Understanding and Treating Addiction as a Disease
Addiction should not be judged as a problem of willpower, misconduct, or any other unscientific diagnosis. The problem must be accepted for what it is a bio-psycho social disease with a strong genetic influence, obvious signs and symptoms, a natural progression and a fatal outcome if not treated (see
Addictions are emotional illnesses and bad relationships. Quite often each individual addiction in a person's life such as: alcoholism, drug addiction, food addiction, gambling addiction, sexual addiction, love and relationship addiction, nicotine and work addiction, are understood and seen reflected in a similar way to the branches of a tree; the roots of which have become divided or split, as presented through the illustration above.
The addiction tree (above, which came from Broadway Lodge, a facility which treats addiction in the South West of England, and which is illustrated by Terry Kellogg), provides various examples of the different manifestation of addictions, that arise through abandonment and injury during the early stages of life.
Typically, this is where the origins of malignant or toxic Shame develops. Shame originates because of the breaking of the inter-personal bridge within the family/social/community environment during the early childhood years, and sometimes through being exposed to trauma in adult life.
The inter-personal bridge is what connects the inner self to the outer-self, and is where relationships and bonding develop. Once this bridge is broke, a person may go into hiding and become an addict because the shame is so emotionally painful, especially for a child. This is how someone becomes Codependent through the development of a false self. Codependency is typically characterized by addictive relationships and attachment disorders in relationship and abroad spectrum of other emotional disorders.
It is also worth noting, how the tree diagram above does not consider the genetic inheritance of genes that contribute to addiction, and neither does it take into account the ancestral patterns from within the family history or social influence, which can be inherited unconsciously. Moreover, it is also known that Co-dependency, which means a loss of the original self within a person, and Soul Loss (a loss of vital life-force energy and enthusiasm for living, see the page on 'Shamanism' for more about this), is known as a cultural phenomena related to addiction and trauma, because the condition is so widespread within modern society.
Over the past 50 years, medical professionals from within the field of recovery from addiction and substance abuse in the United States, identify Shame and Co-dependency, as a variety of compulsive/obsessive disorders within the internal environment of the individual. These traits are responses to the condition called Soul Loss (dissociation), for which, there is little awareness concerning medical diagnosis in relation to Codependency.
Typically, a person who is Codependent might be referred to as someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder, usually, the symptoms of Codependency are unidentified. Soul Loss is also visible in a person through different types of compulsive obsessive disorders with reference to addiction.
It is why alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, heroin, work, exercise, nicotine, compulsive sex, violence, crime, food, money, for example, are used to try reconnect the inner and outer selves together, which are separated because of the shame core that has developed between these due to the breaking of the inter-personal bridge. Understanding this complexity provides insight into why addiction is referred to as the 'Disease of the Lost Self'.
The dis-ease Co-dependency is primarily a response to childhood trauma that is characterized through emotional and physical abandonment, because a person has not been given the parenting they needed whilst growing up such as having their developmental dependency needs denied. Shame is at the root of this condition; shame being at the root of every addiction. A person who is Co-dependent, may have both addictive and destructive relationships in adult life.
Quite often Codependents (adult children) are living in isolation or are compulsively addicted to people, and either functioning as second best, or as needing to control and dominate relationships and other persons. If a person has been raised in a strict and rigid family the victim may have an eating disorder. However, it is critical to understand that the more trauma experienced in childhood, the more addictions will be present in adult life.
Addiction and Co-dependency is a very wide-spread problem in society. It has been estimated that one out of three families will have a member or members, who are addicted to some substance, or who engage in addictive relationships. What tends to accompany Co-dependency are anxiety and mood disorders and these are often impacted by substance abuse, which is used to try and manage them. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) tends to be commonplace amongst Co-dependents and those with an addictive illness whose parents, grandparents or care-givers were addicts or alcoholics.
One of the most common symptoms of Soul Loss has been identified in soldiers who have returned from the battle-field, from which Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is present. By contrast, a person or persons who have been exposed to active addiction, or violence or both over a period of time whether it be in childhood or adult hood, can also exhibit similar symptoms, known to the medical profession who treat PTSD victims.
Those who are exposed to the consequences of addiction in adulthood, can actually take on the patterns and behavior of the addict themselves because they have to adapt to survive being around the person who is sick. However, if left untreated, a victim may begin dealing with life via anger and rage and by addictive means and thus becoming addicted or Co-dependent themselves. Another response to Soul Loss is long term emotional and clinical depression, suicidal tendencies and catastrophic thinking.
Society and Addiction. Over the past 50 years, there has been significant progress in understanding human consciousness, concerning emotional and spiritual growth and well-being. The well known Psychologist Carl Jung spoke of a 'collective consciousness' amongst all things on earth.
For example, animals, people, trees, plants, water, rocks and the spirits who reside in nature. If we look at the impact that addiction is having on society collectively, then there are whole areas of the collective human psyche in the West, which are dysfunctional and diseased. An extension and reflection of this, is the on-going destruction of the natural environment and the massive suicide rate, especially amongst men and young adults.
In the past, old establishment rules and modes of parenting that don't work any more, taught parents and children that it was wrong to show or express emotions. What we now see as a response to this, is disease and premature death. This belief regarding the denial of emotion and feelings has been carried forward through distorted forms of religious teaching and the ways in which people are taught to live, as well as poor parenting and education.
We need for example, to only look at the indigenous communities around the world to witness the impact that these events have had over the past centuries. To deny feelings is a form of emotional suicide.
Young people and addiction. There is a great concern about the vulnerability of teenager's and the use of alcohol. We live in a society, which is highly supportive of alcoholism and other forms of addiction. One area where this is evident is through the mentality within the media, which projects and dictates to society how the requirements for social bonding and acceptability are structured. This is predominantly in relation to masculinity where men have been portrayed as being heavy or regular drinkers who deny feelings and emotions.
Addiction and childhood abandonment. Decades ago, there was a belief system within society that children were born out of Original Sin, and that in order to make them pure again, they needed to be punished and disciplined (see for example, Alice Miller's book, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child Rearing and the Roots of Violence, 1985).
Apart from this belief being held by certain individuals within the Church, it also filtered into the education system, which was under the rule of the domain of the church. Therefore, to a certain extent the parenting which was administered to children was dominated by this kind of belief system and included the use of violence and shame for making mistakes.
Social Science and Psychology tells us today, that when children are not accepted and loved, even when they are 'bad' they become abandoned. This can either be in infancy, throughout the course of the childhood years, or whilst it is still in the womb.
When there is no love and acceptance given to the infant, which is a natural requirement for children and infants so that they can grow healthy and whole as individuals, what happens is that they grow up with a distorted perception of themselves and of life. This again, is where the development of both malignant or toxic shame and guilt originates and then develops.
When the abandonment has taken place because the parents are preoccupied with alcohol or other forms of addiction such as relationship, religious, activity (exercise), or work addiction, or because the the children have been abused sexually and/or physically, quite often the same seeds are sewn in the children.
Therefore, not only do some follow the same pathway as their care-givers, but they may also turn to substance abuse and physical and sexual abuse in their teens and adult years themselves, thus becoming offenders in addition to being victims. This is known as carried or induced shame.
Such behavior can be seen as an attempt to feel powerful, whole or loved and accepted because they grew up in a family where as victims, they were powerless. This is called the repetition compulsion.
Another very common response to childhood abandonment seen in adolescents and teenagers is rage, excessive anger, violence (domestic violence in adult life), suicidal tendencies, chronic depression, isolation and suicide. Again, trying to feel powerful. It is no uncommon either that persons who grew up in families or environments where they were powerless, can become addicted to power as adults. Religious, political and educational environments tend to be environments where this happens.
Life-style disease and addiction. There have been fierce debates in both the media and in society, concerning the dangers of addictive cigarette smoking. It has been suggested by a number of organizations who's work is primarily suicide prevention, that cigarette smoking is a form of covert suicide. There are also many difficult questions being asked about the effects of cigarette smoking on children, and the harm that it does to children and adults.
For example, in 1996 a survey was carried out by The Royal College of Surgeons in London, concerning children and passive smoking. It had concluded, at the end of 1996, that 17,000 children under the age of five, were admitted to hospital through smoke related illness because of cigarette use in the family environment.
Recovery, healing and forgiveness. Studies into dysfunctional family systems and people who were raised with active addiction and physical and sexual abuse, show that many are amongst a high percentage of society, whose lives have been seriously effected by the nature of the circumstances that were encountered in early life.
These individuals or families are highly susceptible and vulnerable to stress related diseases and emotional illness, than people who were raised by care-givers who were able to meet their needs and love them unconditionally.
During the absorption process and internalization of shame by the children via the addicted person/s and in some cases also the 'extreme' circumstances, these events become stored in the body during the early years, simply because feelings and emotions have been suppressed because they cannot be processed at such a young age.
A response to this in later life is chronic fatigue, depression, heart problems, cancer, stroke, joint problems, sensory impairment, chronic depression and suicide. In men, quite often fertility problems may occur and in women, reproduction difficulties, which may extend into the endocrine system.
Physicians who are familiar with the recovery process for people who come from addicted and dysfunctional families, speak about the importance of body work, in which inherited emotional patterns and traumas that are stored in the connective tissue, can be released and cleared away. These include: anger, fear, resentment, insecurity, rigidity and suppressed rage, to help heal issues related to low self worth and self esteem.
The process of emotional healing is characterized through releasing old and stored up rage and anger in a safe and nurturing environment, which is parallel to healing, cleaning and clearing the body, grieving and forgiveness. Emotions that have not been expressed tend to be stored in the body and can freeze as a consequence, thus contributing to illness.
Protecting the parents or institution as well as intellectualizing, minimizing and denying the reality of early traumatic experiences and the impact which they had, by trying to forgive without doing the release work, only constitutes to the further mortification of shame and suppressed emotions and feelings.
12 step recovery programmes. The 12 step recovery programmes are groups which are found in each country throughout the world. It is considered that the 12 step groups provide a powerful and effective framework for healing shame and helping addicts and alcoholics maintain long-term and permanent recovery.
The structure of the 12 steps has been put together from an ocean of ancient philosophy and wisdom from the major spiritual traditions of the world; such as Buddhism and Hinduism to Judaism and Christianity for example.
The 12 step programmes have helped millions of people throughout the world to heal and change their lives, and are heralded as one of the most effective ways for people to recover from living with and managing the effects of an addictive illness.
Persons who suffer from PTSD tend to need long-term professional help and support in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment. Some chronic sufferers may need to be institutionalized for reasons of safety.