Treating the Underlying Causes of Addiction

treating underlying causes addiction

Families looking for addiction treatment for their loved ones often already know that the problem is not just the drug and alcohol abuse but the underlying reasons why the person is seeking out drugs as a solution to their problems.  In other words, drugs and alcohol are often used to self-medicate issues such as anxiety, depression, grief, overwhelming stress, PTSD and childhood trauma to name the most common complaints.  This blog post outlines some of the ways in which these mental health symptoms are addressed in treatment.

At Pacific Shores Recovery, the client begins treatment with a thorough evaluation to identify what underlying reasons the client may be using drugs and alcohol.  The process begins with an intake interview to assess whether detox is needed, followed by a bio-psych-social, suicide assessment and creation of a treatment plan. Although the underlying issues for each client vary, these assessments help to define the underlying causes that are emotionally fueling the need for drugs and alcohol.  The client is involved in defining the final treatment plan goals which help to define the focus of the therapeutic work while in treatment.  The therapist, from these assessment interviews, is then able to determine the interventions and techniques that are going to be used to help the client change emotionally, psychologically and with the case manager’s help, behaviorally.

The therapist’s treatment plan may include themes such as anxiety, depression, family problems, marital problems, difficulties with processing loss/grief, trauma or other difficult emotional or psychological issues. After consulting with the medical team for an evaluation for medication, the client meets with their case manager and defines a second treatment plan that will include a different set of goals.  Case management work includes impulse control, behavioral issues, legal and/or medical issues, work readiness, housing and aftercare plans.   The combination of these treatment plans is what defines the exciting changes that your loved one is going to hopefully make.  As a professional therapist who is part of the team that helps to guide and witness this change, it is a beautiful and powerful experience to be a part of the client’s growth.  However, it’s not always successful and clients relapse, which is unfortunately part the addiction cycle.

Each day in treatment is a little different but it generally includes participation in a group schedule including support, educational, therapy and art groups as well as individual case management and therapy sessions which are 1-2X/week.  The rest of the program time is off-site visiting 12 step meetings, the beach, gym, errands or on weekends, a fun activity such as laser tag, kayaking, go carts, bowling, hiking or the movies.  Clients work hard all week in treatment and need to re-learn how to have sober fun so these outings are therapeutic as well.

The specific reasons for why a client enters treatment are always different but there are some complaints that come up with almost all clients which are, “Drug and alcohol use helps me manage my anxiety,” or, “Drug and alcohol use help me manage my depression.”   Most clients have several other complaints but these two are the most commonly mentioned.  Part of the problem is that few of us learn how to manage these two difficult feelings as we grow up so when they begin to overwhelm, clients reach for relief in an attempt to manage their discomfort and pain.  Drugs and alcohol present a quick fix that alleviates the symptom but not the problem.  Typically, this quickly spirals into abuse and once the body becomes addicted to a substance, it is too difficult for the person to fight off cravings without help.  With certain addictions such as benzodiazepines or alcohol, it is dangerous for a person to detox on their own due to potential seizures and a medical detox is required.

Once detox is complete and clients are stabilized on medication, if their symptoms warrant medication therapy, clients begin to work on practicing healthy coping skills, adjusting to living without their old coping mechanism (drugs and alcohol) and learning how to adopt new, pro-social coping skills. These are reinforced as the new “habits” rather than their using drugs and alcohol which are their old, maladaptive “habits”.  This re-learning takes time and there is plenty of hard work and fun along the way.  By practicing coping techniques that are healthy, clients eventually learn to better manage their feelings of anxiety and depression and in turn, feel less driven for drugs as the only means for relief.

The therapist is also addressing these issues during the weekly individual sessions.  Depending on the treatment plan, the therapist will work on various aspects of anxiety and depression including gathering the history of the client’s symptoms, how they’ve coped in the past and what they hope to get out of treatment in terms of symptom relief.  The therapist has the education, training and experience to use a host of different skills that help the client process and sometimes, re-frame the presenting problems which allows the client to emotionally heal from their past.  With all staff involved with a different aspect of healing, from detox to IOP care and our “coin out” graduations, Pacific Shores Recovery is devoted to helping your loved one feel safe enough to heal whether it is from anxiety and depression, or grief, trauma, relationship issues or any number of other issues that drive addiction.

Naomi Posner-Stein, ASW

Therapist and Group Leader at Pacific Shores Recovery, LLC.