How To Understand Addiction And Find Inner Peace

understand addiction

To understand addiction is a complex condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Many of us struggle with addiction at some point in our lives. Understanding addiction as a disease that is treatable gives us a sense of inner peace, even if we don’t fully understand why it happens. This article explores the disease concept of addiction, and some of the causes, symptoms, and treatments of addiction.

Is Addiction A Disease?

The first question that needs to be addressed is whether addiction can be classified as a disease. There is some debate among experts as to whether addiction should be considered a disease. Some argue that it is not because it does not cause long term damage to the body. Others say that it is because people who suffer from addiction often experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking drugs.

There are many definitions of disease, but for the purposes of this article I will use the World Health Organization’s definition: “a broad category that includes any disorder with harmful consequences for an individual”.

Addiction has harmful consequences for those who are struggling with its use: it can destroy relationships and marriages; lead to homelessness; result in loss of employment and income, and even lead to death. Recent scientific research has shown significant and detrimental effects on brain chemistry and function, so it’s safe to call addiction a disease.

To Understand Addiction is Important

Our understanding of addiction and recovery has evolved tremendously in recent years. Today, we know that addiction is not a choice and that achieving long-term sobriety is an extremely difficult, but attainable, goal. To understand addiction we can better understand those suffering from the disease, allowing us to find inner peace in knowing that the person can recover with the appropriate treatment.

Yes, the use of a substance, regardless of its legal status, is a choice and the person’s personal responsibility. Yet, that choice is not unlike the choice of those whose chronic illness demands daily exercise, medication, proper diet, etc. All choice ends in a consequence, foreseen or unforeseen, healthy or unhealthy. The choice to not abide by my doctor’s prescribed diet could lead a person with cardiovascular disease to suffer a heart attack, or a person with diabetes to lose a limb. The choice of a person with an addiction to using an addictive substance could lead to unhealthy consequences. 

So yes, the use of a substance is a choice, not unlike any other life choices we make on a daily basis. The difference, however, is that once the brain chemistry is changed and altered by the addictive substance, the physical impulse to continue to use is now automatic. 

The person who uses a substance does not do so in an attempt to become addicted to it, just as the person who chooses to eat red meat and fried foods does not do so in an attempt to suffer cardiac illness. Therefore, the choice lies in the use of a substance (drug, food, etc), not in the resulting bodily changes manifesting in disease or illness. 

“Addiction involves craving for something intensely, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences. Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal drives such as learning and motivation. Although breaking an addiction is tough, it can be done.” (Source:

Today we recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Addiction damages the brain in a similar way to how heart disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas. This occurs as the brain undergoes a series of changes, starting with recognizing pleasure and ending with an urge to repeat the experience.

“It’s common for a person to relapse, but relapse doesn’t mean that treatment doesn’t work. As with other chronic health conditions, treatment should be ongoing and should be adjusted based on how the patient responds. Treatment plans need to be reviewed often and modified to fit the patient’s changing needs.” (Source:

According to research, the rate of relapse for those struggling with addiction is not more prevalent than that of other medical illnesses. Those who relapse with an addictive substance do so at the same rate as people suffering from other chronic illnesses. This means that addiction should be treated like any other chronic disease, with a focus on long-term management and prevention of relapse. 

Addiction is a serious disease that can cause great harm to sufferers and their loved ones. However, with the right treatment, recovery is possible. By understanding addiction, we can better support those struggling with this disease and find inner peace by knowing that they can overcome their daily suffering.

The Brain and How It Changes When Addicted

There are many factors that contribute to addiction, but the most common cause is a chemical imbalance in the brain. This can be caused by a person’s genetics, childhood trauma, or even environment. Like other chronic diseases, addiction wreaks havoc on the brain. It impairs cognitive functioning and decision-making and can lead to changes in brain structure and chemistry. Over time, addiction can cause serious damage to the brain, making it difficult, yet not impossible, for people to recover and live healthy, productive lives.

“Substance abuse affects many parts of the body, but the organ most impacted is the brain. When a person consumes a substance such as drugs or alcohol, the brain produces large amounts of dopamine; this triggers the brain’s reward system. After repeated drug use, the brain is unable to produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own. This means addicted people may struggle to find enjoyment in pleasurable activities, like spending time with friends or family, when they are not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” (Source:

Addiction, therefore, is a brain disease that alters the way the brain functions, causing changes in behavior, thought, and emotion. The effects of addiction are not always permanent, but it takes time for the brain to heal and return to its normal state. Our thoughts and emotional reactions are mainly learned, so when an individual stops ingesting substances, the body physically adapts while the brain needs time for the person to learn new healthy thoughts and emotional responses to life. 

It’s true that addiction has a personal responsibility component, but once the person’s substance use has chemically altered their brain, professional care and treatment are needed for long-term recovery. This process is not unlike that of any other chronic medical disease. Most diseases require personal responsibility and professional treatment for sustained recovery.

Addiction Treatment & Prevention

There are many different types of addiction treatment programs available, including outpatient, residential, and intensive outpatient. Some programs offer both short-term and long-term options. Since we know that addiction is a medical disease, treatment needs to address the holistic person, including their physical needs along with the psychological issues, adapting to healthy thoughts and emotions, along with the social aspect of utilizing new learned social skills.

Like other chronic diseases, addiction to alcohol or other drugs can be managed successfully so that you can live a full and rewarding life. Most people who go to treatment programs not only stop using alcohol or other drugs but also improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning. Having a chronic disease means you will never get rid of the disease, but you don’t have to suffer daily from the disease.

Millions of people around the world are proof that recovery is stronger than addiction. I have been a counselor and administrator involved in addiction treatment since 1994. Decades of knowing people who have recovered to live healthy lives are proof that treatment is effective.

If a person is unwilling to seek treatment, be patient and continue to encourage them. One’s motivation to enter treatment does not have to be the motivation that keeps them in treatment or recovery. In other words, why they start treatment does not have to be “perfect”, they simply need to start the process.

In Summary

It is important to understand that addiction is a chronic disease that is treatable. With proper holistic treatment, people can and do recover, living fulfilling lives. Understanding addiction and recovery lead to inner peace, which is an important goal for many of us.

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Social Connectedness And Addiction: The Unparalleled Key To Success

social connectedness

Social connectedness is what I feel is the key to a life of recovery from addiction. Social connectedness is that which holds us, as a society, together in support of each other. We function as a group of individuals in our ability to sense and believe in social connectedness. But what happens when I lose that sense of connectedness? What happens when society chooses not to allow some people to regain their connectedness?

Social connectedness is an issue I’ve seen during the past 20 years I’ve witnessed the disease of addiction manifest itself in many people, thousands probably.The textbooks and courses I studied were beneficial in theory. Those with whom I counseled taught me everything about what addiction means to them. They taught me why they’re addicted, what makes it so challenging to live a life of recovery, and why is it so difficult to stop doing what they’re doing.

Willpower Alone

As I begin this reflection on my understanding of addiction, let’s start with a pet peeve of mine. Through the years many people have questioned me “why don’t they just stop?” Let’s think through this question for a moment. Of the thousands of people that I’ve dealt with who suffer from this disease of addiction no one, I mean no one, ever said to me that their life goal was to be addicted. No one ever told me that they loved the life that they were leading while in active addiction.  

Everyone at one point or another during treatment would reveal to me that they do want to stop and that they’ve tried multiple times to stop. But something was blocking them from stopping. If this were just willpower alone, don’t you think that at some point someone thought to themself, “maybe I should just stop.” 

Disease of Addiction

Regardless of your personal view about addiction, it has been classified as a medical disease. In 1957 the American Medical Association classifies addiction as a disease “not unlike any other medical disease.” For some reason that classification didn’t take hold in our society or even the totality of the professionals. But again, just because a person believes that addiction is a willpower issue doesn’t make them correct. For me, I’m following the AMA, whose definition and classification has remained unchanged for over 60 years!  

Not only has the definition stood the test of time, but the definition of 1957 has also been reaffirmed by modern science. There’s a high number of research within the last couple of decades explaining the chemical changes in the body and the chemical changes in the brain happening to those suffering from this disease. Since there are body changes and adaptations as a direct result of a person’s addiction, then the addiction is a medical, body disease not unlike any other medical body disease. Conditions causing bodily adaptations and neurologic changes are hardly a force of willpower.  

Coming from the unfortunate view of willpower, complicated by the illegality of some actions, society tends to treat those with addiction as “less than.” Society stigmatizes the person, their actions, they’re attempts at recovery. We end up treating people suffering from a medical disease by penalizing them, throwing them into the judicial system, and kicking them out of treatment programs for failures and relapses. 

But recall, we are doing this to people suffering from a disease not unlike any other medical disease! (AMA, 1957)

Heart Disease Analogy

Allow me a moment to use an analogy between the treatment of a person suffering from a medical disease, heart disease, and another person suffering from a medical disease, substance addiction. 

When a person suffers a heart attack, they are rushed to the ER for immediate care, as they should be. Once stabilized, the doctor provides the patient with a treatment plan of life changes: take your medicine, change your diet, exercise, avoid stress. The patient is informed that if they choose not to follow these directions, they may have another heart attack (a relapse).  

But unfortunately, it’s not easy to make a lifestyle change, and they start to falter a bit, eventually not doing what the doctor advised. Their choice to stop doing what they were told leads to another heart attack and another trip to the ER. The process is repeated time and time with no stigma placed on the person, and very little blame placed upon for the multiple relapses. As a society, we give them a pass since they have a disease, and making a lifestyle change isn’t easy. 

Yet, a person who overdoses on narcotics is rushed to the hospital, treated, and recovers are told before discharge that to avoid another overdose, they need to make some lifestyle changes: stop using drugs, see a counselor, go to support meetings. They are advised that if they don’t, they risk another overdose. These instructions are not that different from the heart attack victim. And both patients are told that their choice to follow or not follow the directives of the doctor will affect their outcome.  

Yet, if the person overdoses again, they will be stigmatized, lectured, and over time, banned from treatment facilities for “non-compliance.” Both patients were admitted to an ER, both were medically treated, both were given treatment plans for lifestyle change, and both informed that failure to make those life changes could result in a relapse. What’s the difference!?


A reason people tend to use drugs or alcohol in an addictive manner is that they don’t feel connected to society, family, or to others. Therefore, we as professionals and a society need to guide them back into a feeling of connectedness in a healthy way. 

We need to reconnect them to society, with family, friends, and support groups. Yet what we as a society tend to do is continue the disconnection. We place them outside of society through stigmatization, incarceration, refusing them treatment, making it difficult to obtain employment while in active recovery. As such, that lack of connectedness is reinforced, and supportive recovery stunted. 

Those who, in active addiction, are picked up by law enforcement on certain drug charges will now have a felony record. When released from jail and attempting to make a change in life, they find out quickly that most employers won’t hire a person with a felony charge. So much for the attempt at being a productive member of society. Once again, the person, now in recovery, is stigmatized and disconnected from society. Recall that both of these factors are contributors to relapse. 

I don’t have all the answers, but what I know is that what we’re currently doing to help people with addiction is not working. Social connectedness is needed as the key to bringing about a healthy, productive recovery. This requires a societal change. Are we willing to make this change?

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Trauma And Addiction: How To Be Compassionate

trauma and addiction

Trauma and addiction tend to go hand in hand. As a disease, substance dependency (addiction) finds it’s origin in past trauma. Understanding that people struggling with addiction as a disease and are most likely victims of trauma, maybe we can be compassionate towards them. Recovery is possible if we treat the root of the disease, not just the symptoms.

Through the decades of working with clients, who struggle with trauma and addiction for their freedom through recovery I have learned that more often than not, they are also running from past life memories of traumatic experiences. They lack strong coping skills, therefore turning to avoidance rather than dealing with life’s issues head-on.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that more than a third of adolescents with a report of abuse or neglect will have a substance use disorder before they reach their 18th birthday (Behavioural consequences of child abuse ). The reality of trauma is that it can come from anywhere and manifest in a variety of physical and psychological symptoms.

What do I mean when I write the word trauma? When a person fears for their safety, experiences intense pain, or witnesses a tragic or violent act, that person can be described as having experienced trauma. Levels of resiliency vary from person to person, so reactions to traumatic events are similarly varied. Although frightening experiences impact people at any age, adults will generally be more likely to manage through trauma than children will be, assuming they have learned healthy coping skills.

Too many in our society continue in their errant thinking that addiction is a choice or a moral failing, despite the medical and scientific evidence to the contrary. Since 1957 the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a medical disease “not unlike any other medical disease.” Yet how often do we treat people diagnosed with addiction with the same care and compassion we do people diagnosed with cancer or heart failure?

Understanding and grasping the concept that addiction has it’s roots in trauma, that there’s a connection between trauma and addiction, takes away the judgment. Who would judge a child as guilty of causing their own physical or sexual abuse? Children raised in poverty and illness, not feeling safe or settled or loved; do we judge them as guilty and ask why they chose that lifestyle? Of course not!

So if we understand and accept the connection between the experiences of these children and their later adulthood addiction, why do we now judge them? Are not their adult thoughts and feelings shaped from their childhood? Are not yours? If we agree that a child’s condition is not their choice, then we need to understand that that same child, now an adult, is making choices in life based on their childhood experiences and learning. If they were never taught how to cope, or if they had to teach themselves how to cope, that influences their adult coping decisions. We don’t judge the child; therefore, we are not to judge the adult’s childhood influences.

Bonus: Download Chris Shea’s booklet on Life Coaching & is it for me? Click here to get it

The connection between trauma and addiction is one of the reasons I continue to advocate for treating the core root of one’s dependence rather than alleviating the symptoms. Using money in an attempt to fix the ills of our society may curb some of the drug and alcohol use, but if we don’t teach the person to cope with daily living, healthily, then regardless of how society changes, they’ll continue to suffer in their addiction. Societal change needs to happen, but what I’m saying is that we need to look beyond the apparent surface reasons of a person’s substance use to find the deeper rooted issues driving the person into escapism.

Sometimes, years of self-medicating through drugs and alcohol have effectively dulled the memory of trauma, so the only problem seems to be substance abuse and addiction. A person who has suppressed or ignored traumatic experiences may work very hard to get and stay sober, only to find other addictive behaviors eventually replacing the drugs and alcohol. Acknowledging that trauma exists, and so treating that trauma takes away the “need” for their addictive behaviors.

Substance abuse is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with painful memories associated with childhood. Using drugs and alcohol is also a way to deal with feelings of loneliness and isolation, improve a sense of self-worth, and to cope with untreated mental health issues such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety. When we view a person who is addicted from the perspective that they are victims with a medical illness, then we’ll treat them with the care and compassion necessary for the encouragement and hope of healing and recovery.

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How To Stop Blaming Others For The Opioid Epidemic

opioid epidemic

The blame game is alive and well, but we need to stop blaming others. The opioid epidemic grows while we as a society are blaming others and judging those who are addicted to the opioid drugs. We must work together for a viable resolution to this epidemic, and here are my suggestions.

It appears to be human nature for us to want to find a reason, cause, or another person to blame for something that has happened to us or to a loved one. Think of how easy it is for us to throw blame around when we are caught practically red-handed in an act. How did we learn this?

The blame game has been with us since our earliest days of childhood. As a child, we tried the excuse that someone else made me do it to see if that excuse would work. Depending on your childhood it had varying success, yet any time that it worked we learned that blaming was a viable excuse. As we’ve grown into adulthood many of us continue to use this excuse.

Many of my clients want to find who is to blame for the way they are today. They are convinced that if they find out which parent or sibling created the current negative thoughts or behaviors all would somehow magically be well. Yet this isn’t the case, so I don’t allow my clients to go down that path.

Bonus: Download Chris Shea’s booklet on Life Coaching & is it for me? Click here to get it

When my clients, or even ourselves, wish to find someone in the past to blame for our current situation all that we are doing is avoiding our responsibility and our actions for making a change today. Even if there were someone from our past legitimately responsible and whom we could blame, how would that change who I am today? All that does is to serve as knowledge but doesn’t give me anything to do that will change how I feel or act today. Therefore, I stay away from the blame game in all situations as it serves no purpose in the present but only to educate us about the past. So even if a client’s parents were to blame for their current situation it is still up to the client themselves to make the necessary changes which will make their lives better. The same goes for the blame game when it comes to addiction and the opioid epidemic.

Over the past couple of decades, I’ve worked with thousands of people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, guiding them into lives of recovery. Each of them needed to work on their present lives and make changes so that their recovery would be a daily way of life. Blaming their families, communities, doctors, or Pharmaceuticals only serves to focus our anger away from what needs to be dealt with at the present moment. At this moment we need to take action and make changes as a society or else this opioid epidemic will not end.

I don’t write this out of a naive ignorance to the societal factors and big business practices which led to the epidemic and opioid overdose deaths we are encountering today. I can make a very long list of who I would blame for this opioid epidemic, but as I’ve stated, what’s the point? What we need right now are solutions and actions to ensure that this epidemic does not become a generational epidemic.

I suggest that the first change which needs to be made is a philosophical shift in how we as individuals and society think of addiction. Many in society do not believe that addiction is a disease unlike any other mental health or medical disease. Their blaming the person with the addiction only serves as a moral judgment on a person’s character. Yet if that same person were to suffer from any other chronic medical disease they would receive the proper care without question and without judgment.

For example, a person who is discharged from addiction treatment and later relapses is judged for their lack of willpower and character. In many instances, they are not allowed back into treatment or they are told to find a different treatment facility. Yet a person who is discharged from the hospital recovering from a heart attack who is told what changes they need to make in their physical activity, as well as diet, are not judged or criticized if they fail to make those changes and end up with another heart attack. What’s the difference? The one person did not follow the recommendations of their treatment provider and returned to drug use while the other person did not follow the recommendations of their treatment provider and had another heart attack. Yet the person who suffers the second heart attack will be readmitted to the hospital without question nor judgment. This societal attitude must change!

What can we do to make a difference in solving this opioid epidemic? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Educate ourselves on the current state of the opioid epidemic and learn about your local resources available to help those suffering from addiction and struggling in recovery.
  2. Gather as a neighborhood or community pooling together your resources to work on viable solutions unique for your community. As a society, we need to stop saying that we want this epidemic to stop while at the same time deny the building of treatment centers or recovery housing near or in our neighborhoods.
  3. Doctors and Mental Health Counselors need to be educated about the addiction field and best practices for treating those who are in active recovery. As a counselor and an educator myself, I find it disheartening that the addiction courses I teach to those in the counseling profession are only electives and not mandatory courses. Medical professionals such as doctors are in the same educational situation where they may only have to take one addiction studies class in their entire career. This is not to blame either of these professions but to provide them the necessary knowledge and tools since they are in the front line of this epidemic.
  4. Be compassionate to those you know who are in recovery or still suffering from their active addiction, and don’t forget about their families who also need compassion and support.

If we tackle this opioid epidemic in light of its medical and mental health status we will turn this around and as a society, we will reap the rewards of a healthy populace.

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How to Stop Numbing the Pain

Pain, whether it be physical or emotional, is unavoidable in life. We all try our best to avoid pain, almost at all costs. As a society, we make every effort imaginable to avoid, end, or numb, all pain in life. Yet, the more we try, I feel the more we end up still in pain and not feeling at peace or happy. According to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, “In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication, enough for every adult in the United States to have a bottle of pills.” 

Talking about pain leads to many questions, both practical and philosophical/spiritual. In my life experience, I have found that the two main questions asked about pain are: “Why do I feel pain?” and “Why does a loving God allow pain?” For the purpose of this article, I would like to focus on the former question, why do we feel pain? Maybe if we understood the “why” we would better understand how best to cope with pain.

According to Barbara FinlayThe basic function of pain is the same for all vertebrates: it alerts an animal to potential damage and reduces activity after trauma.” Therefore, pain is necessary. Pain alerts us to a problem so that we stop and cope with whatever has happened. For example, continuing to walk on a broken leg causes more damage to the leg. The pain of the broken leg forces us to stop and deal with the break. The same is true when we are feeling an emotional pain. That pain tells us that we need to stop and deal with the cause of the pain, for if we choose to ignore the cause of the emotional pain, we will continue to live in an unhealthy way, never feeling truly at peace.

So why is it that we spend copious amounts of energy and money to avoid pain? If pain is “good” for us, why do we want to get rid of it? Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, for I am not saying that pain itself is to be desired! Rather, I am saying that pain is a part of our lives, and learning to cope with pain and not numbing or avoiding pain, will lead us to inner peace. In a recent article titled “How To Stop Using Hunger To Numb Your Emotions”, my recent podcast guest Brandilyn Tebo writes: “I fundamentally believed that I was not allowed to have what I really wanted until I proved that I was ’worthy’ enough. So I would rather numb my desires than feel them because not feeling anything was easier than wanting the fulfillment that I couldn’t have.”

I believe that Brandilyn’s desire to not feel is shared by many of us. In not feeling, our lives are seemingly easier. Yet, in not coping with the real reason of our pain, healing doesn’t take place, and one’s peace will not be realized. Not unlike a broken leg; numbing the pain does not heal the leg nor deal with the cause or issue of the pain.

Learning how best to cope with pain is not easy, but is doable and essential if you wish to find true peace, happiness and freedom in life.

  1. Acknowledge the pain. Avoid the temptation to numb and avoid the pain. Instead, recognise that the pain is telling you something. Reflect on the possible cause of the pain and look at ways you can cope with the cause. Remember, the pain is the symptom of the problem.
  2. Realize that you are not alone. Understand that what you are experiencing is also experienced by others. There is no pain that only one person in this entire world suffers from. Seek out others who suffer the same pain. Console and aid each other. When we help others, we feel better about ourselves. Seek out support groups, online sites, chat rooms, etc.
  3. Embrace your true self. Acknowledge that you are not perfect and that there are aspects of yourself in need of improvement. Yet, at the same time, there are aspects of yourself which are good and healthy. No one is perfect; we all have our flaws. Embrace that which you wish to numb, then do the work needed to make changes in your life. “I thought that if I allowed the rejected parts of myself to be expressed, that I would lose myself. What I discovered was that only through facing and eventually embracing these parts of myself did I truly find myself.” (Brandilyn Tebo)

In his book “Mosquitoes in Paradise”, Fr. John Aurelio imagines what would have happened had a mosquito bitten Adam or Eve in paradise. Would the bite have itched? Most likely. Wouldn’t that mean that pain was present even in paradise? Yes. Fr. John relates that the pain caused by the mosquito is not intentional, rather, it is a natural survival method for the insect, while the pain we suffer is a natural response from our body. Yes, pain is a part of our lives, but that pain does not have to wear us down. Embracing and learning from the pain leads us to a healthy and peace filled life.

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