Addictions – Substance and Process

Addictions can take many forms, from substances to behaviours. Substance addictions include drugs (legal, illegal and prescription) and alcohol. Behavioural (or ‘process’) addictions include gambling, food, internet/gaming, and sex/pornography. The uniting factor across addiction types is that the use or behaviour continues despite severe negative consequences and a desire to break free from the habit(s).

Addiction is unfortunately not particularly rare. Whether a person will become addicted to a behaviour or substance depends on a variety of factors including the type of behaviour or substance involved, personality factors, genetics, family history, the person’s current life situation and past experiences. Addiction can also be impacted by the availability of the substance or behaviour, as well as how acceptable the behaviour or substance is to the person, their family and friends, and society.

Negative consequences of addiction are plentiful. They can include legal problems, financial problems, problems with family or friend relationships, difficulties at school or work, physical health problems and emotional health problems. Addiction has destructive effects not only on the addicted person, but can also affect their romantic partners, family members, and friends.

There are a few different ways that someone can receive treatment for their addiction and reach recovery. Some people attend residential or outpatient treatment through Alberta Health Services, others seek counselling through private psychologists like myself, and others rely on twelve step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Gambling Anonymous). Many people find that a combination of help sources is most beneficial.

My therapeutic approach to addiction involves a variety of strategies:

  • exploring motivation and readiness for change
  • making plans for risk reduction
  • avoiding previous triggers (high risk situations)
  • changing negative thought patterns
  • improving self-esteem and self-regard (through building assertiveness, communication and other skills)
  • working on relapse prevention planning
  • providing emotional support and encouragement.