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The conventional thinking on addiction states that people begin using a highly addictive substance until it takes over their will to choose. Addiction is dependent on the substance, whether it be alcohol or some other drug or even an activity like sex or gambling. This seems to just stand to reason. That some people seem to be more susceptible to addiction than others is often attributed to genetics. We are born with a predisposition to addiction, or the so called addictive personality.
However, there is some recent research which would contradict this conventional way of thinking. In a study reported in Psychology Today, the real precursors to addiction are emotional trauma and social isolation.
Emotional trauma comes in many forms. Growing up with parents who have little understanding (or interest) in the emotional needs of a child can have life-long negative effects. The feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred become internalized early on and are lodged in the psyche as integral features of a person’s sense of self. With this comes the need to numb those feelings.
Many people who live with addiction problems will immediately recognize this problem. This will not come as news to them. The problem of low self-worth and even self-hatred is one of the major engines of substance abuse and addiction. Since these underlying issues are often not addressed in some traditional forms of addiction treatment, the drive to use remains untreated. We treat the symptom not the cause.
Social isolation is directly related to emotional trauma. With these feelings of low self-worth comes the need to cut oneself off from other people. Often it is the case the people are treated with indifference and shunned due to other aspects of their personality which are deemed unacceptable. Those is the LGBTQ community can identify with this problem. Thus emotional trauma and the social isolation which too often comes with it lead to a complex of psychological problems that fuel drug and alcohol use.
The findings in this study show what nearly everyone one in the recovery community already knew. That profound damage from emotional trauma and social isolation are the underlying causes of addiction. Those who have lived with these emotional injuries know that substance abuse is not the result of a self-indulgent need to “party.” It is driven by the need to numb and escape.
The light in these findings is something else those in the recovery world already know. The non-judgmental support of other people who live with substance abuse problems is one of the best tools in recovery. We find a bridge from social isolation in the support we find in other addicts and alcoholics. The internal condemnations are also alleviated by listening to the stories of others who have lived with the same feelings.
Some form of counseling and a program of recovery which includes treatment for psychological issues and emotional trauma is necessary. People do not erase a life-time of deeply rooted emotional difficulties in group support alone. But it remains the case the recovery support groups are some of the best resources for addiction recovery.
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