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I. What Is Addiction?

The American Psychological Association defines addiction as a chronic disorder that can be the result of biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. It’s characterized by compulsive and continued misuse of substances and/or behaviors despite harmful or negative consequences, with a loss of control to effect change.

What does psychology say about addiction?

Generally, psychologists recognize two addiction models: the brain disease model and the behavioral model.

The brain disease model of addiction classifies addiction as a disease that’s the result of altered brain structure and functions. Because of these abnormalities in the brain, the person becomes more easily addicted to substances or behaviors once they’ve been exposed to them. According to the brain disease model, addiction is incurable.

The behavioral model of addiction considers addiction a compulsive disorder that’s the result of learned behavior. According to this model, addiction is preventable and curable with the right therapies.

Types of addiction

There are two types of addiction: chemical and behavioral. As their names imply, chemical addiction involves substances, while behavioral addiction encompasses activities or behaviors.

  • Chemical addiction: Alcohol, nicotine, illegal substances, such as methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and bath salts, and various prescription medications
  • Behavioral addiction: Gambling, shopping, sex, and internet overuse

Myths about addiction

Addiction myths distress the family and friends of addicts and may block the path to recovery. Strangers and even friends may offer blanket statements about addiction that are untrue. Don’t just believe whatever you hear; take the time to research and find out the real story.  Some examples of common addiction myths include:

  • Addicts just have poor willpower: The truth is, whether behavioral or chemical, most addicts have little power to control the addictions they develop, and over time, overcoming addiction becomes impossible without treatment.
  • Addicts can’t get better until they hit rock bottom: Treatment is often more successful when intervention starts early, so waiting until your loved one hits rock bottom may be more detrimental in the long run.
  • Relapse is inevitable: Relapse (returning to problematic substance or behavioral use) is something to be understood in the treatment process. While relapse is always a risk, it is not inevitable, and is certainly preventable. Learning to pay attention to triggers and warning signs is an important part of the recovery process.

II. Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment is designed to help addicts stop using harmful, addictive substances or to avoid addictive behaviors. Depending on the addiction, treatment may involve group or one-on-one counseling and therapy, prescription medications, or a combination of the two.

There are various types of behavioral and group therapies that are used in addiction treatment. Abstinence-based treatment assumes total sobriety, while harm-reduction treatment allows for continued use with steps taken to mitigate the problems caused by the addiction.

While some addiction therapists may require an individual to attend sessions in person, others may be able to offer treatment online. Being able to reach a counselor via text, video chat, or phone is a great option for addicts who need a little extra support.

How therapy is used in addiction treatment

Therapy in addiction treatment can help your loved one gain a better understanding of their addiction. In one-on-one therapy and group counseling sessions, they may discuss triggers that cause them to turn to their chosen substances or behaviors, as well as the root cause of their addiction. Approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management can provide people with new ways to cope with those triggers and help them learn new, healthy behaviors to replace their addiction.

Types of addiction therapy
Therapy type Addiction types treated How it works How it helps
12-Step facilitation Alcohol, stimulants, opiates Clients navigate a 12-Step program, which involves accepting their addictions, surrendering to a higher power, and actively involving themselves in long-term group counseling and treatment. 12-Step facilitation provides its participants with ongoing support and accountability for their actions. It requires sponsorship from another member who oversees the participant’s journey and offers mentorship and encouragement.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) Alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, nicotine, behavioral addictions Psychologists or counselors work with clients to anticipate problems they may encounter throughout their recovery. They analyze early warning signs that these problems may occur and work to develop effective coping strategies and ways to avoid such situations. When used along with medications, CBT has been shown to leave clients with lasting habits that can effectively help them avoid triggers that would normally lead to addictive behaviors and substance abuse.
Contingency management (CM) Alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, nicotine, behavioral addictions CM focuses on rewards-based behavior management. It consists of offering tangible rewards to clients who abstain from addictive behaviors. CM encourages clients to remain free from substances or addictive behaviors by offering prizes or cash rewards. While this is effective in providing encouragement, it doesn’t necessarily help those with more advanced cases in which withdrawal symptoms are a factor.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) Alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, nicotine, behavioral addictions DBT is a form of CBT that encourages addicts to focus on the present. It teaches the addict to be accepting of themselves and embrace positive change. DBT is most effective for addicts with borderline personality disorder and other co-occurring disorders. It helps them understand that change is inevitable and teaches them ways to accept improvements in themselves and their lifestyle.
Matrix Model Stimulants The Matrix Model involves teaching stimulant users about their addiction and related issues, such as relapse prevention and self-help. They work with a therapist to obtain direction and support and are monitored regularly for drug use throughout the program. Studies show that the Matrix Model helps addicts prevent relapse and avoid further addictive behaviors by arming them with knowledge and ongoing support. It’s often combined with other types of therapy, including 12-Step programs and relapse prevention. While the Matrix Model works well for stimulant users, results are varied with those who use other substances or experience behavioral addictions.
Motivational interviewing (MI) Alcohol, marijuana, stimulants, nicotine, behavioral addictions Psychologists and counselors use MI sessions to help clients uncover motivations to correct their addictive behaviors and substance abuse issues. While MI doesn’t promote recovery on its own, it helps counselors determine the best course of treatment for their patients and keeps addicts motivated throughout their recovery.

Medications and complementary addiction therapy

Therapy is an important part of the recovery process for a lot of clients, but in some cases, it’s only a part of the complete picture. Medication management, especially during the beginning stages, and complementary therapies can provide extra support to your loved one during their journey.

Medications that are often used in addiction treatment include those that treat symptoms of withdrawal, such as nausea, anxiety, depression, seizures, and pain. Other medications, such as naltrexone, can help people who have been abusing alcohol overcome their addiction by blocking receptors in the brain that produce pleasurable feelings after drinking. Disulfiram may also be used for alcohol users. This medication causes severe side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, when combined with alcohol. Additionally, methadone is often used to treat severe opiate addictions. It helps suppress cravings and withdrawal symptoms by binding to the same brain receptors as opiates without causing a high.

Complementary therapies that may be used in combination with medications and traditional therapies include exercise, yoga, meditation, art, and music therapy. Removing the person from their home setting is often a recommended strategy. Providing them with a supportive environment gives them time to learn new coping techniques without being bombarded with their old lifestyle. Being with others going through the same struggles can help as well.

III. How To Support Loved One With Addiction

When speaking about addiction with a loved one, it’s important to tread lightly. Safety is an utmost priority, for oneself as well as the loved one struggling with an addiction. Choose the right time and place for a conversation to occur. Some terminology may be associated with increased stigma and, ultimately, may feel accusatory or offend your loved one.

Your support should go beyond talking about their addiction with them and extend into all phases of the recovery process. Provide them with help as they search for resources to treat their addiction and offer love and encouragement both during and after addiction treatment.

 Learn how to talk about addiction.

  • Be mindful of the words you use when addressing your loved one’s addiction. This includes referring to their addiction as a recognized medical condition instead of as a habit or addiction. Additionally, acknowledge that drug and alcohol programs involve legitimate medical treatments to help them recover from their illness.
  • Educate yourself about the substance or behavior they are addicted to, as well as the general signs and symptoms of addiction, prior to talking to them. There are plenty of online resources available to help you understand what a person with addiction goes through, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse and SAMHSA.
  • Enlist the help of a professional interventionist or drug counselor when confronting your loved one. These trained professionals are experienced substance abuse and behavioral addiction counselors who can guide you through helping your loved one recognize their condition and seek proper treatment.

Assist your loved one with finding professional help

  • Recommend visiting a local mutual support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Offer to help them find a meeting and be available before and after their first meeting to provide encouragement and support.
  • If your loved one is willing, take them to their family physician to discuss addiction treatment If alcohol is their primary addiction, they may also have some success with prescription medications.
  • Find nearby residential, outpatient, or inpatient programs that offer specific treatments for the type of addiction your loved one is battling. Determine the programs that offer the best options and help them narrow down to several top choices.

Offer support during addiction treatment.

  • Be available to your loved ones when they need you. During their treatment, they may be offered opportunities to engage in family counseling or social visits. If you’re invited, show up and be an active participant in counseling sessions to help them through their treatment.
  • Stay available by telephone in case your family member needs to talk. In most treatment centers, your loved one will be provided with regular opportunities to phone home once they’ve completed their first days or weeks of treatment. Make sure that you’re there to offer encouragement and lend an ear if they’re struggling or need emotional support.
  • Remain sober during phone calls and visits. People who have a strong support system, including family members who are willing to abstain from drinking or using drugs when around them, have a much better chance of succeeding with addiction treatment.

Continue to provide support after addiction treatment.

  • Remain supportive as your loved one adjusts to their new lifestyle after treatment. They may experience changes in mood and behavior, and while it can feel uncomfortable for everyone, it’s important that they continue to feel supported as they complete formal treatment and continue their recovery journey.
  • Make sure to prioritize your own mental health and well-being to avoid caregiver burnout— especially if your loved one will be relying on you regularly for post-treatment care. Practice self care during the process of supporting an addicted loved one.
  • Encourage your loved one to take up healthy activities, such as exercise, art, or music. Many of these therapies are used as part of addiction treatment and can continue to be calming for addicts after they’ve completed a recovery program.

IV. Addiction Treatment Resources

Organizations

  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The NIAAA is a federally funded organization that conducts research on the causes, treatment, and prevention of alcoholism and other related issues.
  • Addiction Group: This website offers information for individuals who are struggling with substance abuse disorders and behavioral addictions.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH): The NIH funds drug abuse and addiction research worldwide. This organization is federally funded and is focused on providing sound, scientifically proven advice to those living with addiction.
  • National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors: This organization supports the development of alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment programs at private and publicly funded centers across the United States.
  • Alcohol Addiction Center: This web-based organization offers free access to resources for individuals with alcohol abuse disorder and loved ones looking to provide help.
  • Institute of Behavioral Research: This organization operates as part of Texas Christian University. It evaluates the effectiveness of drug and addiction treatment programs and administers an array of studies within its community.
  • Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP): The ONDCP oversees policies and objectives for drug control and prevention programs throughout the United States.
  • Research Institute on Addictions (RIA): As part of the University of Buffalo, the RIA researches alcohol and substance abuse issues with a focus on their relationship to family dysfunction and violence.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): This federal agency works with each state to provide resources to those living with substance and behavioral addictions. It also assesses community risk factors and intervenes when necessary.
  • Treatment Research Institute: This nonprofit organization focuses on conducting research and developing new methods to treat addictions. It also works to reduce the negative effects that addiction has on families and other relationships.

Education

Addiction treatment helplines

  • SAMHSA – National Helpline: A free and confidential helpline that’s available 24 hours a day to provide referrals to treatment options and other important resources.
  • Veterans Crisis Line: Urgent help from qualified responders for veterans facing substance abuse problems or other crises.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: This 24-hour helpline offers prevention tools and live support for those in distress.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: The AA helpline can connect you with local meeting centers or online support groups.
  • Narcotics Anonymous: Narcotics Anonymous can help you find a local NA meeting and provide recommendations for other resources in urgent situations.
  • Crisis Text Line: This text line offers referrals and advice for individuals facing crises, including drug and alcohol-related issues.
  • Partnership to End Addiction: Provides text, email, and phone support for parents and caregivers of teens and adolescents facing addiction issues.
  • National Drug Helpline: This helpline offers live 24/7 support for individuals seeking help with the recovery process.

V. Sources

Learn more about addiction and how you can help by visiting some of these sources used in this article