No one has all the answers on addiction, or we would not have an addiction problem in the world today. The fact is that we have a tremendous problem in society with addictions from drug addictions, alcoholism, codependency in relationships, sex, love, and pornography addictions, food addictions, nicotine addictions and the list goes on and on. Even exercise or work can be done excessively and become an area of concern. The reasons why these addicts are using people, substances, and things (such as shopping addiction, or car envy) are somewhat elusive when those who would assist them try to pinpoint causes.
One plausible answer is that the addict is trying to treat pain that has become unbearable for them. Loneliness and a feeling of not belonging set many addicts running for the comfort of isolation, where no one can make them any more uncomfortable in their own skin than they already are. The addict can feel totally alone in a group of people just from realizing that these other people are not practicing addictive behaviors in their lives. This feeling is greatly accentuated when the group is espousing a different set of values than the addicted person is accustomed to.
Church is one example of this problem. The addict gets further and further removed from society, and loses touch with talking to God in most cases. Where estrangement is not the issue, others may have been emotionally or verbally abused about religion in their upbringing and now want nothing to do with God or God’s people. It may not be church at all, but rather just law-abiding society. In many addictions laws get broken frequently and the established law enforcement system becomes the enemy in their minds. Some addicts came to hate the social setting in schools for various reasons.
At any rate, a gaping hole in their being is pulling constantly to be filled, and is a relentless driving force that keeps an addict on the move trying to get the right fix in the absence of healthy community in society and healthy relationships with people. Unfortunately, the addict’s relationships are usually not healthy. Healthy relationships require honesty, trust, love (as a verb), and loyalty. These are attributes that most addicts just simply have no access to during the period of their compulsive use of drugs, alcohol, people etc. while they are trying to find some temporary relief.
Another common problem in addiction is an inappropriate response to emotional challenges that come up in everyday life. Some addicts have some very sad or tragically abusive histories that they are still reacting to in today’s life challenges. There is often an overreaction to an offense or slight that happens today that may well have been unintended. The body produces a lot of toxic chemicals in response to anger and stress and people can become accustomed to being upset and in crisis. They start to thrive on those chemicals and feel lost in a place of peace, not content.
Suspicion and fear keep a lot of addicts treating themselves with more of their drug of choice. Addicts become accustomed to having to use the people, circumstances, and resources in their environment excessively to try to quell the cravings of their addiction. This brings on a guilty conscience and that can easily bring on feelings of unworthiness, or fear of retaliation from those they have used. Even to the point of paranoia such as methamphetamine addicts repeatedly looking out the window and believing they are being watched. Most addicts are running away from their last episode of using or mistreating someone who has reason to feel aggrieved. Therefore they have trouble believing that people who want to help them are genuine and want nothing in return.
Self-focus is a common problem in all addicts. It is difficult to think about something else when there is a gnawing, deep emptiness and pain in your soul, coupled with a broken heart and confusion, in many cases, about how life went so wrong. I do not think that we do them a big favor if we start calling out selfishness to too great a degree initially. They are truly in pain and lost for a solid sense of direction. We can tell people to think of others, but deep pain will prevent it from happening. Leading by example often works very well in the long term.
What I have seen work over the years in many cases is a loving community of people who have escaped the pain and terror of addiction welcoming them into the fold with no questions asked and no requirements on them; just a need and desire to be free from addiction. Regular time with this group is very important as a stable support to anyone who is separating themselves from a serious addition. There should be unconditional love tempered with the speaking of the truth in love by those who have recovery. Accountability is something that addicts have not had any of in a long time. Addiction cannot thrive in the face of loving accountability, it has to run if it is to continue on. Hearing their own story coming out of the mouths of others also forms a strong bond with the recovery community.
Many times addicts have mental illness issues by the time they realize that they need help stopping their addiction. Medical help is available to treat these and those who help addicts should try to refrain from advising them on their medical regime. This is a common problem that I have seen over the years. Many times deeper issues elicit a need for professional counseling and that is another area where lay persons would be wise to avoid comment, about the actual counseling. Some people really benefit from that.
So, the best answer that I have today, as a recovered addict, is to really thrive and live the recovery lifestyle. Then they can see the example of what really worked in someone else’s life. I stay close to a 12 Step Program myself, by doing the daily things that the program suggests. I stay close to God in daily prayer, make a daily appraisal of my progress and liabilities, show up regularly in the fellowship hall to be available to new people, accept the direction and guidance of a mentor who is older in the recovery program than me, and mentor other women in the process of recovery. I accept constructive criticism graciously and consider if I should make any changes based on it. Mavericks do not do well in these fellowships because we have literature that is tried and true and people that blaze a trail on their own will be challenged by the others, whose concern is only for the new ones coming in for help.