How has addiction become such an epidemic in our society? As a way to cope with stress or numb painful feelings, most turn to medications, alcohol, drugs or emotional eating. Overworking can become an addiction as well, a distraction from your internal pain.
The real issue I’ve come to realize is how our society views mental health. Most will not seek treatment until they’ve hit rock-bottom. The goal should be maintaining happiness and mental health daily to prevent destructive thoughts, harmful behaviors and self-sabotage.
Traveling the world and seeing how different cultures deal with mental health was the big “aha moment” for me. I’ve uncovered a significant issue right here in the United States, giving me deeper clarity as to why Americans don’t prioritize mental health, creating an epidemic with addiction.
The fact is, most Americans have been taught to avoid their deeper problems. It’s not just a generational problem; it’s an issue with our society. Our society has created the idea that we should push back painful feelings and “brush things under the rug.” This leads to painful emotions, destructive habits and suffering. When you bottle up pain, it will eventually explode through harming yourself through addiction, lashing to at loved ones and daily suffering.
Here you can view the ripple effects of trauma:
How Addiction Takes Control
Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use and continuous involvement with it despite negative consequences. Addiction rewires the brain and alters the way it registers pleasure. The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether emerging from a drug, satisfying meal, passionate hobby or sexual encounter. In the brain, pleasure has a specific signature: the release of dopamine. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release and the reliability of that release. Addictive drugs or behaviors provide a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding it with 10x the amount of dopamine than natural rewards do. We store this memory and become stimulated immensely when we return to the drug or habit.
The brain rewires to have a lack of dopamine when engaging in normal activities, such as hobbies, self-care, relationships and jobs, creating decreased pleasure in all other components in life. Substances or addictive behaviors become the top priority because the brain only measures this as pleasurable. Your addiction slowly sabotages your life and strips away everything, robbing your joy.
Countless addicts attend treatment, only to find themselves relapsing within weeks. Families spend thousands of dollars trying to save addicts from another relapse, but don’t understand that the underlying issue of trauma is connected to their addiction. So addicts remain in a vicious cycle of relapse until they speak up about their trauma.
Unresolved trauma has many deadly effects, stunting your life, relationships and opportunities. Let’s take a deeper dive into the inner-struggles of addicts and trauma survivors:
Traumatic experiences not only cause pain in the moment of the abuse, but also cause a lifetime of suffering, with anxiety, sadness, anger, guilt and shame. You may also experience feelings of grief, pain, powerlessness and helplessness. You can't focus on the present because you are stuck, fixating on the past or worrying about the future. These overwhelming emotions cloud your vision and take away any dreams for a better future.
Numbing or Avoiding Pain
If you have spent years on anti-depressants or take prescriptions to ease your anxiety, you are only numbing your pain, providing a patch-fix. It may be alcohol, drugs, emotional eating, impulsive buying or distracting yourself with work; the truth is, addiction is hindering your life.
When you numb pain, you’re also numbing all emotions, even happiness, passion and joy. If you've spent years stuck in this negative cycle, it's time to break the chains of addiction. When you avoid opening up about your past, you risk losing future happiness. It will affect your mental, emotional and physical health.
A huge connection point that you need to understand- your current depression, anxiety and fear are all connected to your trauma. Ignoring these emotions comes with significant consequences. Your subconscious mind is attached to this pain, whether you know it or not, and you’ll continue to re-live the trauma, pulling focus from the important things in your life. Depression and anxiety make it difficult to function, affecting key relationships. You are missing out on wonderful moments and if you continue to push back or ignore these feelings, they will trigger destructive habits and behaviors, causing life-long anxiety, ultimately, sabotaging your happiness.
Common Negative Coping Mechanisms & Behaviors
Addiction, isolation, avoiding conflict, perfectionism, wanting to please others, nightmares, insomnia, panic/anxiety attacks, flashbacks afraid to be around crowds of people, argumentativeness, headaches and physical problems unexplained by doctors, inability to work, overworking, avoidance of sex, promiscuous behavior, prostitution, codependency, eating disorders, self-injurious behaviors and numbing.
To protect yourself from harmful experiences, your brain disconnects, avoiding pain. However, over time this becomes your primary way of coping. You start to lose yourself over years and form a "trauma-identity”, becoming someone who stays in their comfort zone because they're afraid of the unknown. The horrible result is self-isolation from the world, moving away from social interactions. You can't focus on the present because you are stuck, fixating on the past or worrying about the future.
It may be difficult to imagine a life without painful emotions, bad habits, and suffering when you’ve been stuck reliving the past for decades. Trauma clouds your vision and takes away any dreams for a better future. The key is having awareness and being honest about the damage this has caused in your life. How has this affected others around you?
Low Self-Worth & Lack of Confidence
If you constantly criticize yourself, saying you're "not good enough, stupid, worthless or unlovable,” then you have low self-confidence. Value others' opinions above your own. Then you are suffering from low self-worth. Growing up in an abusive atmosphere will lead you to believe you're not worthy of love, not good enough to go after your dreams or have an opinion. This crippling mixture of low self-esteem and low self-worth is directly connected to your abuse. When you constantly criticize yourself and hear these negative thoughts, thousands of times, you are forcing your brain to believe these lies. This has led you to miss opportunities, giving up your passions and dreams. Until you work through your past trauma, you won't feel worthy of a better life.
To cope with the negative emotions and issues that stem from past trauma, you may deny the traumatic event ever happened, suppressing your memories. This may allow you to function in your daily life temporarily, but eventually, all negative emotions, painful memories and triggers will resurface. Denial keeps you from addressing the real problem, leading to years of suffering.
Lack of Responsibility
Denial leads to not taking ownership of emotions or blaming others for your actions. Before I move forward, I want to validate all survivors. The abuse was not your fault, but if you are angry or bitter and taking out your frustrations on others, you are 100% responsible for your actions in the present. Learning to take responsibility and accountability will reprogram your habits. If you cannot take ownership of your feelings, it will cost you over time, risking relationships and opportunities.
A part of you is scared to change and minimizes your trauma, telling yourself others have experienced worse. All trauma is detrimental. You cannot compare one trauma to another. You need to be honest with yourself and think about how this has affected you and the people around you. Minimizing leads to self-blame and self-hatred, which hinders the healing process.
You may rationalize or create excuses for why the trauma happened; this only hinders your healing, taking the responsibility off the abuser and putting it onto yourself. You begin to experience deep shame and guilt, blaming yourself for the trauma. The shame, guilt and self-blame stemming from abuse prevents growth, which leads to an immense amount of suffering. The overwhelming emotions cause survivors to mentally revert to a hurt child when under stress.
For many, love came with a price tag. You received attention and approval only by accepting abuse. Those who were supposed to protect and love you likely betrayed you. This, in turn, taught you the world is unsafe and no one can be trusted. A lack of trust leads to sabotaging loving relationships out of fear of being hurt.
People-Pleasing | Lack of Boundaries
Boundaries are a crucial component of self-care and healthy relationships. Our boundaries help us to establish trust with each other, but they also protect our needs and communicate our expectations, setting the foundation for healthy relationships. We must build our self-confidence in order to set healthy boundaries. Saying "no" to others is saying "yes" to ourselves. Self-care is not selfish, it’s a necessity. When you neglect your needs, you experience increased stress, fatigue and burn-out, leaving you unable to function at home or work, causing you to eventually hit rock bottom.
Locked in Your Comfort Zone
You continue to choose fear, pain and anger, instead loving yourself. You are unwilling to move past your fears, staying in your comfort zone because you’re scared of the unknown. You start to miss out on the most important moments in your life, because you’ve gained comfortability with isolating yourself from the world. At this point, trauma has held you back from experiencing joy and happiness. You never go after your passions or dreams, and feel stuck reliving the pain every day.
If you’re stuck in the past, you need to understand, you are making choices every single day. They will either drive you towards a better life or keep you in your negative cycles.
We are here to create a global movement that inspires all trauma survivors and addicts to feel empowered and worthy. To anyone struggling with their past, I want you to know you are strong, can gain your life back and thrive. You are worthy of self-love and inner-peace.
Our #Worthy Movement is here help build a community for anyone struggling with self-love or self-worth. It’s not just a generational problem; it’s an issue with our society. We’re striving to stay on the cutting edge with taking mental health to the next level; not just opening up about trauma and addiction, but having an efficient strategy for healing trauma to live your best life.
Whether addiction has impacted you or your loved ones, let’s end the stigma and start a conversation.
-Trish French, MSW, CAP, LCSW