Progressing Through the 5 Stages of Addiction: Stage I

When traumatized, many people seek to numb the pain with drugs or alcohol.

Chemical dependency is a multifaceted phenomenon and experts believe there are five stages in the process of addiction. The first stage is a need to numb trauma, which is defined as a deeply disturbing incident or occurrence that happens without warning. These events are life-changing experiences and can range from child abuse to losing a family member.

It’s hard to predict how anyone will respond to trauma, but many who experience it ultimately turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their pain or escape reality.

I was one of those people.

Seeking Refuge

About seven years ago, I was going through a series of hardships. In addition to weathering the impact of my parents’ divorce (and subsequently the dissolution of my close-knit family), I was dealing with a toxic work environment. My mental state was pretty fragile at this point, so when my boyfriend broke things off unexpectedly, something inside me snapped and I stopped caring about, well, virtually everything.

So, I turned to the bottle to get through each day – to numb my heartache and anxiety. Over the next few weeks, my drinking steadily increased, until I reached the point that I needed to drink. If it weren’t for crashing into another car on my way home from a bar one night, who knows where I’d be today or how far off the deep end I’d be in my addiction.

Any Port in a Storm?

Trauma creates an imbalance to our emotional or mental system that’s far beyond the norm. It produces intensely painful feelings and we look for a way to escape. Drugs and alcohol often seem like the perfect solution, due to the immediate feeling of relief. However, the feelings of comfort and pleasure are temporary. By avoiding the emotional pain, the root cause of the trauma tends to grow and eventually overcomes whatever relief the substances provide, leading to the vicious cycle of addiction.

The bottom line is this: Whatever the emotional struggle stems from – a childhood tragedy or even a simple breakup like mine – drug and alcohol use is a dangerous tool for self-medicating pain. Trauma needs to be treated directly, not suppressed and ignored.

If you’re using drugs or alcohol to deal with something in your past, seek help. No day is better than today.

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