Whether it is a child, parent, friend, partner, or ourselves, we all know someone who struggles with drugs or alcohol. Because we know this person, we also know that getting them to stop using the substance is not as easy as simply issuing ultimatums or having enough willpower. Indeed, if you have ever heard yourself or someone you care about promise never to drink or use again, more than likely, they meant it. But promises are no match for the force of drug and alcohol addiction.
Addiction is a disease of the most primitive part of our brain, the part that is responsible for survival. This part of the brain also usually operates independently of the person's intellect. Addiction to a certain substance or behavior occurs when the brain begins to see that substance or behavior as necessary to survival. It is important to see the person as separate from his or her addiction. When a person is addicted, he or she is desperate to control his or her use. They want to use the drug but not have problems using. When a problem occurs, the person feels such a need for the drug, they will blame themselves for not controlling the drug. Thus each time a problem occurs, the person sees it as further proof that they are a failure--that they are the problem, not the drug.
Behavioral addictions such as gambling, internet, or sex addictions as well as eating disorders operate in much the same way. We are addicted to the feeling that the drug or the behavior provides us. As our nervous system adapts however, coming off the substance (or ending the behavior) produces the opposite feeling. The emotional centers of the brain become dependent on the substance or behavior to maintain an "emotional" balance. When this is repeated over and over again, it becomes automatic.
In treatment, I will work to understand the nature of the addiction and to help the individual understand it themselves--what lies underneath it, what triggers it, and what will work as a healthy substitute. I will also help the individual develop a network of sober support and practice healthy coping skills that will eventually take the place of the unhealthy addictive substance or behavior. It is important to note that depending on the severity of the addiction, weekly individual therapy may not be enough. If that is the case, I will provide the individual and their family with alternative treatment resources and referrals to ensure the person receives the highest quality of care.
Resources for those interested in learning more:
Prescription Drugs and Pain Medications (Examples include: OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, Ambien, Adderall)
Note: These prescription medications in and of themselves are not necessarily harmful, but can be abused and lead to dependence when taken not as prescribed.