Underlying Issues of Addiction: Emotional Abuse

Addiction is a complex disorder and it isn’t always possible to identify the cause. However it is estimated that at least half of all people with a substance abuse disorder also struggle with an underlying issue such as depression, anxiety, or trauma resulting from various forms of emotional abuse. Underlying disorders are often undiagnosed and people may be completely unaware that their drinking or drug problem is caused by attempts to bury, (or self-medicate) emotional or mental pain and discomfort.

Emotional abuse often occurs in childhood, but it is just as damaging when it occurs in adulthood.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse may not leave cuts or scars, but repeated abuse can have a tremendous impact by gradually eroding confidence and self-esteem. Constant threats, name calling, rejection, humiliation, put-downs, bullying or intimidation can cause a victim to feel fearful or confused, eventually believing that they are unworthy of happiness or don’t deserve to be treated well. Victims of emotional abuse often feel alone and isolated.

Narcissistic Abuse

Narcissistic abuse is a severe form of emotional abuse at the hands of a person with narcissistic personality disorder. People with narcissistic personality disorder can be extremely charming, but they are usually unable to display true empathy and compassion, often taking perverse pleasure in manipulating other people to suit their own needs. Abuse by a narcissistic partner, parent, friend or co-worker can take a huge toll on mental and emotional wellbeing. Victims of narcissistic abuse often blame themselves and may feel tremendous shame, guilt and loss of self-respect. Partners of narcissists are often co-dependent and have difficulty leaving the abusive person.

Emotional Abuse and Addiction

Emotional abuse and trauma are often at the root of addiction, as people who are trying to cope with the trauma of emotional abuse may turn to drugs and alcohol to counteract fear, shame, anger and other disruptive emotions. The substances effectively numb feelings and create a feeling of calm — a more pleasant world in which the victim feels more empowered and in control.

Unfortunately, the benefits of drugs and alcohol are short-lived, as continued substance abuse compounds the initial problem and makes matters much worse. Eventually, addiction can cause people to lose touch with their emotions, numbing them to the point that they are no longer able to feel joy or pleasure.

Treatment for Addiction and Emotional Abuse

We always treat underlying issues along with the addiction because addressing one problem but not the other doesn’t work. Treating the addiction alone may appear to work for a time, but relapse is common if people haven’t identified underlying issues and learned better ways of coping with symptoms of trauma or other emotional pain.

If you are struggling with addiction and emotional abuse, treatment can help you learn to regain control, make better decisions and develop new strategies for managing difficult emotions without turning to drugs and alcohol.

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