For those of us living with addiction, we can struggle to understand what the causes of our addiction actually are. It can be confusing, overwhelming and depressing not to know where our addictions came from or why they developed within us. When we can't identify the source of our addictions, many of us feel as though we don't truly know ourselves, let alone how to get better. We want to get better, and we are committed to our recovery, but we feel limited and held back by our lack of clarity and understanding about our addictions. Sometimes when we don't understand why we're addicts, we can feel so defeated that we become dissuaded from our recovery work. We feel hopeless and disheartened. We've struggled with these questions for so long we worry we'll never have the answers we're looking for. We feel like there's no point in trying to get better if we won't ever understand what made us sick in the first place. Why are we addicts, and where did our addictions come from?
It can help empower us in our recovery to get to the root of some of the underlying issues fueling our addictions. Gaining insight on the causes of our addictions can help facilitate our healing and give us the clarity we've been looking for.
1. Our Families
For many of us, our addictions were inherited from our family members, our parents or grandparents for example. While this isn't necessarily the case for all of us struggling with addiction, the genetic traits for addiction can be inherited. We might be biologically more predisposed to develop addiction if any of our family members did.
We can also develop our addictions from family in non-biological ways, such as lifestyle factors and behavioral conditioning. There are many reasons why addiction is often referred to as a family disease – we inherit not only genetic traits for addiction but also ways of living, functioning, handling our emotions, interacting within relationships, and operating in the world. When we are surrounded by people who are using drugs or alcohol, we can be more likely to try them. When we grow up in an energy of neediness, dependence and attachment, we can absorb that energy and find ourselves becoming needy and dependent as well. We become mentally, emotionally and behaviorally conditioned by the things we witness and experience, particularly as young children. Our addictions are one of the many things we can pick up by way of family conditioning.
2. Our Peers and Communities
The idea of peer pressure is often thrown around as a joke, especially among adults, but it is a very real thing, for all of us, at any age. When it is a friend or peer we respect and look up to who is pressuring us to try something that we're afraid of or uncomfortable with, or that we know is dangerous, we can find ourselves giving into that pressure. We want to be liked. We want to be accepted, respected, validated and included. It hurts to be excluded by our friends and social groups. Many of us have not yet developed the independence and autonomy to withstand this kind of pressure, especially when we're still young. We think that doing what our friends do will make us more popular, cooler, and more likable. We don't want to turn down an opportunity to be accepted into the popular group or to be liked by someone we admire. This concept can help explain why we give into the mob mentality of doing things that we find dangerous, reckless, even morally reprehensible, just because the larger group is doing it. We might find ourselves experimenting with drugs we never thought we'd try, or drinking way past a comfortable limit, all because we're seeking acceptance and validation.
As adults, our workplace environments, friend groups and other peers can be just as pressuring as when we were kids and our friends peer pressured us at school or in our neighborhoods. They might not respect our telling them that we struggle with addiction. They might tell us we're not really addicts because we seem to be functioning just fine. We might be surrounded by drugs and alcohol at work or in social settings. Many offices and high intensity workplaces are known for storing bottles of liquor and for encouraging the use of cocaine and other stimulants to have enough energy to make it through the long, stressful, demanding work days. Many restaurants, bars and other hospitality industry workplaces are known for promoting excessive drinking and drug use. Whether we're already struggling with addiction, or just starting to experiment with drugs and alcohol, our peer groups and jobs can cause us additional pressure that ultimately contributes to our addictions.
3. Our Emotional Patterns
When we develop patterns of suppressing our emotions and avoiding our difficult challenges using a drug, we may continue those patterns until they morph into a persistent problem and contribute to an addiction. Many of us are programmed to default to certain emotional patterns, and we take the lessons we learn early on and then apply them to our lives moving forward. When we aren't taught healthy coping mechanisms to handle our feelings and stressful life circumstances, we can easily fall into unhealthy patterns such as emotional avoidance and suppression, many of which go on to fuel our addictions. We develop patterns of numbing our feelings, self-medicating with our drugs of choice, and using until we lose consciousness to forget our pain. The daily habits we practice on a regular basis and the behavioral patterns that emerge from them can become the addictions we now struggle with. Similarly, our mental health issues like depression and anxiety can feed into the patterns that become our addictions.
When we have a hard time confronting our emotions, it is often our traumatic experiences that are at the root. Many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our lives. We can be traumatized by anything that hurts and destabilizes us, that causes us pain of any kind, whether mental, emotional, physical or spiritual. Many of us have been abused, neglected, abandoned mistreated or harmed at some point in our lives. We've sustained grave injuries, traumatic losses and painful separations. Losing a loved one, or losing our sense of self can be traumatic. A car accident can be traumatic. Being robbed can be traumatic. We also can experience intergenerational, family and ancestral trauma, inheriting the pain of our lineage and absorbing our families' painful emotions and physical symptoms. We can find ourselves continuing patterns of trauma responses that are not limited to our personal experience but that can be traced back to the traumatic experiences of our distant ancestors and close relatives. When we don't have healthy ways of processing the pain of our trauma, our self-destructive coping mechanisms often become our addictions.
5. Lack of Connection
Addiction is sometimes called a disease of disconnection because the pain of being disconnected, from loved ones, from our higher power, from ourselves, can be so debilitating we turn to our drugs of choice to cope. When we feel alone, we reach for a drink to numb the pain. When we feel lost and empty, we use a drug to temporarily forget how difficult our feelings can be. Connectedness is so important, in every area of our lives. When we aren't connected to our inner selves, we don't have clear understanding of our emotions and we don't know how to cope with them. We turn away from ourselves, and we self-sabotage and self-destruct in all kinds of detrimental ways. We give up on ourselves. We give up on our recovery. Similarly, when we feel disconnected from the people in our lives or from our higher power, we can feel unloved and abandoned. We can feel like life is conspiring to bring us down, and we can't climb our way out of the dark hole we've fallen into. It has been said that the cure for addiction is not sobriety but instead connection. “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” – Johann Hari. When we feel connected, we don't need a drug to ease our pain. Our connection to self, to spirit, and to humanity helps us manage our complex emotions and life challenges. We're able to cope with life naturally, not to mention much more safely and effectively.
One of the most difficult emotions we find ourselves facing is loneliness. Many of us feel inadequate when we're alone, incomplete and unworthy. We have a strong resistance to being alone that causes us to form unhealthy attachments, both with other people and with the drugs of our choice. Sometimes our relationships are our addictions, and we become so attached to them that they function as our drugs of choice. We become desperate, clingy, and obsessive. We can't function without this other person, and we turn to our drug of choice to fill the voids within us that come from our lack of self-love and self-acceptance. Many of us can pinpoint the origin of our addictive patterns back to our inability to cope with our loneliness, an emotion most of us feel but which many of us haven't found healthy ways of managing.
Just like loneliness, many of us find that our addictions flourished out of our inability to handle our boredom. When we feel unfulfilled, directionless and dissatisfied with life, we turn to something outside of ourselves to, again, fill those voids. When we're bored and have nothing to do, especially when we're young before we have the demands of our work and family to keep us more occupied, we can find ourselves using anything we can find to distract ourselves from the boredom we feel. We experiment with drugs to pass the time, especially when our friends are similarly bored and we can't find anything to do together. When we're bored, just like when we're lonely, we look for ways to escape our difficult thoughts and emotions. We look for ways to avoid having to deal with the problems in our lives. Many of us look back and discover that our boredom, something that sounds so harmless, actually created the foundation for our addictions to grow. When we're bored, we don't just feel like we have nothing to do. We also lack a sense of direction and purpose in our lives and can feel deeply unhappy about the state of our lives.
One of the emotions we most try to avoid is that of our insecurity. It can be overwhelmingly painful for us to feel as though we hate ourselves, to reject who we are, to deny ourselves love and acceptance. Many of us inherited these emotional patterns from our parents, caregivers or role models, who we saw altering their appearance to try to be more socially acceptable, or who spoke of themselves disparagingly. We pick up all the patterns of self-deprecation that we witness loved ones carrying out, and they become the basis for how we relate to ourselves. If our mother constantly complained about her looks or picked at us about ours, we can develop deeply rooted insecurities that can be so hard to come back from. If our father put us down for not being good at school, or at sports, we can internalize the belief that we're inherently inadequate and inferior. Any time we feel unworthy, we reject ourselves a little more and worsen our feelings of self-hatred. So many of us try to drown out the voices of our inner demons, and to numb the pain of our insecurities, using our drugs of choice.
We can find ourselves feeling unstable for any number of reasons. Our emotional instability can come from a destabilizing traumatic experience that knocks us off center and causes us to lose our groundedness. It can come from a recurring relationship issue that is causing us considerable emotional pain. It can come from having too much stress and worry accumulate in our jobs. It can result from the family problems that are chipping away at each of our abilities to find happiness. Whatever the source of our instability, when we feel unstable and ungrounded, we don't feel aligned or connected with our inner selves, and we can feel totally devoid of inner peace, causing us to turn to our drugs of choice to feel better.
As we know, negative thinking can contribute to our mental and emotional health issues like depression, anxiety and panic. The more we practice thinking negative thoughts, the more fearful, pessimistic and cynical we become. We develop deeply ingrained negative limiting beliefs that taint our self-perception and our outlook on life. We don't believe we deserve to be happy. We believe happy people are naïve. We believe success is reserved for the elite, the well-educated or the fortunate, and not possible for us. We find every reason in the book why we can't live the lives we want. We believe wholeheartedly that we can't recover from our challenges, and we're filled with self-doubt. These beliefs fuel our addictions along with our mental illnesses. To escape how dreary and difficult it is to always be thinking so negatively, we turn to external sources of comfort and distraction, namely our drugs of choice. We use them to cheer ourselves up, to add a little bit of light to our otherwise very dark days.
11. Our Relationships
Many of us struggling from addiction are in unhealthy, toxic and even abusive relationships. The dynamics in these kinds of relationships fuel our addictions because we're constantly being inundated with relationship issues to deal with, sources of conflict and tension, arguments and fights. We find our relationships to be the cause of so much of our mental and emotional pain. When we feel we have nowhere to turn, nowhere to go, no one to talk to, it is often our drugs of choice that provide the sense of companionship and understanding we're desperately seeking. Furthermore, our partners are often the ones modeling addictive behaviors for us, pressuring us to use, or guilt-tripping us into sharing their vices with them. When we love and care for someone, we often will put ourselves in compromising situations to secure their acceptance, validation and affection. We'll sacrifice our needs to prioritize theirs. Many of us are in codependent relationships where we feel as though we can't survive without this other person. We need them to love us, to want us, to need us. To cope with how destabilizing our lack of independence can be, we use our drugs of choice rather than doing the work to feel whole and complete within ourselves. When our partner withholds their affection or attention, when we feel as though they no longer need us, we can be sent spinning into a dangerous drug-fueled binge. We can find ourselves reeling from the pain, using our drugs of choice to lessen that pain.
12. Our Behavioral Issues
Many of us who identify as addicts don't use the typical substances, drugs and alcohol, as our drugs of choice. Many of us have become addicted to and dependent upon behaviors instead of substances, or in addition to them. These behaviors can include anything from sex, dating and being in relationships, to gambling, gaming and shoplifting. They can be our compulsive behaviors of overeating or oversleeping. They can be extensions of our anxiety disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Our behaviors might be alarming or problematic to us or to the people in our lives, or we might conceal them altogether. The more we practice these behaviors repeatedly, over and over again, for years of our lives, without being able to correct ourselves, shift them or develop healthy coping skills instead, the more likely they are to develop into full-blown addictions.
Professional help can make all the difference in your child’s life. We are dedicated to helping your child achieve sobriety and live up to their full potential.
Reach out to WinGate Wilderness Therapy today.
P.O. Box 347
Kanab, UT 84741