When we think of alcoholism and drug addiction most of us will conjure up the image of the street hobo with the brown paper bag around his malt liquor, or the dope fiend shooting up in the abandoned house– right? We usually don’t think of someone who has achieved an education, financial stability, or raised a family as someone who might be susceptible to addiction, but the disease does not discriminate! Addiction does not care if you are a doctor, professor, or successful business person. In fact, in many instances a person’s intelligence can be a hindrance along the pathway to recovery. Addiction to a substance, person, or thing, is primarily concerned with easing and relieving suffering from emotional trauma, and this can happen to anyone regardless of your intellect.
Is addiction a genetic disease, or do we develop it through our interactions with our environment?
Some might argue over this question of nature vs. nurture, but it is my belief that a person with certain genetic make-up may be predisposed to the disease of addiction, and is therefore more likely to develop dependency. At the same time it is recognized that from the moment we are born up until our last breath we are in a fluid stream of dynamic interactions and relationships with our environment. This can mean that both genetic and/or environment and the people we interact with in that environment have an important influence on our perceptions and experience of the world.
Why do people become addicted?
The many reasons why we use vary from “I hate my boss,” and “I was sexually abused,” to something as pedestrian as “It helps me to socialize.” Yet across the board the underlying reason remains the same: people use their addiction to manage their emotions.
Then how do we treat addiction?
So, if at the root of addiction lies the desire to maintain and manage one’s emotional life, then it would seem likely that in treatment what would follow would be the expansion of our emotional awareness and the role it plays in how we cope with life’s stressors, as well as the development of new coping strategies. But this cannot be done alone. Very frequently 12 step recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Sex Addicts Anonymous, to name a few, will play a very vital role in the process of recovery. After all, the reality is that there are not many people who will pick up the phone if you call at 12 a.m. when the urge to use or act-out hits and you are helplessly in need of positive emotional support. But this social support alone may not be enough to remove an addiction-forming orientation to life’s emotional stresses, even if the original addiction is in abeyance.
Why don’t I feel better if I haven’t done my addiction in year(s)?
Although there are many individuals who may have achieved sobriety through 12 step programs alone, in most cases it is imperative that one also seek out professional help from a mental health practitioner in order to address the core underlying issues which originally contributed to developing an addiction. The process of developing emotional awareness and intelligence primarily occurs in the right hemispheres of our brains, and it is dependent upon our relationships with others. Until these issues are dealt with, the individual may continue to feel emotional discomfort, even though their original addiction is gone. By working with a therapist the individual may seek to “rewire” neural pathways of their brain which once led to the repetition of addictive behaviors and to replace them with the ability to seek out appropriate emotional support through healthy relationships and activities.
Why do relapses occur?
The relapse begins way before we actually see the person cross over the threshold and consummate their addiction. Some people are so relieved to see their addiction gone and their life improved as a result, that they conclude their addiction was due to an outside source, not their own tendency to handle emotional stress by addictive behavior. By addressing underlying core anxieties through psychotherapy the individual develops new strategies for coping with stressors so that relapses don’t occur.
How does psychotherapy work?
During infancy the baby is entirely dependent upon the caregiver to supply life sustaining needs. The caregiver supplies, amongst other things, emotional support, and the way in which this information is acquired is through right-brain communication. This is the dominant characteristic of the developmental process of all human beings for the first two years of life. In short, we learn to be humans from those that are around us. This is why the role of psychotherapy is so important. It is through right-brain communication between the therapist and patient that the individual is able to achieve the necessary growth to make up for deficits in the brains chemistry. This can lead to permanent changes in the way in which the brain processes information, and ultimately the way in which a person views the world. This is why it is important to seek out the help of a trained professional who understands the mechanisms of the addicted mind, and who can provide the essential experiences needed within a relationship in order to heal emotional trauma.
How does trauma affect the brain?
If an individual grows up in an oppressive environment in which they are constantly being put down or abused by others, then it is highly probable that this individual will grow up with a large deficit in his/her perception of self-worth. The brain’s developmental process on a neuropsychological level is to develop adaptive pathways, structures and associations in response to the traumatic experience. In essence, they are developed as a survival mechanism. These pathways are designed to lessen the impact of the damage that the trauma wreaks on the individual. It is equally true that someone who might have been raised in a nurturing and healthy environment may go on to develop an addiction later on in life. Although the latter example is typically not the average, it is provided simply to demonstrate that the common denominator in the development of an addiction is the individual’s desire to manage their intolerable emotions, and this can take place at any point in our lives.
How do you develop an addiction?
The cycle of developing an addiction occurs through various stages. At first the substance or thing that the person is doing is a convenient tool for managing their emotions and can be exercised whenever they feel like it. What is actually happening is that the person is having an unpleasant or unwanted emotional experience, and the act of using a substance or thing is changing their emotional state. Therefore, the individual experiences momentarily the power to change their emotional state and thus the illusion that they have control over the unpleasant feelings.
Over time the repetition of this behavior creates such profound changes in the chemical make-up of the individual’s brain that they are no longer in control of their ability to make a new decision if it is healthier, or what they want. The unhealthy response will leave the individual feeling powerless against whatever it was that was causing them distress because they will not have developed the ability to cope with the stressor. This then leads to further isolation in order to avoid situations, people, or things which illicit or trigger the distress. In a sense, the negative behavior has entrenched itself into the persons brain and the person’s intellectual decision making process becomes hijacked by the dominating emotional needs of the addict.Posted on April 27, 2017 By admin
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