What’s Underneath? Addiction below the surface.

“Why can’t I stop?” 

This is a question that gets asked often by someone struggling with the disease of addiction. They want to stop. They hate what the using is doing to themselves – they hate what they see it doing to those around them.

“Using” can take many forms including substances like alcohol or drugs, or process addiction like gambling or sex. And while the substance may look different on the surface, what’s underneath in addiction begins to look very familiar.

During the time of addictive using, family members or friends begin to witness a change in their loved one’s behaviour. As the struggling person tries to minimize the fallout, they begin to disconnect from those around them, and the disease of addiction begins to create a pseudo-self – anything to protect the unhealthy using cycle.  Families and friends may begin to see rigid defensiveness, increased negativity, delusional thinking, isolation, anxiety, or depression.  Thus the term “mood altering” begins – Using the addiction as an escape.

All of this is taking place as the brain changes in the patient. Intense mental obsession and craving drives the altered neuropathways, placing the substance in a higher priority than many other basic human needs. The brain wants more.  And so the person continues, despite negative consequences, and despite wanting desperately to stop the destructive path.

What is Treatment?

It’s been said that quitting is the easy part – It’s learning to live again without using that’s the hard part. Identifying the unhealthy patterns or situations that lead to using is necessary, but to peel back the layers and gain insight into what’s underneath is the key to long term recovery.  It’s about going deeper.

For example, if someone recognizes that isolating is the unhealthy behaviour that leads to the drinking – What comes before the isolation? Is it feelings of anger? Shame?Insecurity? Many of these emotional triggers come from previous times or situations in life which caused distress.  After the uncomfortable feeling, does the person present as negative or maybe grandiose before he or she begins to withdraw? What current situation brings these behaviours up? As you can see, treatment becomes not so much about the substance, but what’s underneath it.

There is a real danger in the belief that the addict “just needs to stop drinking” or that they “only need to be distanced far enough away from the drugs”.  The bad news is that the disease of addiction is progressive. The good news is that it is very treatable! If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, it is essential to assess what the right treatment fit is. There are many options to consider. Phone calls and sessions are completely confidential.

Chris Bader, RTC
Registered Therapeutic Counsellor

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