Addiction, Soothing The Pain In Our Heart Addiction to drugs, drink, etc is usually an escape from deep suffering that has origins in childhood

Recently, Prateik Babar, son the late Indian actress Smita Patil spoke of his recovery from addiction, “I was a fool who permitted love to drive me to self-destruction, all the while hoping I could find what I missed while growing up — love and acceptance.  Drugs would dull my emotions.”  His mother died when he was just two weeks old, leaving him bereft of a mother’s love.

addiction trauma pain loneliness coping strategy
Addiction is a coping mechanism for many trauma survivors

Filling the Emptiness

Renowned addiction expert, speaker author, Dr. Gabor Maté, in his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction speaks about the social roots of our addictions. He explains how the problem is caused neither by genes nor “choices”, but in the lives and experiences of these individuals. “No matter what they do they cannot ever fill that emptiness inside, and that relates to me as the realm of addiction.”

Usually, addiction is usually a person’s distorted coping mechanism to soothe the unbearable pain in their heart.  The humane way to deal with addiction is to recognize emotional pain. How painful childhood experiences create deep psychic wounds. To fill this emptiness one turns to substances or activities that temporarily block the reality of their existence.

Further, addiction could be substance-related — alcohol, cigarettes, heroin or cocaine. It could also be sex, gambling, eating, shopping, work, extreme sports, relationships, the Internet.  Anything that provides relief from stress and pain that usually has negative consequences.

Real Cause of Addiction

Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine says “It’s not the drugs. It’s the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).”

He elaborates that this coping behavior is adopted because abused kids haven’t learned healthy alternatives to stress management when they were young. When a child experiences toxic stress, the amygdala gets hijacked and its development is compromised. This, in turn, makes them more susceptible to, and less able to tolerate stress.  Life and adult responsibilities become stressful to a survivor of ACEs who in turn resorts to easy alternatives like drugs and drink to self-soothe.

Social Isolation

Really addiction (alcohol, drugs, shopping, Internet, etc.) is a way of finding something from the outside that the individual is lacking within.  An addict is looking for emotional pain relief, wanting of love or emotional connection. Addiction is a disease of social isolation,  we are driven innately from birth for close human contact.  The degree to which this emotional need is unmet makes us vulnerable to addiction

In 1978, Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander conducted an experiment that would revolutionize the way we understand drug addictions. In his Rat Park experiment rats which were isolated became dependant on morphine. However, the rats who were with other rats preferred plain water.

Dr. Alexander concluded that “Addiction isn’t you — it’s the cage you live in.”

The experiment concluded that drugs are not the cause of addiction. Really, it is a person’s environment that creates the need for it.  Feelings of isolation, loneliness, hopelessness, and lack of control cause stress which a person with a high ACEs background finds difficult to cope. An emotionally healthy person does not need the crutch of drugs or alcohol to cope with life.

Even though it may seem that addiction is often multigenerational. That it runs in families it has nothing to do with genetics. Tragically, it is caused by emotional patterns and behaviors being repeated generation after generation giving rise to the same pain and with the same faulty coping patterns.

The Roots of Addiction – Dr. Gabor Maté

The best and humane way to manage addicts is treating them with respect instead of blaming or shaming them. Listen intently to what they have to say.  Most importantly, acknowledge the real reason for their problem which is adverse childhood experiences science: ACEs. Every parent should know how ACEs affect the child’s chances of becoming addicted.

Moreover, real love and a deep human connection is the cure, not the isolating medical intervention of a rehab center.

Image source: Pixabay

Further Reading

Substance-abuse doc says: Stop chasing the drug! Focus on ACEs


Memoirs of an Addicted Brain by Marc Lewis

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery – Ian Morgan CronSuzanne Stabile  

Necessary Endings – Henry Cloud 

Strong At The Broken Places – Linda T Stanford

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