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"Addicts are selfish" - How to Not Take it Personally

Let's reframe some of our common assumptions about addiction.


Are all people who struggle with substance abuse just selfish?


Among family, friends, and loved ones of those struggling with addiction and substance abuse, one of the common accusations directed at the afflicted person is that they are "selfish". Their actions are selfish, their drug or alcohol abuse is selfish, and they, at their core, are just selfish, self-centered, narcissists.


Sure. We can say that.


But what if they're not?


"What? Cory! How can you say that?" you shout, as you often do in my head, "Isn't it selfish to spend all your time getting high or drunk and ignoring your family!?"


Good question, brain critic. I think that whether we decide they are selfish is purely subjective, and depends on if we believe they are addicted, if we understand what addiction implies, or if we believe they are inherently bad people.


I believe in always assuming positive intent, which means I don't assume that when people do things, they are doing so with the primary purpose of hurting me, but rather that they are doing so with the purpose of helping themselves in the best way they know how. If they are experiencing such pain that they can't see the effects of their actions (they can, and it hurts them to know that a thing they can't help is hurting those they love), I choose to have compassion for anyone going through that level of mental anguish.


I don't agree that addiction is selfish. People don't choose to be addicted, or to experience the trauma that leads to addiction. Our society convinces us that addiction is a choice, but science and addiction medicine don't support that assumption.


I find it far more likely that addiction is the result of a self-destructive traumatic response, an attempt to self soothe. The self-deception required for those struggling to live with the adaptive decisions that are keeping them alive, in the wake of their trauma, is the very self-deception we see, when we experience what we consider negative behavior, such as lying, insulting, and pushing away those who care about them.


Addiction is an adaptation to unlivable trauma. It's an attempt to self-regulate. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, and I choose not to take it personally.


Coming to this conclusion takes a deeper understanding of the function of addiction, but if I had to simplify (which I will, as this is a blog and not a book) it's sort of a self-perpetuating cycle. Shame plays a huge role in addiction, and it's also what keeps most from pursuing recovery. Shame is also what fuels their denial. This isn't them trying to shirk responsibility, think of it more like PTSD, and how you repress traumatic memories. Until the person has the time, emotional energy, and support to address ALL of it, they have to keep it suppressed and not acknowledge it.


Many who struggle with addiction also experience thoughts of suicide. So there's a real risk there of them losing that control as well if they were to unzip all that trauma at the wrong time, when they don't feel equipped to manage it.


This is a really under-represented perspective, but people are finally starting to be ready for it. If you're reading this, and have gotten this far, that means you're ready for it too, and I'm so happy to have you with us. Over the next few months I'll be releasing books, programs, and resources, for families and loved ones of people struggling with substances abuse.


Open-mindedness and a willingness to pursue recovery for ourselves and our loved ones is so important, in order to make a difference. Only about 17% of people who struggle with addiction ever receive the treatment they need. It's gotten even worse with the pandemic. With more people willing to learn about addiction and have compassion, we will hopefully be able to lead more people to recovery, and shift that statistic.


Did this blog post help you? If you're looking for more answers for a loved one struggling with addiction, schedule a free connection call with me.


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