Trauma Fuels Addiction

overweight_woman2Mary, overweight since childhood, was forced to diet from the age of five.  As an adult, whenever she’d get mad, she’d stand at the kitchen counter shoveling in chips and other crunchy foods as fast as she could. In our sessions together, she became aware of the reservoir of anger and humiliation caused by her mother who restricted her food because Mom was fat.

Addiction treatment theory says that whatever age the child started using a substance is the emotional age he or she gets stuck. Doesn’t this make sense? We may be walking around in a 44 year-old body, but inside feel like 5 or 12. Unfortunately, we see lots of grown-ups acting out their anger, sadness, and pain by hurting themselves or others.

Mary didn’t realize it, but she was traumatized by her early experiences of feeling she could have mom’s love only if she was “thinner.” That early trauma and the feelings associated with it set her up to be a food addict.

“All addiction is driven by psychological or emotional issues, particularly a feeling of helplessness or humiliation. Helplessness is the feeling of powerlessness.”  Lance Dodes, M.D., psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School, The Heart of Addiction.

overwhelmTrauma can fuel anxiety, depression and is often the underpinning of self-medicating to try to comfort, nurture or cope with overwhelming feelings.  I worked with women with weight concerns for 13 years and every one of them had difficulties with anxiety or depression.

One treatment approach that is very effective with trauma and anxiety is Emotional Freedom Technique, developed by Gary Craig. (  EFT is like psychological acupuncture and is the best technique I’ve ever used to help people safely go into their feelings, release them and feel better. It is NOT a cure for addiction. However, since anxiety and depression fuel cravings, using EFT to heal past trauma and to cope with every day upset or stress is very effective in the recovery process.