The Invisable Side of Addiction
Addiction or what clinically is often referred to as ‘dependency’ is something people get uncomfortable talking about. When you mention addiction to someone - instantly people conjure a picture of how that looks. It could be the homeless man on the street or your relative that is always drunk at Christmas. Then the questions start. Why are they this way? Was it because mom or dad left them? Was it because they were abused? More often then not, that “why”, is answered with something along the lines of, they have no self control and they make bad decisions. Truth is, that is not how addiction works at all. It is a disease. The AA book calls it an allergy and that isn’t exactly how it works inside the body but it is a great way to think about it. The scope of this post won’t allow for me to convince you that addiction is a disease. If you need convincing, stop reading and go research disease of addiction then come back.
The question “why” can be answered differently for every person suffering from addiction. The one solid truth is that none of these ways include lack of willpower or lack of self discipline. Problematic drug use is not what I am talking about here. I am talking about dependency. The disease that allows certain people’s bodies to become dependent on a substance of choice. There are many different ways to treat addiction. The invisible side of addiction that I speak of is where I do my work. That work is in the emotional side of drug use. I don’t focus on making better choices, getting a sponsor, changing the way you live, or any other behavioral type of things. Those are all very important aspects to treatment but there are a great many resources for that. The majority of treatment centers are going to treat those aspects of addiction. My work in addictions is deeper and takes more time than in-patient treatment centers have to spend with individual patients.
My therapy starts with individuals figuring out why they abused a substance in the first place. Often times it comes down to one of two reasons. The first one has to do with having fun with friends. You would party with your friends and they were able to party on Friday night and Saturday. After that, they could live a normal life and not think about partying until the next weekend. Those with the disease of addiction developed a craving and an uncontrollable urge to use every day and when you didn’t use you had physical aliments from it. The second reason people abuse a substance is because life sucks sometimes. Something happened to you or someone you love and it was too much for you to handle and you found a way to not feel whatever emotion was involved. (NOTE: not everyone will be able to put themselves perfectly into one of those boxes)
The place where your drug abuse meets the emotion you don’t want to feel is where long term treatment begins. Remember, this is after you have made the necessary behavioral changes. No matter what situation you find yourself in there are emotions involved.
If you are suffering from an addiction right now - start by asking yourself some questions. What emotions do I feel that I know are uncomfortable to me? What emotions am I wanting to numb? What emotions drive me to use more frequently? These emotions could come from dark times in your life. Be sure to not start this process alone. The one thing you cannot do is ignore this invisible side of addiction. In my opinion, if you ignore your emotions, you might never be able to stay in recovery.
Chris Depew is a therapist and operates a private counseling practice in Huntsville Alabama and he focuses on personality disorders, addictions, and divorce care but helps anyone find peace in the middle of troubled times.