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What is an addiction?

Addictions often refer to substance use disorders (although other types of addictive behaviors can also occur – gambling, sex, gaming, etc.).  Addictions are a complex and chronic medical condition characterized by the compulsive drive to engage in unhealthy behaviors despite negative (and sometimes life-threatening) consequences. It involves both physical and psychological dependence, which can lead to a range of health, relational, legal, and economic problems.

Over time, a tolerance can develop. This requires larger consumption of substances or increased risk-taking of problematic behaviors. With escalating addictive behaviors, it becomes challenging to stop. Efforts to quit often trigger strong cravings to return to the behavior.  It also can result in both physical and psychological discomfort (which can be life-threatening, depending on the individual and their addiction).


What causes addictions?

Addiction is a complex disease that can be caused by various factors, including genetics, environment, and personal circumstances. Studies have shown that individuals who have a family history of addiction are more likely to develop an addiction themselves. Additionally, factors such as stress, trauma, and mental health conditions can also contribute to the development of addiction. Social groups and peer pressure with accessibility to addictive behaviors can also play a role in the development of addiction.


What are the symptoms of addiction?

Some common symptoms of addiction include:

  • Spending excessive amounts of money or going into debt to engage in addictive behavior
  • Doing risky activities to obtain, engage in, or because of the addiction
  • Strong cravings when blocked from the behavior (especially if exposed to paraphernalia or other cues associated with the behavior)
  • Physical and emotional discomfort when blocked from the behavior (withdrawal)
  • Continued participation in an addictive behavior despite social and legal consequences
  • Neglecting family, social, school, or work responsibilities to engage in addictive behavior
  • Lying, covering up, stealing, or going to extreme lengths to engage in addictive behavior
  • Failed attempts to cut back or eliminate the addictive behavior


How is an addiction diagnosed?

Diagnosis necessitates a comprehensive evaluation by a medical professional, such as a licensed psychologist. They will ask questions about the problematic behavior including the type of behavior, the onset of the problem, frequency of current behaviors, quantity/duration of current episodes of the behavior, and motivations to continue and discontinue the behavior.


What are treatments for addictions?

Psychologists may use various psychotherapies to treat addictions. Some therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Group Therapy.  Psychotherapy is the main intervention of change.  However, we recognize that support is also key.  In addition to family interventions, we also support individuals if they wish to also seek help from a mutual help group (Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Gambler’s Anonymous, Moderation Management).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on helping individuals recognize unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors. CBT involves techniques where unhelpful thought patterns are replaced with more balanced ones. This therapy has been well-studied and is one of the most robust forms of treatment for addictions.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) / Motivational Enhancement Therapy

Motivational Interviewing enhances intrinsic motivation and commitment to making healthy changes. In MI, therapists use open-ended questions, active listening, and empathy to help individuals identify their own reasons and build motivation for transformation.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a comprehensive and evidence-based form of therapy used to address various emotional and behavioral challenges. DBT focuses on enhancing emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and mindfulness skills.

Group Therapy

Group Therapy is when a small group of individuals meet with a psychologist to discuss and address common challenges with addictions. It offers a supportive and confidential environment for participants to share their experiences, receive feedback, provide mutual support, and learn skills for success.

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