“Not everyone who experiences trauma becomes addicted. However, everyone who is addicted has trauma.” Gabor Mate, Trauma Summit
Treating Addiction-My Approach
When we hear the word ‘addiction’ we often think about alcohol and street drug dependency. But addiction is much broader than that meaning addictive behaviour can focus on, prescription medication, food, sugar, gaming, social media, TV/internet, shopping, exercise, sex, pornography, co-dependency, gambling, eating disorders (binge, purge, restrict), workaholism/overworking, extreme sports and more.
Working with addiction requires us to become aware of our unconscious attempts to seek attachment and self-soothe through our addictive behaviours. All of us are hardwired to avoid pain, so when we have no healthier alternative coping strategies our addictions make sense. In our addictive behaviours we seek a sense of relief or peace, a calm state free from stress, pain and suffering, fewer anxious and stressful thoughts and feelings, and a sense of connection. For many individuals that suffer from addiction, trauma can be a contributing factor. For those that have suffered trauma, If unaddressed it can be a constant stumbling block to their long-term recovery. The root issues that underlie addiction need to be comprehensively treated through appropriate integrated treatment methodologies.
The experience of trauma is also often related to attachment, and recent research has illustrated the neurobiological links between chronic stress caused by early traumatic experiences. My approach tailors interventions to fit the specific needs of individual clients who self-medicate in an attempt at emotional regulation through substance abuse and process (behavioural) addictions. Finding a pathway for recovery will involve treating past trauma. Recovery from unresolved trauma alongside any coexisting conditions such as addiction and eating disorders is entirely possible.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) studies are among the largest and most comprehensive interventions involving childhood abuse in the world, providing extensive data on the nature of addiction resulting from trauma. These studies confirm my beliefs regarding the self-medication hypothesis and the way in which therapy is essential for overcoming neurological and neurochemical reinforcement for addictive behaviours. If addiction is dependent on experiences and not substances then therapy is integral for providing the experiences needed to form new neural pathways that are rewarding and not dependent on chemicals. This has led me to develop a combination of therapeutic techniques and theories that are tailored to meet each client’s individual needs and preferences.