Although the common theme these days is to understand addiction as a brain disease with contributing “psychosocial” factors, I believe there is a more useful way to think about this problem that directly links with how we go about solving it. Addictions are about relationships with objects instead of people. Let me explain.
In all my years doing clinical work and research, I have yet to come across anyone who struggles with addiction that does not also struggle in their relationships with people. This is because addiction typically does not happen overnight, and involves multiple reinforcing experiences that basically tell the brain “keep it up.”
Unfortunately, as a person invests more time and energy into their relationship with objects (alcohol, food, drugs, porn, video poker, the list goes on) less time is spent engaging with people in healthy human relationships. The result is that important developmental skills necessary to initiate, develop, and maintain intimate human relationships become significantly constricted. In sum, many adults who struggle with addiction are child-like in their ability to be in relationships with other people.
This suggests that our treatments and interventions very often miss the mark. We focus so much energy on stopping the problematic behavior that we miss the importance of helping those who struggle developmentally catch-up. We know well from work with autistic children, trauma victims, and others, that no matter how significant the developmental gaps, we can intervene effectively and help people create intimate, emotionally mature, and nurturing relationships that take the place of object-relationships.
This work is not easy, and in future posts I will provide a lot more details about the specific developmental problems we see in those with addictions, and the treatment necessary for healing.
Jessica Pierce says
Do the people struggling with addictions recognize that they also struggle with their personal relationships? Or realize that they are child-like in their interactions? How do you go about “catching them up?”
The degree of awareness people have about their own behavior, including interactions with others, is highly variable. The ability to see patterns and relationships in behavior – particularly our own – is largely a function of development capacities which are constricted for most who struggle with addiction. How do we go about catching them up? We utilize developmentally-based psychotherapies aimed specifically at the constrictions. For more information I suggest reading the following chapters by Stanley Greenspan: http://addictionmanagement.org/greenspan.pdf
I think that one thing that I ask myself in regards to relationships and addiction is what comes first… do people that have a difficult time connecting, building and maintain healthy relationships tend to turn to relationships with objects or do the relationships that one builds with objects and the general societal belief that having a relationship with objects is not appropriate cause the person to turn away from the personal relationships that they had?
It is obviously not that simple, but is the first question that comes to mind.
Juliana S says
I totally agree with your thought. According to my experience, I find that the longer someone is misusing drugs or activities (games, food etc.), less they make efforts to build and maintain relationships with others. For this reason I agree with you that these two points are connected. In that sense, I think the treatment should take into account the social and family re-adapt of the patients. For me, all forms of addictions go far beyond just the misuse of substances or actions. This type of disorder involves many other factors, yet many treatments still focus only on the issue of detoxification. And maybe this is one of the factors leading to the large number of relapse.
Jenny DuPont says
Addiction can have a damper on relationships, and with me being in that situation I can relate. I have been with my husband for 10 years, he was a an alcoholic up until I got pregnant with our first child, he quite. I think technology has a damper on relationships to I-Phones are causing people to be glued to them and forgetting the importance is about being with each other, phones are over populated and people need to realize being together is more important than technology.