Abandonment Issues and Addiction

Abandonment issues spring from many different sources, but primarily from childhood experiences. You might think of an abandoned child as one left completely alone. Although that tragic situation happens, there are many more children who are abandoned in other ways. No child abandonment is easily endured by a child or easily recovered from without help. Sadly, there are countless adults who experienced some form of abandonment in childhood who have never directly addressed that with professional help. Many of those people have substance use problems.

Abandoned but Never Left

One form of abandonment is often not thought of as abandonment, even by those who experience it. It happens when you are left by someone who remains in your presence. We’ve all experienced this in small ways—say, your listener suddenly disengages and you know they are somewhere else even when you are in the middle of a conversation. That is usually a fleeting and momentary event. However, it is possible to live for prolonged periods of time with someone who remains unengaged. This is typically what we mean when we say someone is in a relationship with an emotionally unavailable person.

For children who experience emotionally unavailable parents, their abandonment is mysterious and confusing. They sense that no one is there for them, but they see the parent there anyway.  Many people experience similar relationships in later life, particularly with romantic partners. Some even have a series of involvements with significant others who are emotionally unavailable. It is very common for people who have had such experiences to also have compulsive behavior such as problematic substance use. Such behaviors often are attempts to self-medicate chronic anxiety and depression.

Dependency, Abandonment, and Addiction

Unresolved abandonment issues are often quite complexly tied into addiction. The issue of dependency upon someone else or something else is an over-arching theme. When abandoned as children, for example, we are left without someone to fully depend upon, and it is necessary for healthy development for us to be dependent. When those needs are not met during the appropriate stage, we can continue on still having dependency needs later in life. Consequently, we may turn to others to be dependent upon, to substances, or to both.

Substance problems find us dependent upon substances for comfort and coping. And, inside active addiction, we typically depend on others for things we should be able to provide for ourselves. It seems at every twist and turn of addiction’s maze, we encounter dependency in some form. When complicated by abandonment issues from earlier experiences, the entanglement of dependency and substance use becomes even more complex.