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Millions of people suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. How do people get over addiction? In this lesson, we’ll look at four different approaches to substance use treatment.

Substance Abuse Disorders

Ricky has a problem. His friends know it, his parents know it, and even his boss is beginning to suspect that Ricky is addicted to alcohol and drugs. He has a hard time getting through the day without drinking and taking stimulant drugs, like Adderall.

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It’s starting to affect his work and his personal relationships.In layman’s terms, Ricky is an addict. In psychological terms, he has a substance use disorder, which is when a person abuses or becomes dependent upon a drug or alcohol.Substance use disorders can be devastating to the patient and the people who love him.

Substance abuse and dependence can lead to reckless behavior, loss of a job, alienation of loved ones, jail time, financial ruin, and even death.Knowing all of this, Ricky’s friends and parents want to help him get over his substance use disorder before it’s too late. But, how do psychologists treat people like Ricky?There are several ways to approach the treatment of substance use disorders. Let’s look closer at the sociocultural, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and biological treatments of substance use disorders.

Sociocultural Treatment

Remember Ricky? He started drinking and doing drugs when he was a teenager. At the time, his parents were going through a divorce, and he was stressed out. Add to that the fact that his friends were pressuring him to be cool and try it, and Ricky started down a dangerous road.The sociocultural approach to substance use disorders says that family, society, and culture all play an important part in why people become addicts. In Ricky’s case, the family stress and peer pressure worked to start Ricky on alcohol and drugs.

But, if society is partly to blame for Ricky’s addiction, the sociocultural view says that it can also be part of the solution. There are two important types of therapy that can help people deal with addiction, according to sociocultural theorists: family therapy and group therapy.Family therapy is just what it sounds like: a family unit works together with a psychologist to address any issues within the family that are causing problems for the individual members.In Ricky’s case, he and his parents might see a psychologist together in order to talk more about the issues that might trigger Ricky’s use. Maybe Ricky is able to talk to his parents about how he feels when his parents argue with each other or how stressed their high expectations of him make him feel. The psychologist can give Ricky and his parents some strategies for dealing with Ricky’s drug and alcohol abuse together.One of the more popular ways of dealing with addiction is through group therapy, where a group of addicts come together and are led by a psychologist or counselor to talk together about their problems.

In group therapy, Ricky can talk to other addicts and hear how they deal with issues. He can find support in the group and see that he’s not alone. For many people, group therapy is the central part of their treatment for addiction.

Psychodynamic Treatment

Whereas the sociocultural view of addiction sees the problem as outside of the person, the psychodynamic approach to substance use disorders looks inside the addict.

Psychodynamic therapies seek to deal with the emotional and psychological issues that are at the root of a person’s addiction. For example, maybe Ricky drinks and takes drugs because he’s depressed. A psychodynamic therapist would work with Ricky to find the cause of his depression and figure out how to deal with it.

Remember that Ricky started down the road to addiction when his parents divorced. The psychodynamic approach seeks to understand how the divorce affected Ricky: does he have unresolved issues around that period in his life? A psychodynamic therapist would help Ricky work through the underlying issues in the hopes that will lead to recovery.

Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment

Let’s say that Ricky starts down the road to recovery. For many addicts, that’s a bumpy road. Ricky finds that psychodynamic and sociocultural treatments just aren’t enough for him. He starts thinking about how much more fun he has when he drinks and how boring his life is without alcohol and drugs.

And, how bad could drinking really be? After all, Ricky was able to hold down a job, and he had lots of friends when he drank and did drugs. So, Ricky decides to start using again.The cognitive-behavioral approach to substance use disorders sees an addict’s problem as faulty thinking or behavior patterns. In the example above, Ricky used cognition (that is, thinking processes) to weigh the pros and cons of using drugs and alcohol, and he decided that he wanted to start up again.Cognitive-behavioral treatments of addiction don’t directly address any underlying psychological issues that might be causing the addiction. To a cognitive-behavioral therapist, psychological problems aren’t really the issue.

The way a person thinks and behaves, on his own or in response to psychological problems, is the real issue.As a result, cognitive-behavioral therapy is focused solely on changing the thoughts and behaviors of addicts. The therapy teaches addicts how to keep alcohol and drugs out of their lives and out of their minds.

Biological Treatment

Ricky’s grandmother was an alcoholic. She couldn’t get through a day without hard alcohol, and even though Ricky never met her, he’s heard stories about how much she drank.Ricky, like many addicts, shares a genetic link with another addict.

There is some evidence that substance use disorders have biological or genetic bases. The biological approach to addiction looks at substance abuse and dependence as a disease.Treatments from the biological view often involve drugs. Some drugs are given to patients to make them dislike alcohol or drugs. For example, one drug is given to alcoholics along with alcohol. The drug and alcohol combined causes severe nausea, which makes some people not want to drink again because they associate throwing up with drinking.

Other drugs are given to recovering addicts to help mitigate the symptoms of withdrawal. Heroin addicts, for example, are often given methadone, and smokers often use nicotine patches or gum to help them through the first cravings.Finally, antidepressant drugs can help with some types of addiction. This might be because of an underlying psychological cause of the addiction, or it might be because it interrupts the brain circuitry involved in addiction.

Lesson Summary

Substance use disorders occur when someone becomes addicted or dependent on drugs or alcohol. There are four major ways of treating substance use disorders, each with its own approaches to addiction: the sociocultural, psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioral, and biological approaches.

Learning Outcomes

You’ll be able to achieve the following after completing this lesson:

  • Interpret substance use disorder
  • Lay out the basis of the sociocultural approach to treating substance use disorders and understand the necessity of group and family therapies
  • Explain how the psychodynamic approach focuses on emotional and psychological issues
  • Illustrate the unique aspects of the cognitive-behavioral approach
  • Provide examples of drugs that might be used to treat substance use disorders through the biological approach

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