Why Addictions Are So Powerful

Canadian physician Gabor Maté spoke about The Power of Addiction and The Addiction to Power at TedXRio+20 in Brazil. During his 20 minute talk, he painted a compelling picture of why addictions are so powerful in order to help both the addict and the people around them better understand what the addiction is and how to get better.

You can watch his talk here.

Understanding what is right about addiction.

When people are addicted, whether to drugs and alcohol, shopping, gambling, working too much, power, etc… they are seeking a relief to pain by filling an emptiness with external sources.

But in order to better understand addiction, Dr. Maté points out that we should be looking at what is right with addiction instead of what is wrong. In other words, what is it about the addiction that makes the addict feel a relief from pain, or a sense of control?

Which leads us to then ask, “Not why the addiction, but why the pain?” What is missing from the addict’s life and what happened to them to cause this fear of living they often express?

To do that, Dr. Maté suggests that we shouldn’t be focusing on addiction being a genetic issue, but finding out what happened in the addicts life to cause them to reach for an external source.

“The human brain itself develops an interaction with the environment,” says Dr. Maté. “It’s not just the genetic programming, the kind of environment that a child has will actually shape the development of the brain.”
Abuse is at the core of addiction.

The root cause of addiction is not having the ability to naturally create dopamine and endorphins.

When people are abused as children, those circuits don’t develop. Without the biological ability to produce dopamine, they have no motivation or incentive. And without natural endorphins, they cannot experience love and connection unless provided by outside sources to fill the emptiness, to try and feel “normal.”

“When you don’t have love and connection in your life when you are very, very young, those connections and circuits don’t develop properly,” explains Dr. Mate. “Under conditions of abuse, those important brain circuits just don’t develop properly and their brains are more susceptible when they do drugs.”

Trauma is generational.

The word “abuse” doesn’t just refer to physical or emotional abuse inflicted on others, but also the trauma and the suffering we unconsciously pass on from one generation to the next. Perhaps that is where the idea of addiction and genetics comes from.

This is not to lay blame at anyone else’s doorstep, but in order to recover, to heal, we must first understand and address the root of the childhood trauma and pain. Only then can we move on to learn how to become our own nurturing parent, to be kind to ourselves, to find the light within, to no longer fear life, and to stop the cycle.

What to do if you’re an addict (or think you might be)

Seeking sobriety is a life-long journey in understanding ourselves and the addiction behavior. That’s why I believe that it is important to treat the addiction and the mental issues or trauma that either trigger the addiction or manifest after-the-fact. This approach is known as Co-occurring Treatment.

If you think you may need help or know someone who does, the time to act is now. It can mean the difference between life and death.


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