Addiction Counselling can take place in different forms, most often in one-on-one fashion but is also available in a couple, family and group format. In whatever modality is taken, it provides the client with a confidential opportunity to discuss their relationship with the problem substance or behaviour and its impact on their life and the life of others they care about.
Addiction Counselling is a highly specialised form of counselling that views serious and problematic use of a substance or behaviour as far more serious as it being simply a symptom of underlying issues although inevitably such underlying issues are present. The problematic and addictive elements of one’s life are assessed first and foremost. It is only after an appropriate evaluation of what is underway can a specialised treatment plan be developed that is intended to assist the individual in difficulty to achieve their goals for a better life.
Addiction Counselling is a facilitation process which helps individuals overcome any personal fears and anxiety which they may be experiencing. The primary benefit is that it will help address and take action as to what needs to be done. It allows an intensive exploration of the sources of the addictive behaviour and enables the person to reach a level of self- understanding that’s essential to a good recovery. It aims to assist in the following ways:
- To strengthen self-worth.
- To find positive ways to manage stressful events and emotions.
- To learn how to react to common substance and behavioural triggers.
- To develop practical skills for dealing with cravings.
- To assist the individual with rebuilding trusting relationships with others.
- To become responsible and compliant with other treatment plans.
The counsellor’s role is to facilitate the client’s growth in ways which respect the person’s values, personal resources and capacity for self-determination, leading to lifelong recovery
What is Addiction?
Addiction has many definitions. Varying definitions typically include a need for the individual to avoid intolerable reality with an ongoing, compulsive and life damaging relationship with a mood altering substance or behaviour. Examples include alcohol and drug dependence, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, and addiction to such processes as sex, work, overspending, and extreme exercise. Additionally, those in addiction become progressively “hooked” over time and find that they are unable to successfully stop or cut down despite bringing considerable pain into their own lives and into the lives of those who care about them.
Addiction professionals typically view addictions as falling into different broad categories. Those that involve the overuse of chemicals such as alcohol & drugs and those with an over involvement in a behaviour such as gambling or in a destructive relationship with food combined with significant body image issues. It is also important to note that individuals frequently have more than one addiction, such as addiction to both alcohol & nicotine or to cocaine & sex and so on.
In many cases people who are addicted are not aware of their addiction and the impact it may be having on their work, relationships and health. As a result many are unable to quit on their own and treatment is required. Addiction treatment such as counselling is crucial for helping sufferers to recognise their condition and how their emotional needs affect their behaviour. This can be an important step on the road to recovery and, eventually abstinence.
What is the difference between habit and addiction?
Generally an addiction is defined as a habit that is out of control to the extent that the sufferer is dependent on it in order to cope with daily life. It can also have negative repercussions on a person’s emotional well-being and physical health. The psychological link in particular is what separates an addiction from a simple activity that someone does on a regular basis. A standard habit is something that people can choose to stop, and will subsequently be able to do so successfully. Put simply, with a habit a person is in control of their choices, but with an addiction they are not.
Common addictions that people can develop include:
- solvent abuse
What causes addiction?
The reasons why people become addicted vary, although they are not fully understood. Typically addiction tends to be a result of a combination of physical, emotional and circumstantial factors, such as the following:
- Family history – Numerous studies have shown that children who have parents with addictions are more likely to develop an addiction themselves.
- Mental health issue – Addictions tend to be more common among those who have mental health problems such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) or anxiety.
- Early use of substances such as drugs or alcohol – Evidence has shown that the earlier a person is exposed to certain addictive substances and activities, the more likely they are to become addicts.
- Social environment – People are thought to be more vulnerable to addiction if they live, go to school or work in an environment in which use of addictive substances, and involvement in addictive activities, is common.
- Childhood trauma – Extensive research has shown that children who suffer from abuse or neglect – or experience persistent family conflict, sexual abuse or other trauma – are more vulnerable to developing an addiction.
- Stress – Science strongly supports a link between addictions and stress.
Types of addiction
Identifying the causes of an addiction can help to establish what type of addiction someone is struggling with. There tends to be two common variations of addiction.
1. Physical addiction
A physical addiction is a dependence on a substance or particular activity to provide pleasure and emotional ‘highs’. For many people struggling with a physical addiction, the sight or thought of an activity can evoke sensations of anticipatory pleasure. These individuals will crave a fix to provide a rush of warmth, clarity and a release from everyday life and pressures. For a brief period, everything feels right, but the inevitable low that follows a high and a sudden return to reality can increase feelings of hopelessness. This in turn increases the desire to partake in the activity once again.
This type of addiction is referred to as a biological state, in which the body adapts to the presence of an addictive substance so that it no longer has the same effect. Because of this ‘tolerance’ there is a biological reaction when the addictive substance or activity is withdrawn. This reaction increases cravings and traps addicts in a spiral of escalating use.
2. Psychological dependency
Not all addictions are simply the result of a search for pleasure. Often people fall into gambling, drug abuse, alcohol addiction etc., as a means of coping with an overwhelming psychological issue. Their addiction tends to fulfill a valuable need and makes up for a void in their life helping to block out negative experiences and relieve the stress associated with them. Psychological addictions are not based on drug or brain effects, and this can explain why some people will frequently switch addictive behaviours and actions – for example, from one drug to a completely different one.
The focus of the addiction isn’t important there is simply a need to take action under a certain kind of emotional strain. For most, this type of addiction brings further problems, such as feelings of guilt, despair, failure and shame, which eventually create an increasingly destructive cycle, involving family and friends.
Signs and symptoms of addiction
There are many signs and symptoms of addiction. Although these may vary slightly depending on specific substance or activity that is used, every addiction has the capacity to greatly impact self-esteem and confidence – inducing troublesome feelings, such as shame, guilt, a sense of hopelessness and failure. People struggling with an addiction are also likely to experience the following physical and emotional symptoms:
- Inability to limit use of a substance or activity to the extent that they show signs of physical impairment.
- Intense cravings and compulsions to use the substance or activity.
- Escalating use of the substance or activity – indicating tolerance.
- Continued use of the substance or activity despite increasingly negative consequences.
- Irritability, anxiety, poor focus, the shakes and nausea if they attempt to withdraw from the drug or activity.
- Repetitive relapsing
- Personality and behavioural changes, such as taking risks (either to make sure they can obtain a substance/activity, or doing so while under the influence).
- Neglecting responsibilities and important activities in everyday life, including school/work.
- Becoming increasingly obsessed with focusing all their time and energy on ways of getting their substance/activity.
In many cases, a person with an addiction will not realise that they are addicted, and will be unaware of the harm their dependency is doing to them and those around them. Alternatively, some sufferers may be aware of their addiction, but will be in denial about the symptoms – especially if their addiction is their main way of coping with other problems. Others may ignore their symptoms out of fear that they will be unable to cope or enjoy life without their addiction. This denial is common among people with addictions many falsely believe they could stop if they ‘wanted to’.
Unfortunately, this denial is often what causes an addiction to escalate far beyond a person’s control, and this can lead to further consequences for a person’s health and well-being. In the more advanced stages of an addiction, some sufferers will find themselves caught up in financial difficulties, and may even end up losing their job as a result of their increasing unpredictability. Marriage and relationship issues are other common consequences of addictions, and problems may also begin to emerge at home and in school. For some, their addiction may even get them in trouble with the law.
Getting help for addiction
In some cases, the harm of an addiction may only be recognised when the addicted person experiences a crisis either as a result of a major life consequence or when the addictive substance or behaviour is suddenly taken away. This is often what motivates sufferers to seek help for addiction, but there are those who are able to kick-start their recovery long before their illness escalates. Whilst some people may be able to recover from an addiction without help, it is strongly believed that most people require support in the form of specialised addiction treatment. Evidence has shown that the earlier treatment is sought, the more successful it will be.
There are several treatments that are proven to be effective in helping people to overcome their addictions, and these are tailored to the individual and their particular addiction. Typically, addiction treatment is a combination of medication and talking therapies, which are designed to promote abstinence and clear up physical and emotional consequences of addictions. Treatment may also involve aftercare support in the form of self-help groups, which are designed to help people cope with the after effects and avoid triggers.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tends to be used in addiction counselling because it helps individuals to identify and correct problematic behaviours via the application of easy to use skills. CBT also helps to address underlying problems that often co-occur with an addiction, and this is important for helping to target the root cause(s). Essentially, by interrupting the self-perpetuating cycle of an addiction, counselling provides a new way for people with addictions to think, feel and act – removing the troubled thinking and helping them to view difficult situations in a new light. This is important for helping them to maintain the change, which is often considered harder than stopping the addiction.