Many of us have been told that addiction is a moral failing or a sign of weakness. We may have heard that addicts are simply too lazy to change their behavior, and that their choices have led them down a destructive path.
When I became familiar with Maté’s work, my view on addiction shifted 180 degrees. For the first time, I saw someone approach addiction with compassion and understanding, explaining the mental and emotional turmoil that leads people down the path of addiction.
I could finally understand that people are not addicted to the substance itself, but to the numbness it provides from the deep emotional pain the individual is experiencing. And therefore, the addiction becomes (at least in the beginning) the solution to their problem.
When we talk about addiction, we think of alcohol or drug abuse, but we cna be addicted to many other things or behaviours. The luckiest ones will be addicted to sports. Others to food, to sweets, to shopping to work, to sex or to anger. And the list can go on. In Maté’s words, addiction is any behaviour in which a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in, but that also has negative consequences, and which the individual cannot give up despite those consequences.
As a society, we need to shift our focus from punishing, blaming or shaming addicts to providing them with compassionate and effective treatment. This means understanding the root causes of addiction: that trauma or emotional pain, and providing resources and support to address those issues.