Addictions and Substance Abuse Therapy and CounselingCounseling and Therapies for Addictions.
Addictions and Substance Abuse Counseling
Addiction is a serious problem affecting many individuals, couples, and families.
It is likely that you know at least one person who is struggling with an addiction of some kind. You may be wondering how to get help for a loved one, or you may be wondering if you need help yourself.
The word “addiction” often brings up the ideas of alcoholism and drug abuse. Over the past several years however, addiction has become associated with many other substances and activities.
The following are some of the substances and activities that are physically addicting, could be thought of as psychologically addicting, or both:
- Illegal Drugs
- Prescription Drugs
- Controlled Substances
- Food Addictions
- Sexual Addicts
- Video Games Addictions
- The Internet
There are a lot of different definitions of addiction, and fairly often we are asked, “how do I know if I am addicted to (alcohol, sex, gambling, etc.) or not?”
In our work counseling clients, the guideline we use is this: If using a substance or repeatedly performing a particular activity is creating problems in any area of your life, and you do not feel able to stop, you are likely to be addicted.
This is a fairly broad definition but whether you call it addiction, compulsion, or a habit – if it is creating problems for you in your life then it is time to consider a healthier path.
An important thing to consider is that in this context, “areas of a person’s life” is fairly broad as well. This includes physical health, family, relationship with a partner, friendships, career or school, finance, recreation, spirituality, personal growth, legal status, or physical environment.
Here are a few ideas to illustrate how you might determine if a person’s drinking, using, etc. needs to be worked on:
1) Have you ever heard the term “high functioning alcoholic?” This is a person who drinks heavily or often but being able to function well in the more obvious areas of life has not really been impacted. They can maintain their job, their relationships are intact, they’ve never had a DUI, they don’t have money problems. But if he or she drinks so much that it puts that person’s future health at risk, recreational or spiritual activities are avoided, or perhaps working on personal goals that are important to him or her have been put off because so much time is spent on drinking – these are strong indicators that a problem needs to be addressed.
2) Viewing pornography may be considered by many individuals and couples to be a completely acceptable activity. For instance, a couple in which both partners enjoy and accept this activity as a part of their sexual relationship may not have a problem to be addressed. However, if one person in this couple is uncomfortable with the other’s use of pornography or if he or she feels degraded by it – but that partner continues to view pornography anyway – this couple has an important issue to be dealt with. It could be considered an addiction because it erodes the intimacy between them, it may even be a method of avoiding intimacy, and may also be a method of avoiding other painful situations, memories, or areas of life.
3) Another example may be a couple who is very active in their church, and according to their beliefs, infidelity is morally wrong. If one partner has repeated affairs this creates problems not only in the partner relationship but also with his or her spirituality. One affair is certainly a problem as well, but when there are repeated affairs and the person doesn’t feel able to stop, that is when you may start thinking that the problem is at the level of being an addiction.
Addictions Therapy, Counseling, and Treatment Methodologies
We tend to look at mental health care holistically, and assist our clients in managing overall health. If the addiction is with a physical substance, it is important that the client also involve a medical doctor in his or her care. This is particularly important if withdrawal from the substance could create a health risk.
A second area we work on is in developing healthy coping skills. Addictions can be thought of as ways of coping with psychologically painful aspects of life or past traumas. Developing alternative, healthy coping skills will be important to being able to stop the addictive behavior and prevent returning to it.
Our self care handout can help you identify healthy coping skills for yourself or someone you care about. A third part of our work is to explore that painful current situation or past trauma, and work towards resolution or at least management of that pain.
Finally, as necessary, we may incorporate different methodologies, such as “moderation management” or 12 steps if these are helpful to a client. In particular, being involved in a 12 step program at the same time we are working together in counseling can be extremely helpful. There are many types of 12 step groups! And, there are many websites where you can seek out and select one that is right for you. Even if you go to a meeting and it doesn’t seem like it will help, try two things: first, go to another meeting with the same group to be sure that it wasn’t just a day or evening that the group was “off” a little bit; and then if it still doesn’t seem like a good fit then keep trying other groups in the same way until you find one that feels good, the people are supportive, and the environment feels helpful to you. Attending a 12 step group while also in mental health counseling is an effective strategy for beating addiction.
If you or someone you care about is dealing with an addiction, please feel free to call us and discuss it. Even one of us is not the right counselor for you (or that person), we are happy to talk about your options and resources that may help you.
Alternatives To 12-Step Programs
For some people, the 12 step approach is not a good fit and doesn’t seem to work to help them overcome addictions. If you are looking for something other than AA-based programs, something non-religious, or for any reason, here is a list of possible programs you could try:
Smart Recovery – note that Catherine facilitates a SMART Recovery meeting at our office on Saturdays at 12:00 p.m. Please call ahead of time as we are possibly moving this meeting to a different location at some time in the future.