Our approach to addictions correlates addictions with unresolved trauma and the fear of encountering the emotions associated with this trauma. We believe that addictions serve a useful but dysfunctional purpose. Addictions serve as coping mechanisms to help people avoid emotional pain and unwanted feelings. In the long term, addictions are protective behaviors that keeps people emotionally “numb” and contribute to what we call a “feeling dysfunction.”
Addictions Are NOT A Disease!
Our view of addictions is quite different from the Addiction-as-Disease Theory, which says that:
(1) you inherit a genetic disposition to the addictive behavior;
(2) the genetic disposition takes over your body and brain and causes addictive behaviors that exist independently of the rest of you; and
(3) addictions are progressive and irreversible and will lead to death if not treated.
One of our objections to the Disease Model of addictions is that it encourages people to identify with their disease or addiction. 12-step groups ask people to check in with “Hi, I am an (what ever their addiction is).” 12-stepers believe they must identify with their disease for the rest of their lives and that they will always be “in recovery.” This view is the best they can hope for.
We prefer to think of people as whole humans who have addictive behaviors that are caused by unresolved early trauma. We believe this perspective is much more empowering, hopeful and spiritually accurate. People don’t lose their identity because of trauma or addictions! They cope by using protective behaviors to protect themselves from their early woundings. This view is so much more compassionate and opens people to sharing more deeply.
Two Kinds of Addictions
People with counter-dependent behaviors often use “upper” addictions — substances such as caffeine, speed, meth and cocaine, and activities such working, exercising, shopping, traveling and having fast sex. These addictions allow people to keep moving fast so they can avoid feeling the feelings connected with some early relationship trauma. The problem is that intimate relationships often trigger memories of early relational traumas.This is why many so people are in flight from intimacy.
This group avoids real intimacy at all costs and often see themselves as failures in the world of relationships. Because they are so driven, they are often quite successful in the world of work. Eventually they crash and burn, and find themselves leading isolated, lonely lives. Eventually their loneliness forces them to face what they have been avoiding: the developmental traumas and the feelings that get triggered by intimacy.
People with co-dependent behaviors often use “downer” addictions–substances and activities that allow them to become even more numb and hide from their feelings. They typically use substances such as food, alcohol, prescription tranquilizers or marijuana, and activities such as masturbation, internet chat or pornography rooms. This group also places their focus on other people’s needs, caretake others and avoid taking charge of their lives. Their over-focus on relationships makes it difficult for them to cope in the world of work.
Addicts who finally bottom out realize the futility of trying to escape from their emotions. They finally collapse, realizing that feeling their feelings isn’t any worse than living in their addictive quagmire. Much to their surprise, addicts discover that they don’t die from feeling their feelings. It is this discovery that puts them on the path to recovery. Many addicts weep when they finally realized how many people they have hurt and how much time, money, and energy they have spent to avoid something that could actually help them.
Which Kind Are You?
We encourage you to look closely at your own addictive or compulsive behaviors, something that you probably really don’t want to do. It is likely that you will discover that they help you avoid feeling some scary emotions. You may find that you have both co-dependent and counterdependent behaviors–this is very common. It depends on your situation, which set of protective defenses you use.
We encourage you to take our self-awareness inventories.
Here’s Co-Dependency Inventory
and here’s the Counterdependency-Inventory
After taking these inventories, you’ll have a clearer picture of when you might have suffered early trauma.
If you have more co-dependent behaviors, then you likely had trauma during the first nine months of life. Reading Breaking Free of the Co-dependency Trap might be helpful for you.
If you have more counterdependent behaviors, then you likely had trauma between the age of nine months and three years. Reading The Flight From Intimacy might be helpful for you.
If your inventories show you have about equal amounts of codependent and counterdependent behaviors, it might be helpful to read both books. We find that people in long-term committed relationships often flip back and forth between co and counter behaviors.