The Connection Between Dislocation and Addiction

For as long as I’ve been immersing myself in the field of addiction and recovery, I’ve always had questions about what causes addiction. I’ve asked those questions about my self—and I believe I’ve found most answers—and I’ve asked about those around me who have a substance use disorder.

In the book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate, the psychologist Bruce Alexander talks about the idea of DISLOCATION (”a situation in which something such as a system, process, or way of life is greatly disturbed or prevented from continuing as normal”). This is the idea that people who are prone have a substance use disorder have gone through an event, or a series of events where they have been displaced in some way, neglected or abused. “Only chronically and severely dislocated people are vulnerable to addiction,” Bruce is quoted. Dislocation is a precursor to addiction.

I believe this is something that happened in my life. Having been relinquished and struggling to bond with my adoptive family, I’m not sure I’ve ever had “psychological, social and economic integration into family and culture,” as outlined by both (Mate and Alexander) experts in the book.

Mate gives an example of the Native population—an entire group of people who have suffered greatly from addiction, passing it from generation to generation. In Canada, where Mate lives and has treated people with substance-use disorders, there was an ugly period in the country’s early history where the Native children were taken away from their families, put into residential schools—there, they had to relinquish their language, culture (and even their hair) to fit into the Catholic mould. The children were abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Some tried to escape and died. The ones who lived to tell the tale came back to their communities broken and without language, completely, you might say, dislocated. Those children are now great-grandparents, grandparents or the parents of the many children who suffer from substance abuse—the addiction statistics among Native people (in the United States as well) are astronomical compared to other populations. It’s not hard to draw a conclusion about what generational trauma of dislocation has done to the lives of those people.

This is perhaps a more extreme example, and everyone is different and differently affected by their traumas. I cannot say with full certainty that dislocation is the sole indicator of addiction because I don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t have the final answer on what causes addiction. A person who comes from a loving home, full of support and opportunities can be just as likely to have a substance use disorder—maybe they have fewer “cards stacked against them,” but addiction does not discriminate and does not affect only those who start at the point of genetic or other disadvantage. Likewise, survivors of the most horrific abuse can have supplies of resilience and strength that act as protective factors against addiction. Yes, we can say that community and sense of belonging (something that people often remark on when joining 12-step groups) are crucial in recovery, but we cannot say that lack of fundamental resources are what is sure to make someone develop a substance use disorder.

At the same time, for me (as someone who is in recovery and who works with people in recovery), learning about the possible causes is always important as it might help me—and help me help others—understand what happens when addiction rears its ugly head in someone’s life. There is no pill, no quick fix to eradicating addiction, but understanding and knowledge are important in directing recovery, in putting back together those of us who are broken and have been deemed irreparable by their circumstances. Knowledge and understanding gives us hope.

 

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