Substance Abuse and Addiction vs Behavioral Addiction in PTSD

Substance abuse and addiction or addictive behavior is pretty much always present as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress. The expression of it, though, can vary greatly from person to person.

Addiction certainly has a purpose in relation to Post-Traumatic Stress. It serves as a mechanism for coping by diverting the energy of overwhelming hurt into something else, which is either through an activity or taking a substance which will give some form of instant gratification.

Addiction, over time, does become an issue and focus in on itself.

If you are able to look at addiction and addictive behavior from this perspective; that they have been applied to help you cope with underlying emotional stress, it will help you to take away guilt, blame, and self-reproach that you may have formed around your addiction.

Addiction certainly has a purpose in relation to Post-Traumatic Stress. It serves as a mechanism for coping by diverting the energy of overwhelming hurt into something else, which is either through an activity or taking a substance which will give some form of instant gratification.

This first step, of changing your perspective, will start helping you to look at it, and observe what is really beyond and fundamental to addiction.

 Substance Abuse and Addiction and Behavioral Addiction

Our minds can really become attached, form a habit and become addicted to everything. Even the supposedly good stuff like yoga, sports or work.

If you look closely though you can see that there are basically two types of addiction.

  1. One is Substance Addiction. Think of coffee, chocolate, alcohol, drugs, medicine, soda-drinks, simple carbs (pastries), etc.
  2. Second are Behavioral Addictions. Think of internet, work, sex, sports, mobile, obsessions of any kind, promiscuity, need for control, the need to be always in a relationship, etc.

You will probably find that you have both present in some measure. Though that being said, you will likely have one being more dominant over the other. Either you are more inclined to be addicted to substances or more inclined to act out through behavioral addictions.

In the end, they serve the same purpose though!

Addressing the Underlying Emotion of Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addiction

If, for the time being, you would stop making an issue out of your particular addiction, in the knowledge that it serves only one purpose; as a coping mechanism.

And you would look at it afresh, being interested in finding a resolution to this complex issue.

Could you tune into - NOT the object of your addiction - but to the very energy and feeling of addiction itself; the craving, the desire, the groping, the wanting... and to sense that feeling in the body; in the mind.

Observing that without making it into a problem. Without giving it any further, separative movement through judgment.

Now ask yourself; what is the underlying factor in that need; the craving that expresses itself as a form of addiction?

Listen to that question and let the answer come to you. Keep the energy and attention in the body rather than analyzing it. It might be obvious that when you tune into what is fundamental to the wanting; the craving, the desire, there is some form of hurt; deep anger or sadness. Or it might be less defined for you, by revealing itself as stress, tension and/or anxiety.

Dissociation, PTSD, and Working Through Substance Abuse and Behavioral Addiction

Again, see if you can stay with what reveals itself as it is. You might notice that from here on there is that pull to dissociate, losing focus, going numb, or you move back into thoughts that relate to the hurt.

Slow it down and bring your attention back to the hurt or stress as it's felt in the body. Breathe into it, allowing it space. Don’t condemn or project it.

And as you are staying with it, you are giving containment to it. You are building up sufficient resilience to stay with 'what is' and once your hurt is fully contained, through the scope of your attention, your emotional residue can actually start to be processed.

You are actively reversing the process of dissociation that flows from feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

From there on you can go deeper. Continuing to question yourself deeply, honestly, and also curtailing that impulse to analyze the situation towards getting an answer.

Holding the quiet space for yourself.

Do you tend to dissociate into substance abuse or behavioral addiction? Leave your comment below.

  • Kelly says:

    This email comes to me one year post-hydromorphone detox. It was a prescription medication I had used rarely but carried with me for over 7 years without an issue. But when my PTSD stuff started to sneak up, ready to finally be resolved, that’s when I started taking them for the wrong reason. They did help the shakes I was starting to experience (which I think is how I justified it to myself at the time), but those shakes ended up being trauma related also. As I met Roland and started therapy, and started slowly healing, I was surprised that, conversely, my use increased substantially during those months. I see now looking back how much I was seeking stability, comfort, nurturing, warmth….the medication provided that in some form and I returned to it again and again. Even though I was making good progress in my PTSD, I was struggling with addiction more than ever, because the hurts that I had buried all those years were staring me in the face. I couldn’t pretend anymore – I was finally battling my fiercest, most buried demons, and somehow Dilaudid got all mixed up in there. Looking back I have felt alot of shame – a sense of ‘weakness’ – so today’s message means alot to me. It reminds me to be compassionate to myself, and proud of my success in quitting the med as well as in facing my emotional pain! It is not an easy battle. But if you take away the shame piece it helps lighten the load, significantly.

  • Gerry says:

    I found that the easiest way to deal with bad feelings about addiction is to remove our ego from the addictive equation. Once we use the substance/behaviour pattern to only treat our emotional upheavals we can begin to redirect such energy safely. i found that it is mainly our ego that makes addition so hard to break with. Peace.

  • Terry says:

    I find behavioural addiction so much more challenging than substance addiction. Its easy to avoid things like alcohol and drugs, but because behavioural addictions are based on natural urges such as sex and eating its challenging learning how to moderate such behaviours, that we can not possibly stop doing which would not be human. Also things like the internet which can have many positive benifets if we use them in the right way . I dont want to stop any of these things . Healing for me is not about being a monk . I just want to learn how to moderate them and use them in a healthy way.

    • Siri Nam Simran says:

      Great Insight Terri,
      After years of of over eating etc I have learned about positive substitutions.
      To go for the fulfilling, dynamic walk instead of overeating or other indulgences. To seek positive relationships instead of dependent ones. Take courses on personal growth to reveal my issues esp since sharing with and infront of others gives me support and positive companionship.

  • Darlene says:

    Very good article.

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