Pleasure and Pain: Substance Abuse and Cutting Behavior
Darrell Hammond, a comedian from Saturday Night Live, most known for his impersonations as Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Sean Connery, has just written a book about his life. The book depicts the physical abuse he endured as a child, his battle with alcohol and drug addiction and severe cutting behaviors which followed him throughout his fame.
Unfortunately, unless there is a public figure who suffers from drugs, alcohol, trauma, or eating disorders, the underlying issues related to addiction stay hidden. Cutting behavior and substance abuse is a common pair for addicts who suffered trauma in their childhood. Recovery from cutting and substance abuse begins with addiction treatment.
Negative Feelings Develop
Addicts who endure abuse in their childhood confuse pleasure and pain feelings. Parents or authority figures that were sexually or physically abusive and/or neglectful, condition their children to believe that pain equates love and safety. This negative message haunts the traumatized child through adulthood and the desire to escape negative feelings becomes overwhelming.
Rejection and abandonment feelings are produced from abusive childhood experiences. These feelings produce thoughts that are extremely toxic. Examples of these negative thoughts are:
- You are worthless.
- You are stupid.
- You will never amount to anything.
- All you are good for is pleasing others.
- Nobody loves you.
- Nobody cares about you.
An addict will choose drugs and alcohol to escape these negative thoughts and feelings. In some cases, cutting behavior accompanies substance abuse, a can emerge where substance use is stepped.
Escape Through Drug Abuse
It is human nature to look for the softer and easier way to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Substance abuse is an easy option to medicate unwanted feelings, as it offers temporary relief from pain produced by traumatic experiences. When an addict feels overwhelmed by emotions, he or she will increase substance intake. Substance abuse will develop into a physical dependency by changing brain and body chemistry. The addict will eventually need drug detox and addiction treatment to stop using.
Escape Through Cutting
Cutting is classified as a self destructive, self mutilating and self harming behavior much like substance abuse. It is addictive, offers temporary relief from emotional pain, and produces changes in brain chemistry.
When an alcoholic or drug addict cuts, the physical injury sends signals to the brain and the central nervous system. A release of adrenaline and endorphins from the cut gives the addict a euphoric rush feeling. This temporarily distracts from the physical and emotional trauma. Cutting is an addiction and will be an ongoing cycle without addressing the underlying emotional issues that propel the behavior.
A key component in treatment for addiction is recognizing that we cannot change past experiences or feelings but we can change how we choose to respond to them.
Cycle of Addiction: Drug Abuse and Cutting Behavior
The disease of addiction capitalizes on an addict’s insecurities using negative thoughts to continue physical and emotional destruction. Substance abuse and cutting are similar in characteristics, rituals of use, and are temporary pain relievers. An addict will have specific feelings, times, places, and processes for both drug abuse and cutting. Substance abuse and cutting produce obsessive thoughts and impulsive behaviors that are found in the cycle of addiction.
The negative impact of substance abuse and cutting are:
- Both will continue to support the negative messages received in a traumatic childhood.
- Both assist with avoiding emotional pain from past issues.
- Both substance abuse and cutting produce scarring. All drugs will have a negative impact on the body. Cutting leaves visible scars which may worsen with the depth of the cut.
- Both produce changes in brain chemistry which makes it difficult for an individual to stop without intervention.
An individual who suffers from both substance abuse and cutting must address both simultaneously in addiction treatment. A cutting substance abuser is interchanging their forms of temporary relief from emotional pain. The cycle of addiction will promote self destruction in any form.
Treatment for Addiction and Cutting Behavior
Cutting and addiction to drugs and/or alcohol are unhealthy coping mechanisms for emotional and physical pain. Many early painful experiences are not in our control. A key component in treatment for addiction is recognizing that we cannot change past experiences or feelings but we can change how we choose to respond to them.
Addiction treatment should address underlying issues that have propelled negative thinking, cutting and substance abuse through the format of therapy. Exploring the negative experiences that contributed to substance abuse and cutting are important for reframing negative thoughts and changing behaviors.
In a comprehensive addiction treatment program, an addict will be in a safe environment to explore feelings and behaviors which he or she needs to change. A multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, and therapists will be able to monitor the addict who is craving substances or having urges to cut. Individual counseling will be offered for private support while healing from uncomfortable experiences which have caused tremendous pain in the life of an addict. Group therapy will help with healing relationships and learning to trust again. Educational lectures will be offered, focusing on new life skills to decrease the risk of relapse and increase healthier coping skills for unwanted feelings.
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