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  • Writer's pictureMathilda Gustafsson

Why can childhood trauma be the cause of addiction? - We list 3 criteria

Updated: Apr 19

Summary: Being trapped in behaviours and self-medication that temporarily helps us escape pain leads to us losing contact with ourselves. When we identify an addiction, there are three different criteria to keep in mind. Understanding addiction happens through knowledge of how trauma affects our lives.


During particularly difficult times when we feel powerless against our addiction, a deeper reflection may arise. We may question when, how, and why we ended up in these situations where we no longer recognise ourselves. It can be difficult to understand how we got to our current state and our addiction. This can manifest as overconsumption and attempts at self-medication with substances such as alcohol. There is a longing for emotional peace within us, and to reach it, we must understand the pain we carry. What is addiction?

Dr Gabor Maté.

The Canadian physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté, a specialist in trauma and addiction, defines addiction as...

"A behaviour in which the person finds temporary relief and therefore craves it. But then suffers negative consequences from it and is unable to give it up."

We see the process of a search for temporary relief but that ultimately leads to harm. According to Dr. Maté, there are three specific criteria for defining an addiction:

  • The first criterion is a craving for the addictive behaviour or substance.

  • The second criterion is engaging in the addictive behaviour or substance, either to experience pleasure or temporary relief from pain.

  • The third criterion that defines addiction is an inability to give up the behaviour or substance.

Dr. Maté shows a way to understand addiction through knowledge of trauma, which is one of the major factors.

Painful events in our childhood


"Addiction is almost always an attempt to manage trauma from childhood, which it does temporarily, while creating even greater problems in the long term... " According to Dr. Maté, addiction is never a choice we make, it is an attempt to solve a deep problem in our lives caused by earlier painful events. We feel the landing of a spiritual darkness and this is a sign of trauma that arose during our childhood. Children who were hurt and then did not receive support, were seen, heard, accepted, or helped become trapped in their wounds. These children get stuck in different beliefs that affect their understanding of themselves and the world. As adults, we can then get stuck in behaviours that for the moment help us to escape the pain that we have buried within us from the early years. We have lost contact with ourselves and our inner security, which can make it difficult to handle what life comes with.

To change these behaviours, we need to regulate our relationship with ourselves and become friends with the side of us that carries the wounds. We need to understand what addiction fulfils within us and what type of pain we are carrying that we are trying to dull. By finding new tools and daring to let go of our defence strategies, we can find curiosity. This is an important key on the road to healing. We want to ask questions in the present, increase compassion within ourselves, and create opportunities to feel whole.

Tools for transformation


In our app, we provide tools for you to manage the effects of addiction. You will learn skills to manage cravings and what you can do to hold out and avoid relapses. You will also learn to increase self-compassion through various guided exercises. Few things are as important in the process of overcoming addiction as support from others in the same situation, that's why we have the Cairy community in the app. Here you have the opportunity to anonymously share your experiences and what you are going through with people who are in the same situation, while also finding support and guidance.

Cairy is here to help you and all you need to know is that you want to stop drinking. Below you will find a link that takes you directly to the app and at the same time a big step forward in the work to become free from addiction.

You are not alone!

"If you want to read more about the connection between trauma and addiction, we recommend these interviews with Doctor Gabor Maté:"

-"The root cause of trauma" Dr. Gabor Maté on "On Purpose" with Jay Shetty -"Break addiction" Dr. Gabor Maté on "School of greatness" with Lewis Howes

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