#129 – Episode 129 – Is trauma at the root of my alcohol problem?


Chip and Veronica get to the root of addiction and explain the different types of trauma that people experience, leading them to abuse alcohol.

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What This Episode Is About

Today we’re taking a look at the question: Is trauma at the root of addiction? Recently I came across a video by Gabor Maté in which he talks about the root causes of addiction and it outlines my entire philosophy about treating people with alcohol problems.

Before we go any further I want to give a trigger warning. We discuss topics that may not be suitable for children and we touch on different types of trauma, including child abuse.

Gabor Maté’s thesis is that trauma is the root of addiction. He believes the solution is to recognize and treat the trauma and prevention is about preventing as much trauma as we can.

We sacrifice our authenticity, for our attachment relationships and that is a traumatic experience. – Veronica Valli

In the video, he also talks about our two most important needs – attachment and authenticity. During our childhood, when we’re forced to choose between being authentic to ourselves and our relationship with our caregivers, that creates trauma, which in turn increases our chances of having an addiction later in life.

We can categorize our trauma into what we call “Big T” and “little t” trauma. “Big T” trauma comes from an event that is or is perceived to be life-threatening, such as sexual abuse. These events are so violating that they’re effectively an annihilation of self. On the other side, “little t” trauma shows up from experiences like bullying in school or being a child of a difficult divorce.

I remember coming back from visiting my cousins – which I absolutely loved – and being devastated that it was over only to be met by my mother saying “All good things must come to an end.” Even at the young age of five, I recognized that I couldn’t let my authentic feelings out with her because it wasn’t acceptable.

When our caregivers shut down our feelings, we learn that we have to squash our authenticity in order to keep our attachment to them. All trauma affects us and the key factor in the outcome is the type of response we received. When we repeatedly receive the message that it’s not okay to be ourselves, that sticks with us into adulthood.

I know that the “little t” trauma that I experienced affected me deeply and is 100% at the root of why I drank. – Veronica Valli

When we experience childhood trauma, our endorphin systems don’t get a chance to develop properly so many of us end up looking to alcohol or substances as a replacement.

Often, addiction and alcohol abuse are, at the core, us trying to find a solution to how we feel and the pain we’re experiencing. Chip recalls the first time that he came across substances he had the feeling that all the trauma disappeared and it took away all the difficulty.

The trouble is, once we’ve gone down the route of drugs or alcohol, we make it harder and harder to access, the places where we’re going to get the healthy kind of response that we need to deal with that trauma.

If you have an addiction or a relationship with alcohol that’s abusive, and you’re thinking “Well, I don’t have trauma,” remember that the smallest stuff adds up. The question we have to ask ourselves is, “When did I lose myself?”

When we have to make the choice between attachment and authenticity, we lose who we are, and substances begin to fill that gap. – Veronica Valli

The heart of the issue of addiction is that it isn’t something people make a conscious choice about. Gabor Maté’s perspective is especially important for us because of our tendency to be extremely hard on ourselves. I highly recommend watching his video and I hope it helps you to kind of have a much kinder approach to yourself. The healing comes from returning to who we really are and connecting with our authenticity again.

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