Each year, over 96,000 Americans die due to drug overdose. The internet has made addictive activities such as gambling, porn, or shopping more accessible than ever. But it’s also opened the door for access to treatments such as virtual psychotherapy.
If you or a loved one are struggling, you may be considering whether therapy is right for you. There are several types of treatments that can help you turn a page in life. Keep reading to discover how psychotherapy can be effective in treating addiction.
Addiction’s Effect on the Brain
Addictions stem from a blend of genetics, psychology, and social factors. In most instances, they involve a rush of dopamine, a chemical that creates a sense of pleasure in the brain.
Typically, the brain releases dopamine at moments critical to survival, such as when we eat. We end up associating the act of eating with the “reward” of pleasure that dopamine brings. This keeps us focused on getting more food to survive.
So why do we become addicted to substances that aren’t critical to our survival? Junk food binges and drug addictions are more harmful than helpful. The reason we become addicted is that we’re craving that release of dopamine.
The more we consume certain foods or drugs, the more dopamine our brain will release. Once they adjust to the new substance, the more of it we’ll have to consume to get the same reward level in our brains.
Types of Addiction
There are two main categories for addictions: substance addiction and behavioral addiction. Knowing about both can help you understand the role therapy can play in treatment.
Drug Addiction and Substance Abuse
Drug addiction and substance abuse involve a dependency on chemical substances. Opioids, cannabis, nicotine, and amphetamines are a few of the most common addictive substances.
These substances are better at creating a dopamine release than our natural sources. We get a stronger hit of dopamine by taking drugs like heroin or cocaine. These drugs can also extend the length of time that dopamine is active in our brains.
They also have detrimental effects on our health. On the milder side, long-term drug use can cause acne, balding, and mood swings; on the severer side, cancer, organ failure, and serious mental illness.
There’s some dispute over which behaviors qualify as addictions. Two are cited in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition): internet gaming disorder and gambling addiction, though the former is still under review. Many experts also think that eating, sex, shopping, and exercise are all behaviors that can be addictive.
Behavioral addictions, like their chemical counterparts, start with dopamine release. Maybe you were having a terrible day, and purchasing a new pair of shoes gave you a rush. Or perhaps you feel uplifted every time you exercise.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying these activities. But they become harmful when we do them without control or at the expense of other activities and responsibilities.
Compulsive exercising involves the risk of hurting yourself through overuse or injury. Excessive shopping can lead to debt and overeating to health issues or disorders. Sex addictions can harm relationships or put you at greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
How Psychotherapy Can Help
Most programs for chemical addiction begin with a period of detox. But those with behavioral addictions can benefit, too. The detox periods ensure that individuals no longer have access to the source of their addiction.
This allows them to break the cycle of stimulus and reward fueling their addiction. Often, individuals go through detox in a center or facility where they are monitored to avoid relapsing.
During or after detox, the center may introduce psychotherapy as an additional treatment. The type of therapy you choose will depend on your provider, preferences, and needs. However, there are a few types that have been shown to be most effective when treating addictions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most common types of psychotherapy used to treat addictions. It helps patients recognize the way their thoughts and beliefs influence their behaviors. It supports that people can unlearn unhelpful behaviors, replacing them with helpful ones.
CBT can be an effective tool for treating chemical and behavioral addictions. It gets to the root of what started the pattern of addiction in the first place. CBT is a goal-driven approach meant for individuals trying to solve specific problems.
12-Step Group Therapy
12-step programs are usually associated with alcoholism. But they can help with other chemical addictions, too.
This treatment tool uses group therapy. By being part of a group, members gain a sense of camaraderie and accountability. They can meet others to support and who will support them on their journey toward recovery.
12-step programs take individuals through a series of concepts like acceptance and resilience. They often incorporate faith or hope in a higher power.
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)
Rational emotive behavior therapy is an offshoot of CBT, and it helps people identify their irrational thought patterns.
By doing so, supporters of REBT believe that people can improve their behavior. REBT works with a conceptual model called ABC.
“A” stands for the activating event, or something that happens in a person’s environment. “B,” for belief, follows next as the way the person thinks about what happened. Finally, “C” stands for consequence, which refers to a person’s response to the belief.
Brainspotting treatment is a newer technique. It’s particularly helpful for individuals whose addictions stem from past trauma.
A form of talk therapy, brainspotting helps individuals process unresolved or repressed traumas. A patient’s eye movements are recorded and connected to “spots” in the brain. Those spots are then linked to past experiences.
Patients can then dive deeper into memories that may be keeping them from a full life. They can process their experiences and move towards a healthier frame of mind.
Psychotherapy for Addiction
Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Don’t face this journey alone. There are people and programs to help.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author: Jousline Savra is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Burbank, CA, specializing in marriage counseling, relationships, and family therapy. She is certified in Brainspotting Psychotherapy, which is an effective treatment for anxiety, depression, addiction, trauma, and much more. She has nearly 22 years of counseling experience helping couples and individuals attain emotional stability and improve their relationships. Contact Jousline today to start a discussion about your best options for psychotherapy.
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