Addiction is something that is very prevalent in our society but is often under the radar. Some addictions are not noticed because the substance or activity can be afforded or it is not noticeably interfering with the ability to carry on with day to day life, to keep going to work, to look after the kids. Some addictions are even encouraged by society; an addiction to exercise could easily go unnoticed because we have been so influenced that going to the gym/running etc is good for us and it's what ‘healthy’ people do.
Alcohol intake is also encouraged, indeed it often encouraged as a way of coping. How often have we used the phrase, even half-jokingly:
‘It’s wine O’clock’
‘Just one to take the edge off’
‘It’s 6pm somewhere’.
As a society, we use alcohol to celebrate, commiserate, to heighten or numb our emotions, to deal with stress, to cope with everyday life. Although all of these things aren’t necessarily bad, it becomes unhelpful if a glass or bottle during the day or at the end of the day is the only thing helping you through the day. Addiction is a coping mechanism, it's a thing we can use to get through the painful experiences of life.
“Addiction is neither a choice or a primary disease. It originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self”
- Gabor Maté, In the realm of Hungry Ghosts
Nevermore have we been in a place of disconnection and overwhelming stress as the Covid-19 virus and government guidelines impact our lives. This is likely to have a huge impact if you are already suffering from trauma. Whether this is ‘Big T’ Trauma or ‘little t’ trauma. The big T Traumas are the more obvious things we think of for Trauma - one-off big events or experiences where you fear for your, or someone else’s, life - Rape, Abuse, Car accidents, etc which can but doesn’t always result in PTSD. Small t trauma can be the low-level drip effect of small things happening regularly such as living with someone who is emotionally unstable, being made to feel useless and worthless, or distressing events that don't fit into the Big T criteria.
The list of things we human beings can be addicted to is a long and ever-growing list: Alcohol, drugs (illegal and pharmaceutical including pain killers), smoking, gambling, porn, sex, video games, work, exercise, smartphones, emotions (such as the highs and lows of love), food (over or under eating or particular foods), and the list grows. But perhaps we need not concern ourselves with the what is someone addicted to but the why and how of addiction.
Why does someone have an addiction, how does it help? And what does someone need in order to stop relying on the addiction? This is where therapy can help, by supporting someone to look at and face the things that are so painful they must be blocked out.
There can be a fine line between a habit and an addiction. Habits often go hand in hand with addiction. For example, you might get home from work and every night make a cup of tea and have a smoke, making tea is a habit but the cigarette/spliff is an addiction. If you want to break an addiction it can be helpful to look at the habits that go with it that act as triggers. In this case, you might want to change your routine, so when you get home instead of making a cup of tea and triggering the addiction for a smoke, you could first get changed and put some music on then have a glass of water or squash and wait to have a cup of tea with dinner. Or you might have to cut out tea completely and find something else to drink.
Habits are part of our routine, how we navigate and get things done during the day e.g. get up, go to the loo, have a shower, brush teeth, get dressed, have a cup of tea, etc. That is a routine or a habitual way of starting the day. We mostly do this without thinking but it would be possible to change it if necessary. If you had a new housemate that needed to use the bathroom before you you would adjust your routine. An addiction can be part of a routine but it is also something that you would go out of your way to satisfy.
With an addiction you are more likely to hide your behaviour:
Or substance use:
If you haven’t been able to use your addiction you will feel anxious or stressed, wondering when you can next: have a smoke, play the video game, watch porn, hook-up for sex.
Another factor in addiction is the trans-generational aspects. In Family Constellations addiction would be viewed as an indication that something has gone wrong in the bonding or that something had happened in a previous generation that was unresolved. Every case needs to be looked at individually but there are some common themes that often arise in relation to addiction:
So what helps when trying to break free from addiction?
Addiction is a huge and complicated issue and also a very simple one:
“Addictions arise from thwarted love. From our thwarted ability to love our children in the way they need to be loved. From our thwarted ability to love ourselves and one another in the ways we all need. Opening our hearts is the path to healing addiction-opening our compassion for the pain within ourselves, and the pain all around us.”
- Gabor Maté - In the realm of Hungry Ghosts
If you would like to know more, I recommend the following books:
In my work I draw on lots of different modalities, my initial training was as an Integrative Psychotherapeutic Counsellor and I am continually adding new skills and theories. I have done additional training in trauma and dissociation. I use Family/Systemic Constellations to see the bigger picture of a person's distress and where the origins may be. I am currently finishing training in Energy Psychotherapy which uses gentle and powerful techniques to clear issues and trauma. If you’d like to know more visit my website hermionebrown.co.uk