Addictions In Highly Sensitive People: Why So Many Fall Into The Trap

Today, just like every other day, we are living in an extremely busy and crowded world full of expectations towards each and every individual.

Social norms and beliefs coming from others cast a heavy shadow of presumptions on our lives, often even before we are born. Modern systems of education and work are an endless source of intense pressure, overflowing our minds and bodies. Even the smallest break has to be calculated and fit into a schedule full of duties and responsibilities.

It is commonly known that highly sensitive people are very easily overwhelmed, thus not well equipped to face stressful and stimulating situations continuously. Lack of proper understanding of this issue often forces those fragile souls to seek a solution on their own.

They frequently turn to addictive substances in order to ease the emotional storm taking place inside their hearts. When your own afflicted mind is killing you, even a drug with serious side effects seems like the lesser evil, as you desperately try to handle the present moment. This form of numbing yourself, albeit very harmful, is an act of survival.

Forming The Habit

I am a vulnerable and introverted person myself and I have experienced the imperceptibility of an action slowly transforming into a pattern. It starts with suddenly finding relief in a dreadful situation: let’s use an example of drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels after a breakup.

Such an event is quite common, and a lot of people will try some form of self-administered anesthesia to test its effectiveness when we are the main character in our own tragic show.

Can you recall a time when you used alcohol to ease your anger and sadness as you gradually dissociated from your heartache? If your answer is yes, there is a very high chance that – if the unfortunate situation repeats itself – you will replay the same scene, seeking for a behavior that you know will get through the misery once again.

Our brain participates in forming a habit without evaluating its consequences: you can automate reaching for a bottle just as easily as you developed a habit of brushing your teeth every morning.

Highly sensitive people are affected by not only theirs, but also other people’s emotions; their nervous systems are permanently on high alert, processing stimuli provided by both worlds: the internal and the external one.

Even the smallest things can break their hearts and fill it with indescribable sadness for many days: one time I found myself crying just because a cashier in the supermarket scolded me for touching a weighing scale. Her hostility and anger caused an emotional imbalance in me.

We are left without a shield and everything gets to us, so we might feel the urge to seek relief far more often than others, creating harmful routines quickly and losing ourselves in them with huge intensity.

In the depths of my own addiction I used to say that the world poisons me and I have to flush the toxins out of my bloodstream and disinfect it with alcohol. What usually closes the loop – by making you feel worthless – is rejection from others and cruel disapproval based on untrue opinions.

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The Triggers And How To Overcome Them

When you’re addicted, an impulse pushing you towards repeating your mistake is called a trigger. It can be an emotion linked to a “cure” by our subconscious mind, a place, or even a smell. Seeing the location where you used to indulge in your forbidden pleasure or meeting the person who kept you company will bring back the memories and tempt you to replay them.

Again, it’s more difficult for a highly sensitive person to avoid the triggers, since they will appear more often due to their wonderful ability to register every detail and bind them to corresponding emotional states (for instance the smell of apples can awaken the feeling of happiness and safety due to the apple pie your grandma used to treat you with).

Hearing a song you devotedly smoked cigarettes to, even a year after you quit, will create the burning urge to buy a pack of Camels, believe me.

The therapy provided in facilities battling with addictions focuses mainly on recognizing the triggers and learning how to avoid them and cope with them when there is no other way. The key to the latter lies in replacing the pattern with a new method of relieving tension.

Expressing emotions through art is a great option for highly sensitive people as they tend to be incredibly creative; the act of creation and releasing what’s buried in the darkest depths of the mind can be both a challenging and deeply purging experience.

Anonymous venting to another person through the internet is a good option too; it allows you to remain incognito and avoid harsh judgments from someone familiar (there are a few wonderful places to do this – try Googling “the comfort spot”). Planning your day is also crucial in order to avoid moments when you have nothing to do and when overthinking may take hold.

The most important advice I can give to every highly sensitive person struggling with addiction is: listen to yourself. Open your heart and truly listen to yourself without adapting any opinions or expectations. You know what you really need; trust your intuition in order to rebuild the connection with your own emotions. See them as they really are, raw and beautiful and once again ground yourself in the world that embraces you.

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About Author

Dominika Jakubowicz (aka Margo) is an aspiring writer driven by a passion to share her experiences as a quiet observer of the world. A mature, yet childlike soul inhabiting a twenty-three year old body focused on the journey of life.