Addiction Counseling: Information about Overcoming Addiction and Alcoholism
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Katherine always loved Bingo games. No one really thought much about it until a family member discovered her children home alone one evening while Katherine was out at the casino.
John was infamous for how many beers he could drink without experiencing any apparent effects. He spent several nights each week at the bar and his friends had seen him drunk several times recently. He was just arrested for a DUI.
Steve’s family always knew him to be a hard worker. He stayed up long nights working on projects and meeting deadlines. His late nights in the downstairs office had been getting longer and more frequency and he increasingly restricted everyone else in the family from his office space the rest of the day. Needing to finish internet research one weekend for homework, Steve’s son accessed the computer still on from the night before. When he started the internet browser, he came face to face with a series of pornographic images.
DEFINITIONS & KEY THOUGHTS ABOUT ADDICTION AND ADDICTION COUNSELING
Addiction involves having a dependence on a substance (i.e., alcohol, marijuana, prescription or nonprescription drugs) or an activity (i.e., shopping, gambling). It can be either a physical (as in the case of most drugs) or psychological (as in the case of most activities) compulsion to use the substance of activity as a way to cope with everyday life.
Addiction is a habitual behavior that is extremely difficult to control and leads to activities that are designed solely to continue or cover up the addiction itself- an alcoholic hiding bottles around their home, the drug addict embezzling to support their habit.
In line with the defense mechanism of denial- addicts often blame their problems upon various factors in their lives- a difficult boss, an unsupportive spouse, or persuasive friends- rather than taking responsibility for their own actions.
Drug addictions consist of a biochemical dependence on a substance in order to create a desired effect or “high”. Due to a biochemical process called tolerance, overtime the body needs ever-increasing amounts of the substance in order to produce this “high” and to ward off any symptoms of withdrawal. Ongoing drug use can lead to actual changes in body chemistry to the point that the body begins to require the drug.
Non-drug addictions include compulsive spending, smoking, sexual addictions, gambling and compulsive overeating.
Many addictions begin by simple experimentations- going to a casino or trying a drug. When a person enjoys the experience they continue doing it.
Eventually, the abuse of a substance occurs when a person becomes dependent on the substance and requires it in order to avoid experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.
Although a majority of addicts assert their ability to stop using a substance at any point in time, most addicts have very little to no control over their substance use.
Such substance abuse is often in order to cover up several different underlying emotional problems including depression, chronic illness, bipolar disorder, or hyperactivity.
Key characteristics of addiction include: patterns of uncontrollable behaviors or substance use for a year or more; increasing patterns of behavior or substance use over time; mood swings; feelings of self-worthlessness or shame; impulse control problems- with food, drugs, sex or money; strong needs to be liked or approved of; behaviors or substance use to reduce anxiety; unmanageability; obsessions over a behavior or substance; guilt and shame; negative consequences to self or others; failure to control.
ACTION STEPS TO OVERCOMING ADDICTION
Safety is often a key issue for the loved ones of an addict. If an addict has small children or may potentially drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol, immediate steps must be take in order to protect the addict from harming themselves or others. Loved ones must turn down any rides from the addict or seek help if the addict is unable to supervise their children. In the event that physical or sexual abuse occurs while the addict is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, loved ones must remove themselves from the situation immediately. In the event that verbal abuse occurs while the addict is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, loved ones should also seek either counseling help or join a support group for those facing the same type of abuse.
In helping a person to overcome an alcoholism or drug addiction, it is important to take the following actions steps:
- Do not allow the user to drive.
- Do away with the addict’s car upon the first time they drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Convince the addict to stop driving or doing anything when under the influence.
- Make is clear that discontinuing usage is for the good of the addict and others and that continuing usage will have life long repercussions.
- Encourage the addict to get a thorough medical checkup in order to rule out any medical problems that could be caused by the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Encourage the addict to see a professional in chemical dependency to assess their substance use and to confirm that it is an addiction. Such assessments are available at some hospitals, community abuse centers, and community mental health agencies.
- Treatment from a doctor is highly recommended because an addiction is a powerful dependency that can have very severe withdrawal symptoms.
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(Portions of the above material is reprinted with permission from Thrive Boston Counseling in Boston, MA.)