Did you know that there were more overdose deaths at the beginning of the pandemic? The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 80,000 deaths occurred from May 2019 to May 2020. This is the highest number that has ever been seen in this country. Sadly, we may see this trend grow as people emerge with mental health issues and addictions stemming from the pandemic. Many people assume that addictions are limited to substances, but the reality is proving otherwise. Let’s journey into the world of addictions and what they really are.
The Definition of Addiction
Addiction is best defined as a chronic, compulsive, physical, or psychological need for a specific activity, behavior, or substance. The addiction will have a profound effect on physical health, emotional health, relationships, employment, and financial status. Addiction is often separated into two categories, behavioral addictions, and physical addictions. Most people are familiar with chemical dependency. Whether it is from personal experience or exposure from television and movies. While the definitions may make it sound like an easy topic, it will quickly become complicated. Firstly, we need to look at what type of person becomes an addict.
What Does an Addict Look Like?
Addicts come from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity, race, and genders. Movies and television have a habit of targeting specific groups to be the face of dependency that is minimal. The stay-at-home mom isn’t always going to be drinking wine excessively at night, she might be the online gambler looking for some sort of relief to her day. The person struggling financially might not be blowing their money on substances but rather shopping and hoarding items at home. We think addicts look like walking skeletons and yet the most functional addicts look like the sweet neighbors across the street.
How All Types of Addiction Affect the Brain
Addiction manipulates the brain’s reward system. It tricks the neurotransmitters into releasing dopamine and serotonin, our “happy” hormones. Training the brain to view a substance as a trigger is why it is so hard to want to quit. At least until the substance addiction is bad enough to control every aspect of their lives. Withdrawal symptoms for physical dependency can be highly unpleasant. Those symptoms include:
- slowed brain function or “brain fog”
- intense cravings
- physical pain throughout the body
- shiver, tremors, and shakes
- fever, vomiting
- panic attacks
- thoughts of suicide
Some symptoms are so severe, they require the use of detox centers to assist the user. There are medications to help ease the symptoms of specific substances. Many addicts are encouraged to seek rehab for treatment in a safe environment.
Physical Addiction is in the Forefront
As we mentioned before, physical addictions are at the forefront of what addiction looks like. Substance abuse is a tragic and frequent occurrence in our everyday lives. It is estimated that one in eight adults suffered a drug and alcohol addiction in 2017. The likelihood that you encountered someone with an addiction is incredibly high.
What is disheartening about suffering a physical dependence is that only 10% are in addiction treatment. This could be because they want to avoid the withdrawal symptoms or treating their emotional health. About 20% of all addicts suffer from mental disorders that are mostly undiagnosed.
It is important to note that food addiction is a physical addiction rather than a process addiction. People who indulge in too much caffeine will find themselves unable to get through the day without it. To quit cold turkey will cause withdrawal symptoms like a massive headache. Other foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugars are also used in food addiction. While we like to think of food as indulgencour body needs, we can take things too far. Many who start with a food addiction end up with an eating disorder because of the constant battle inside their head. Some with eating disorders will also resort to using drugs to obtain their ideal weight while binging or starving themselves. Like we said earlier, it can suddenly become a complicated endeavor.
Behavioral Addiction is on the Rise
Behavioral addictions are relatively new to treatment centers and outpatient facilities. Many treat behavioral addiction as “not real” and easy to overcome. This is often because the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is used to classify addictions and they struggle with a behavioral addiction.
So what is it? Just like a physical addiction, a person trains their brain to reward them with a specific habit that they find enjoyable. There are withdrawal symptoms that make it extremely difficult to quit. They may respond to stress by engaging in certain behaviors for quick relief. And a behavioral addiction can have a negative impact on their everyday life.
Common behavioral addictions include:
- Internet addiction
- Sex addiction
- Gambling addiction
- Shopping addiction
- Social media addiction
- Video game addiction
- Exercise addiction
Are you surprised by what you see? Some may seem familiar but others may be shocking. Who knew that you could have a social media addiction? We predict we may see more of that type of addiction at the tail end of the pandemic. Particularly in younger generations who have come to rely on the internet and social media for connection while in lockdown.
Video games have been around for a long time but only recently is it viewed as an addiction. Particularly in people who will play video games at work, avoid social engagements to play games, and call in sick for the extra free time. They tend to make less money and when they do have money, spend it all on games. Their relationships with loved ones become strained and they lose interest in the outside world.
The critical issue with behavioral addiction is the amount of time spent engaging in these behaviors. When they view the job as an interruption to enjoying time at the gym, their brain is being retrained to view the gym as deserving of a reward. A person’s life becomes sheltered, even in the case of internet and social media addiction. Why go out to meet friends for drinks when you can chat over Facebook? Who needs a trip to the library when you can google everything?
Exercise addiction is also relatively new and can co-exist with food addictions and eating disorders. The person with this addiction has the desire for a specific look or for breaking their own limitations in the gym but is never satisfied. They may use the gym as a way to escape home life or work stress. Exercise can be a great emotional management skill but the addicted goes beyond and into compulsion. In many ways, these addictions are a part of our emotional health.
Mental Health and Addiction
Mental illness and mental wellness are highly linked with addiction. On the one hand, a person can be mentally healthy but still engage in a substance or behavior dependency. Later, that person can develop a mental illness while in the throes of their addiction. Schizophrenia induced by drug abuse happens when using hard drugs. Depression is the most common mental issue that stems from all addictions.
At the same time, many who have addictive behaviors also have an underlying mental health issue that puts them at risk for addiction. This could be as simple as a depressive disorder to more complicated mood disorders like bipolar I. Recovery from substance abuse and behavioral addictions is possible with the use of various treatment options that target mental health. These people are known as “dual diagnosis” and one part of that diagnosis cannot be ignored to heal the other.
There is a myriad of treatment options for people who suffer from substance abuse and behavioral addictions. There are many options to help people with their specific needs. What one person will need, another person may not.
Treatment options include:
- inpatient treatment
- outpatient treatment
- one on one therapy
- family therapy
- group therapy
- support groups
Detox is designed for people with drug and alcohol addiction that is resulting in some health concerns. Their withdrawals are monitored and their mental health is assessed if they are on suicide watch. Meal intake is also reviewed to ensure they are on a healthy track. Family members are not able to visit in detox due to the nature of the setting and safety needed for all patients.
Hospitalization and inpatient treatment are often used interchangeably but can vary. Hospitalization is often used when someone in detox is in severe need of medical care. Perhaps the patient had a heart attack while detoxing. Or another was a suicide attempt that didn’t succeed. Inpatient treatment is used for those who require monitoring while the patient is learning to live without substances or behaviors. Sometimes, inpatient treatment is legally required by the courts as an attempt to help someone and their drug use.
Outpatient treatment is for people who choose to seek out therapy for their addictive behavior. They may still be engaging in unhealthy behaviors but are showing up and making efforts to choose better. Those with behavioral addictions are more likely to use outpatient services to learn new coping skills to change behavior.
One-on-one therapy is popular for everyone, regardless of addiction or mental health status. It can take place during detox and inpatient treatment. It may be sought after through outpatient treatment to heal from past traumas. A sex addict is more likely to talk to a therapist alone rather than use another form of therapy.
Family therapy is one that helps a family heal together. Addiction comes with negative consequences and ruining relationships is one of them. Families who heal together can restrengthen their relationships and stop the cycle of all types of addiction.
Group therapy is with a group of peers who struggle with similar addictions and mental health problems. A counselor leads each topic of discussion and the group helps each person process new behaviors and how to cope.
Support groups are a popular method of addiction treatment for those who need support. Twelve-step groups fall into this category but you can also find others like Smart Recovery that have a different approach to accountability.
Types of Therapies
Within each type of treatment, there are various types of therapies that can help the addicted avoid relapse and stay on track. These counseling methods are used to engage the sufferer in their own treatment and to give them the skills to maintain a healthy life without certain behaviors or substances.
The eight most popular counseling methods used are:
- Cognitive-Behavioral (CBT) – a method of addressing all types of addiction based on unhealthy thinking and negative learned behaviors.
- Dialectal Behavioral – helps one overcome self-destruction
- Contingency Management – a method of creating a reward system for positive change
- Rational Emotive Behavioral (REBT) – a method similar to CBT but focuses on an individual’s belief system.
- Motivational Interviewing – a method that discovers the addicts’ motivations
- EMDR – a method of settling past traumas to lower anxiety
- Person-Centered – a method that focuses on the person, not the addiction
No matter what types of addiction people suffer, recovery is possible. Although addiction is complicated, it can be simplified in a case-by-case scenario. A person does not have to cave to their addicted behavior, they can be a healthy new person. If you, or a loved one, is suffering from substance use or a behavioral addiction, call our experts today. We can review all treatment options and therapies and create a game plan that works for you.