We all ask the question, So why do people use drugs? Why do people engage in addictions?

Well, I recently watched an amazing interview with Gabor Maté on the link between trauma and addiction. Below are some of the takeaways I found to be extremely insightful.

Because they have deep emotional problems they don’t have the means to resolve on their own

Gabor Maté

Gabor Maté is a Hungarian-born Canadian physician who specialises in neurology, psychiatry, and psychology, as well as the study and treatment of addiction. Dr Maté’s approach to addiction focuses on the trauma his patients have suffered and looks to address this in their recovery.

What Maté learned about addiction from 12 years in a downtown Vancouver clinic, is that addiction is not a choice anybody makes, nor is it a moral or ethical failing. Most of all it is not a failing of will, as it is sometimes made out to be in the media. Maté suggests it is a response to human suffering. Going as far as to say that all the people he worked with in the clinic were severely traumatised as children.

Addiction is an attempt to escape suffering temporally

Gabor Maté

How do people become addicts?
When children are growing up they can become traumatised, which is in part because they think the world revolves around them. So if a parent does something to affect the child, like withdraw love, the child can start to believe they are not good enough and are being hurt because they are a terrible person.

Strong emotional pain usually originates from things deeper such as emotional abuse, physical abuse and isolation. Maté also suggests that these events shape the individual’s neurology in such a way that they become more likely to find relief from the pain through drugs.

If I was sexually abused why didn’t I fight back I must be a weak person

Gabor Maté

Why addicts act as they do?
Often, addicts are desperate people who don’t show why they are desperate. So all that shows up is the desperation for relief that comes from the drugs. In most cases, they are not aware of what is driving the desperation. Therefore you see the addict behaving in all kinds of dysfunctional ways, aggressive, manipulative and downright unpleasant just to name a few. There is no sense of what is going on for the individual, what’s happening inside their reality.

Can addiction be cured?
This question is loaded and comes from the position of I am the practitioner or counsellor, I am the expert and I am going to cure the addict. So Maté says the answer to the way this question is framed, is No.

The real questions is… is it possible to help people from trauma sufficiently so they don’t have to keep escaping into addictions to lessen the suffering of their trauma? Yes that’s entirely possible

Gabor Maté

So it is possible to help and a lot of addicts do get help. But just like anything in life you have a scale, people at the top and people at the bottom. The problem with addicts though, is the ones at the bottom find it difficult to accept help which cultivates more stigma from society. This then gives them more trauma and so the problem repeats itself. Some addicts feel their sensitivity is trampled on by the world.

They don’t need judgment or symptom control, they need to be helped to heal from their trauma through counselling and rehabilitation. I believe an important cure is self-love. No matter what they have done or not done they need to learn to love themselves. This will help to create an environment where their trauma can begin to heal.

Recomended Gabor Maté Books

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Luke Worsfold

Luke Worsfold

I now run a company called Lisa Inside Addiction which helps people affected by addiction discover healthier ways to manage their emotions. I do this through the podcast where I interview world renowned experts on addiction and people directly affected by it. I also provide therapy in London and Southend along with a number of programs to help my clients break through the glass ceilings of their mental health.

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