Addictions and Their Substitutes for Love

Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

One of the best books I ever read wasn’t actually a novel. It was a book about drug addicts. It is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate. Well, I learned from this book that most of the things that a drug addict struggles with and the reasons for their addiction plague most relationships. Addictions are actually much more common than you might think. There are many forms of addiction that plague relationships: such as TV, Internet browsing, pornography, social media websites (i.e. Facebook), computer games, video games, cleaning, shopping, music, eating disorders, and electronic gadgets. The problem behind the addiction isn’t the addiction itself but the addiction cycle and the needs our bodies are trying to get met. Even if you take the steps necessary to stop one addiction (e.g. pornography), another one pops up in its place (e.g. TV). This is because you are not actually solving the problem underneath the addiction, which is: using poor substitutes for love. People who struggle with addiction do not necessarily have problems with being loved or feeling loved, but the problem lies in “accepting love vulnerably and openly on a visceral, emotional level” (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). People who cannot find or receive love need to find external influences or substitutes to get their needs met (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). One of the biggest differences between people who struggle with addiction and people who are less influenced by them is their ability to handle and deal with emotions. Children who have parents who are always attentive to their needs, who have the ability to regulate their own emotions, and can properly soothe their children, learn to manage their emotions effectively because they were taught by their parents. However, those who have poor attachments with their parents and were left to themselves to soothe their emotional distress relied on external sources to comfort themselves. It is unfortunate that we are entering into a society where there is more and more emotional deprivation and reliance on electronic technology to find comfort rather than having quality contact at home with our loved ones.

What do I do then?

If you are struggling in a relationship where addiction has taken its toll on the relationship distress, I encourage you to see a therapist. Addictions can be difficult to overcome and unless you can deal with the underlying problems associated with the addiction, you are most likely to develop other forms of addicted behaviors. However, knowing what is at the root of addiction can help the addict and the partner of the addict in knowing what needs to be done.

If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.

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