Addiction is something that is very prevalent in our society but is often under the radar. Some addictions are not noticed because the substance or activity can be afforded or it is not noticeably interfering with the ability to carry on with day to day life, to keep going to work, to look after the kids. Some addictions are even encouraged by society; an addiction to exercise could easily go unnoticed because we have been so influenced that going to the gym/running etc is good for us and it's what ‘healthy’ people do.


Alcohol intake is also encouraged, indeed it often encouraged as a way of coping. How often have we used the phrase, even half-jokingly:

‘It’s wine O’clock’
‘Just one to take the edge off’
‘It’s 6pm somewhere’.

As a society, we use alcohol to celebrate, commiserate, to heighten or numb our emotions, to deal with stress, to cope with everyday life. Although all of these things aren’t necessarily bad, it becomes unhelpful if a glass or bottle during the day or at the end of the day is the only thing helping you through the day. Addiction is a coping mechanism, it's a thing we can use to get through the painful experiences of life.

“Addiction is neither a choice or a primary disease. It originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self”
- Gabor Maté, In the realm of Hungry Ghosts

Nevermore have we been in a place of disconnection and overwhelming stress as the Covid-19 virus and government guidelines impact our lives. This is likely to have a huge impact if you are already suffering from trauma. Whether this is ‘Big T’ Trauma or ‘little t’ trauma. The big T Traumas are the more obvious things we think of for Trauma - one-off big events or experiences where you fear for your, or someone else’s, life - Rape, Abuse, Car accidents, etc which can but doesn’t always result in PTSD. Small t trauma can be the low-level drip effect of small things happening regularly such as living with someone who is emotionally unstable, being made to feel useless and worthless, or distressing events that don't fit into the Big T criteria. 

The list of things we human beings can be addicted to is a long and ever-growing list: Alcohol, drugs (illegal and pharmaceutical including pain killers), smoking, gambling, porn, sex, video games, work, exercise, smartphones, emotions (such as the highs and lows of love), food (over or under eating or particular foods), and the list grows. But perhaps we need not concern ourselves with the what is someone addicted to but the why and how of addiction.

Why does someone have an addiction, how does it help? And what does someone need in order to stop relying on the addiction? This is where therapy can help, by supporting someone to look at and face the things that are so painful they must be blocked out.

There can be a fine line between a habit and an addiction. Habits often go hand in hand with addiction. For example, you might get home from work and every night make a cup of tea and have a smoke, making tea is a habit but the cigarette/spliff is an addiction. If you want to break an addiction it can be helpful to look at the habits that go with it that act as triggers. In this case, you might want to change your routine, so when you get home instead of making a cup of tea and triggering the addiction for a smoke, you could first get changed and put some music on then have a glass of water or squash and wait to have a cup of tea with dinner. Or you might have to cut out tea completely and find something else to drink.

Habits are part of our routine, how we navigate and get things done during the day e.g. get up, go to the loo, have a shower, brush teeth, get dressed, have a cup of tea, etc. That is a routine or a habitual way of starting the day. We mostly do this without thinking but it would be possible to change it if necessary. If you had a new housemate that needed to use the bathroom before you you would adjust your routine. An addiction can be part of a routine but it is also something that you would go out of your way to satisfy.

With an addiction you are more likely to hide your behaviour:

  • How long you’ve been at work.
  • How much you've exercised.
  • How much time you’ve spent scrolling on your phone.

Or substance use:

  • How many painkillers you’ve taken or create a reason for why you need them.
  • How many drinks you've had.
  • Making a detour to pick up alcohol, drugs etc.

If you haven’t been able to use your addiction you will feel anxious or stressed, wondering when you can next: have a smoke, play the video game, watch porn, hook-up for sex.

Another factor in addiction is the trans-generational aspects. In Family Constellations addiction would be viewed as an indication that something has gone wrong in the bonding or that something had happened in a previous generation that was unresolved. Every case needs to be looked at individually but there are some common themes that often arise in relation to addiction:

  • If the mother has contempt for the father and asks that the child only take anything good from the mother and anything bad is from the father. The addiction is an expression of pain about the exclusion of the father.
  • There is a hidden suicidal tendency from one of the parents. In a blind and childlike love, the child tries to help or even die for the suicidal parent. This often shows up when another family member has died prematurely or has been excluded. An example is if the father's sibling died in childhood and was never spoken about again, the father unconsciously wants to join his sibling in death but his child offers themselves in his place though addiction.
  • There is a history of broken bonds between parents and their children.

So what helps when trying to break free from addiction?

  • Connection to those you love and enjoying being with. Engage in in-depth conversations
  • Connection to the other things in your life that you enjoy.
  • Self-compassion, taking every moment as it comes and building up to taking it a day at a time then a week.
  • Be kind to yourself when you are in the grip of your addiction.
  • See if you can identify any triggers and do what you can to minimize those.
  • Change your habits and routines so the addiction isn’t inadvertently triggered
  • Get support, professional, and personal.

Addiction is a huge and complicated issue and also a very simple one:

“Addictions arise from thwarted love. From our thwarted ability to love our children in the way they need to be loved. From our thwarted ability to love ourselves and one another in the ways we all need. Opening our hearts is the path to healing addiction-opening our compassion for the pain within ourselves, and the pain all around us.”
- Gabor Maté - In the realm of Hungry Ghosts

If you would like to know more, I recommend the following books:

  • In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté
  • Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari
  •  The Addiction Spectrum: A Compassionate, Holistic Approach to Recovery by Paul Thomas Jennifer Margulis
  • It didn’t start with you by Mark Wolyn