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Addiction in Adolescence

This paper discusses addiction expert, speaker, and bestselling author Dr. Gabor Maté proposes that all forms of addiction stem from early childhood environment, loss, and trauma. However, not all trauma leads to addiction. He breaks down a habit into three parts: craving the addictive substance, indulging in addictive behavior to experience pleasure or alleviate pain, and finally, the inability to stop using the addictive substance.


To understand this phenomenon, we must first look at the trauma which leads to addiction. While trauma alone does not lead to addiction, it does play a significant role in young people seeking out addictive substances to alleviate or temporarily forget the pain that they feel. 


Moreover, trauma is a distressing or disturbing experience. Dr. Gabor Mate argues that trauma can begin as early as infancy. He specifically talks about how babies who cannot fight or flee tend to tune out to cope with the stressful environment around them. This self-soothing behavior can lead to addiction later on, as most addictive substances offer a way of tuning out. 


Kirkland Newman Smulders brings us a deeper understanding of what happens in the brain with addiction. She writes, “Our brains have opiate receptors and endogenous opiates to help us cope with pain, which can be triggered even by a placebo” (Smulders, 2020). These placebos are the temporary addictive substances people seek to help cope with the pain of trauma.


This, however, should not be mistaken for psychedelics used in psychotherapy. In a historic vote in the midterm elections, guided mushroom experiences were legalized for therapeutic and personal use. Dr. Gabor Mate himself has done countless research on psychedelic therapy and the impact it had on himself as well as numerous other people. 


The fight against addiction is just getting started. There are a lot of negative stigmas that lead to denial that the trauma exists. It is no surprise that there is so much loneliness, isolation, and poor relationships between parents and their children in our current societies. This leads to a lack of community support and a continued negative stigma around addiction that can only be broken by having productive conversations. 


Studies have shown that teenagers indulge in alcohol at a very young age. “Most teenagers are incited to drink their first alcoholic beverage in (early) adolescence: 43% of European adolescents have tried alcohol before the age of 13” (Hibell et al., 2009). While this study is more than a decade old, it is still true that most addictions begin in early adolescence. It is more than just peer pressure that causes teenagers to turn to alcohol at such a young age. Trauma caused in early childhood turns alcohol into an abusive substance, which later on may turn into other substances. 


The percentage of adolescent substance abuse has remained steady for the last few decades. In a recent study, they found that “substance use disorders (SUDs) affect approximately 10–12% of the adolescent population (Merikangas et al., 2010).” To decrease the number of young adults with addictions, it is essential to use appropriate language when discussing the topic. 


Negative words such as abuse, dependence, obsession, rehab, addict, junky, etc., create isolation around the topic. Furthermore, this kind of isolation prevents people from talking about the problem from the beginning. 


One solution to this is to start a conversation with friends and family. If you know someone going through an addiction, the best thing to do for them is to remind them that they are not alone. Talk about different therapy options available, psychedelic or otherwise, that have successfully helped people through their addiction. 


Dr. Gabor Mate goes into depth in his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. He goes over everything, from its origins to its effect on society. Specifically, he writes about the impact that comes with the shame which follows addiction. From The War on Drugs to the countless incarcerations, Dr. Gabor Meet argues that addiction is a societal problem, not an individual one. 


To summarize, childhood trauma leads young adults to engage in addictive substances. Productive conversations about the topic and research are one way to solve this issue. Perhaps the most important thing to get from this paper is that addiction is a sign our society is struggling, and we must do our part to help.


“Addiction.” Dr. Gabor Maté, 17 Aug. 2022,

“Dr. Gabor Maté: Understanding Addictive Behaviour.” MindHealth360, 25 May 2020, 

Gladwin, Thomas E., et al. “Addiction, Adolescence, and the Integration of Control and Motivation.” Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Elsevier, 2 July 2011, 

PanelK.E.TschetterabcL.B.CallahanabcS.A.FlynnbS.RahmandT.P.BeresfordefP.J.RonanabcePersonEnvelope, Author links open overlay, et al. “Early Life Stress and Susceptibility to Addiction in Adolescence.” International Review of Neurobiology, Academic Press, 9 Oct. 2021, 


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