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Learned Connections

Chapter 6: The Freedom Model

  • "My anxiety causes me to use."
  • "I was raped as a child, and the trauma causes me to use."
  • "My depression causes me to drink more."
  • "I don't like drugs. I self medicate when I feel stressed out or sad."
  • "I drank like a fish after my Dad died. The grief made me too weak and triggered a relapse. I won't be able to get back into recovery until I work through my issues."
  • "I have a co-occurring disorder that causes my addiction."
  • "I must keep using because I have some baggage I haven't dealt with. Can you help me figure out what that stuff is?"

Some common Learned Connection quotes from St. Jude Retreat guests

What are Learned Connections?

We'll define learned connections as any beliefs that implicitly or explicitly causally connect other life problems to substance use. The causation goes in the direction of a life problem causing a person to use substances. We hear about these learned connections all the time. We hear them in the news, in academia, in novels, in casual conversation; we hear them everywhere. But where learned connections are stated with the most frequency is in the recovery subculture where there is the belief that something outside an individual can cause them to use substances uncontrollably. We assume you have also heard statements like the quotes above, and you may even believe there is some validity to them. We certainly did.

When we are born we are mental blank slates. We don't hate, we don't love, and we don't have knowledge of the world. If not for those around us we would perish. We are completely dependent on others to learn our world view and from there we develop our own perspectives. This is an important point. We learn as we navigate life. We learn our values, our wants, our needs, our talents, our abilities, and eventually our entire world view - and in the United States that world view includes an addiction and recovery-centered culture. Within that recovery ideology we learn that stress, trauma and the like, causes substance use. For people who do not come from our culture, this learned connection does not exist or is a much more subtle version of it. Think about that. If not for the influence of the recovery society within our culture, very few people would ever connect stress, trauma, or any outside force to the usage of substances. If it is learned, that means the connection between trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, etc. are NOT automatic triggers for substance use. And most importantly to you, these connections can be unlearned.

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