Addiction & Substance Use
We offer individual counseling for those with addiction or substance use issues. To learn more about our approach or schedule an appointment, please read below.
Addiction begins as a habit.
Through repetition, habits are behaviors that have become automatic. Habits free up energy that our brains delegate to other tasks. Without habits, we would have to spend a significant amount of mental energy trying to figure out how to do the same tasks over and over again. In the process of behaviors becoming habits, our brain learns which behaviors are effective and which of those are not. Our brain learns with the assistance of chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. Dopamine creates good feelings inside of us when a behavior is helpful or successful, which helps us remember it next time. Our brain also experiments with behaviors that it knows are already effective by trying them in novel situations. “Okay, I know that eating a candy bar when I’m hungry feels good but how about when I’m feeling stressed?” This is a small example of how habits begin to grow into other areas of our lives. Sometimes certain behaviors, foods, or substances are so effective at making us feel good that they become our go-to thing: “Well I’m feeling really sad right now, I don’t want to feel this way, but watching Tik-Tok has helped me not feel bored in the past.” When we rely on these go-to behaviors too much we can become dependent on them.
What is addiction?
There are four primary components when considering whether a habit is straying into the realm of addiction:
Loss of control: A loss of control might be simply giving into cravings more often, or it might be an inability to stop oneself from engaging in a behavior, food, or substance.
Increasing tolerance: Requiring more and more of something to feel the same effect that you did the first time you used it.
Symptoms of withdrawal: Without the behavior, food, or substance you might feel mild symptoms like irritability or boredom, or more severe symptoms like nausea/vomiting, insomnia, changes in heart rate, changes in blood pressure, shakiness, or seizures.
Consequences: These vary person to person and might include the following:
Family and friends expressing concerns about your behavior.
Loss of employment or missing work or school.
Legal trouble like arrests, charges, or driving under the influence.
Worsening of physical health.
Changes in sleep patterns.
How do I make lasting changes?
It is important to note that reigning in addiction may not be as easy as simply changing your habits. Dependence and addiction to chemical substances may change your body’s physiology and may require the assistance of professionals. Detoxifying under the supervision of medical professionals is advised as a first step in these circumstances. After detox, the work of habit change begins. It can be intimidating and overwhelming to consider making changes to our behavior, so it is very important to have strong support from other people to make lasting changes. Enlisting the help of family, friends, religious/spiritual leaders, and medical professionals can be critical to success. It is advised to work with a helping professional (psychiatrist or psychotherapist) who understands the nature of addiction as well.
A period of abstinence may be necessary. Some people are able to scale back their habits while continuing to engage in them; others are not. The safest option for those with severe consequences due to addiction to chemical substances is abstinence. Abstinence allows the brain and body to heal damage done by the chemical and to implement alternatives to deal with stress and trauma. For those who don’t have severe consequences due to chemical substances, a short period of abstinence is still recommended. Our brains become accustomed to certain levels of dopamine that is released when we engage in our behavior of choice and a period of at least 30 days assists with re-balancing our dopamine levels.
Encountering setbacks and relapses is to be expected! Life is difficult and will undoubtedly create some situations that are overwhelming to someone who is grappling with addiction, dependency, and habit change. It is important to not let a setback or relapse result in a full return to previous behavior. This is where the accountability and support of a community is very important: recovering from a setback or relapse and returning to the pursuit of your goals.
d take the first step towards a brighter future.