Trauma, Intimacy Issues, and Addictions

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Many addiction treatment specialists refer to addictions as an intimacy disorder. What they mean by this is that addicts turn to addictive substances and behaviors, rather than other people, to regulate their emotions. In a nutshell: Addicts fear and therefore avoid the basic human need for emotional connection and support. Most addicts would rather eat dirt than tell someone they’re struggling. So addicts exist, through both conscious and unconscious choices, in emotional exile. Even when they’re around other people who truly love them, they don’t reach out. In fact, many addicts say they feel most alone when they’re in the company of family, friends, and other loved ones.

Generally speaking, this occurs because addicts have learned, usually early in life through neglect, abuse, inconsistency, enmeshment, and other forms of traumatic experience, to fear and avoid emotional vulnerability. Thus, they distance themselves from others, turning instead to the temporary but reliable fix they find with addictive substances and behaviors. When they become emotionally needful related to stress, losses, or even joyful experiences they turn, automatically and without conscious thought, not to other people but to their addiction. They trust the short-term remedy of emotional distraction and numbing more than other people – even people who clearly love them and care about their wellbeing.

Interestingly, when addiction is conceptualized in this way—as an intimacy disorder—we see that the best long-term treatment for addiction is not the pursuit of in-the-moment sobriety, it’s the pursuit of healthy, intimate, ongoing connection. Thus, a fundamental task of treatment, once an addict has broken through his or her denial and established a modicum of sobriety, is developing and maintaining healthy and supportive emotional bonds. It is this approach—not willpower, or babysitters, or shaming, or threatened consequences—that is most likely to create lasting sobriety, emotional healing, and a happier, healthier life.

Unsurprisingly, this is the approach taken by Seeking Integrity’s treatment programs and our affiliated website, SexandRelationshipHealing.com. On SexandRelationshipHealing.com we offer free drop-in discussion groups and free webinars so addicts and their loved ones can find and create ongoing support systems of fellow recovering addicts or fellow loved ones of addicts. To learn more about treatment, click here. To learn more about our free discussion groups and webinars, click here.