Category Archives for "Mental Health"

How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts

Do thoughts such as the following ever force themselves into your head?

“I have been contaminated with germs”.

“I left the oven on”.

“I keep having dark sexual fantasies, so I must be a bad person”.

People who repeatedly experience these sorts of thoughts may end up feeling upset stressed, ashamed and out of control. In this article, we provide some suggestions for how to stop them. But first, what exactly are obsessive thoughts?

What Are Obsessive Thoughts?

Obsessive thoughts are ideas, urges or mental images that force their way into your mind. For some, this causes a lot of distress. Often, obsessive thoughts are “ego-dystonic”, meaning that they seem to be in contradiction with a person’s morals and values. Obsessive thoughts are the hallmark of a common psychological disorder called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, intrusive thoughts themselves are normal and natural – not everyone that experiences them necessarily has a psychological disorder.

Ruminative Thoughts

Rumination involves getting stuck in a mental rut where you go over and over an obsessive thought or theme for extended periods. Ruminative thoughts tend to be negative and filled with a sense of hopelessness. So, you end up wasting large amounts of time worrying about the intrusive topic, rather than taking a proactive problem-solving approach. Ruminative thoughts are common amongst people with OCD, but they are also very common amongst people with depression.

Thought-Action Fusion

Thought-action fusion essentially means that you become confused about the distinction between thinking about something and actually doing (or being) that thing. For example, say you’re having intrusive thoughts about molesting a stranger. Naturally, you do not act on these thoughts! Nonetheless, due to thought-action fusion, you experience an overwhelming sense of feeling guilty and immoral – as if having the thought is equal to carrying out the act.

Here’s another example. You struggle with obsessive thoughts about contracting HIV. Every time you think about it, you feel incredibly distressed. On some level, you believe that thinking about HIV makes you more likely to contract the illness. Obviously, this is untrue!

The Monitoring-Thought-Suppression Cycle

To demonstrate this phenomenon, we’d like to ask you to take a quick break from this article. Close your eyes and spend the next thirty seconds making absolutely sure that you do not think about Donald Trump.

Welcome back. I’m willing to bet that you inadvertently thought about Donald Trump. Why? Research shows that the more energy you spend on avoiding a thought, the more likely you are to trigger that thought; and then to become distressed by it.

How to Stop Obsessive Thoughts

People with OCD may find themselves spending a large amount of time “monitoring” themselves for any hint of an obsessive thought. As soon as the thought arises – which it inevitably does – they try their hardest to suppress the thought, which makes it more likely to resurface.

Coping with Repetitive, Intrusive Thoughts

Let’s cover some suggestions for how to stop obsessive thoughts.

Don’t Fight Them (Seriously)

It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s important to realize that fighting against obsessive thoughts simply gives them more power (recall the Donald Trump exercise). Instead, why not try to focus on changing your responses to the obsessive thoughts?

For example, you might consciously choose to observe your obsessive thought with an attitude of nonjudgmental acceptance. Acknowledge the thought; allow it to visit you for as long as it wishes. It will pass; and it may come back – but that’s ok.

See Obsessive Thoughts for What They Really Are

Once you give yourself permission to stop fighting against your obsessive thoughts, you create the opportunity to see them in a new light. At this point, you can embrace your thoughts for what they are: meaningless and harmless firings of neurons in your brain. Remember that a thought is just thought – not an action and not an indication of your value as a person.

Finding Opposite Thoughts/Identifying Values

If you’re still wondering how to stop obsessive thoughts, identifying opposites can be a very powerful approach. Often, an obsessive thought has an opposing value – and it’s possible to find an opposing thought which you can use to combat your obsession.

For example, suppose you have obsessive thoughts about committing violent acts. The very fact that you experience these thoughts as distressing or intrusive provides evidence for the fact that your own morals and values are non-violent. If you were an inherently violent person, thoughts about violence would not be distressing or intrusive: they’d just be thoughts!

Take this a step further by creating your own “opposite” thought that you can bring to mind as a way of countering your unwanted thoughts. Let’s say your obsessive thought is as follows: “I want to kill my neighbor and I’m a horrible person”. An opposite thought might include a) a mental image of you being kind to another person; and b) the words: “I am a good person”.

Find People Who Can Help

Are you still unsure about how to stop obsessive thoughts? If so, why not get some support? There’s absolutely no reason why you should struggle alone. Talking your situation through with a trusted friend or family member may help. Alternatively, you could seek out a therapist or even a support group in your area. For those who would like to receive help from the comfort of their own home, there is always the option of online therapy. Fortunately, today there are many platforms (including ThriveTalk) that enable therapy to take place online over voice, text or video chat.

We are Defined by our Actions, Not by Our Thoughts!

Obsessive thoughts can cause a lot of unnecessary distress. People with OCD often assume that they alone have such thoughts; and that this makes them bad, weak or out of control. But the truth is that intrusive thoughts – even the strangest and ugliest ones – are natural and acceptable!

Millions experience these sorts of thoughts from time-to-time, but they acknowledge them for what they are – random and meaningless. Someone with OCD, by contrast, is likely to get caught up in the emotions and assumptions (“I must be a bad person for having this thought”) that arise. If you’re wondering how to stop obsessive thoughts, then, the answer is simple. Fighting obsessive thoughts doesn’t help, so rather work toward changing how you respond to them!

How Men Can Open Up

Resolving the crisis in men’s mental health is an incredibly difficult task. One key component of this effort, though, is encouraging men to open up. In fact, this is something that mental health charities are really starting to focus on.

Being stoic, having a stiff upper lip, not crying, hiding vulnerability, toughening up. These are all expectations placed on men. These expectations can be reinforced in all sorts of ways: fathers influencing sons, male peers influencing each other, partners expecting a ‘certain type of man’, and movies and TV shows portraying the ideal man as macho, aggressive, dominant, and being in control.

Combating these ingrained cultural attitudes is an uphill struggle. However, we don’t have to force or pressure men to open up about everything at all times in order to fix this problem. Being honest about your inner, emotional world is hard for anyone. It takes a certain amount of courage. That’s why preparing to open up can be so stressful. Yet, when we do get something off our chest, the catharsis is incredibly therapeutic.

Since men find it particularly difficult to open up (so much so, that they will jeopardize their mental health), it’s important to make it easier for men to express themselves. Fortunately, there are many effective methods and strategies for achieving this aim.

Charity Campaigns

Many mental health charities are raising awareness about masculine stereotypes and the major problems that result from them. The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) – a charity that aims to tackle the male suicide epidemic – highlights that bottling up emotions is causing serious harm to men’s mental health. So they launched a #DontBottleItUp campaign, backed by men’s clothing brand Topman and Chris Hughes, star of British reality show Love Island.

Huffington Post UK similarly promoted more openness with the hashtag #BoysDoCry. The media outlet released a video released as part of the campaign, featuring an array of male celebrities, athletes, comedians, musicians, politicians, and actors who opened up about the last time they cried.

Boys often grow up with the idea that crying is something girls do, whether they hurt themselves or get upset about something. Crying for a boy, however, is seen as ‘girly’, weak, and wimpy. This attitude then spills over into adulthood, where the natural inclination to cry is restricted. Over time, this can make emotional pain quite hard to manage, since crying is a form of release. It helps to soothe our pain.

Another campaign in the UK, #ItsOkayToTalk, was started by Luke Ambler, a rugby player who lost his brother-in-law to suicide. Various high-profile people, like comedian Ricky Gervais, joined the campaign, encouraging men to overcome their resistance about expressing their emotions.

It is important, though, to question the effectiveness of these hashtag campaigns. In the UK, suicide is still the leading cause of death for men under 50 – although, the male suicide rate has been decreasing. This may be due, in part, by increasing awareness about men’s mental health, influenced – no doubt – by charity campaigns. But is sharing hashtags and heartfelt social media posts the best way to drive change? How many more men actually open up as a result of seeing a hashtag? Jack Urwin, author of Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity, says:

“My only real fear about something like this is we sit back and become complacent after doing our bit for the hashtag rather than actively reaching out to those most in need.”

Nonetheless, Urwin adds that “anything that gets any man talking is good.” One man may reach out for help and support after becoming aware of a campaign. Which, in a sense, means it has been a success. We should, however, ensure that these campaigns reach those who need the help most, that men supporting the campaign take the lead and open up, and that these messages lead to more real, face-to-face conversations. It’s also important to remember that social media can worsen mental health. So we should be wary about relying on social media to promote positive mental health.

The Impact of Influencers

Many influencers join mental health campaigns that encourage more openness among men. Ricky Gervais has already been mentioned. Other notable male influencers raising awareness about mental health include Prince William and Harry (who both started a campaign called Heads Together), actors Ryan Reynolds and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, and Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps.

When highly influential men talk honestly about their mental health struggles, it can inspire other men to do the same. If you’re a man and you see someone you admire and look up to talking about difficult times, you may come to see that you can still be respectable and loved by others while having poor mental health. It is especially crucial for influencers who we think of as successful, macho, and strong to be open, as they are the ones who are dismantling stereotypes about what a man should be like. There’s nothing unmanly about having both a rugged and a vulnerable side.

In the UK, famous rappers like Stormzy and Professor Green have opened up about their mental health. This has been seen as a game changer in many ways since grime and rap culture is all about men appearing ‘hard’, strong, and hyper-masculine. Admitting that you have depression or anxiety would be unthinkable; an embarrassing sign of weakness. Moreover, black men are especially resistant about seeking mental health treatment. This is why Stormzy’s breaking the mold is so important. It could, after all, help other men like him – or his fans – to tell their story as well.

Men’s Mental Health in the Media

We have been able to learn more about men’s mental health thanks to increased coverage about it in the media. Mainstream media outlets are paying more attention to key issues, such as the male suicide epidemic. Reading about real men’s mental health stories in the media can also help other men to know that they’re not alone and that it can affect men of all ages, for all sorts of reasons.

Like with various charity campaigns, we may question whether news stories and opinion pieces lead to more talking, and how much. Would reading about a stranger’s mental health story really make a man feel more comfortable opening up to a male friend? It’s hard to tell.

Regardless, the more we understand about the men’s mental health crisis, the more likely we are to challenge it. With the mainstream media focusing on campaigns and stories that emphasize openness, we may start to see a shifting culture. Indeed, we are seeing more ordinary men open up about their mental health in the media (including social media) than ever before. This level of openness was simply not present a generation ago.

Male Support Groups

It is much harder to open up about your mental health in person than it is online. Yet, the extra difficulty involved often translates to a greater result. When you actually speak to another person about your pain, and that pain is understood, the relief can be quite powerful. This is why male support groups can be so beneficial. Mental health support groups are a space in which you can speak honestly about what you’re going through, no matter how glum, overdramatic, or dark you may think your thoughts and emotions are. Everyone is there for the same reason – to open up in a safe, non-judgemental space.

Every man in that room has his own personal struggle or suffering to contend with. However, when you listen to the stories of other men with mental health issues, you may begin to resonate with what they’re saying. You can relate to their experiences, thoughts, or mental states in some way. Expressing yourself in a support group can be hard, particularly if you’re shy, introverted, or socially anxious. Nevertheless, when you really connect with someone else’s words, this may be all it takes to get your pain out in the open.

Men Opening Up

Male support groups are also valuable because they help men to trust each other. During these meetings, you can show vulnerability and tender emotions and find out that you’re not going to be laughed at, mocked, ignored, undermined, or judged for doing so. Speaking up in these groups can be uncomfortable, yet once you do it, it can be an extremely liberating feeling. Male support groups present an opportunity for men who have been closed off for so long to finally reveal what they’re struggling with. Indeed, many men speak about issues in these groups that they’ve never told anyone before.

Creating and maintaining male support groups can, therefore, be a highly effective way to encourage men to open up. They can help men to break down barriers, feel comfortable expressing emotions, accept compassion from other men, and learn how to feel compassion for themselves and other men too.

Mental Health Blogging

Support groups may act as the first stepping-stone in becoming more open as a man. But not every man is ready to take that leap. An alternative initial step could be blogging about mental health. Currently, there is a serious lack of male mental health bloggers or advocates. Most are female. This, of course, reflects the fact that women feel much more comfortable talking about mental health and well-being than men do.

But mental health blogging plays an important role in fostering a culture of openness. Many mental health bloggers write with passion and raw honesty that can be incredibly insightful, inspiring, and motivating. Their words may help other people with mental health issues to open up, as well as the general population to better empathize with these struggles. The stories of mental health bloggers allow us to see that emotional suffering can wreak havoc on one’s life. This is crucial in challenging self-stigma and public stigma, both of which prevent people from opening up.

However, if you’re a man and you only see female mental health bloggers, you may come to believe that this activity is reserved for women, that to do it yourself would be ‘effeminate’. However, the very fact that so few men write about their mental health is exactly why more men should do it. There’s nothing embarrassing or effeminate about it.

Writing something personal and honest about yourself and sharing it with the world is, undoubtedly, a bit nerve-wracking. You may genuinely believe you have something worth sharing, even if it just helps one other man relate to your story and want to get something off their chest. Yet biting the bullet and publicizing your mental health issue can still lead to a slew of self-doubt and imagined judgment (My writing is terrible, What will so-and-so think of me? How would anyone find me attractive again after knowing this?)

You’d be surprised, though, how much others appreciate pure honesty. Male mental health bloggers can help other men to view their pain under a different light and may encourage them to open up, in spite of worries about being emasculated.

Being the Change You Want to See

Simply put, the best way that men can open up is to open up when they feel it will benefit them. Deep down, a man’s intuition may tell him that he has to tell a friend something that is eating him up inside. Maybe his mental health issue has been spiraling out of control and he no longer feels he can manage. The problem, however, is that after an intuitive thought and desire to be open, self-limiting thoughts can follow, thoughts about how awkward, embarrassing, inappropriate, or emasculating it will be to admit to your friend that you’re not ok.

If men want to see a world in which they as individuals and men, in general, can show their emotions, then it’s something they have to practice. Being open really does get easier over time. You will start to feel more confident the more you do it and will realize that your mental health massively improves as a result.

Whether you’re experiencing positive emotions you see as ‘unmanly’ (e.g. compassion, kindness, and care) or having a negative experience (e.g. depression, anxiety, a personal crisis, or failure), it’s important to take action. And often, the first action that will help you is having an honest chat with someone and reaching out for help.

Opening up as a man in the modern world is not easy. However, each man who decides to do it can set off a domino effect he couldn’t have imagined he would influence. When you tell your friend about your mental health struggle, he may relay his own. This increases trust and solidifies friendships. Men, unfortunately, lack support networks or don’t have the same kind of support network that their female counterparts do. But by practicing openness, men can let their friends and loved ones know that they’re struggling and build a support network as a result.

Now, it may be the case that a friend, partner, or family member may not understand you, and may even respond to your openness in a negative, dismissive, judgemental, or stigmatizing manner. This can be a painful, humiliating experience. But honestly, this reaction is rare. And besides, the response you get from your openness will reveal to you who you can rely on and who you can’t.

It’s also critical for men with mental health issues to not be afraid about seeing a therapist, as this is something many men avoid doing. The level of openness you present during a therapy session can make a big difference to your mental health, so it’s crucial that men don’t undervalue or ignore the option of therapy. As a man, you may resist going to therapy for fear of how it might make you appear as a man in the eyes of your male friends or peers. You don’t want to be seen as struggling or in need of help. However, if your male friend were in a similar situation to you, you would understand that professional help might be what they need and that they should definitely not be ashamed about it.

While many men struggle to open up, we also shouldn’t judge men who have a hard time expressing themselves. Saying that these men are being secretive or emotionless, and judging them for their caginess, may not be helpful, especially for men who are experiencing mental health issues. There are many pressures on men not to be open. So don’t feel guilty or be hard on yourself if, as a man, you are not being completely open about your feelings.

Opening up can be a gradual process – and there’s nothing wrong with that. Do whatever works for you. Don’t try to live up to any expectations about how closed or open you should be. Moreover, it should be emphasized that talking is not always enough. Other strategies for protecting mental health should be considered, such as medication, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. Furthermore, the people who love the men in their lives – boyfriends, husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons – should remember that listening to them without judgment is a key component of fostering a culture of openness.

Men all over the world can open up more once they realize a basic truth, that it’s ok not to be ok. And this holds true whatever your gender is.

How Psychology Deals With The Concept Of “Toxic Masculinity”

There’s been a lot of discussion in the media over the last couple years about the topic of “toxic masculinity.” Some commentators seem to blame it for all the world’s problems, while others feel the term itself is an attack on all men, no matter what their backgrounds. It is difficult to find a measured view of what toxic masculinity is, detached from personal opinions and judgments. If you look at Twitter conversations on the subject, you will find anger and rhetoric, often along political lines.

But toxic masculinity is an important concept in the field of psychology. Understanding it in such a way that it is helpful rather than harmful, is necessary in order to address the actual problems.

What is “Toxic Masculinity”?

As soon as we use the term “toxic masculinity,” we hit a point of contention. Are we saying that masculinity is toxic, or are we saying that there is a kind of masculinity that is toxic? For the purposes of healing, it is crucial that we maintain the latter approach. In a psychological sense, a person or group of people are never the problem. Rather, it is a behavior or set of behaviors that is problematic.

Masculinity Definition

Masculinity itself is not easily defined. When we get down to the biological basics, men and women are not all that different. Aside from the obvious physical differences, our brains are almost exactly the same. Most of the differences we perceive between the genders stem from social and cultural constructs of how we expect men and women to behave.

So masculinity can be defined as a set of traits or even a culture we consider masculine. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being a man or associating with masculine traits, which is why it is so important to separate masculinity itself from the concept of toxicity.

Toxicity Definition

In the context of toxic masculinity, toxicity refers to behaviors, feelings, and thoughts which have a negative impact on the individual and those around them. Toxicity therefore refers to when traits considered masculine are exaggerated to a point at which they become harmful, as well as traits which if expressed at all will harm others.

For example, a man can be proud of his physical strength and even consider it an aspect of his masculinity. However, if he uses it to abuse, exert control over or denigrate others, it has become toxic. At their worst, toxic traits can lead to rape, murder, and other forms of violence. Similarly, if his self-worth is bound up in how physically strong he is, it has become toxic to himself.

When considering toxic masculinity, psychologists are therefore concerned about two separate but related themes: the harm it causes to woman and the harm it causes to men.

Many women speak to their therapists about the effect of toxic masculinity on their own lives. It comes through in their relationships with bosses, romantic partners, or family members. It comes through in their near-constant, realistic fear of rape. It also comes through in how they see themselves. Since the toxicity does not refer to masculinity itself, one does not need masculine traits in order to exhibit its effects. A lot of women have implicitly bought into toxic conceptions.

Its expression in men is markedly different. Many men speak to their therapists about how difficult it is to be vulnerable without feeling like they’re not real men. But most men don’t speak to therapists, or anyone, about this at all. The toxic idea that men should never show signs of weakness, should never cry, and should never ask for help, is literally killing men.

Toxic Masculinity

The statistics consistently show that more women are depressed than men. However, twice as many men commit suicide. The disparity between the numbers mostly comes down to the simple fact that men are far less likely to admit to themselves or others that they are struggling.

It is in this and other ways that toxic masculinity harms men to such a degree as to be fatal.

Not All Masculinity Is Toxic (Not Even Most)

It is therefore imperative to note that masculinity in and of itself is not toxic. Many experts emphasize that there are many masculinities. There are many traits and even cultures that men and women consider masculine which are not toxic. Most of these “masculinities” are healthy and are to the detriment of neither men nor women.

Toxic Culture vs Toxic Masculinity

There are those who would rather we didn’t refer to it as toxic masculinity at all. They point out that it is not masculinity, or even one of many masculinities, that is toxic. Rather, it is a toxic culture of masculinity. Author Mark Greene explains the difference as such:

“Culture is a construct, formed and shaped by all of us. It represents not us as individuals, but a collective agreement on how we should behave.”

Calling it a culture makes the clear distinction that this is not something inherent in men or masculinity itself.

Hegemonic Masculinity

In gender studies, there is a concept known as hegemonic masculinity. This refers to a culture that legitimizes men’s dominance in society and justifies the subordination of women. It is a significant part of what most people think of when they hear or say the term toxic masculinity. It can be an implicitly held viewpoint, or a philosophy to which an individual knowingly subscribes.

What Can We Do About It?

Toxic masculinity, or the toxic culture of masculinity, is deeply rooted in most societies across the world. It is perceptible in gender norms, career expectations, work environments, and even the way we educate children. With this perspective, the concept may seem too overwhelming to counter.

However, a culture exists among individuals, and by making the choice to change your own ideas and behaviors, you make an immediate difference, regardless of your sex or gender.

From a psychological standpoint, therapy is the perfect space to carve out your individual sense of self. Therapy can therefore help you challenge your own beliefs about masculinity, particularly in how they manifest in your life. Women can learn how to see themselves without the lens of the culture. Men can learn to let go of the expectations which are holding them back.

We need a nuanced understanding of toxic masculinity in order to deal with its effects on both men and women. You can begin by challenging the way you think of masculinity, as it relates to yourself and others.

The ThriveTalk Guide to Drug and Alcohol Addiction

It feels like you simply can’t cope without it. Whether you use only occasionally or multiple times each day, your substance of choice seems to be what’s getting you through the day. This article covers everything you need to know about drug and alcohol addiction, from definitions, symptoms, and causes to treatment options and other helpful resources. While addiction is a challenging and potentially life-threatening condition, treatment is available. Read on to learn more.

What is Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Drug and alcohol addiction (or substance use disorders) are common conditions whereby changes in a person’s brain makes it incredibly difficult for them to control their substance use. For many, alcohol is their crutch: anything from a few socially acceptable glasses of wine in the evening to a hip-flask of whiskey that’s swigged on throughout the day. Others find themselves hooked on illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin, marijuana or methamphetamine. Others still find themselves addicted to cigarettes or prescription medications such as Oxycontin, Vicodin, Valium and Xanax, among others.

Stats: How Many Suffer from this Problem?

A U.S national survey from 2014 found that 8.5% of adults in the U.S. were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol – that’s 22.5 million people. Research also shows that people with another mental health condition (approximately half) are likely to use substances to cope with their disorder (this is called self-medicating).

What Causes Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Addiction is caused by multiple, interacting factors. For example, research shows that genes may play an important role. Social factors such as peer pressure, easily accessible drugs or alcohol and an environment that encourages substance use also contribute to addiction.

Furthermore, having another psychological condition puts you at risk, as does experiencing traumatic or challenging life events.  Ultimately, drug and alcohol addictions occur in people who find themselves emotionally overwhelmed and in need of a substance to help them cope. While this may appear to be helpful in the moment, substance use is not a healthy coping strategy and my end up making things far worse.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Drug and alcohol addiction can manifest in many ways. These are some of the symptoms of a substance use disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

1. You find yourself using more than you intended and taking the substance over a longer period of time than you initially imagined.

2. You want to stop or reduce your substance use, but you don’t manage to do so despite trying.

3. You find that your substance use is eating away at your time, which you are spending obtaining the substance, using it or recovering from its effects.

4. You experience intense cravings and urges to use the substance.

5. Your substance use is interfering with your ability to live a normal life. You find that your work, family, social and recreational lives are suffering as a result. You may start spending less time and even avoiding these sorts of important activities.

6. Your substance use is clearly causing problems, but you’re still not able to stop.

7. You know that you’re putting yourself in danger, but you keep on using.

8. You continue using even though you recognize that you have an addiction and that you’re making the problem worse.

9. You develop a physiological tolerance, meaning that you need larger and larger quantities of the substance to get the same effect.

10. When you stop or cut-down, you develop withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms come in many different forms, ranging from anxiety, aches and pains, flu-like symptoms, nausea, fever and insomnia to life threatening symptoms such as delirium and seizures.

Example Case of Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Sarah is 29 years old. She lives alone and works in an advertising agency. Sarah has struggled with social anxiety since she was a child but enjoys sharing a glass of wine with her colleagues after work on a Friday. Last year, Sarah’s marriage ended because her husband had been cheating. Since then, her anxiety levels surged, and she found that she was drinking several glasses of wine and a few whiskey sodas when she went out, to be able to enjoy her time with her friends. She also started to drink at home during the week to wind down.

She frequently experienced hangovers which made her anxiety worse, so she consulted with her family GP who prescribed Xanax. She found these pills to be effective at killing two birds with one stone: her social anxiety and her hangover, which she was experiencing daily at this point. She started taking the pills every day and when her script ran out, she found a friend who was able to sell her Xanax illegally.

Sarah started to worry that she had a problem when she started having financial difficulties due to overspending on alcohol and illegally purchased Xanax. She was also frequently late for work and her employers were concerned that the quality of her work was suffering.  She was no longer as creative or productive, due to being in a constant fog of hangover and sedation. Eventually, she visited an addictions therapist for a consultation.

Sarah was admitted to an inpatient rehabilitation center, where the medical staff carefully guided her through the detox and withdrawal processes. Afterwards, Sarah spent several weeks in therapy groups and with an individual therapist, learning techniques for coping with cravings, stress and social anxiety. Eventually, Sarah was discharged and resumed work. She continued to see her individual therapist for extra support, as well as attending weekly AA meetings.

How to Deal/Coping With Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Many people believe that addicts simply lack motivation, willpower or a desire to change. However, often addicts desperately want to stop but because the behavior has been hard-wired into their brain, the process of quitting often requires external support. For this reason, coping with addiction is about getting the right sort of support and seeing your treatment through.

Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors

If you believe that you have a drug and alcohol addiction, it’s important to seek out professional support. Why? First, addiction an incredibly challenging issue to tackle on your own, as discussed above. Second, going through withdrawal can at times be life threatening. Suddenly stopping certain substances can lead to hallucinations, seizures, stroke and heart attacks. Seek out medical support if you’re looking to quit. Overdose is another big risk that may accompany addiction – many people die each year from consuming too much of a substance in one go. If you think that you or a loved one may have overdosed, call 911 immediately.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Many mental health practitioners believe that addiction cannot be cured, but that must rather be managed. While learning to manage an addiction is undoubtedly challenging, there are effective treatment strategies that can help you regain control.

Many people use individual therapy approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing. These therapy techniques aim to help you change problematic thoughts, emotions, and behaviors while building healthier coping skills and strategies that will enable you to keep clean. Individual therapy may also be combined with some of the following treatment approaches:

12 Step Meetings and Other Groups

Group therapy is a powerful treatment for addiction. Group therapy may aim to help someone get clean and stay clean, using specific therapeutic techniques to help you manage this. Alternatively, groups may be used as an important source of support going forward, helping you to prevent future relapse.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction

One of the most popular group approaches is the 12 Step Program, also known as Alcoholics / Narcotics Anonymous. The 12 steps are a series of principles which are designed to guide you through the process of recovery. These principles draw heavily on religion. However, 12 Step programs are also available and effective for people who identify as being spiritual or non-religious.

Possible Medications for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

There a wide variety of medications that can be helpful in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. For example, medications may be used to lessen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and to help prevent relapse later down the line. Medications may also be used to treat other underlying or co-occurring conditions including psychological disorder which often put a person at risk of addiction, such as depression and anxiety. Experts recommend that medications be used in conjunction with behavioral or group therapy.


At times, hospitalization may be required to help someone who is coming off a substance to avoid uncomfortable and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Once the person has detoxed and withdrawal symptoms are no longer as intense, the hospital should facilitate a referral to another program which will help the person to stay clean.

Rehabilitation Centers

Going to rehab involves staying in a facility for a certain period. During that time, all of the services that you need to start managing your addiction (including medical detox services, nurses, counselors, educators, therapists, and groups) will be provided and coordinated under one roof.

Insurance Coverage for Drug and Alcohol Addiction

Addiction is increasingly being recognized as a condition that puts a burden not just on an individual, but on the person’s family, the healthcare system and the economy more generally. For this reason, coverage is being provided more frequently by health insurance companies. However, the sort of treatment which will be covered may differ according to your plan. If you’re considering getting treatment, consider speaking to your insurance provider first to find out about your benefits.

Is Addiction a Disease?

This is a complex and controversial debate which divides the medical community. What makes this debate especially complicated is the fact that there is no official consensus on the definition of a disease – what counts and what doesn’t.

The way that drug and alcohol addictions change a person’s biology has led many to argue that addiction is, in fact, a disease. For example, research shows that addiction is associated with changes in the structure and functioning of a person’s brain. These changes make it incredibly difficult – nearly impossible – for people to resist their urges. The brain’s neurochemical system and reward circuitry responds to drugs or alcohol as if these are basic survival necessities, like food, water, and sleep.

Nonetheless, some argue that addiction shouldn’t be classified as a disease because this means that people do not need to be accountable for their actions. While the debate rages on, one thing is not in dispute among healthcare providers: whether or not we classify addiction as a disease, people suffer as a result of it and support must be provided to those in need.

How to Find a Therapist

You can find a therapist through an online search or by asking friends and family members for recommendations. Alternatively, you could ask your doctor for a referral, visit Psychology Today’s directory for addictions specialists or browse through the resources that we have provided below.

Online therapy is another option that allows people to consult with a licensed professional from the comfort of their own homes. ThriveTalk is a platform which connects people with the right therapist for their needs. The sign-up process is straightforward, all of the therapists are fully licensed and many have addictions-specific experience. Follow the link to learn more about the services offered and how you can be supported in taking back control.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Addiction is a very specific area of practice – you should look for a therapist who has experience working in this field. Ideally, you would want to consult with a therapist who you feel safe and comfortable talking to as well.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

  • What boards are you licensed with?
  • What is your experience with addiction?
  • What form(s) of therapy do you practice?
  • What treatment would you recommend for me?
  • How much do sessions cost and will this be covered by my health insurance?
  • What is your cancellation policy?
  • When and how often will we meet?

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Resources and Support Helpline

General information and educational resources:

Information about withdrawal

Resources for finding treatment:

Support lines:

Find publicly funded treatment centers: 1-800-662-HELP

For overdoses and other emergencies: 911

Support and general information: 844-778-1026

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