Kate Johnson's Medical Musings

Life through the eyes of a medical journalist

Teenage Addiction: It’s All About Love

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

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June 13, 2009 - Posted by | Addiction, Parenting, Prevention, Psychology | , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. What a great blog! Helps make sense of challenges around addiction. Interesting to see the consistency with Tony Robbins interpretation of addiction. Robbins talks about all behaviour being motivated by avoiding pain and/or gaining pleasure. He also talks about the six basic human needs: certainty, uncertainty, significance, love or connection, growth, and contribution. If an action meets three or more of those needs with a behaviour, then it’s an addiction.

    Comment by Bob | June 13, 2009 | Reply

  2. Wonderful post Kate! I can not help but to grab at the very last sentence in your post and run just a little farther with it. If a parent wants to heal their child’s addiction they need to find the void and fill it…within themselves. Since by the time a child becomes addicted to drugs at least, they are often past the point of a parent being able to fill that void for them.
    Yet what a parent can do is fill that void in themselves, so they can become present for their child when the moment arrives and if the moment arrives when the child, or adult child is open to it.
    Kuddos to you!
    Love and light!~Cheryl

    Comment by Coach | October 24, 2009 | Reply


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