Healing the Pain Behind Addiction: A Path to Recovery


"Addiction is a response to emotional pain. The more we understand the pain, the less we judge the addict and the more we can help them heal." - Christopher Dines

As a society, how do we typically view addiction?

Do we often respond with judgment or disdain towards those who are struggling with addiction?

It’s true that addiction can lead to undesirable behaviors such as recklessness and irresponsibility, but these behaviors are only the tip of the iceberg. To truly understand addiction, we need to look beyond the surface and explore the root cause.

When we see an addict on the street or in a movie, we only see the effects of their addiction. We don't see the pain and desperation that's driving their behavior. While medical science now defines addiction as a disease, this definition doesn't capture the complexity of the issue. To truly understand addiction, we need a multi-dimensional view.

At its core, addiction is a response to emotional or physical pain. It's a way of coping with suffering that feels unbearable. This creates a pattern of avoidance that can eventually lead to a complete denial of responsibility for perpetuating and continuing the suffering.

As someone who has experienced healing chronic pain, I've learned that pain is the body's reaction to trauma. In many cases, a traumatic event occurred in our childhood that caused intense stress and we either tried to fight and couldn't, froze from fear, or chose to avoid the pain entirely by reaching for anything that could soothe it.

THAT is the root cause of addiction - any addiction - whether it be to a substance, food, work, shopping, or even a person. ANYTHING that will relieve the pain because we believe that without it, we'll DIE!

What the addict is running away from is a deep sense of shame that they can only blame themselves for. And where is the genesis of this shame?

It is always in childhood experiences and the perceptions we formed then. It's never the event that happened, but our feelings about it. The circumstances cause us to react in a certain way, which then becomes a habit over time.

It's astounding how many kids and adults have issues of imbalance stemming from abuse or neglect. These experiences send the message which says,

‘There's something wrong with you’

‘You're not worthy.’

So throughout their life, the addict is after that missing quality, whether it be attention, love, tenderness, capability, or self-value and naturally the lack of that value causes pain, but more importantly, it's the feeling that-

"I'm not good enough to get what I want, and I may never get it"

and THAT is the underlying cause of the pain.

It's like an empty hole that isn't being filled by what he/she knows, so the only way to escape it is through ‘Distraction’.

This distraction can take many forms of indulgence, but it's never enough. The Buddhists call it the Hungry Ghosts Syndrome - ghosts that reside within us that have huge stomachs and are insatiable.

What does society do to address these issues?

Unfortunately, society often offers punishment, which only adds to the trauma. Judging an addict as a loser, a criminal, or a reject doesn't solve the problem. Because addiction isn't the problem per se, it's the feeling behind the behavior!

If we are aware enough to tell him/her that the feeling can be healed with guidance and support, we can shift our perspective towards healing.

There is a physical reality to addiction as well. When we have difficult, non-connected, and loveless childhoods, some brain circuits don't develop in our neurology. When an addict takes drugs, there is a momentary feeling of relief from the lack of love and care.

Let me share what Portugal has done to solve their addiction problems. They have decriminalized drugs and set up a support system that gives massive rehabilitation to the users. They give micro-loans to start small businesses and talk to potential workplaces, offering to pay half their salary if they got a job.

This gave them a purpose and helped to build up their connections and relationships with wider society. In a few years, drug use was down by 50%!

It was the bonding with friends and family that was the solution. This is not just an individual recovery but a social recovery as well. So the opposite of addiction is CONNECTION!

It’s ironic that doctors are not taught to deal with any emotional pain even though it’s well-documented that the mind and body act as a whole - our emotions affect our whole being.

As Gabor Mate says of his own work,

“I have sat with many people who are painfully addicted to something and I ask them, how come you’re hurting so much? What happened? What are you still carrying that is too much for you to handle? I witness a healing breakthrough.”

That’s what healing is, it happens inside a person as we ask the right questions we can guide people towards their own healing.


Until next time….

Ritu Malhotra