What is Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (alcohol, cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (gambling, pornography and sex) that can be pleasurable but the continued use of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work or relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

The types of addiction that most people think about are around alcohol and drugs. Alcoholism and drug use are the fifth most common cause of major, chronic behavioral health problems in our country. 53% of Americans report that a close family member has a drinking problem. Drug use, as a whole, costs society nearly 250 billion dollars. Why then is drug use so common across so many different people? There are multiple reasons why people begin to engage in an activity or use drugs and alcohol. Some of the most common reasons include avoiding negative or unpleasant emotions (such as boredom, depression, anger, grief), peer pressure, celebrations (for example New Year’s Eve, birthday parties), and conflict with others. These reasons are commonly referred to as a person’s triggers to engage in their activity.

Successful treatment for addiction to any drug (including alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine, prescription drugs, marijuana, hallucinogens, and cigarettes) includes honest education about the negative consequences of their activity and learn alternative coping skills to deal with the triggers that lead to engaging in the activity.

Do you have a problem with drugs?

Read and answer each of the following questions.

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What Is An Anxiety Disorder?

Everyone experiences anxiety from time to time, but it is often not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis by a professional. Some level of anxiety is a necessary survival mechanism to make a body react to danger and fear harm. When we face enough danger to possibly cause us physical harm or even death, we respond psychologically and physically using anxiety. This response is known as "fight or flight" because it activates us to either defend ourselves, or to run away and escape injury. In a life threatening situation, this fight or flight response can save our lives.

Anxiety problems are very common. In the United States, more people are likely to experience anxiety related problems than coughs and colds. Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, they can exist as commonly as in 1% of the population for some disorders, to as high as 58% of combat veterans experiencing post traumatic stress to some degree. Medications for anxiety management is very common and can be very effective, but not without psychotherapy. Many anti-anxiety medications produce dependency, and the withdrawal symptoms are often similar to anxiety symptoms. These medications control the symptoms but cannot identify and eliminate the root causes. Psychological treatment helps the person identify the root cause and focus on reducing the inappropriate anxiety response, so medication is no longer necessary, and will help deal with any dependency side effects.

Types of anxiety disorders include:

Panic Disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder in which unexpected panic attacks occur repeatedly, and not due to a substance or another psychological disorder or phobia.

A panic attack consists of extreme anxiety including specific patterns of symptoms associated with extreme physiological arousal. There may be physical symptoms too, such as heart palpitations, trembling or shaking, dizziness, sweating, hot flashes, or numbness in the extremities. Often, there are chest pains which cause the person to believe he/she is experiencing a heart attack. The person may also experience shortness of breath. Nausea is often present, and sometimes the person has difficulty swallowing or feels like he/she is choking. There may be a feeling of unreality, or being detached from oneself. A panic attack often results in a fear of dying, losing control or going crazy. The attack occurs suddenly, and often without a trigger.

Social Anxiety

Social anxiety or social phobia, is a persistent fear of social situations and embarrassment (such as giving a speech or interacting with strangers at a party). Some social situations provoke more anxiety than others. In extreme cases, social anxiety may sometimes develop into a panic attack. People with social anxiety cannot control their fears even though they realize that they are exaggerated or even unwarranted. They begin to avoid social situations in which they need to interact or perform in front of people, and this tends to interfere with their normal life. Social anxiety tends to develop during a person's teen years, but can also develop in excessively shy children.

Many people may experience social anxiety to some degree, but manage to avoid those social situations that make them feel uncomfortable. They may not feel that their life style is too limited, and may not feel that their anxiety is severe enough to seek treatment. However, when social anxiety becomes more severe and interferes with a person's normal activities (such as in their work place), by being fearful of meeting and talking to strangers in any capacity, then treatment becomes necessary.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder

General Anxiety disorder (GAD) occurs when a person has chronic anxiety, including excessive worrying about a lot of different life events over a period of at least six months. The person may feel a sense of restlessness, tension and tiredness, with difficulty sleeping. He or she may also find it hard to concentrate and be more irritable than usual. People with generalized anxiety disorder describe themselves as excessive worriers, who often become more upset by problems than the average person.

Many persons with generalized anxiety may experience panic attacks in response to more severe stress. Eventually, they might begin to worry about worrying since they see themselves as anxious persons who can't handle stress very well. They further develop additional anticipatory anxiety when they are about to face a stressful situation, such as starting a new job.


Agoraphobia is the feeling of intense anxiety when a person feels he or she is in a place where they cannot escape easily. Persons who have had panic attacks in the past often worry about having another attach in a public place where they cannot seek refuge easily and get help. This fear causes them to confine themselves to what they consider safe or familiar surroundings, and will only venture out to a few secure locations, such as their home, work, and the homes of close friends or relatives. They typically avoid bridges, tunnels, elevators, highways without shoulders, limited access roads with infrequent exits, or being in crowded places. In extreme cases, they will not leave their home.

Agoraphobia almost always occurs with panic disorder, but can also occur on its own. Sometimes when a person is suspected of having multiple phobias, agoraphobia is the best explanation for a problem, especially when the theme common to all of the fears is a difficult escape. Persons in psychotherapy for agoraphobia will also have the difficult challenge of keeping and attending their regular appointments with their psychologist. They will often fear leaving their homes to come to the office and will frequently cancel appointments. This problem is therefore addressed as part of treatment.

Specific Phobias (such as fear of flying, fear of rats, etc.)

A specific phobias is the disorder in which a person has an anxiety response when exposed to a specific event or object, such as fear of snakes, or fear of flying. Phobias are divided into four types: animal type (fear of animals or insects), natural environment type (storms, heights, etc), blood-injection-injury type (seeing blood, getting a shot, etc.), and situational type (flying, tunnels, bridges, etc.). A specific phobia usually develops during childhood or in the mid-20s. Although phobias are relatively common in the general population, they are rarely diagnosed because people tend to manage their lives around the phobia, rather than seeking treatment.

Sometimes a specific phobia develops as following a trauma. For example, a person may experience a severe car accident, and becomes fearful of driving, or a person is attacked by a dog, and becomes fearful of animals. These phobias, however, are categorized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which as different from a specific phobia that is formed without a history of trauma.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which the person experiences either obsessions or compulsions that interfere with his/her normal life. Obsessions are defined as persistent ideas, thoughts, or impulses that intrude on a person's thoughts, and cause significant distress in his/her life. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that are performed in an effort to reduce anxiety. (Typically the anxiety is caused by obsessions). Approximately 2 percent of the general population will develop an obsessive compulsive disorder during their lifetime. OCD can develop in childhood, but most often it develops in adolescence or young adults.

Obsessions are not just excessive worrying about real problems, such as those found in a generalized anxiety disorder. A person with an obsessive compulsive disorder will typically try to ignore these thoughts and ideas, while a person with a psychotic disorder may ruminate on a single idea, and would not try to avoid thinking about it. Obsessive ideas do not generate the same kind of personal distress as those in an anxiety disorder.

Most people with OCD spend a lot of time during the day dealing with either obsessions, compulsions, or both. These obsessions and compulsions significantly interfere with their normal life functioning, which is the main reason why persons will seek treatment.

Other Resources:

Anxiety Disorders Association Of America

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What Is Depression?

Depression affects the entire body both physically and psychologically. Symptoms vary from person to person, but may include lack of sleep, negative moods, lack of self esteem, changes in behavior such as poor performance at school or work, thinking, and physical well-being. Depression is more than just an occasional blue mood. Symptoms of depression can last for weeks at a time, months or even years. Without treatment, a person with depression cannot simply "get over" it on their own, but may continue to suffer for years. However, most people can significantly improve their condition with appropriate help. One of the main challenges in seeking help is having the person realize it is not a sign of personal weakness to do so.


It has been discovered that people with depression have chemical imbalances in the brain suggesting that it is a medical illness, without psychological causes. However, all psychological problems have some physical manifestations, and all physical illnesses have psychological components as well. It has been shown that the chemical imbalances that occur during depression usually disappear when a person completes psychotherapy for depression, without taking any medications to correct the imbalance. This suggests that the imbalance is the body's physical response to psychological depression, rather than the other way around.

Bipolar and Severe Major Depression seem to run in families, suggesting a biological connection. Studies of families where various members develop bipolar disorder, have found that those with bipolar disorder have a somewhat different genetic makeup than those who are not diagnosed. However, not everybody with the genetic makeup that causes this vulnerability to bipolar disorder develops the disorder. Additional factors, such as stress and other psychological factors are involved as well. Major depression also seems to run more frequently in some families, but without clear biological causes. Additionally, it can also occur in people who have no family history of depression. So, while there may be some biological factors that contribute to depression, a variety of psychological factors also play a role in vulnerability to severe forms of depression.

Mild, Moderate and Reactive forms of depression are more likely to be caused by psychological factors alone, without biological factors. Reactive depression is usually diagnosed as an adjustment disorder during treatment.

People prone to depression have certain personality traits, such as having low self-esteem, looking at the world with pessimism, or being easily overwhelmed by stress. Psychologists believe learned behaviors are also significant in the development of depression, as well as other psychological problems. People learn both adaptive and maladaptive ways of managing stress and responding to life problems within their family, educational, social and work environments. These environmental factors influence psychological development, and the way people try to resolve problems when they occur. Learned behaviors may also be a contributor for why psychological problems appear to occur more often in family members, from generation to generation. If a child grows up in a pessimistic environment, in which discouragement is common and encouragement is rare, that child will develop a vulnerability to depression as well.

Environmental factors can also contribute to depression. For example, a serious loss, chronic illness, relationship problems, work stress, family crisis, financial setback, or any unwelcome life change can trigger a depressive episode. Very often, it is a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors are involved in the development of depressive disorders.

Other Resources:


National Institute of Health - Depression

Encyclopedia.org - Encyclopedia of Psychology (depression)

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Grief is a natural response to loss. It's the emotional suffering you feel when something or someone you love is taken away. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one - and this type of loss does often cause the most intense grief. But any loss can cause grief, including:

The more significant the loss, the more intense the grief. However, even subtle losses can lead to grief. For example, you might experience grief after moving away from home, graduating from college, changing jobs, selling your family home, or retiring from a career you loved.

In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the "five stages of grief.” These stages of grief were based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalized them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

Denial: Usually our first reaction to the loss of something we're attached to is denial. You will probably react to learning of the loss with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the loss at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for weeks.

Anger: This stage of grief is probably the cause of the most pain from grief. Anger can cause deep and sometimes permanent wounds that are totally unnecessary.

Bargaining: You may rail against fate, questioning "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair. It's where we try to make deals to gain back what we lost.

Depression: During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your lost one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.

Acceptance: As you begin to function a little better your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to problems posed by life without your loved one. You will start to work on reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How you grieve depends on many factors, including your personality and coping style, your life experience, your faith, and the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Healing happens gradually; it can't be forced or hurried - and there is no "normal” timetable for grieving. Some people start to feel better in weeks or months. For others, the grieving process is measured in years. Whatever your grief experience, it's important to be patient with yourself and allow the process to naturally unfold.

The single most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people. Even if you aren't comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it's important to express them when you're grieving. Sharing your loss makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept it and do not grieve alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.


Grief and substance abuse/addiction


Supporting a grieving person:

http://www.helpguide.org/mental/helping grieving.htm

Coping with grief and loss


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What is PTSD?

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a collection of symptoms that develop in response to an extremely traumatic event. In particular, PTSD occurs following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as violent personal assaults such as rape, military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, fires, serious accidents, or sexual/physical abuse. A person’s initial responses during the traumatic event become chronic and maladaptive as time passes and the person is no longer in a life-threatening situation. These maladaptive responses or symptoms of PTSD in turn can negatively impact families, work, health, and social relationships.

Symptoms range from mild and manageable to extreme and debilitating. People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experiences through nightmares and flashbacks, frequently have difficulty sleeping, and often feel detached or estranged from others. They feel extremely tense and anxious in many different situations and are often always expecting something bad to happen to them or those around them. Furthermore, individuals with PTSD are twice as likely to utilize health care services each year for the treatment of circulatory, digestive, muscular, skeletal, nervous, and respiratory problems. These symptoms of PTSD can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life. Many people with PTSD report feeling like they are “running from their past.” They also feel hopeless and unable to change their situation.

It is important for people with PTSD to realize that there is hope. PTSD can be successfully treated. Treatment often involves learning ways to relax and decrease feelings of stress and anxiety, learning better sleeping habits, and when appropriate talking about the trauma in a way that decreases the negative feelings associated with it. Therapy can also be helpful for families or loved ones of an individual diagnosed with PTSD.

For more information about PTSD, please contact a therapist at Powers Ferry Psychology Associates.

Related links:


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