HomeAddictionThe Emotional Component of Addiction’s Root Causes

The Emotional Component of Addiction’s Root Causes

There is a large emotional component to addiction that cannot be ignored if you intend to truly recover from addiction for good. The reality is that addiction is not just physical in nature; as such, success in addiction recovery is not just about detox. Detox is designed to break the cycle of physical dependency on drugs or alcohol, and it is a good first step in substance abuse treatment. But what about emotions?

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Addiction has a strong emotional component.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

There is a large body of research that indicates that trauma is often an underlying root cause of addiction behaviors. Recovery.org provides these illuminating statistics about the relationship between past trauma and current addiction:

  • Sources estimate that 25 and 75 percent of people who survive abuse and/or violent trauma develop issues related to alcohol abuse.
  • Between 10 to 33 percent of survivors of natural disasters, accidents, or illness report alcohol abuse.
  • A diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) increases the risk of developing alcohol abuse.
  • Female trauma survivors who do not struggle with PTSD face increased risk for an alcohol use disorder.
  • Male and female sexual abuse survivors experience a higher rate of alcohol and drug use disorders compared to those who have not survived such abuse.

The link between trauma and addiction extends beyond alcohol abuse to abuse of other substances or addictive behaviors such as gambling or eating disorders. Trauma of any sort can be a catalyst for addictive behaviors. Why?

Trauma produces in humans a natural fear reaction. For some, that reaction becomes intensified and ingrained and manifests itself as anxiety, depression, or a feeling of helplessness. For many addicts, introducing drugs or alcohol into this volatile emotional mix creates a feeling of relief. Thus, addiction becomes a coping mechanism for trauma victims, and its power over the traumatized individual is very strong.

Treating Addiction by Addressing the Traumatic Emotional Component

In many cases, what looks to an outsider like selfishness on the part of an addict who habitually relapses into addictive behaviors is actually a means by which the addict tries to handle overwhelming emotional issues.

In reality, substance abuse treatment must go beyond simply managing the physical symptoms of addiction. It must also include providing an addict with the coping skills necessary to address underlying emotional challenges. Helping an addict to learn how to properly fill emotional needs and resolve continuing sources of emotional pain lessens the addict’s need for drugs or alcohol to dull the senses and blunt emotional blows.

Darren Haber, MFT, psychotherapist in Los Angeles, notes in Psychology Today: “It reminds me again of the strange paradox that the more a patient and I accept drugs or alcohol as providing some kind of essential emotional/relational function, rather than being simply ‘wrong,’ the easier it is to give up. The goal is to begin replacing the abuse/dependence on substances with actual human connections; my relationship with the patient serves as a model, a way of relating honestly and intimately, working through whatever conflicts inevitably arise, and building trust.”

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Individual and group therapy can help addicts address emotional needs.

Cognitive therapy is a proven method for helping recovering addicts address the root causes of their particular addictions. Lance Dodes, MD, states regarding the role of cognitive therapy in substance abuse treatment:

“If you listen not for the awful results of addictive behavior, but for the factors that precipitate it – the trapped feelings that precede it – then you are in position to figure out the specific set of issues that always lead to addictive behavior in that person … Once you see addictive behavior this way, it becomes completely integrated with the rest of the psychotherapy, as it should be, because it is just the symptom. The proper way to treat addiction is to understand how and when addictive urges arise, then focus on these precipitating issues that are overwhelming for the person.”

Addiction Support

If you are an addict, rest assured that help is available. You can win your battle against addiction by using a two-pronged approach. First, going through detox will help you break the cycle of physical dependency on drugs or alcohol. Then, cognitive therapy will help you get to the root cause of addiction and fight it where it lives.


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Whether you choose an inpatient or outpatient treatment program, Harris House can equip you with the tools you need to break free from substance abuse and the emotional issues that contribute to it. Contact us today to take the first step toward freedom.

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