In the field of clinical psychology, it is useful to understand the difference between substance abuse and addiction. Substance abuse refers to a pervasive pattern of drug or alcohol use that results in a disruption in otherwise normal and healthy behavior. If one’s chronic consumption of alcohol (for example) causes one to miss work or school, or be unable to perform under normal circumstances, then the individual might be said to be abusing that substance.
Abuse becomes addiction when the individual makes an effort to stop using the substance, yet cannot stop on their own, or when he or she refuses to admit the harm that it is causing.
Depending on the drug of choice, there are a variety of complications that may arise as a consequence of chronic use or abuse. In some cases, severe addiction (or even overdose) can arise after just one use. Listed below are a few categories of substances and the dangers they pose when abused.
Because the consumption of alcohol is socially acceptable and has been for a long time, its consumption and abuse are common. The biggest challenge lies in helping one admit that they have a problem. In many cases, the user can go many years without acknowledging a problem. During that time, the individual may be at greater risk of overdose, or of alcohol-related injury or death (e.g. driving drunk). Long-term alcohol abuse is related to liver damage, digestive issues, high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues, sexual and reproductive problems, diabetes complications, eye problems, birth defects, bone damage, neurological complications, a weakened immune system, increased risk of developing cancer, and negative interactions with medication.
If the individual’s dependence on alcohol is severe enough, they may experience significant withdrawal symptoms if they stop “cold turkey”. These may include sweating, rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, problems sleeping, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, restlessness and agitation, anxiety, and occasionally seizures. Withdrawal can be severe enough to limit one’s ability to function at work or in other social situations.
Opioids are a class of drugs that affect the nervous system by blocking certain pain receptors in the brain, thus limiting the body’s capacity to feel pain. Many drugs in this class have specific medical uses, and as a group, they are quite potent. A number of illegal drugs (e.g. heroin) are in this group as well.
Breaking free from opioid addiction is problematic, because continued use leads to dependency on the drug. Acute withdrawal symptoms include: Nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, sweating, chills, increased body temperature, a racing heart, muscle and bone pain, or high blood pressure. Long-term use or abuse of the drug increases the chance of overdose, which has a number of symptoms; the most serious ones are cardiac or respiratory arrest, or becoming comatose.
There are several other classes of drugs that merit discussion, amphetamines, benzodiazepines (aka barbiturates), and hallucinogens to name a few. Each drug presents its own challenges with respect to long-term use/abuse, and each produces different symptoms when the patient attempts to break an addiction. After the patient endures the (often unpleasant) acute phase of withdrawal, there is often a long-term post-withdrawal phase in which the patient must wrestle with significant psychological symptoms, and can be prone to relapse.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new treatment modality used by psychotherapists to help people with various conditions that involve trauma-based dysfunctional behavior. Formulated by Francine Shapiro based on research she began in 1988, the method exploits the connection between cognitive function and eye movement in an effort to disrupt the pattern of addiction that occurs when an addict abuses his or her drug of choice.
To apply the technique, the therapist typically explores the individual’s past to identify moments of trauma, and then seeks to dissociate those memories from the painful emotions they produce. In time, the patient should be able avoid being triggered by those memories or similar experiences.
Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the painful feelings born from trauma. That trauma is tied to events in the patient’s past. The initial goal of the therapist when treating addiction is to explore the patient’s most traumatic memories, and discuss with the patient which ones should be stripped of their emotional power.
This can include the person’s first experience of getting high and the intensity of that memory. Once a game plan has been created, then the therapist conducts a few sessions where these moments are discussed in detail.
While this discussion is taking place, the addict must focus his or her attention on a moving visual cue. This replicates the memory integration and processing that naturally occurs during REM sleep.
By keeping the eyes busy in this manner, the emotional pain that would normally surface during such a recall is abated, and the body can thus begin to experience a “normal”, healthy reaction when recalling those painful moments.
After several such sessions, the emotional power of the individual’s traumatic experiences fades away, and thus the addiction cycle that depends on that power will lose its hold on the individual’s behavior.
Jim Brillon serves the people of Orange County as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and has expert training and experience in using EMDR therapy to treat people suffering from trauma-related conditions. Although addiction is often born from trauma, the physical component of the addiction must be treated also. Once an individual gets through that difficult acute phase of withdrawal and recovery, it’s very helpful to have a trained therapist who can help him or her overcome the psychological challenges that will follow and address underlying issues.
If you or someone you know suffers from drug or alcohol addiction or abuse, please reach out to our office. We have treated countless people before you suffering from similar issues. In today’s world, addiction can be exceedingly difficult to overcome. Do yourself a favor: Get the very best help you can. The right support team will help you through the times when you don’t want to fight. Jim Brillon knows how to make winning that fight a lot easier. Call us today; the rest of your life is waiting for you.