Where does addiction come from?
Make no mistake. Dysfunctional, self-destructive behaviors don’t simply manifest themselves in a vacuum. They begin with personal trauma.
When we trace the roots of addiction and dependency deep into a person’s past, we inevitably discover an intensively distressing event or circumstance that has remained with them, and never stopped affecting them. Often, it is buried or hidden within the psyche, as if the sufferer has tried to hide it from themselves in order to forget about it and move on.
But just like addiction itself, trauma cannot be simply willed away. It must be tackled head-on. It must be clearly identified, and thoroughly understood. Awareness is one’s only defense against trauma and its symptoms.
What causes trauma?
Unfortunately, it can be anything. Our perceptions are all that matter. While it’s easy to identify trauma caused by physical distress (such as being in a car accident, or nearly drowning), it’s only when that physical experience is coupled with emotional terror that it manifests into the psychological wound we call trauma. This means (for example) that a person does not need to even come close to drowning in order to be traumatized by the experience. As long as they believe they are, the effect is the same.
Thus, the cause of the trauma may easily be obscured by tenuous childhood perceptions. This is one of the primary difficulties in diagnosing and treating trauma. While it’s essential to explore a client’s personal and especially familial relationships, it’s quite possible that they are oblivious. For example, a person’s deep-seated fear of abandonment could be coming from having wandered off once in a shopping mall before being found by their parents several minutes later. The emotional distress may still endure, even though the parents have long since forgotten it had even happened.
How does trauma turn into addiction?
Although the connection between trauma and addiction has been recognized for decades and confirmed by scientific studies, the actual methodology is not fully understood.
What appears to happen is that the trauma manifests into compulsive and aberrant behavior when it interferes with a person’s normal emotional development. Children, lacking an adult frame of reference, are more likely to experience trauma, and will seek the assurance of a parent or caregiver to overcome it. However, if the parent is the source of the trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect), the child remains unassured, and will seek other means of comfort to escape their pervasive stress. Compulsive eating, masturbation, or other aberrant behaviors and habits may arise as a result. These interim solutions may provide temporary comport, but generally fail at providing lasting relief to the torment caused by trauma, opening the door to eventual drug and alcohol abuse.
In this way, the trauma sufferer is effectively “locked” in a juvenile stage of emotional development, failing to acquire the adult coping skills to address this enduring anguish. Thus, the only means of escape that is available to them is to seek more of whatever has seemed to work, creating a spiral into worsening addiction or other dysfunction.
So, what can be done?
At Next Chapter, we believe in treating each client holistically. Rather than simply treating addiction, we lead our clients through exercises for the mind, body, and soul, and explore the personal connections with family and friends to uncover the trauma at the root of their dysfunction.
Once clients come to understand how their personal trauma can trigger their emotional responses and the self-destructive behaviors that accompany them, they can learn to apply new coping skills to help them deal with them responsibly.
Our results have been encouraging, however there is definitely no easy solution for overcoming deep-seated trauma. The more we understand, the more we can help.
We will delve further into treatment protocols in future articles here on this blog. You can also explore more of our methodology at nextchaptertreatment.com.