Addiction: Is There An Answer? 

C.W. Stratton

There are many reasons that an individual starts down the path of addiction. People have studied addiction, looking for ‘the answer.’ Many of us acknowledge that not a single reason equates to full-blown addiction. 

The many studies, theories, opinions, and research around the subject still have many people scratching their heads, resulting in assumptions about the cause. Some things that are known to be contributing factors include:

  1. Genetic Factors
  2. Environmental Factors
  3. Psychological Factors

Although these are significant factors associated with addiction, we still wonder – why do people use? 

If we look at genetics as a contributing factor, the gene identified within the person doesn’t eventually fire off at a moment’s notice. The person decides to use a given substance; despite never being a user of substances. People don’t wake up one morning and say, “I’ll go to the liquor store and start drinking every day,” or, “I think I’ll find the neighborhood dope dealer and become a regular customer.”

The environmental cause doesn’t mean the person “catches addiction” like you would catch a cold. However, poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and poor role models all contribute. 

We have to look at the individual’s psychological makeup to determine why someone would use substances and become addicted. 

I know, I know, these three factors can be viewed deeper, including research and study outcomes. However, each of the three categories has a common denominator – feelings and emotions. 

Whatever The Reasons, There Are Feelings And Emotions 

You know feelings – those things that we do our best to guard and to avoid discussing. But beyond more research, there are reasons we know. People use to change the way they feel. Whether it is to change their feelings or to bury the feelings, they are having. We hear this most often talked about in recovery support meetings, too.  

The way we deal with feelings often dictates how our day will be and how we respond or react to different situations.

Feelings and Emotions Challenge Us

Feelings and emotions also challenge our commitment to the recovery process.  A feeling is an emotional state or reaction. At the same time, emotion is a natural, instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationship with others.  In many instances, the two tend to be confused with one another.

Reflecting on the internal reasons people engage in destructive/addictive behavior, feelings or emotions often fuel their thoughts and actions. A good example is that feeling of inadequacy. We may feel inadequate in specific settings or situations.  

However, some people feel inadequate in most situations, no matter the circumstances. 

These people may yearn to have this feeling quieted, especially as they see their peers presenting as confident, secure, and comfortable in those social situations. 

Feelings Fuel Our Decisions

“Preaching at people about behaviours, even self-destructive ones, did little good when I didn’t or couldn’t help them with the emotional dynamics driving those behaviours.”― Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

Feelings and emotions are known to drive our decision-making. Being controlled by these is dangerous and detrimental to our recovery. The following is a partial list of complicated feelings and emotions and may lead a person back to use.

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Being Overwhelmed
  • Depressed
  • Excitement
  • Frustration
  • Guilt
  • Happiness
  • Inadequacy
  • Insecurity
  • Shame

We can add many more because it doesn’t matter what we are experiencing, but our response to it is most critical. 

We’re going to have many feelings and emotions, and the root of these often comes from outside sources, which means we can control how we respond and whether we choose to return to active addiction because we don’t like the way we’re feeling. 

Active Addiction Can Stop If We Don’t Relapse

Being reactive to situations that arise in our lives places us at greater risk for relapse. And, when this does occur, we often realize that we should have handled a given situation differently and not reacted to our feelings and emotions. 

As a result, we may continue to use substances after that relapse. If we are lucky, we will get another opportunity to recover. It takes weeks, months, and even years for some to get back into recovery. The delay in returning to meetings or reconnecting with those who had previously supported us isn’t always connected to the obsession and compulsion to use; it’s sometimes centered around the guilt and shame that we acquired along with way. 

Guilt and Shame Keep People in Active Addiction 

These two feelings can destroy the core of an individual, especially as it relates to recovery. We are ashamed to let those know we returned to active addiction. We become consumed with guilt about our actions. Often, we’ll think that if we don’t go back to those meetings, everyone will assume we’re going to other meetings. 

We say to ourselves, “I’ll never go back to that meeting; maybe I’ll try to hold on and make it seem that everything’s alright.” As we continue with these thoughts, the delay in returning to the very place that has saved us and provided a new life for ourselves becomes even greater. 

I Know That Feeling and Emotion

Over time, we can get to a place where feelings and emotions no longer dictate the directions in which we go. Being able to name specific emotions and feelings as they arise is critical in this process. 

Many have the instinct to run and hide when certain emotions or feelings emerge. The running or hiding sometimes manifests as acting out in some way.

We either turn on others, but most importantly, we turn on ourselves. Reflect on a time where an outside source provoked intense feelings or emotions (someone disrespected you, hurt you, or embarrassed you), and the automatic thought is to lash out or react in some way. 

When we don’t address the matter head-on, our behavior tends to display, “I’ll show you, I’ll hurt me.” We do something destructive that will only impact our lives and not affect the other person – that’ ‘turning on ourselves.’

Feelings and emotions will always exist; we won’t be able to avoid them as they surface. Managing them and acquiring healthy ways to respond are most important. We must begin working through them and fully experience the feeling and emotion to understand better what it’s all about. Or to find out why we respond and react to certain things as we do. Everyone doesn’t react to a given feeling or emotion that same way. 

Go Ahead and Feel It

Some subconsciously talk themselves out of an appropriate response by going back to the “default” response. We return to what’s familiar but not necessarily comfortable. Look at what your given “default” response is, then assess the results of it. I’m sure we can find “fault” with the “default.” 

Many of our responses to situations are related to our belief systems. Our belief systems have affected us on many levels. We learned these from one another through observation, imitating, and modeling. From the beginning of our lives, we know how to respond to certain situations based on how others have. 

We adopted this to the point that we believe this is just who I am and how I am. My position is that it’s only an excuse not to do the work to get a better outcome of what we are seeking. This is an example of how our beliefs can impact our recovery.

Your friend, family member, or spouse tells you “no” to something, or they are critical toward you about an action you have taken. We believe that this person is mean, doesn’t know what they are talking about, or doesn’t want us to succeed in this process. 

Then we get angry, upset, hurt, or even embarrassed. What we tend to do is curse, slam doors, stop talking to the person, and even go as far as to use substances. The domino effect (from beliefs to feelings to actions) can be catastrophic. This example is an activating event.  

Feelings and Emotions Activate the Events

 We have allowed many events to control our feelings, emotions, and actions. We have made them responsible for how we think, feel, and act. Now, it’s time to return this control to ourselves.

Recovery helps people get a different perspective on their lives. This process isn’t just about “not using” substances; this also requires an internal transformation. 

We have responded to many things in ways we have regretted and wish we had a do-over. Learning from the outcomes of our reactive and impulsive behavior of the past is crucial. We are not perfect, but to measure the quality (not quantity) of recovery, we must look further within. 

Internal battles do not have to last a lifetime – we can bring peace to our recovery, and peaceful is a feeling and emotion that’s worth working towards. 

Author: cwstratton

Addictions Counselor, Life Coach, and Professor

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