What causes addiction?

January 13, 2017
Solace Sabah

If we went to the root of addiction, we will find that at its root, it is a disease of disconnection caused by unresolved emotional pain, and here are some points to prove that fact further:

Experimentation with pain-reducing substances and or behaviors

People who have a lot of unresolved emotional pain in their psyche will be vulnerable to find methods that aid in releasing that pain. Hence, many of them would seek out substances that are capable of doing just that such as illegal drugs (heroin, marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine), legal prescription drugs (Opioids, Xanax, Valium and Ativan) and alcohol. Besides substances, behaviors such as sex, watching pornography, gambling, exercise, crime, work and compulsive over/under-eating can also release the pain. Therefore, experimenting in any pain-reducing substance or behavior is a surface cause to becoming addicted, as it addresses the pain at a neurological level but does not address the underlying emotional pain, which has engineered the vulnerability in the first place.  

Anxiety and Depression

It is reported that in the United States alone that 20% of substance abusers suffer from a co- occurring anxiety or mood disorder such as depression. Usually in such states, addiction to substances and or addictive behaviors become the perfect panacea to medicate these painful feelings. Ultimately it is about medicating and avoiding those feelings of being afraid and sad all the time. These emotional disorders have their provenance in unresolved emotional pain, hence the reason why addiction is caused by the unexpressed psyche.

Toxic Relationships / Living Environment

Relationships with others where inauthenticity, perfectionism and people-pleasing is expected becomes highly toxic and for much of the time; can be the root-cause of emotional trauma, which then wishes expression through addictive behavior and or substances. If the family promotes the use of pleasurable pursuits to avoid problems such as excessive dependency on legal drugs for certain illnesses, then it is a breeding ground for addictive behavior. Again avoidance and incremental emotional pain has patched the way to active addiction.

Abusive / Traumatic Pasts

Any experience of physical, sexual, verbal and emotional abuse while growing up is classified as developmental trauma. In fact, anything short of a loving and nurturing upbringing can be qualified as a traumatic past. Victims of abusive or traumatic pasts are vulnerable to addiction due to the impossible emotional anguish of existential pain, which comes out as unresolved emotional pain due to the shame of not being good enough. To medicate this trauma, an array of addictive substances and or behaviors become the imperfect solution.

Emotional Wounds

Any unexpressed emotion creates emotional wounding. These wounds won't heal unless it has an outlet for expression and compassion. Therefore, the festering of emotional wounds lie at the heart of why people become addicts. It is simply the fact that there has been unresolved emotional pain.

Lack of Connection

A Canadian psychologist, Bruce K. Alexander performed the “Rat Park Experiment” to determine the root cause of addiction. He caged up rats on their own and offered them water diluted with drugs alongside normal water. In addition to that, he made a “rat park” with all the amenities for rats to do what rats love doing as well as provide water with drugs and without. It turned out that the rats in the first cage drank the drugged water till they died; while the rats in the second cage merely drank the drugless water. It goes to show that rats like their human counterparts are driven by the loneliness and pain of life to seek addictive solutions. However, others who have connection with their loved ones and society as a whole; do not seek for those solutions because life is worth living. Hence, a lack of connection underlies the emotional pain that addiction seeks to remedy unsuccessfully.

What’s it to be?

Seeing that drugs and addictive behaviors are not the cause of addiction but the symptom of unresolved emotional pain, what’s it to be? There is no use curbing the drugs and addictive behavior while not addressing the underlying emotional and traumatic issues. It is like cutting down a tree and leaving its roots to grow in another form. Ultimately, addiction cannot be the individual’s problem if his/her environment was never in support of the contrary. What’s needed is a loving, nurturing and caring society to curb this disease. It is not just the addict who is responsible for recovery, but society as a whole has a valuable part to play in this holistic process of global healing.

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