Understanding addiction will help you to understand recovery.
Everything you know about addiction may be wrong. But not because of science, and not because I know things that you don’t. Sometimes our minds search for simple answers and as a result, we get it wrong.
We often think that addiction is about drugs or alcohol, and dysfunctional relationships. It’s not.
Nearly all of us have to sort through what they do with drugs and alcohol. That is not really unusual. Many people overdo alcohol or other substances, but they are not addicts.
Most people also have their share of dysfunctional relationships. Unhealthy relationships are not unusual and each of us needs to figure out how to get along with sick, or inappropriate, or porcupine-like people. We either learn to set boundaries or we end up eliminating them from our lives.
Addiction is just not about the drugs or the alcohol. It’s also not about the relationships. It’s true, addiction is not kind to relationships. Addiction can be like a cyclone both within a person and also within their relationships.
Most healthy people need help at various times to navigate workplace relationships or other personal issues. A therapist, a coach, or a mentor can be a key person to help us. Having relationship issues is not unique to just addiction. It’s part of being a human being.
So then what is addiction all about? What is unique to addiction?
Addiction is a relationship, but the relationship is not with a person. It is a relationship with our substance, our behaviour, or our process that satisfies the cravings that we have. There are many theories, which I won’t attempt to take the time to summarize here.
If you are interested in a review of the major theories of addiction, see this excellent article, The Meaning of Addiction by Stanton Peele and Bruce Alexander.
Everyone experiences issues with interpersonal relationships, and most of us have to figure out how to drink alcohol without it wrecking parts of our lives. This is normal. Some people in trying to navigate relationships, substances, emotions and mental health and other factors run into trouble.
Addiction is complex, and it is not a uniform experience. In other words, each person will have different personal factors and motivations. However, what we know is that the presence of several of the following factors can make a person more likely to experience addiction:
- Intense personal pain. It is a way of coping with pain or responding to pain. Can be a result of abuse, abandonment, assault, trauma both large and small. These traumas have been demonstrated to be associated with addiction, mental health issues, and compromised personal health.
- A chaotic inner life, or external life. Addiction is an attempt to regain control over a chaotic inner life, emotional life or mental health, or external life (our environment). Many of those with an addiction also have at least one mental health disorder.
- Unmet developmental needs. A person did not learn self-regulation, or emotional regulation, differentiation (how to be independent, yet connected), thinking through cause and effect, delay of gratification, meeting needs through relationships, and a host of other needs.
- Unfulfilling personal relationships. Some psychologists define this as attachment issues, or a lack of connecting with our parents or family, and other key people in our lives.
- Biology. Having a parent or another close family member will make us more likely to become an addict.
Addiction is not about the drugs, and recovery is also not about the drugs.
Both addiction and recovery are interested in what happens after the drugs are gone.
Recovery will seek to help the person in recovery to answer the question, “Who are you without the drugs?”
And that is the question that I leave you with: “Who are you without your personal drug?”
I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain.
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Photo by Josh Cain