Root Cause of Addiction
“If you’ve got bad news, you want to kick the blues…cocaine.” This line from a song by J.J. Cale expresses the feelings and actions of many Americans today, yet the word cocaine can be substituted with the word pot or alcohol or food or sex or gambling or a number of other compulsive disorders. In fact, all of these things have something in common; in excess, they may all be symptoms of having grown up in a dysfunctional environment.
Problems in dysfunctional homes usually present in one or more of three ways. Physical abuse can include beatings as well as being excessively tugged, shaken, or tickled. Sexual abuse can be covert, such as leering at a child in inappropriate ways, or overt, which can include everything from fondling to rape. Emotional abuse is most commonly thought of as stemming from parental alcoholism and substance abuse, yet it can also include yelling, berating, snide criticism, neglect, and even, in some cases, a severely strict upbringing such as can be the case in devoutly religious & controlling family units. Emotional abuse can be present without physical or sexual abuse, but where there is physical and/or sexual abuse there is always emotional abuse.
The effects on children from these types of situations, and the deep dark secrets they are compelled to keep, can become buried beyond memory and comprehension, scarring these individuals for life. Consequently, adult children of dysfunctional homes (more commonly known as ACA’s for adult children of alcoholics) become adults who bear a heavy burden of deeply rooted pain, suffer from a severe loss of self-esteem, and may fall into a state of denial about what is now known to be a disease, into a world of escapism by using and/or abusing whatever their personal drug of choice happens to be.
They are trying to escape a pain that no words can adequately describe. Susan, a 51 year old professional, tells a story about when she was 8 years old and had to lock her own father out of the house. Her mother had thrown him out of the house for his drinking and he was living in a 12 foot trailer in the front yard. He came to the door and wanted a soda. He was not drunk at the time. But Susan was alone in the house and her mother was virulent, when Susan called her at work, telling Susan not to let him in. She remembers climbing up on the kitchen sink and reaching the soda out of the kitchen window to her father. Remember, she was eight years old. These types of childhood traumas add up, and can cause such torment that victims want one thing and one thing only — to numb those feelings and the memories. How they choose to accomplish this varies with their personal drug of choice.
A drug of choice can be any compulsive/addictive behavior which acts to make these persons temporarily not feel their pain. John Bradshaw, a counselor, lecturer, and author of Healing The Shame That Binds You, and Bradshaw On The Family, said it this way, “Compulsive/addictive behavior is a pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.” Hence, addictive behavior does not have to be solely confined to drugs and alcohol. Pete Rose, one of the finest and most passionate baseball players of his time, was kicked out of baseball because of gambling. Clearly, his gambling problems had life-damaging consequences; they cost him his one great love of life!
There are, of course, other “socially acceptable” addictions such as over-eating and cigarette smoking which include not only life-damaging consequences (such as alienating others) but, more importantly, these addictions can create life-threatening consequences in the form of heart disease, lung disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Eventually any behavior, to excess, may likely damage and even destroy lives, yet many victims allow their disease to progress, untreated, because deep down they feel shamed to the core, and believe that they don’t deserve any better.
It’s difficult to determine degree of severity between the most prevalent causes of compulsive/addictive behavior, but lack of self-esteem stemming from the shame of a dysfunctional environment rates as one of the primary root causes of such compulsive behaviors.
Lack of self-esteem allows people to endure incredible amounts of abuse, whether it be self-inflicted or at the hands of another. Because victims feel that they are worthless and want not to think about their lives, they are willing to abuse their bodies through food, drugs or alcohol, or by allowing themselves to be emotionally and/or physically beaten and battered. Furthermore, many of them get trapped in a cycle where they themselves become the abusers. They simply hate themselves so much that they take it out on children, animals and the people that they love the most. The more serious cases become violent against society.
Some people who have grown up in extremely violent and/or abusive households build up so much rage that they just explode as is evidenced daily on the television screen, the internet and the pages of newspapers nationwide. It’s very easy to say that Eric Harris and Deren Kleebold were affected by Marilyn Manson and video games, because they both had two parents and drove BMWs. But no one knows what goes on behind the walls of a house except the people who live in that house. For far too long this country’s obsession with “family values” has decimated any hope of looking at the parents in cases such as Columbine and Virginia Tech. It’s time to at least start asking the question.
Regardless of severity, each of these victims live in their own private hell, and until people who come from dysfunctional environments are able to recognize that their problems are attributed to an insidious, hereditary disease, they will be unable to remove themselves from the spiral in which they are trapped.
The inability to recognize that problems exist is called denial. If people don’t know what’s wrong, they can’t fix it. For example, if a person who had never ridden in a well-running, well-tuned car, were to own a car that knocks and pings, that person wouldn’t know that knocking and pinging weren’t completely normal. He or she may know that the car doesn’t run very well, but it functions, and as far as this individual is concerned everybody has to put up with constant car problems because that’s the way cars are supposed to be.
By the same token, ACA’s who are in denial believe that their reality is the way that life is supposed to be. They see nothing unusual about spending their days getting high or getting hit and yelled at because that’s all they’ve ever known. It was what life was like, or modeled, in their home growing up, and as a child that was their whole world…so, in their eyes, it was everybody’s whole world. By the time they become adults, this belief system is so deeply ingrained that it becomes their reality. Consequently, they don’t understand that their symptoms of drug abuse, alcoholism, compulsive over-eating, compulsive working, compulsive spending, compulsive gambling, but to name a few, are problems that are affecting their life and which need to be addressed. Unfortunately, some can spend their whole lives in denial.
As a result of their upbringing, ACA’s are faced with heart-breaking pain, a shameful view of themselves as human beings, and the hurdle of overcoming problems that they don’t even recognize that they have. The problems of compulsive/addictive behavior go far deeper than many people realize or are willing to accept. Until society, as a whole, faces up to the causes of compulsive/addictive disorders, rather than just punishing those affected individuals, and until society begins to provide low-cost, quality mental health care geared towards these problems, it’s going to continue to be difficult for individuals to seek, and admit that they need, help. However, people are becoming more knowledgeable and attitudes are beginning to change for the better. Hopefully, with time and the willingness to learn, this knowledge of cause and effect will help the millions of people affected with symptoms of this disease, and those who love them.
For coaching assistance for addictions, see Spiritcaat.