how a clinical psychologist can help
A clinical psychologist has training in helping people to understand and manage addiction. Addiction is a treatable condition. Therapy can help people to withdraw from their damaging behaviours and help during recovery to ‘stay clean’.
WHAT IS ADDICTION?
In simple terms, addiction is a compulsion or intense desire to use a substance (e.g. drugs) or participate in a behaviour (e.g. gambling), to either feel good or avoid feeling bad. Addictions can be physical, psychological or both. Physical addictions generally involve the body becoming dependant on a certain substance (e.g. nicotine, alcohol) whereas psychological addictions occur when an individual’s craving for a behaviour or substance has an emotional or psychological base.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Signs and symptoms of addiction vary according to individuals and the type of addiction.
Some common signs include:
- Physical signs of addiction
- Changes in weight/appetite
- Dilated pupils/bloodshot eyes
- Repetitive speech patterns
- Changes in sleeping habits
- Chills and sweating and/or involuntary shaking
- Hallucinations (often accompanied by paranoia)
Behavioural signs of addiction
- Obsessive behaviour
- Excessive risk-taking
- Secrecy and solitude
- Always needing money (financial problems)
- Missing important engagements
- Being defensive/irritable/argumentative
COMMON TYPES OF ADDICTION DISORDERS
Being addicted to alcohol means that you have a physical dependency on alcohol. There are changes that happen in the brain of someone who drinks a lot of alcohol which makes them have physical withdrawals if they don’t drink. Alcohol addiction can result in blackouts, depression, anxiety and with prolonged use can damage the brain, heart, liver, throat, or immune system.
Nicotine causes mood-altering changes in the brain which are temporarily pleasing, making people want to use it more and more. They have unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, which temporarily go away when they receive the nicotine through smoking tobacco.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG ADDICTION
Misuse of prescription drugs means taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription; or taking a medication to feel euphoria (ie., to get high). The 3 classes of medications most misused are: Opioids – usually prescribed to treat pain; Central Nervous System Depressants – including tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics, used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders; and Stimulants – most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
ILLICIT SUBSTANCE ADDICTION
Illegal drugs (or illicit drugs) like cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, and hallucinogens are highly addictive substances that can have very serious health, social and legal implications for the person and their family. Treatment needs to be comprehensive and often includes medical detox.
Sufferers of food addiction often develop a physical craving for sugar, salt, and/or fat after the eating foods that are rich in them. The consumption of such foods can trigger the release of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, which can eventually override other signals of fullness and satisfaction. The end result is that people will keep eating even though they are not hungry. This is not the same as ‘emotional eating’.
“Compulsive gambling” is now recognised as a disorder and refers to an overwhelming urge to gamble despite obvious negative consequences. The addiction itself is typically characterized by difficulties in limiting the money or time spent on gambling. Gambling addiction can lead to the dissolution of relationships and families and feelings of anxiety, depression and emotional isolation.
Internet addiction is any type of compulsive, online-related behaviour that interferes with normal living and functioning. It can cause considerable stress for an individual’s family, friends, and loved ones. Many internet addicts develop strong attachment to online friends, communities, or activities.
Sex addiction refers to compulsive sexual activity and an inability to manage one’s sexual behaviour. It typically involves engaging in persistent (sometimes escalating) patterns of sexual behaviour, despite considerable harmful consequences to both oneself and others. Sufferers often experience health risks, financial problems and major relationship problems.
WHAT CAUSES ADDICTION
What precisely causes addiction is not well understood and can vary considerably. Psychologists suggest that some people engage in unhealthy addictive behaviour because of abnormality (psychopathology manifesting as a mental illness), whereas others simply learn unhealthy behaviours as a response to the environment and social pressures. Often addictions are caused by some kind of combination of emotional, physical and circumstantial factors.
TREATMENTS THAT HELP
There are a range of effective psychological treatments for addiction that address current issues and aim to reduce the likelihood of having ongoing difficulties. These include Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Cognitive-Behavioural-Therapy/behavioural counselling.
MOTIVATIONAL INTERVIEWING (MI)
MI is a goal-oriented, client-centered counseling style for eliciting behavior change by helping clients to explore and resolve ambivalence to change a behaviour.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOUR THERAPY (CBT)
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is often used for the treatment of addiction. Patients typically use aspects of CBT to help them to either cope with situations that are likely to result in the abuse of substances/behaviour, or to avoid them entirely. CBT can be used as a way to identify the self-defeating thoughts and behaviours a person has that are driving addiction. Therapy can also increase a person’s life skills surrounding their ability to handle abuse and help put in place incentives for them to remain abstinent from problem behaviours.
Addiction is a complex but treatable disease. The first stage of treatment for a substance addiction often involves medically assisted detoxification.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
If you notice one or more of these occurring it might be time to consider seeking professional assistance.
- Attempts to stop on your own have been unsuccessful
- Important responsibilities are being neglected
- Your relationships are suffering
- You take risks in order to satisfy your addiction
- Legal and/or financial trouble has occurred