What we experience during childhood sets the foundation for who we are today. The most important factors from those experiences are how our mind perceived those situations and the ensuing formation of associated beliefs or self-messages we formed as a result of those experiences are a strong predictor of having a propensity toward developing an addiction.
I had just read an article on the work being done in addictions by Dr. Gabor Maté, a Canadian who is the co-founder of Compassion4Addiction (treatment facility for addiction). The article that caught my attention was in the HuffingPost Science Section. Dr. Maté’s compassion for people with addictions. His theories and ideas are compatible with mine. I would like to share and discuss a few of these like-minded areas.
Origin and Formation of Addiction
Dr. Gabor, as I, believe that "a hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors”. In all my years of work the abuse and trauma field, I find that the cause or beginning of addiction is an attempt to “numb out the hurt” of said experiences and block them from entering their consciousness. I agree with him it is not always to the degree of abuse or trauma but the “need” is bore out of a “hurt”. He states in his 2010 bestseller In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction - “The wound (hurt) may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden -- but it’s there." He goes on to say “There is increasing interest in the medical field around the potential lifelong health outcomes of adverse childhood experiences.”
Definition of Addiction
Dr. Maté has a broad definition of addiction which I agree with. “The expression of addiction is any behavior where a person craves and finds temporary pleasure or relief in something, but suffers negative consequences as a result of and is unable to give up despite those negative consequences. Addiction could be substance-related -- alcohol, cigarettes, heroin or cocaine -- but it could also be sex, gambling, eating, shopping, work, extreme sports, relationships, the Internet. It could be anything. So it’s not so much the activity per se but the question of, does it provide temporary relief or pleasure? Does it create craving when you don’t have it? Does it create negative consequences, and is it difficult to give up despite those consequences? If those are the case, it’s an addiction.”
Personally, I do not think that addiction is a disease but an out of control habit with server consequences that was once useful. An addiction is one of the most sought-after methods, repetitive pattern or habit, to block, numb, or escape hurts that attach to a survivor due to painful experiences and the damaging beliefs that form in our head about ourselves. Addiction consumes all aspects of self, brain (mind), body, emotions, psychology, social relationships and spiritual.
The Trauma Factor
I agree with his discussion of two sets of difficult experiences that indicate future addiction.
#1 He says “The single factor that’s at the core of all addictions is trauma. By trauma, I mean an intense emotional loss in childhood, and in the case of severe addicts, you can see -- and large-scale population studies show -- that addicts have significant childhood traumatic situations. Such as family violence, addiction in the family, sexual and emotional abuse, Rejection, abandonment, physical abuse, family mentally ill or family member in jail. These adverse childhood experiences have been shown to exponentially increase the risk of addiction later on in life. That’s one set of difficult experiences,”
#2 Dr. Gabor Maté goes further. “There’s another set of difficult experiences that’s a bit harder to distinguish, and that’s not when bad things happen but when good things don’t happen. A child has certain fundamental needs for emotional development and also for brain development…. So in families where the parents are overly stressed or aren’t able to be emotionally present with the children, in the case of sensitive children, that can interfere with their brain development. The children will look for reward elsewhere (underdeveloped reward circuits).” I believe that the ability to block, numb, or escape a hurt or recollection of hurt is the “best reward” of all.
For those who can’t face or accept such deep loss seeking the “reward feeling”. That desirous repetitive interaction or relationship, whether healthy or toxic, will occur over and over again even if it brings more hurt and suffering to themselves or others.
Dr. Gabor believes “intended purpose (of an addiction): to soothe pain or to escape from pain or stress.”
Addiction a Disease
He states “To understand (addiction as a disease), you have to look at the person’s whole life. I don’t call it a disease, I call it a process that has some features of the disease. It’s not a problem to talk about it in terms of a disease, but it’s not adequate. When we look at addiction as a physical disease, we don’t acknowledge the lived experience of the individual. The behaviors are just symptoms, they are not the core."
I am in agreement with the majority of his philosophy and compassionate approach in viewing the origin and formation of addiction. His ideas are on the right road to a whole new approach and view of helping people with addictions. Understand that many people with addiction think “I am already sick with a disease and going to die anyway so I might as well keep doing it. It is out of my control”. Nothing is further from the truth.
He and I disconnect at the point of the actual treatment of traumatic and addicted clients. He uses “psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy”. My problem is you do not treat traumatization by traumatizing the client. I believe that using psychedelics can be very traumatizing to many clients (issue of being out of control mentally, emotionally and physically). Also, the formation of an addiction and the resulting toxic habitual relationship is traumatizing also. I applaud Dr. Gabor Maté on one hand and worry about his treatment approach of abused and traumatized clients on the other.
What should be learned and happen is we as a society need to view wounded and addicted people with different eyes and mindset. Healing their wounds and addictions should be a different way - without shaming or punishing as well as making them feel "diseased".
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