The overuse of substances starts with a positive intention. We enact rituals in an effort to soothe pain or conflicts, to squelch or fend off discomfort. But the anarchy of those actions over time is that they lead to meaningless behavior and forms of self-deprivation that have deeper consequence. What starts as a coping mechanism, a part-time way to deal with stress or sadness or to add fun to our lives becomes a full-time distraction. Rather than serving as one of many possible ways for coping with difficult feelings, substance overuse becomes the primary one, sometimes the only one. What started as a solution becomes the problem, raining tyranny over our lives.
Many “experts” believe that “addiction” is an incurable chronic disease. For them, recovery is a lifelong battle which requires attention and abstinence, one day at a time. There is no gray area in between life and addiction. If we are not in recovery, our lives are frozen stiff — we cannot by definition learn, change or produce anything of true meaning. Because we deny, bury or refuse to treat our illness, we are doomed to a life that will progressively deteriorate. Only active, ongoing intervention can save us.
Other experts don’t view overuse as so black and white. They believe the mind/body will naturally recover without intervention given the opportunity for overuse to play itself out without shaming, repressing or external regulations.
Some experts question the concept of addiction altogether along with the authorities that determine them. For them, addictions are socially constructed, invented for the convenience of mental health professional who lack the sensitivity to understand the subtlety and nuances of so-called addictions and their potential creativity. These advocates for alternative approaches blame the high rate of failure of treatment centers and the one-solution-fits-all model as the failure of the mental health profession and the pathologizing of the addict as an “other”; someone unlike our self.
What to Expect
A person’s overuse of substances are driven by their personal stories as well as the qualities of the substance they are using. Most counselors help clients tailor a behavioral program that will interrupt their self-defeating behavior(s) as quickly as possible. Self-understanding and behavioral change go hand-in-hand, not one before the other; stop the behavior through boundaries and plans, and simultaneously build strong connections to other things and other people that can bring strength and joy.
Every addiction is as different as the person who bears it. Most counselors’ approaches are holistic – attacking the problem on multiple levels, drawing from several models of treatment: behavioral, psychodynamic, relational, existential and medical – to create a set of interventions that are meaningful and relevant to the uniqueness of the case.
Of course, it is never easy to dislodge an addiction. It helps when a client has a support system of others who have been in their place, and it is recommend that a client struggling with addiction in individual therapy also attend a support group. Much can be gained from 12-step programs — many even believe that these programs have saved their lives. With the counselors guidance, the client builds a structure of support – a set of steps that will lead a client further and further away from the behavior that is dismantling and disabling her life. Most counselors encourage a “one day at a time” philosophy because it makes things manageable, palatable, in the face of an overwhelming circumstance.