Teenage Addiction: It’s all about Love
June 13, 2009
By Kate Johnson
“Addiction is not a response to the availability of a substance, it is a response to pain.” Best-selling author, addiction treatment expert and parenting guru Dr. Gabor Maté literally brings tears to my eyes as I sit in a room full of people who care for addicted teens – and adults – every day.
Although I am a medical journalist, accustomed to hearing presentations about addiction and its treatment, Dr. Maté’s words touch a raw nerve. For Dr. Maté, the root of all addiction, whether to drugs, or tobacco, or shopping or eating, lies in emptiness – and an attempt to fill the void. Dr. Maté believes all humans feel some degree of emptiness that they attempt to fill. He has not said it, but perhaps the emptiness begins when the umbilical cord is severed, and grows with every step we take away from the womb.
What he has said many times, in his books, his presentations, and his newspaper columns is that a child’s loss of adult attachment fuels subsequent disease and addiction. In other words, it’s all about Love. “I never talk about blame,” he is quick to emphasize. “I believe parents always love their children, and they are doing their best.” But if parents are also battling their own emptiness, their own stress, and their own sometimes hidden addictions or insecurities, their love for their children may not shine through. “Emotional deprivation in childhood is a source of disease in adulthood,” he declares, emphasizing that emotional abandonment can register in the subconscious memory long before an infant lays down concrete memories.
Neglect, abandonment – even emotional absence can change a child’s brain chemistry, sowing the seeds for self-medication and addiction later on. So – we love our kids, we do our best – but the world is full of stress and we are all nursing our personal wounds. What happens if the damage is already done, a loved child does not feel the warmth, a dear boy is already numbing his mind and running from emptiness? How should parents and society handle teenage addiction?
Working with society’s most desperate addicts in Vancouver’s East side, Dr. Maté puts little faith in disciplinary action. Law enforcement delivers negative consequence to addicts which only serves to deepen the emptiness and strengthen addicts’ drive to fill it, he says. “If we want to tackle addiction we have to look at the pain that the addict is trying to treat.” If parents want to heal their child’s addiction they need to find the void and fill it. –KJ