Empaths and Addiction

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Why are empaths so susceptible to alcohol, drug, sex, food, gambling, shopping, or other addictions?

Empaths can become overwhelmed and overstimulated due to their extreme sensitivity. When they “feel too much,” including their own or another’s pain, some empaths self-medicate. If they don’t know how to manage this sensory overload, they numb themselves to shut off their thoughts and feelings to diminish empathy, though not everyone is aware of this motivation.

You pay a high price for coping with your sensitivities through addictions. They wear down your body, mind, and spirit creating illness, depression, and more anxiety as you try to manage an over-stimulating world. At best, addictions only provide short term relief from sensory overload, but in the long term they stop working and will worsen your feeling of being overwhelmed.

Self–Evaluation and Getting Support

Though not all alcoholics or addicts absorb other people’s energy, I’ve observed that a large portion do. Unfortunately, many empaths remain undiagnosed and don’t realize how overstimulation and high sensitivity fuel their addictive behaviors. It’s therefore crucial to understand whether you’re coping with your sensitivities by engaging in addictions. How do you know? Ask yourself the following questions from my book The Empath’s Survival Guide:

  • Have I ever thought, “Life would be so much better if I didn’t drink or overeat?”
  • Have I ever tried to stop overeating or using substances for a month but could only last a few days, despite my best intentions?
  • Are you highly sensitive to the effect food has on your body?
  • Am I self-medicating to ease social anxiety or the stress I take on from the world?

If you suspect you are using alcohol, drugs, overeating, or addictive behaviors to manage the sensory overload of being an empath, take some time to reflect on how you cope by evaluating the following statements.

Turn to Substances or Other Addictions When:

  1. I’m overwhelmed by emotions (mine or another’s)
  2. I’m in emotional pain and feel frustrated, anxious, or depressed
  3. My feelings are hurt
  4. I feel uncomfortable in my own skin
  5. I can’t sleep
  6. I feel emotionally unsafe in a situation
  7. I feel criticized, blamed, or rejected
  8. I feel shy, anxious, or don’t fit in socially
  9. I’m isolating at home and I need confidence to go out in public
  10. I’m tired and need an energy boost
  11. I feel drained by energy vampires
  12. I want to escape and shut out the world

Here’s how to interpret this self-assessment:

  • Answering yes to even one statement indicates that you sometimes turn to an addiction to cope with your sensitivities.
  • Answering 2-5 yeses indicates you are moderately relying on an addiction to self-medicate feelings of sensory overload.
  • Answering 6 or more yeses indicates you are largely coping with empathy by engaging in addictive behavior.

Empaths Survival GuideAlternatives to Self-Medicating: Strategies and Solutions

Self-awareness is liberating. No shame. No blame. By being aware of your addictive tendencies, you’re gaining a larger appreciation of how you cope with your empathy. Then you can more productively deal with it. Here are some action steps from my book The Empath’s Survival Guide to help manage sensory overload.

First, it’s necessary to identify your addiction. Honestly assess: How much do I drink or take other substances weekly? How often do I overeat to cope with feeling overwhelmed? Do I turn to other addictions (such as sex, love, gambling, shopping, video games, the internet, or excessive work) to lower my anxiety level or shut off my sensitivities? Be compassionate with yourself. See if you find a pattern of self-medicating your feelings. Self-medicating even once a week or once a month indicates that you may have an issue with addictions.

Second, it’s crucial to realize that nothing on the outside–no substance, person, job, or amount of money–can make you feel comfortable with yourself and your sensitivities. Happiness is an inside job. You must learn to know, love, and accept yourself, a life-long process of discovery. The more you run from your sensitivities, the more uncomfortable you will get. As the Buddha said, “There is no external refuge.”

Third, for an ongoing plan to address your addiction, you might want to consider entering psychotherapy and/or attending Twelve-Step meetings for support. It’s important to find healing modalities to inspire you in having a healthy relationship with yourself and others. Then, as an empath, you won’t be at the mercy of the painful feeling of sensory overload and you will be able to center yourself to find a liberating sense of balance in your life.

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff’s The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.

 

Judith Orloff, MD is the New York Times best-selling author of The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People. Her new book Thriving as an Empath offers daily self-care tools for sensitive people along with its companion The Empath’s Empowerment Journal. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Oprah Magazine, the New York Times and USA Today. Dr. Orloff has spoken at Google-LA and has a TEDX talk. Her other books are Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive HealingExplore more information about her Empath Support Online course and speaking schedule on www.drjudithorloff.com.

Connect with Judith on  Facebook and Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Empaths and Addiction

  1. I’m definitely an empath. I’ve been struggling to overcome hoarding issues. Most treatments only address the external symptoms, but I’m convinced the root cause lies deep down inside me.

    Wondering if being an empath could be linked to hoarding behavior? Like, that’s my way of numbing myself??

  2. This is so helpful to me in deepening my understanding of myself as well as friends and family.

    It’s clear, direct and put in language that specifically targets addictive and empathic tendencies.

    Thank you so much, Judith!

  3. This is almost telling my story. I am a Mental Health Counselor, and I feel I am really good at this. I beat addiction in the 90’s when I had migraines and prescribed opiates.
    Last year I was working in a really intense service with adolescents and their families. I worked 24/7. My supervisor didn’t rotate being on call so we were on call for our own clients (6-8). Anyway, got really sick and couldn’t get better. Finally lost my voice. I left because I had no energy and couldn’t get better.!I started for the first time getting anxiety. Then use alcohol to relax.
    I had interviews when I was ready to go back and would get really nervous. I used to be so sure of myself. Im much better and practice positivity.
    Wanted to share and hope to help someone. We have to have a balance. We have to regenerate. Unfortunately it had a lot to do with my supervisor. Just found a job and had a good interview. This place makes sure you have a balance!

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