Not why the addiction. Why the pain?
There are lot of confusing definitions, stigmas, and ideas about addiction out there and just about as many approaches to treatment as there are theories. However, a ven-diagram center at the heart of all understanding and approaches exists. Let me explain. Essentially, addiction is manifested in any behavior that a person craves, finds temporary relief or pleasure in but suffers negative consequences as a result of, and yet has difficulty giving it up. Typically, when people hear “addiction,” they think of drugs, but addiction is better understood as a person’s rigid and compulsive relationship to a certain escapist-style of coping with the experience of living. This can be as overt as a chemical addiction, like alcohol, or a behavioral addiction like shopping, sex, relationships/love, food, porn, video games, or even exercise in excess. Yet still, more subtle forms exist, like an addiction to work, to being distracted, your phone, or even to your mind. Yes, it is possible to obsessively live in thought and experience consequences in your emotional life and relationships as a result.
One thing is always certain, addiction starts in pain and ends in pain – over time the brain’s reward circuity is hijacked and little of the self that elected the faulty coping behavior in the beginning is leftover to resolve the problem at the end. Lies, secrecy, and shame continue to fuel the best-friend like romance between the addicted and their chosen drug or behavior. Here lies the basis for surrender to a program, a sponsor, or a therapist at the beginning of treatment - your brain isn't your own anymore, so you will need to rely on someone else's.
What is central to understanding addiction is that the real problem is the person's relationship to the given chemical or behavior, not the object or behavior itself. The addict faces an immense challenge in tolerating difficult feelings, and in my experience are constitutionally very sensitive people to begin with - hence the need to literally reach outside of themselves to regulate emotions or difficult feeling states. The pain they carry almost always has to do with pain born in failed relationships or trauma, either in childhood or from a series of knock-down events in life that were emotionally shattering and the pain was unaddressed in a healthy, therapeutic manner. Its important to understand however, that the trauma the addicted face isn't the external event(s) that happened but the more precise moment when the traumatic experience made them. fundamentally disconnect from themselves. They are isolated from their own experience, from others, and the addiction is the adaptation to this pain.
A large part of healing an addiction has to do with coming back into relationship – first with others, like a therapist or 12-step community, and then through that process back into relationship with their own selves (learning to be at home in one’s own mind and feelings again). This is done both in psychotherapy and by attending a recovery-oriented program like AA or a non-religious program like SMART recovery. This is the best approach. They both work together to heal the whole person – psychotherapy's role is to attend to the wounds on a deeper level, work through trauma, and develop the skills to manage emotions all in the context of a real and healthy therapeutic relationship. The recovery program co-signs these changes as it simultaneously offers a basic framework and community for the self-revelation and honesty necessary to restore one to sanity and a meaningful life.
People who obtain long term sobriety often identify as "in recovery." It's an interesting choice of words. Recovery means to find something that was lost - I believe this is the true self. The self which was once whole now banished from itself as a result of trauma. I have helped many on this journey and have success in helping people overcome addictions and find themselves once more. Each recovery is as unique as the person and I approach it as such. Sometimes this starts with simply helping people to find their own willingness and confront patterns, others come in as an after-care plan who are craving the deeper work psychotherapy has to offer after making meaningful progress in their sobriety. I look forward to hearing from you, shame-free, and answering any questions you might have. This absolutely includes the friends and family of those suffering from addiction! Psychotherapy and ALANON are great resources for you. You or your loved one really can get well and stay well. I'm here to help.