Self-Image & Self-Harm

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What is Addiction?

Addictions are a broad group of conditions in which an individual is dependent on a substance or activity that is compulsive, difficult to control, and often has harmful consequences. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, substance use disorders have affected approximately 21.5 million people in the United States over the age of 12, while over seven million individuals have suffered from a drug use disorder.

Substance use disorders are a type of mental illness characterized by the use of a harmful substance, like drugs or alcohol. Behavioral addictions include compulsive engagement in behaviors like sex, gambling, or shopping. According to the National Institute of Health, risk factors for addiction include environmental factors and genetics.

Many individuals engage in compulsive substance use or addictive behaviors without experiencing an addictive disorder. For example, grabbing a drink at happy hour doesn’t mean you have an alcohol addiction, and going on a shopping spree doesn’t equate to a shopping addiction. However, if you’re habitually craving a substance or behavior that feels difficult to cut back, you may be struggling with an addictive disorder.

addictive behaviors

Types of Addictions

Several types of addictions exist. Some of the most common addictions include:

  • Alcohol addiction: When an individual regularly consumes alcohol in a way that is compulsive and has harmful consequences, they may have an alcohol addiction.
  • Drug use disorder: Drug use involves an addiction to and dependence on heroin, nicotine, opioids, prescription drugs, or other harmful drugs. Drug use disorders can affect individuals of any age, including adolescents, when exposure can readily occur. If left untreated, a drug use disorder can lead to brain changes and overdose.
  • Behavioral addiction: Behavioral addictions are addictions to activities, rather than substances. Common addictive activities include sex, gambling, shopping, and exercising.

Symptoms of Addictions

Symptoms of addictive disorders can vary, but the most common symptoms include:

  • Compulsive use of a substance or impulsive engagement in a behavior: Individuals with addictive disorders may try to stop or reduce their use of a substance or engagement in a behavior, but find it difficult to cut back. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms may interfere with day-to-day functioning.
  • Risky use and harmful consequences: If you’re suffering from an addiction, you might continue to use a substance or engage in a behavior when it has adverse effects. For example, driving while drinking can negatively affect you and those around you. Substance abuse can lead to problems at work and conflicts with family members.
  • Lack of enjoyment: Substances and behaviors that used to increase dopamine levels and create a sense of enjoyment are now sources of stress and conflict.
  • Tolerance: You might need to use larger amounts of the substance than you did the first time or engage in the addictive activity more often to satisfy the intense craving.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When you stop using the substance or engaging in the activity, you experience withdrawal symptoms, such as irritation or nausea.

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Treatment Options for Addicts

Addictive disorders are considered a chronic disease and can lead to brain changes in the prefrontal cortex. However, addictive disorders are treatable, and finding an effective treatment plan can help you recover from addiction and avoid relapse. If you or a family member is suffering from an addiction, consider exploring the following treatment approaches:

  • Therapy: Meeting with a therapist can help you make sense of your preoccupation with a substance or activity and create a treatment plan to help with recovery.
  • Medical treatment: Effective treatments for drug abuse and opioid addiction often begin with a withdrawal process under medical supervision. Consult your primary care doctor or an addiction treatment center to learn more about medical treatment approaches.
  • Rehabilitation programs: Rehabilitation programs for individuals with addictions are available in many forms, including long-term residential programs and outpatient programs. Rehabilitation programs offer a variety of helpful services, including counseling, group therapy, and medical monitoring. To find out more about rehabilitation programs in your area, check out The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national directory.

What should you look for in an addiction therapist?

Therapy is a critical component in treating addiction. Consequently, it’s essential to look for a therapist specializing in the treatment of individuals with addictions. Several treatment methods help treat addictions, including trauma-informed therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), positive reinforcement, and dialectical behavioral therapy.

If you’re thinking about seeking professional help for an addiction, consider reaching out to a therapist through WithTherapy. Regardless of your personal preferences and requirements, WithTherapy will match you with a therapist you feel comfortable with. Finding a qualified therapist will help you learn how to manage your impulses and cravings and cope with and successfully address your addiction.

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