Treating Addiction :
Addicts, sadly, are too frequently blamed for not being able to overcome their addictions; however, this can be based on the misunderstanding that the addict must be hedonistic. This, though, is to miss the point.
The addict is not so much seeking pleasure but, rather, is desperately seeking relief from the intolerable emotional pain (dissociating). In other words, the addict is self – anaesthetizing.
Very frequently, the unendurable mental anguish that the addict feels stems from their childhood trauma.
Internal versus external coping mechanisms:
It is necessary for the addict to stop relying on external coping mechanisms (such as alcohol and drugs) to cope with their psychological pain but instead cultivate internal coping mechanisms such as:
– learning how to self-soothe
– using visualization techniques (such as visualizing a safe place whenever, for example, an incident occurs which triggers anxieties linked to their childhood trauma).
Survivor versus victim:
If no therapeutic work has taken place in order to help the addict resolve the feelings associated with his/her childhood trauma, s/he is likely to remain trapped in the role of victim (in effect, their psychological and emotional development is arrested at the time of the trauma).
However, when therapy begins it can help the addict develop an alternative view of him/herself – that of a brave and strong survivor.
The kinds of childhood trauma that are particularly likely to cause symptoms such as addictions and arrested psychological and emotional development include:
– being treated with contempt/disdain (eg always being on the receiving end of ‘put-downs‘ by a parent/parents/primary caregiver)
– sexual and physical abuse
– verbal and emotional abuse
Such treatment frequently causes the child to develop what psychologists refer to as a negative cognitive triad, i.e:
– a negative view of self
– a negative view of others
– a negative view of the future
In the absence of effective therapeutic intervention, these negative attitudes may endure for a lifetime.
Other symptoms the individual who suffered childhood trauma may develop are:
– a deep and abiding sense of alienation from others/society
– avoidant behaviour, including fear of intimacy (due to fears of being vulnerable to rejection if s/he gets too emotionally close to others).
– an irrational sense of shame
– self-destructive behaviour
When talking to a mental health-care clinician about one’s experience of childhood trauma, it is very important to provide the following details:
– age at the time of trauma
– severity of trauma
– who committed the abuse e.g. stranger, family member (more harmful if a family member)
– was it a single incident or ongoing?
– was the event/ act/s intentional or accidental?
– was escape possible?
– what was the level of severity?
– was the trauma response one of flight, fight or freeze?
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).