Treating Addiction: A Holistic Approach

In holistic medicine, there is an emphasis on treating the condition instead of the symptoms of the condition. This makes sense, as it guarantees a permanent cure for the health condition in question. Put another way: if a condition has a chance of recurring, then the actual source of the condition has not been addressed.

When it comes to addiction, the relapse rate is significant. The National Institute of Drug Abuse currently puts the relapse rate at around 40-60%. Logically, what this indicates is that the treatment for substance abuse does not target the actual problem, but a symptom of the problem.

Consider the example of a man who starts experiencing extreme back pain due to a birth defect of which the man is not aware. To cope with the pain, he begins to take strong pain medication. After a short time, the man starts abusing the medication and his wife takes his medication away. At this point, we are back to the original problem. I.e., the man still has back pain from a medical condition which has not been treated. As a result, he may be tempted to once again start taking pain medication.

Addiction and compulsive behaviors are not in themselves the source of the problem. They are a symptom of the problem, which means they cannot be treated directly. In general, compulsive behavior is used to cope with psychological pain. Consequently, if you “take away” the addiction from the addict, you have taken away that person’s coping mechanism for dealing with his or her psychological pain.

The Source of the Pain

Since nobody grew up with unconditionally loving parents, it’s safe to say that hardly anyone escaped early development “unscathed”. This isn’t to same that one’s parents are to blame because they weren’t “perfect”. Instead, many painful experiences occurred because – from the perspective of the child – his or her parents were perfect.

Such an immature perspective resulted in psychologically traumatic experiences that would not have been painful (or at least as painful) from a more mature standpoint. For example, a baby who was left crying for even a short time might assume that not being picked up meant that the child wasn’t loved. In reality, the mother can’t physically pick up her baby every time the child wants. But such understanding is not within the reasoning capability of a small child.

In addition to the pain resulting from normal childhood development, there is another source of emotional pain that is commonly linked to addiction: emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Regardless of the age at which this trauma is experienced, the resulting pain will inevitably produce psychological issues until the  adequately addressed. Unfortunately, when the pain of abuse is hidden beneath an addiction, the treatment all-too-often focuses on the addiction instead of healing the original trauma.

Dealing with the Pain

When we have an experience that lead to emotional pain, we tend to take the situation personally. I.e., if someone rejects us, we take it as as proof that we are not lovable. When somebody is mad at us, we feel the need to defend our actions instead of apologize.

The reason for such behavior is due to the unconscious, erroneous beliefs that we learned from our early developmental experiences. We don’t think we are lovable. And we don’t think we have self-worth. As a result, there is the need to defend ourselves.

There are an infinite number of possible experiences that lead to such negative and false beliefs. The typical common fact, however, is that these beliefs are not something we are fully conscious of. But the emotional pain that results from these beliefs is all-too-conscious. And when situations arise that reinforce these false beliefs, the pain can become seemingly unbearable.

Compulsive behavior is therefore a very typical way of coping with this psychological pain. Such behavior of course includes alcohol and substance abuse. Compulsive eating is also generally recognized as an addiction.

What is not so well-recognized is that almost everyone has an addiction. Not all addictions have such noticeable negative consequences as substance abuse. For example, some people are compulsive liars. Other people escape via excessive daydreaming.

Treatment Failure

One of the unfortunate aspects about psychological defenses in general is that they tend to cause more pain than the pain they were designed to defend against. This is often true in extreme cases of drug and alcohol abuse. And in these situations, an addict will have a motivation to seek treatment for the addiction.

However, even when substance abuse treatment is a success, the underlying psychological pain remains. Following treatment, the pain is once again in the awareness of the addict. For this reason, the addict will often relapse back into addiction.

Effective Healing for Addiction

I have already discussed changing negative belief systems at length in another post, so I will not repeat that information here. But I do want to emphasize that changing negative belief systems is a lengthy process, and immediate results cannot be expected.

The process itself is often frustrating as it can appear that little or no progress is being made. For example, let’s suppose that a person has spent three or more weeks programming positive beliefs to replace the negative ones. Following this period of time, this person continues to catch himself having negative thoughts, which is a sign that the negative beliefs still exist.

Logically, this would indicate a failure to eliminate negative beliefs. But actually, it’s a very positive indication. The reason the person was consciously aware of the negative thought at all was because it contradicted the positive beliefs he has been programming. Otherwise, the negative thought might have “slipped past” unnoticed.

Negative beliefs are not eliminated by recognizing their existence; they are removed by constant awareness of their presence. The more often that there is a conscious awareness of the negative belief, the less power that belief will have over the person. Therefore, each time a negative thought is consciously recognized as such, the underlying negative belief will be loosened and eventually eliminated.

Once negative beliefs are eliminated and replaced by positive beliefs, everything changes. A person will no longer be affected by outer circumstances, but instead will be able to handle the ups and downs of life with an inner peace. In general, the strength gained from a strong sense of self-worth and self-love cannot be underestimated. Nothing external will ever produce lasting happiness as nothing external lasts forever. But inner strength and self-love are always present, and will always be enough to help a person cope with psychological pain, regardless of the circumstances.