Do emotions matter when it comes to addictive behaviours?

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

I don’t want to oversimplify this but don’t people who retreat to an addictive behaviour often do so because they need to soothe themselves, calm their nerves (read relieve anxiety) or relieve their disquiet or agitation. The relief gained by retreating into an addictive behaviour (from substance to shopping) creates a temporary reprieve from angst, therefore, making life “manageable”.

The disquiet I refer to may also occur as a result of being by yourself and not knowing what to do with yourself, which creates discomfort. There is a void associated with just being with yourself that is uncomfortable and, in a way, threatening that needs to be escaped, at which point all manner of rationalisations will come in the support that notion.

The question remains though what was it that you needed relief from?

What needed to be shut down?

The answer is a feeling that you didn’t want to feel.

The problem is when we shut emotions down, they don’t go anywhere. These emotions/feelings don’t get to be experienced or understood and linger for another day. When this happens, we need to escape again. See the problem? This trap is further complicated as the more we seek to avoid our emotions, the bigger a problem they can become.

There’s more. As Gabor Mate puts it:

When you shut down your emotion, you’re also affecting your immune system, your nervous system. So, the repression of emotion, which is a survival strategy then becomes an (unconscious) source of physiological (and psychological) illness later on. (Italics added)

By only treating the symptoms, that is, the consequences of the escaping behaviour we enable the root problem to stay alive and manifest another day in both physiological and psychological ways.

It follows, it is often not enough to only take a symptom management approach to treat dependencies, addictive behaviours or associated anxious and depressive symptoms.

Understanding and experiencing emotions driving our behaviour interrupts the cycle of that behaviour and unwanted consequence allowing us to create new outcomes. Do emotions matter when it comes to addictive behaviours? They play a pivotal role.

Here’s an interesting article that discusses the nature of addiction and the role of thoughts and emotions link.

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