Meeting Our Unfulfilled Needs With Addiction

Underlying all addictions are unmet needs or needs being met in non-nourishing, unhealthy or unsustainable ways. Cutting-edge addiction treatment recognizes that addictions are, in part, coping strategies to manage the pain and suffering caused by underlying issues related to traumatic experiences.

Trauma is a very upsetting or threatening event that overwhelms the nervous system. The person experiencing the trauma is unable to integrate the experience or resolve the threat. The traumatized person will develop coping strategies to deal with the situation, often to find safety or protection. These coping strategies are developed under duress and are often counter to a person’s values.

It is an important shift in perspective to understand that although most addictions begin as a coping strategy, they inevitably create their own suffering and misery. What begins as a way to help to soothe, numb or distract ourselves from our core wounding and trauma, ultimately becomes the issue requiring the most attention.

In order to heal the underlying trauma and related PTSD, addictions, depression and anxiety, we must identify our needs and be open to new ways to meet them. Although this sounds simple, it is actually extremely challenging for most people. In our culture, “need” is considered a four-letter word.  Concerns such as appearing “needy” or “selfish” can get triggered by this inquiry. Many of us have been conditioned to be codependent – always putting other’s needs in front of our own.

Even those who acknowledge the importance of having “needs”, may categorize, minimize or judge their needs. One may ask, is this spiritual or ego? Healthy or unhealthy? A want or a need? The bottom line is that a need is a need, and it is important that we meet the need where it is, without judgement or shame. A need will be met regardless of our label either unconsciously, in ways that do not ultimately serve us, or consciously, in new healthy ways that we may not even be aware are possible unless we begin this inquiry.

Most needs are basic, such as the need for love, safety, connection, joy, pleasure and having a sense of purpose and meaning in our lives. The need may be nuanced and individualized for each person, but at their core, most needs fall into one of these categories. For instance, addictions can meet many needs, beyond just the need to “numb out”. For some, they allow people to feel connected to other people, be more comfortable around the opposite sex, feel more empowered, more “like themselves,” less self-conscious, even liberated and free. Ironically, the addiction may at first meet these needs, yet eventually, they end up causing more pain, suffering, hopelessness and despair.

Often people in recovery confuse their needs with the coping strategy used to meet the needs and thus throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.  Someone dealing with addiction may feel such guilt and shame about abusing a substance, food, sex, etc., that in their desire to “stop” the behavior, they never inquire as to what the underlying need being met by the addiction is.

This question is vital to becoming fully recovered. If we don’t first become aware of the need, and then second meet this need in new and sustainable ways, we will, usually unconsciously, meet this need in the last known way have been habituated to. This is why relapse is so prevalent in most addiction treatment and recovery. Once we identify, allow without judgment, and then start meeting our need in healthy ways, the compulsion for the addictive behavior begins to cease, as our core needs are being fulfilled.

Please visit the Our Approach page to learn more about The Sanctuary’s approach to integrative addiction recovery, or call us at 1.877.710.3385.