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Not Why The Addiction, But Why The Pain?

Updated on January 7, 2017

Anonymous Readers' Poll

Have you experienced addiction?

See results
Passed out cocaine addict
Passed out cocaine addict

I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.

— Edgar Allen Poe

The Mainstream Understanding

There are various mainstream ideas around addiction, but for the most part they have failed to pin down a reliable model. Commonly addiction is seen as a disease, or a bad choice, a negative habit, an infatuation or a love for a substance or certain activity. While all these models are close, they don't quite give us a call to action, or a way of going about solving the problem.

These models have resulted in addiction being treated as a shameful, and sometimes even criminal activity. This has led to trillions of dollars being spent in health care, prisons, and rehab, patching up or hiding the symptoms with drugs, punishments, and so on. In this way, addiction remains common, and the societal issue continues completely unhindered by our failed attempts to slow its destructive effects.

Money
Money

Money

"The U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars in 2010 on the War on Drugs, at a rate of about $500 per second. State and local governments spent at least another 25 billion dollars."

When we begin to imagine what kind of good could be done with taxpayers dollars going towards the failed war on drugs, it becomes blatantly obvious that the war on drugs is an incredible waste of money. The state of Colorado alone has made billions of dollars in tax revenue since legalizing marijuana, not to mention the millions of dollars saved from abolishing failed drug policies. With this new excess in cash they can easily afford to give every student free lunches through their free lunch program. Not only that, but this new found wealth has gone towards making the lives of people far better because now money that was once wasted on the drug war can go towards things like healthcare, infrastructure and so on.

In 2015 alone marijuana tax revenue in Colorado totalled $135 million! This money has gone towards things like building new schools, and improvements on older schools, 15 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana raised $35 million for school construction last year. So if I haven't made the case in terms of national finances, do a little research for yourself.

Pain and Addiction

Gabor Mate

Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadian physician who specializes in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction.

After reading one of his books In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, I learned a profound and yet simple truth with very important applications. Addiction is a symptom of psychological isolation, resulting from early childhood experiences. This simple fact blew my mind, because it shows that the war on drugs is not a war on substances or substance abuse, but on traumatized people, who are doing whatever they can to ease the pain of psychological isolation.

Psychological isolation arises from the early experiences of neglect and abuse at the hands of caregivers. So when we attempt to solve addiction through social ostracism such as incarceration, criminal records, etc, we're actually increasing the stresses that caused the addict to become addicted in the first place. Our current way of dealing with addiction must be stopped.

To solve our addiction problem we have to show empathy to children. It flows down hill. When we show empathy to children, they will learn to empathize with themselves, and care for themselves. One thing I've noticed about addiction is that we wonder why addicts are so self destructive, but it's obvious why, nobody has ever cared for them enough for them to understand the value of caring for themselves. And even if they do understand the value of caring for themselves, why should they? After all, throughout their lives they have understood the message that society is indifferent to their suffering. Basically, why would an addict care for themselves, when nobody has ever made them feel valuable enough to bother.

Cake
Cake

My fear of abandonment is exceeded only by my terror of intimacy.

— Ethlie Ann Vare

Comfort Food

Obesity is increasingly common. In the 1970s obesity was rare. Now in 2017 we're well past 20% in most states. The reason I'm using weight as an example is that most people can't relate to the heroin, cocaine, meth, or nicotine addict, but most people struggle with their weight, and it has a lot to do with stress. So you can understand that when you overeat it's because you're stressed, and the food comforts you. Everyone understands the phrase, "comfort food". We live in a culture where drug addictions are taboo, but a sugar and fat addiction is normal. So I'm using this example because I know that roughly 80% of my readers will have a personal understanding of habitually eating to ease stress.

We all understand what triggers stress, but the reason why stress lingers remains obscure. When you are stressed and psychologically isolated, that stress is hard to contain. Think of a time when you were upset, but then a close friend put their hand gently on your shoulder and asked, "what's wrong?". Though you may have remained upset for some time, the stress itself was reduced significantly.

So to understand the opiate addict, you have to understand the pain of psychological isolation, combined with social ostracism. The addict is trapped, and the only escape is drugs, or in this case, food. When we don't have healthy connections, we seek a substance to ease the pain. The substance becomes the friend, and this is what you must understand to empathize with the addict. And to empathize with the addict is to offer them a chance at connection, which is what they desperately need in order to overcome the addiction.


Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there.

— Gabor Mate: In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts

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