Addiction is a complex condition wherein chronically using substances changes the brain. But even before we start using substances, there are almost always underlying issues. The core reasons we are drawn to drugs or alcohol in the first place are complex; they vary by person, and when we do the work in recovery, we often find that it’s more than one thing.
Addiction tends to be a symptom of something deeper. People may use drugs or alcohol to cope with things like trauma, shame, anxiety, depression, stress, loss, attachment issues, and any number of other painful experiences. Addressing the core issues is so important. If we don’t, we are at greater risk for relapse, or for using other behaviors in an addictive way to numb out what we’re not dealing with directly.
The things I’ve found helpful for addressing these issues are therapy, meditation, journaling, writing, and conversations with close people in my life—anything that builds self-awareness. What works is different for everyone. For someone else, it might be support groups, 12-step fellowships, or even things like gardening or crocheting that allow your mind to be active while doing a repetitive task. In the case of co-occurring mental health disorders, some people find that medication gives them the ability to do this work.
I also have had to build and practice healthy coping skills, because when you’re dealing with things like trauma, it can be very difficult and painful. You need things to turn to besides alcohol, drugs, or other compulsive behaviors. You need things that make you feel as centered and supported as possible, not temporarily numb.
Don’t expect these things to happen overnight. Even learning what the underlying issues are is a process; at almost seven years sober, I’m still identifying things that might have contributed to my substance use. Healing is also very much not linear. Things generally improve as you work on them, but you will likely have moments that feel like setbacks. It’s important to remember that this is normal. It doesn’t mean you’re not healing and doing tremendous work.
While you’re working on these issues, it’s helpful to keep in touch with your support system. Some people tend to isolate themselves when they’re going through something hard. It’s okay to require some alone time to work through things, but it’s important to regularly reach out to and spend time with the people you love. It can already feel lonely to deal with painful core experiences, but you are not alone. Being around people who support you will remind you of that.
This work doesn’t have to be constant. I find it’s important to balance it out with fun, light, and playful things. This is particularly important because healing from core issues is an ongoing process. Take care of yourself while you’re doing it, and remember that balance is valuable.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for addiction and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will work with you to address underlying issues so that you can get and stay sober. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 833.641.0572.