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Why preventing addictions begins much earlier than you think
The reasoning behind many addictions may not be what you think. - photo by Wendy Jessen
Drug and alcohol, foods, medications, video games, social media, self-harming, negative behaviors, pornography and sex -- what causes these addictions?

Dr. Gabor Mate, in a TIME article, described addiction as "Any behavior that is associated with craving and temporary relief, and with long-term negative consequences, that a person is not able to give up. Note that I said nothing about substances its any behavior that has temporary relief and negative consequences and loss of control."

The root of addiction may not be the item, behavior or substance the person is using; it could be the person's way of filling another void.

What creates a void?

When something traumatic occurs in childhood, it can create a void of feeling safe, loved or important. Childhood trauma includes parental divorce, sexual, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, death of a parent or violence. Each of these can significantly alter a child's perception of the world around him or her. These traumas leave gaping holes where love, protection and positive self-worth should be.

The biggest need humans have is love. As newborns, we need the closeness and affection that our parents give us. This need grows and changes as we become toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers and adults. We need love and attention. We need to know that we are cared about and that we matter to someone else.

The lack of love, attention and affection can also result in a form of trauma for infants and young children. Though no one would think any trauma had occurred, this lack still manifests itself as if it had been a trauma.

Addictions are used to fill the void.

We've heard of emotional eating, retail therapy and drowning your sorrows. All these indicate a person trying to heal a very real problem in their lives with something unrelated to the actual issue. For instance, those who are lacking love may find themselves seeking multiple sexual partners to fill the void. Momentarily, they'll feel fulfilled, but later, the void will still be empty. Additionally, sex with multiple partners can have long-term negative consequences, as Mate stated of addictions.

Addictions are also numbing.

For some traumas such as sexual, physical or emotional abuse, victims will seek destructive behaviors to numb the feelings they don't wish to feel. Alcohol, drugs, self-harm or other harmful behaviors are often used to escape their reality of the past or present. Temporarily, it works. But the effects wear off and more consumption is required, often in increasing amounts.

How to avoid addictions.

As a parent, you need to:

  • Be present in your child's life -- both physically and emotionally.
  • Love your child regardless of anything he does or doesn't do.
  • Spend time getting to know your child. If she knows you care about her as an individual, she will feel loved.
  • Uplift your child. Compliment his strengths and work alongside him to improve weaknesses. Never belittle.
If you or someone you know is battling addictions:

  • Seek professional help to overcome the addictions.
  • Identify what void you are trying to fill.
  • Realize what feelings you are trying to numb and why.
  • Find healthy ways to fill the void and deal with your feelings.
  • Talk to a therapist to help you sort out your past childhood traumas and become more whole.
While people with addictions do need help to overcome them, they also need help fixing the root cause of the addiction. We can heal from our own past traumas and stop addictions or prevent them. Also, as parents, we need to work hard to give our children the love and attention they need so they can be "whole" and avoid unhealthy ways of filling voids.
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