Addictions can come in so many different forms that it is impossible to name them all but they all have something in common.
All addictions developed as a coping skill, whether it is alcohol, weed, opioids, sexual addiction, eating disorders, gambling, shopping addiction, etc.
As we travel through our lives, we pick up different coping skills in different situations. Some work well and some don’t. Some are conscious and intentional while others are not. All people who struggle with addiction stumbled across the substance or behavior and noticed how well it worked for coping with whatever adversity they had. Or perhaps it enabled them to forget the adversity completely – if only temporarily.
Addictions may work so well that people will use the addiction to cope with everything and falsely believe that no other coping skills are needed. At the same time, individuals who do not have an addiction have been developing coping skills – building an arsenal of tools to help them manage their lives.
People with addictions stop learning new coping skills and rely on their behavior or substance to 'get them through'.
Eventually, what they believed was helping ends up actually hurting and may destroy what they deem most important in their lives.
Some addictions can be debilitating while in other situations people may be able to continue a semblance of their normal lives. We have all heard the phrases, “hitting bottom” and “functional alcoholic”. The first implies the individual has gotten so overwhelmed by their addiction that they can no longer hold their lives together while the second is self-explanatory. Both are dysfunctional.
Often family and friends are the initiator of interventions because they are worried for their loved one. However, unless the addict is ready to change/stop (remember that they are getting something from the addiction) the attempt will fail. So, wanting someone to stop and that person being ready to stop are often far apart. For treatment to work, the individual has to want to change their behavior and the motivation cannot be to appease someone in their lives..
There are a number of options for addiction treatment. Individuals who have either alcoholic or opioid addictions need to be evaluated by a doctor to determine if they need a medical detox. For some people, inpatient treatment should be the first step in treatment. It provides 24/7 support and also takes the addicted person away from all triggers and friends who may unintentionally cause harm. The hope is that once inpatient treatment is completed, that person can develop other ways to cope so the addiction is not the only option. If an individual has been in inpatient treatment, re-entering life can be difficult. It is critical that there is aftercare – usually groups and individual therapy.
Some people do not need or cannot take the time for inpatient treatment. In those situations, there are some day treatment options that provide a higher level of care than just groups and individual therapy. Ongoing groups and individual therapy are usually the longest phase of treatment and sometimes the only treatment but are always very important to maintain “sobriety”. Groups provide a venue to learn from others, stay mindful of the reasons they stopped the addiction and provide “sober” social options.
Individual therapy helps patients replace the needed coping skills and understanding why they became an addict originally. Through therapy, triggers can be identified and even matched with adaptive coping techniques which helps people feel more in control of their lives and behaviors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is useful to enable people to identify negative thoughts which lead to negative feelings and help people identify what they need in order to feel their best. Thoughts, feelings and triggers are tightly connected and special care needs to be focused here. Mindfulness techniques help people learn to relax, stay focused on what is important, and improve self-awareness.
It is extremely satisfying to see clients improve their ability to have healthy and happy lives. I take pride in approaching each therapy with compassion and I make every effort to exceed a client’s expectations for care.
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Dr. Sara Denman, Lic #Psy 19808