Everything we’ve been taught about addiction is wrong. The information we’ve been given is that whatever you’re addicted to makes you dependent on it, you start to physically need it, and then can’t function without it. Now you’re an addict!
In addition, punishment or traditional intervention methods for addiction can be counter-productive and do not address the real issue.
It may surprise you to know that smartphones … eating … drinking … shopping … work … gaming and social media are just a few common addictions that, for some, are unrecognized as such.
'Ask not why the addiction, but why the pain.'
– Gabor Maté
New evidence in the alternative medical field claims that addiction is a replacement for a lack of human connection. You may have experienced trauma of disconnection in childhood or adulthood - a loved one dying or leaving, being removed from those you love, or a disconnection not as obvious, but just as painful. ‘Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma’, says Canadian physician Dr. Gabor Maté, ‘but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience.’ He says ‘It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.’
Investigating a little deeper, trauma is well-known to cause interruption to healthy neural wiring (connections) in the brain. These misrouted connections are the reason why we learn unhealthy behaviour.
Those who have suffered trauma, particularly children, can be left with an underlying sense that the world is not safe, or that people cannot be trusted. Removing that sense of trust, that our family, community and society will keep us safe, results in isolation – a lack of connection. We then look for a cure for the uncomfortable feeling caused by the painful experience and, once found, it becomes the source used to escape the pain.
People who have human connections and healthy relationships that they want to be present for, do not need addictions because their basic human need has been filled with these connections.
One way that neural re-wiring is possible is by valuing the addict so they can learn to value themselves. When an addict who chooses to acknowledge their emotional pain, is loved and cared for until they can learn to love themselves, they will no longer need their addiction.
If the addict can begin to reconnect with others, new neural pathways can be made in the brain so that feelings are re-routed and the pain can be released.
So, you may wonder “How can checking my smartphone every time it pings mean I’m disconnected? Aren’t I MORE connected because I’m in constant contact with my ‘friends’?” This type of connection is a virtual connection – virtual means ‘not physically existing but made to appear that way’. This type of connection does not fill the basic human need for physical connection with another human. Only a network of real human-to-human connections does this.
The good news is that there’s a very easy way to help yourself or the people that you care about. Addiction is not so much about individual recovery, but more about social recovery. It’s something we do together. Making time to connect with other humans (whose faces aren’t in THEIR smartphones) fostering and growing those connections, communities coming together, even Facebook groups arranging gatherings of its human members at a physical location are the way forward.
As aptly quoted by Brené Brown, ‘connection (is) the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued…’