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Addiction – A Way to Cope with PTS

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts –  Close Encounters with Addiction,  a book by Dr. Gabor Maté, provides new information about addiction. “He locates the source of addictions in the trauma of an emotionally empty childhood, making it a relational rather than a medical problem,” according to Dr. Harville Hendrix. Maté contends that our brain chemistry is altered by early trauma, making addictions of all sorts more likely. Here’s some quotes to interest you in the material. I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.

“From a medical point of view, addicts are self-medicating conditions like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, or even attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)” (36).

“A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors. . . . The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain” (38).

“We shouldn’t underestimate how desperate a chronically lonely person is to escape the prison of solitude. It’s not a matter here of common shyness but of a deep psychological sense of isolation experienced from early childhood by people who felt rejected by everyone, beginning with their caregivers” (45).

“‘Recent brain imaging studies have revealed an underlying disruption to brain regions that are important for the normal processes of motivation, reward, and inhibitory control in addicted individuals. This provides the basis for a different view: that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, and the associated abnormal behavior is the result of dysfunction of brain tissue, just as cardiac insufficiency is a disease of the heart–Nora Volkow, MD'” (133).

“Three-quarters of our brain growth takes place outside the womb, most of it in the early years. By three years of age, the brain has reached 90 percent of adult size . . .” (191).

“The dynamic process by which 90 percent of the human brain’s circuitry is wired after birth has been called neural Darwinism because it involves the selection of those nerve cells (neurons), synapses, and circuits that help the brain adapt to its particular environment, and the discarding of others” (191).

“The three environmental conditions absolutely essential to optimal human brain development are nutrition, physical security, and consistent emotional nurturing. . . . The third prime necessity–emotional nurture–is the one most likely to be disrupted in Western society. . . . emotional nurturance is an absolute requirement for healthy neurobiological brain development” (193).

0 Responses to Addiction – A Way to Cope with PTS

  1. I self medicated for 10 years, from ages 13 to 23. Although I went through a treatment center for Chemical dependency and attended AA for 15 years, I always suspected that I was not a traditional chemically dependent person. I was very intentionally medicating my mood, taking the edge off my hypervigilence, hypersensitivity, and dulling my overactive imagination. Drugs made me more normal, not abnormal.

    Having spent a ton of time with addicts of all kinds, most should have a primary diagnosis out of the DSM. Their extensive history of addictive behavior, be it chemical, food, gambling, work, whatever; should be viewed as a symptom of that primary DX.

    As far as treatment goes, I totally support the AA system. You have to remove the addictive behavior first, completely. After a few years be prepared to start seeing the underlying issues rising to the surface, ready to be addressed by traditional psychotheraputic treatments. Attempting to diagnose or treat the base issues without first removing the addictive behavior will fail 100% of the time.

  2. I self medicated for 10 years, from ages 13 to 23. Although I went through a treatment center for Chemical dependency and attended AA for 15 years, I always suspected that I was not a traditional chemically dependent person. I was very intentionally medicating my mood, taking the edge off my hypervigilence, hypersensitivity, and dulling my overactive imagination. Drugs made me more normal, not abnormal.

    Having spent a ton of time with addicts of all kinds, most should have a primary diagnosis out of the DSM. Their extensive history of addictive behavior, be it chemical, food, gambling, work, whatever; should be viewed as a symptom of that primary DX.

    As far as treatment goes, I totally support the AA system. You have to remove the addictive behavior first, completely. After a few years be prepared to start seeing the underlying issues rising to the surface, ready to be addressed by traditional psychotheraputic treatments. Attempting to diagnose or treat the base issues without first removing the addictive behavior will fail 100% of the time.

  3. Mark, Thanks so much for your Comment. I’m glad you distinguish the type of drug abuser that you were. I’m sure there are others who will relate to what you’ve written. Since the self-medicating was working so well for you in that it took the edge off your PTSD symptoms and made you more “normal, not abnormal,” what motivated you to stop? Was it hard to convince yourself that you were addicted? I assume you went through an AA program of some sort. I am so very glad that you found a place to get help. I always hear great things about the AA system.

  4. Mark, Thanks so much for your Comment. I’m glad you distinguish the type of drug abuser that you were. I’m sure there are others who will relate to what you’ve written. Since the self-medicating was working so well for you in that it took the edge off your PTSD symptoms and made you more “normal, not abnormal,” what motivated you to stop? Was it hard to convince yourself that you were addicted? I assume you went through an AA program of some sort. I am so very glad that you found a place to get help. I always hear great things about the AA system.

  5. Mark, your hypervigilence, hypersensitivity and active imagination sounds like the sort of gifts that society marginalizes and condemns, especially in men. I struggled with every normalized aspect of my life; school, family and developmental landmarks, these were all painful as my oversensitivity and creativity created an alien world that never made sense to me. The messages of not being good enough, worthy enough, beautiful enough seemed daily. I can very easily understand how the overly sensitive–especially men–would self-medicate.
    They say addiction is genetic. Perhaps, we just become the lineage bearers the trauma, abuse and neglect that gets passed on.
    I agree with the insights of Dr. Gabor Mate. In the same way your “PTS while you sleep” addresses an unfulfilled cycle of trauma that is still in reaction, still frozen and angry from the violation, the addiction is still craving and crying out. I feel addiction is so powerful because it addresses two aspects; it numbs what is too painful to feel and it simultaneously comforts what has been neglected.
    For the sensitive, it is difficult to find courage, safety and support to feel what hasnt been felt, maybe for decades.
    Maybe the alcoholics “bottle” is a return to the oral state, an infants bottle filled with poison, and why not if your self worth has been destroyed?
    Humans are so beautiful and complex. Truly a mystery.
    I truly feel that we can reclaim those experiences and heal generations of trauma. It takes living a life committed to healing and always searching for meaning and answers <3

  6. Mark, your hypervigilence, hypersensitivity and active imagination sounds like the sort of gifts that society marginalizes and condemns, especially in men. I struggled with every normalized aspect of my life; school, family and developmental landmarks, these were all painful as my oversensitivity and creativity created an alien world that never made sense to me. The messages of not being good enough, worthy enough, beautiful enough seemed daily. I can very easily understand how the overly sensitive–especially men–would self-medicate.
    They say addiction is genetic. Perhaps, we just become the lineage bearers the trauma, abuse and neglect that gets passed on.
    I agree with the insights of Dr. Gabor Mate. In the same way your “PTS while you sleep” addresses an unfulfilled cycle of trauma that is still in reaction, still frozen and angry from the violation, the addiction is still craving and crying out. I feel addiction is so powerful because it addresses two aspects; it numbs what is too painful to feel and it simultaneously comforts what has been neglected.
    For the sensitive, it is difficult to find courage, safety and support to feel what hasnt been felt, maybe for decades.
    Maybe the alcoholics “bottle” is a return to the oral state, an infants bottle filled with poison, and why not if your self worth has been destroyed?
    Humans are so beautiful and complex. Truly a mystery.
    I truly feel that we can reclaim those experiences and heal generations of trauma. It takes living a life committed to healing and always searching for meaning and answers <3

  7. Dr. Mate believes addiction is heritable in some cases. But overall, he believes that brain chemistry goes out of whack early on from parental abuse and/or neglect and that addiction is one coping strategy. One chapter reads something like, ‘[Addicts’] Brains Never Had a Chance.’ He believes that the actual structure of the brain is changed early on by abusive childhoods. He also believes that brains are negatively altered by lack of “attunement” — when a parent is out of emotional step, if you will, with his or her child. When a parent is not mirroring the child’s experience correctly or is simply not paying attention emotionally due to her own trauma or troubles, a child’s brain can be negatively affected. This type of relationship can result in a child’s developing addictive behavior or addiction to substances in order to cope. His definition of addiction is more broad than traditional ones: ” Addiction is any repeated behavior, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others.”

    I am now reading the book Mindsight by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel who believes that neural wiring can be reconfigured. The brain is so plastic that negative patterns of neural communication can be rewired. I’m only on Chapter Four. I’m sure I’ll be posting on his ideas soon.

    The sensitivity issue that you bring up is so important. I hope Mark finds your Comments and replies. I think it’s important to distinguish between sensitivity and hypersensitivity. Sensitivity seems an asset but hypersensitivity could make coping difficult, no? Liza, how do you distinguish “sensitivity” from “hypersensitivity”?

  8. Dr. Mate believes addiction is heritable in some cases. But overall, he believes that brain chemistry goes out of whack early on from parental abuse and/or neglect and that addiction is one coping strategy. One chapter reads something like, ‘[Addicts’] Brains Never Had a Chance.’ He believes that the actual structure of the brain is changed early on by abusive childhoods. He also believes that brains are negatively altered by lack of “attunement” — when a parent is out of emotional step, if you will, with his or her child. When a parent is not mirroring the child’s experience correctly or is simply not paying attention emotionally due to her own trauma or troubles, a child’s brain can be negatively affected. This type of relationship can result in a child’s developing addictive behavior or addiction to substances in order to cope. His definition of addiction is more broad than traditional ones: ” Addiction is any repeated behavior, substance-related or not, in which a person feels compelled to persist, regardless of its negative impact on his life and the lives of others.”

    I am now reading the book Mindsight by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel who believes that neural wiring can be reconfigured. The brain is so plastic that negative patterns of neural communication can be rewired. I’m only on Chapter Four. I’m sure I’ll be posting on his ideas soon.

    The sensitivity issue that you bring up is so important. I hope Mark finds your Comments and replies. I think it’s important to distinguish between sensitivity and hypersensitivity. Sensitivity seems an asset but hypersensitivity could make coping difficult, no? Liza, how do you distinguish “sensitivity” from “hypersensitivity”?

  9. I think it is a fascinating subject. I’m glad the scope of science is broadening, and the information presented makes perfect sense to me. New neural pathways can be created even if primary brain growth has stopped. I am curious to see how this knowledge can be applied to help nurture more healing in addicts.

    Sensitivity is interesting because how does one personally distinguish the spectrum of a trait that is so condemned in our culture? How can I truly say what is hypersensitive vs sensitive? I believe that by societies terms, I am hypersensitive. I have always criticized myself for being way too sensitive, so sensitive that it kept me from having a “normal” life and engaging in “normal” things. For a man, shedding tears may be seen as hypersensitive. In my humble opinion, being a sensitive can mean you either internalize everything because of traumas and damaging habit pattens passed on to you from generations of abuse/neglect or you feel things and experience things with heightened emotion and perceptiveness. If you happen to embody both, I can understand very easily how the pain of the world would be too much, maybe this would be hypersensitive?

    Being sensitive in anyway is a gift. Sadly, being a sensitive human being in a time of severe overstimulation, physical/environmental/spiritual toxicity, war, darkness etc. makes it a difficult trait to embrace. We might as well learn to embrace it because it can never be shut off … I’ve tried!!

  10. I think it is a fascinating subject. I’m glad the scope of science is broadening, and the information presented makes perfect sense to me. New neural pathways can be created even if primary brain growth has stopped. I am curious to see how this knowledge can be applied to help nurture more healing in addicts.

    Sensitivity is interesting because how does one personally distinguish the spectrum of a trait that is so condemned in our culture? How can I truly say what is hypersensitive vs sensitive? I believe that by societies terms, I am hypersensitive. I have always criticized myself for being way too sensitive, so sensitive that it kept me from having a “normal” life and engaging in “normal” things. For a man, shedding tears may be seen as hypersensitive. In my humble opinion, being a sensitive can mean you either internalize everything because of traumas and damaging habit pattens passed on to you from generations of abuse/neglect or you feel things and experience things with heightened emotion and perceptiveness. If you happen to embody both, I can understand very easily how the pain of the world would be too much, maybe this would be hypersensitive?

    Being sensitive in anyway is a gift. Sadly, being a sensitive human being in a time of severe overstimulation, physical/environmental/spiritual toxicity, war, darkness etc. makes it a difficult trait to embrace. We might as well learn to embrace it because it can never be shut off … I’ve tried!!

  11. Thank you for explaining more of what you mean by sensitivity vs hypersensitivity. I think that the world needs sensitive/hypersensitive people to balance out the insensitivity and to role model another way of being. I used to stuff my sensitivity so the outside world could not see. This behavior was very damaging and led to depression and suicidal feelings in my teens and early twenties. Thanks to the sensitive people around me whom I met, I was able to see a different way of being. I strove to model myself after them and pursue what one of my friends called “joy.” Wow, what a concept! I think the 21st century is a time of change, one which is inviting us to move out of patterns of rigidity and learn to become and express more of who we are. Flexibility and openness are being called forth. I’m so glad that you survived the dark era. I am grateful that you are bringing your light forward to heal yourself and help others heal. Don’t you think society is realizing that a change is needed in order for us to survive?

  12. Thank you for explaining more of what you mean by sensitivity vs hypersensitivity. I think that the world needs sensitive/hypersensitive people to balance out the insensitivity and to role model another way of being. I used to stuff my sensitivity so the outside world could not see. This behavior was very damaging and led to depression and suicidal feelings in my teens and early twenties. Thanks to the sensitive people around me whom I met, I was able to see a different way of being. I strove to model myself after them and pursue what one of my friends called “joy.” Wow, what a concept! I think the 21st century is a time of change, one which is inviting us to move out of patterns of rigidity and learn to become and express more of who we are. Flexibility and openness are being called forth. I’m so glad that you survived the dark era. I am grateful that you are bringing your light forward to heal yourself and help others heal. Don’t you think society is realizing that a change is needed in order for us to survive?

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