It’s common knowledge that substance abuse can lead to serious birth defects or spontaneous pregnancy loss. Yet fewer people realize that abortion can be a catalyst for alcoholism or drug addiction.
Studies show a strong link between present addictions and past abortions. Elliot Institute researchers found that women who aborted their first pregnancy were 3.9 times more likely to engage in subsequent drug or alcohol abuse than those who have never had an abortion.
In other words, having an abortion increases a woman’s chance of developing drug abuse issues. But why?
The Link Between Abortion and Addiction
“Abortion is a risk factor for subsequent mental illness when compared with childbirth …. Fetal loss is traumatic. It is a risk factor for mental illness – both in the case of abortion and in miscarriage – and its impact on a woman’s life can erroneously be underestimated.” – Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences Journal
The researchers quoted above zeroed in on two key precursors for drug addiction: (1) mental illness and (2) trauma.
Mental Illness and Addiction
As the co-founder of a non-12 step residential addiction treatment center specializing in dual diagnosis, I see people with substance abuse and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety every day.
Many – even most! – addictions are driven by these untreated mental health conditions.
The recent US Surgeon General’s report Facing Addiction in America found that more than 40% of people with addiction have a dual diagnosis. Based on my experience, I’d say that number is much higher – more like 80%!
Trauma and Addiction
Furthermore, there is a strong connection between abortion and addiction due to the element of trauma. There is an essential link between trauma and addiction, and abortion can be traumatically painful on all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Sadly, many people carry this unresolved trauma within them for years, even decades, and it manifests itself in addictive behaviors.
Our experience is that people abuse drugs as a way to mitigate their mental and emotional suffering.
If we’re dealing with a lot of unhealed trauma, then we also have a tremendous amount of unprocessed mental and emotional pain. And we’re more likely to use alcohol, painkillers, or other substances as an attempt to cope.
When we don’t work to heal the abortion trauma on all levels, we become more vulnerable to substance abuse.
The Mental and Emotional Impact of Abortion
The mental and emotional impact of abortion depends upon the way we hold the event in our consciousness.
For example, if we think that abortion represents a failure on our part, then we will feel a tremendous amount of shame surrounding that choice.
If we think that abortion means that we’re all alone or that we’re not worthy of love, we may feel deep grief and fear.
And if we suffered sexual abuse and had an abortion afterward, we may wrestle with the combined traumatic effects of both the abuse and the abortion.
So, how can we help to heal the mental and emotional wounds associated with abortion?
Offer Your Past Self Compassion Through a Gestalt Process
The way to heal from abortion trauma is the way to heal from any trauma: we begin by offering love to the parts of ourselves that hurt. That’s what empowers us to heal.
One way to do this is through the modality of Gestalt therapy. In Gestalt, we work through the unfinished business in our minds that arises in the wake of trauma. We “complete” this business by connecting with people from our past, traumatized parts of ourselves, or aspects of ourselves which need a new role.
We dialogue with the person or part of ourselves, listening closely to what it has to say.
Our co-founder Joe Koelzer describes the process this way in The Link Between Trauma and Addiction:
“I’m going to ask that [younger] part … ‘What do you need to feel safe and loved? I understand that this is traumatic. I understand that you’re scared. I understand that you’re worried about all these different things, so what do you need to feel safe and loved?’
Then that [younger] part is going to say what it needs. It’s really cool; those parts of us are very, very vocal. It might say, ‘I need to know it’s going to be okay. I need to know that I’m going to be okay. I need to know that I’m loved. I need to know that nobody’s going to be mad at me.’
The only person that can take care of that little part inside of me is me. It’s now the job of the older me to take care of the younger me inside.”
Caring for The Younger You
It’s your present-day self’s job to care for the younger version of you, to be your own best parent.
As Glennon Doyle, advocate, bestselling author, speaker, and “recovering everything” wrote of her own abortion in her bestselling book Carry On Warrior:
“I feel sad for the lost girl I was, and I am fiercely protective of that precious me who had to go through that scary day and the days that preceded and followed. Far from ashamed, I’m really quite proud of her for making it through. …. I don’t feel ashamed. I feel forgiven and whole.”
That’s our hope for you: that you would come to a place of deep compassion for your past self, and that you would walk forward into your future feeling strong, integrated, and healed.
Betsy Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. She has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.
After a long struggle with depression and substance abuse, Betsy realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.
An evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.
In co-founding The Clearing, Betsy realized her dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.