Whether it’s the usual suspects like tobacco or alcohol, something less socially acceptable like opioids or amphetamines, or something deceivingly innocuous like sugar, television, a relationship or even spirituality, the experience of being unable to say “no” to a compulsion is pervasive in our culture. The “drug” helps us to escape, temporarily, the pain of a deep and abiding need that we may not know how to meet, or even identify. Eventually the compulsion becomes so deeply rooted in unconscious behavior that we don’t even see the problem anymore, like viewing the world through “drug” colored glasses.
Addiction isn’t always the moral shortcoming that society may try to convince you it is. I’ve struggled with food and sugar addiction all my life, and just because it is more socially acceptable (even encouraged at times) doesn’t make it any less destructive or any easier to reconcile. Addicts undergo an archetypal hero’s journey on the road to recovery, and that courage and willingness merits honor and respect rather than judgment and scorn.
When people find out I’m a hypnotherapist, they invariably ask, “Can you make me stop smoking?” The fact is, there are techniques that can do just that, but if the underlying need is not identified and processed we simply move on to the next (potentially more destructive) addiction. The first step to lasting healing is to get in touch with the fundamental self (not the “addict” but the person experiencing the addiction) and build up their emotional resources. Without a strong sense of self, taking away the addiction is like kicking the crutches out from under someone with a leg injury.
With a powerful and grounded self, and some tools for regulating the emotions that arise through this process, we can begin to use the addictive behavior itself to get at the underlying need. By holding the object of the addiction at arm’s length and observing the feelings that come up we can begin to unravel the threads of the straight-jacket. One by one, the underlying needs are processed and brought into alignment with the authentic self (met, released, mitigated, etc.) and the compulsive “pressure” of the addiction decreases, leaving the client able to make rational decisions about their behavior. In essence, the object of the addiction loses its power as a “drug” and simply becomes an experience that we can “take or leave.”
It should be noted that this approach does not directly address the biochemical component of addiction, meaning that those dealing with highly addictive substance abuse (cocaine, heroin, etc.) should also seek professional medical assistance to address withdrawal symptoms and monitor physical health.