is pointless. But that there is another issue, there is little incentive for them for people to truly recover. In fact, for many addiction centers, there is financial incentive for failure. Less than half of the people who enter into rehab programs actually complete rehab. And most who do, relapse again. The centers actually benefit financially by blaming this failure on the patent and telling them that they have to come back again. At that point, they can then charge them exorbitant admission fees again and charge them to be there in rehab all over again. All this creates a cycle of extortion. Addiction treatment is a bit like the neglected orphan in the overall healthcare system.
When we make an enemy of the substance someone is using or the behavior someone is using as an addiction, we fail to see that the substance or behavior is their ‘rescue’. It is their self-medication. It is their rescue whether or not it will only lead them to more pain. And you will never understand addiction well enough until you understand that there are levels of mental, emotional and physical pain that make selling your soul to the devil so to speak, feel completely worth it.
When we try to stop a person’s addiction to a substance or behavior by making it about stopping the substance or behavior itself without directly addressing the wound they are trying to get relief from through the addiction, we are in fact doing more damage to them and they will relapse or switch to another addiction.
In order to overcome an addiction of any kind, one has to be willing to go in the exact opposite direction from where they want to go. People naturally want to go away from the pain; they are trying to do so with the addiction. In order to heal the pain you must go straight into it instead. Metaphorically speaking, if a drug or behavior is the attempt to stay away from a tornado, in order to make it so that there is no more tornado chasing you in your life, you need to be willing to run straight into the tornado instead and this is most successfully done if it is done with someone else. This can be when it is useful to restrict the addictive substance or behavior. If a person does not engage in the specific addiction, those wounds that a person is trying to avoid with the addiction will begin to howl so to speak. This makes them easier to directly become aware of and resolve. Prepare yourself for this process. I have created a process to do specifically this; it is called The Completion Process. If you’re interested in learning how to do this process, pick up a copy of my book that is quite literally titled: The Completion Process or to find a practitioner that can lead you through the process, visit www.thecompletionprocess.com.
So you can understand what heals an addiction, I will give you a real life example. Pat was a professional athlete. In his early life, he had to try desperately to be seen as a success in his father’s eyes. Nothing was ever good enough. He had to win and he had to be the best. He never felt significant enough to be valued without achievement. He poured himself into sports to try to win his father’s approval. But he didn’t love the sport itself. He ended up making the Olympic team, but began panicking about what might happen if he lost instead of won. One month before the Olympic games, he came down with a case of Mono. Due to the illness, he had no chances compared to the other athletes at the Olympic games and did not even come close to making the podium. Knowing that in four years, he would be too old to compete, he realized that he would never be able to be a gold medalist. This revived his feelings of never being good enough, being insignificant and being unloved.
When he was at a party one night, someone crushed up some Oxycontin. When he tried it, he felt relief from those painful emotional feelings for the first time. Soon, he had quit sports and as the circumstances of his life as an ex-athlete continued to put even more pressure on those wounds, he used Oxy more and more. He became more and more addicted, developing more and more tolerance until he had spent all of his money and became a dealer himself just to be able to get his hands on prescription pain meds. When Pat was found stealing from his mother’s purse, his family kicked him out. They later put him into two in patient rehab clinics. He relapsed each time because nothing was done to resolve the pain causing him to use in the first place. And every time he went back home, he would become the family scapegoat, which simply reinforced the feelings he was trying to erase with the Oxy in the first place.
Eventually Pat was persuaded that the focus needed to be on the feelings and thoughts that led him to using rather than on the Oxy itself. He realized that the real thing plaguing him was the trauma of the emotional environment of his childhood home. With a therapist, he was brave enough to face the thoughts and emotions of never being good enough, feeling like a failure, feeling insignificant and not being valued and loved as he is. He was able to recognize and change social patterns as well make deliberate changes to his social group so that he lived with and had people in his life that valued him just for his company instead of achievement. He was able to experience appreciation for himself instead of shame by clearly seeing that much of what he went through was a projection of his father’s, who never actually wanted a child and whom only liked the personal ego boost of being able to say he had a successful son. Because he had that unconditional connection in other relationships, he was able to let go of needing his father to approve of him. He found a part of himself that loved to succeed because challenging himself to succeed was fun and no longer simply tried to succeed in order to earn love. Pat now has a family of his own and has been sober for 11 years as a result of facing and resolving the wound underneath the addiction.
If we want to find the cause and also the solution to addiction you should not be looking to genetic or chemical explanations. You should not be looking at the addictive substance or behavior itself. You should be looking primarily at the trauma and emotional pain of a person’s childhood environment. You should be looking at changing the painful patterns that originated from that childhood environment but that continue to play out in their adult life. If you are looking back at your childhood and current life and cannot specifically identify any trauma or emotional pain, you would benefit by watching my video tiled: Today’s Great Epidemic and How To Solve It. You should be looking at and resolving the painful patterns that originated from that childhood environment but that continue to play out in their adult life with the utmost compassion. In order to understand compassion, you can watch my video titled: Compassion and How to Cultivate Compassion.
I will give you the first thought-step towards that compassion now. Addiction is not a moral issue. That a person can be jailed for an addiction as if addiction implies some kind of character flaw or lack of morals is something that in the future, we will look back at with complete embarrassment.
Most people walking the earth today use compulsive coping mechanisms which create more harm than good in their lives. For this reason, it is important to see that we are all addicts. There is no stigma for a condition we all share. The question is what are we addicted to? Many of us have simply found much more societally acceptable means of addiction than others.