ADD, Chronic Stress or Drug Addict?

Consider all the stresses of life in a fucked up society where people feel little sense of control and lots of uncertainty all the time; where people are expected to behave contrary to their true nature; where relationships are often troubled; where parents are not available for their kids because they’re too busy. Under such conditions, you’re more likely to get sick.

People who have a chronic illness of any kind — cancer, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic neurological and skin disorders — often fit certain personality profiles. For example, they tend to pay a lot more attention to the needs of others than to their own. They get caught up in their job or their role as a caregiver rather than looking after themselves. They also tend to suppress the so-called negative emotions, such as sadness and anger. They try not to acknowledge these emotions even to themselves. And, finally, they tend to think they are responsible for how other people feel and to be terrified of disappointing others who are important to them. So an overwhelming sense of responsibility and self-suppression is what tends to characterize the chronically ill.

Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but they can all be traced to painful experience. A hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviours. It is present in the gambler, the Internet addict, the compulsive shopper and the workaholic. The wound may not be as deep and the ache not as excruciating, and it may even be entirely hidden—but it’s there. As we’ll see, the effects of early stress or adverse experiences directly shape both the psychology and the neurobiology of addiction in the brain.

When you suppress your response to a boundary invasion, you’re going to become stressed. If I started rifling through your purse, for instance, and you didn’t object but instead repressed your anger, you’d feel very stressed, because you’d be worried I’d take your money. It takes tremendous energy to suppress emotions. The act itself is stress producing. Self-suppression is not innate. It’s a learned coping style. When you’re a child and your parents can’t handle your feelings, you learn to suppress them to maintain your relationship with your parents. But what was a coping response in the child becomes a source of illness in the adult.

Gabor MatéCanadian Physician widely recognized for his perspective on Attention Deficit Disorder, Stress, Developmental Psychology and Addiction.