Addictions and Self-Harm

People with addictions often experience overwhelming or painful emotions or physical sensations, mood swings, deep insecurities, negative self-talk, anxiety, or worries about being accepted as they truly are. People with addictions, in many cases (but not all), have experienced trauma or early attachment injuries.

Although they are associated with shame and stigma, addictions to substances (like alcohol, drugs, food), to people (relationships, love, caretaking), and to behaviours (sex, overworking, gambling, over-exercising, shopping, internet) and other types of self-medicating, self-mutilation and self-harm serve some basic neurobiological purposes.

They might be your best way of managing distress, discomfort and overwhelm. They are a way to feel pleasure or numb out when things are too intense or painful, or they can make your feel more alive and excited when you feel “flat”. Addictions are a way to avoid what you fear might show up if you slowed down and spent time alone with yourself. When your nervous system is used to being in a highly-activated state, addictions can give you the adrenaline hit your body needs.

For some, addictions provide a public persona to hide behind in order to feel accepted. Or addictions might be how you cope with stress or other people’s trauma, especially if you are overwhelmed because you learned to override and dismiss your needs.  For people who have learned to lose themselves in order to make others happy, addictions can be a way of numbing out the boredom or pain of not being in alignment with your true self and what is important to you.

Craving for something on the outside reflects
a lack of capacity inside.

For many, a deep craving for “other” (a substance, behaviour or another person) is really about a deep longing to connect with oneself. Addictions or filling the void with something external may be a sign that your internal container is too small to hold the overflow of what is inside, and that you have “left yourself” as a way of coping

This may be especially true if your needs as a child were not validated or met by your primary caregivers, and you continue to seek something on the outside to make you feel better. Addictions may be a gentle reminder that it is time to begin the developmental task of giving to yourself what you seek externally, shifting from dependence on others and self-medicating to healthy relationships with others, depending on yourself and learning to self-soothe and self-regulate from within.

Faith or spirituality can be a positive support for you in your recovery, and can be a source of comfort and strength. However, belief in a higher power or a particular religion is not necessary to learn self-regulation skills. You can learn to face your own pain and sit with your impulses from a more grounded, self-compassionate and contained place inside yourself with or without a faith system in place.

The Refuge believes that healthy recovery involves safely addressing the underlying reasons for the addictions, such as healing the emotional and physical activation of trauma, core beliefs, chronic stress and relationship dynamics that are creating distress or exhaustion. The Refuge takes a harm reduction approach that ranges from a gradual reduction in the behaviour as you learn to self-regulate and heal, to full abstinence if necessary and helpful, as you build up your ability to find control and refuge within yourself.

© 2013 –   The Refuge.