Addiction is something that, historically, has been stigmatised and looked down upon. Those who suffer from addiction are often ignored, criminalised, treated as outcasts and even sent to prison. This cultural view of addiction is that it is some kind of personal defect, moral failing or a lack of willpower. These views also come with the, often unspoken, assumption that addiction is a conscious life style choice. These are all damaging and unhelpful attitudes. Condemnation and judgement are usually born of ignorance, but understanding can brings about a more compassionate view. As Sheldon Whitehouse (US Senator) says, “Addiction is a tough illness, and recovery from it is a hard but noble path. Men and women who walk that path deserve our support, encouragement, and admiration”.
One very useful and popular method to treat addiction is the twelve step model. This had a revolutionary effect on treatment as it changed the thinking about the nature of addiction. It taught that addicts have an incurable disease that can be managed. It provided a framework for addicts to refrain from using substances, attend regular support meetings and work a thorough programme in order to restore a functional life and free them from their substance addiction and the chaos that it causes.
This twelve step approach has ideas such as taking a personal inventory, accepting and working on personal shortcomings as well as seeking forgiveness and enlightenment. I believe this a tremendously powerful and effective approach. And if you or someone you know has an addiction I strongly suggest starting the journey to managing it with this approach.
But, I do not feel this is the whole story. I believe there is a part of the puzzle of addiction missing in this model. For me there needs to be an understanding of trauma and the role it plays in self-soothing behaviours and addictions. As Gabor Mate (Hungarian-Canadian physician) says “Every addict has trauma, but not everyone who has trauma becomes an addict”.
An addiction is a behaviour where by a person is unable to stop an activity despite harmful consequences. There is a wide spectrum of these compulsive behaviours but I believe they almost always start with the subconscious trying to protect us from harm or discomfort. Addictions often, at least initially, bring relief or distraction from the pain being faced.
When we feel in a state of threat or pain or dysregulation we often exhibit the Fight or Flight response to combat or run away from that which is harming us. Trauma, especially an emotional one, is not easily resolved by this response and so we become stuck in this fear state. Our minds then seek ways to mitigate, lessen or pacify the trauma and this is where addictions can take root.
Now some addicts have argued that they have not suffered a trauma. But if we look at traumas from the perspective of the subconscious or auto nervous system and how it responds to pain (both physical and emotional) we can see that addictions is often driven by a trauma of some kind.
This trauma based view of addiction has started to transform addiction management and treatment. A trauma-informed approach to addiction, and mental health, is a more compassionate, realistic and scientific approach. And Hypnotherapy has a key role to play in this. It has a number of techniques to help clients explore the origins and root causes of addictions, phobias and other unwanted behaviours. If you feel that hypnotherapy could help you or someone you know then contact me.