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All addictions are caused by the same thing and therefore can be healed in the same way. Let me explain: Addiction is not a disease. It’s not a case of genetic predisposition or “faulty wiring” in the brain. In fact, it’s a response to painful things that happened during childhood.
Although the disease model of addiction has been in favor for some time, it has proven ineffective in truly making sense of addiction and more importantly, in treating it. The programs which make use of this model see very poor results, with people repeatedly “falling off the wagon.”
It’s convenient to blame this treatment failure on the intractability of the addict’s disease but I see it quite differently. Treatment failure is really due to an inaccurate conceptualization of addiction and ineffective treatment methodology.
Addictions are due to trauma experienced during childhood, and sometimes even later in life. They’re a person’s way of dealing with unmet emotional needs and unresolved emotional pain. A recent study by Dr. Vincent J. Felitti and others demonstrates this fact most clearly.
In looking at 17,000 healthy HMO patients, Dr. Felitti and his team recognized one constant in every person who was struggling with addiction: the presence of what they refer to as “adverse childhood events.” Whether the addict was abused or neglected while growing up; whether they witnessed abuse, incurred the loss of a loved one or experienced a traumatic illness or accident, these events caused emotional trauma.
The addict opts for a “false solution” to their needs and pain. They compulsively pursue the addictive behavior in the erroneous belief that eventually, it will give them the healing, nurturing and soothing that they need.
This isn’t a thought-out decision, but an unconscious choice driven by the wounded “child within” which persists at the forefront of the psyche, seeking healing and compensation for the pain and losses of the past.
This child part of the psyche is convinced that the addiction is the solution to their problems, and therefore is compelled to repeat the addictive behavior in the false hope that it will eventually pay off.
The addictive behavior gives partial gratification, which also encourages the addict to stick with it, waiting for it to finally do the trick. When it doesn’t, they can’t give it up because the primitive “child-mind” is compelled to resolve the emotional trauma and sees the addiction as the only way to do this.
Addictions are interchangeable. An addict can switch addictions or can simultaneously have more than one addiction. Multiple addictions arise as the individual searches in vain for the answer to their emotional needs. If alcohol isn’t sufficiently effective, they can add compulsive eating or drugs to the mix.
Addiction transfer happens when the person voluntarily gives up one addiction and then inadvertently picks up another. An example would be someone who joins a 12-step program and quits alcohol or drugs but then begins shopping compulsively, or someone who has stomach stapling surgery and becomes a compulsive gambler.
People also transfer addictions when they’ve been forced to let go of one; for example, when they’re in a court-mandated drug program, or when they’ve hurt their back and can no longer work out compulsively.
I’ve developed a treatment for all addiction that’s a simple four-pronged approach which addresses the childhood wounds and gives the addict a way of replacing the addictive behavior with something that will actually give them what they need:
- The person must face the truth about their past and see how the trauma and/or losses they’ve experienced have left them with emotional wounds;
- They must grieve their hurts and losses over time in the same way as they might grieve the loss of a loved one;
- They must let go of their wounds and put the past behind them once and for all, so that they’re no longer compelled to keep dealing with it in the present;
- They must discover and then pursue the things that will bring real self-nurturing and real fulfillment today. These things include self-acceptance, self-care, loving relationships, meaningful work and fulfilling pastimes.
- By recognizing the true cause of addictions and by adopting the four-pronged approach, the addict can work toward being fully recovered, as opposed to perpetually “in recovery.”