Jan 19 2013

What is the difference between substance abuse and addiction of substances?

addictionVol. 184, Jan. 19, 2013

I had a young client come in to see me a few years ago, who had a bit of a weed smoking habit. He enjoyed the peace and calm that it brought into his life. The only problem was that his “parents would kill him” in his words, if they were to find out. He was fearful that if they did find out, his college education would be on his own tab. So he came in to see me to stop his smoking of weed. In his case it wasn’t that he couldn’t stop it, for it was really not a huge part of his life. He just enjoyed it after working, especially if he had a full day of courses before he went off to his job. In his case, I really didn’t consider that he had a real problem. All he really needed to do was to substitute something else for his weed smoking behavior. In his case we substituted all sorts of cool things he could do with hypnosis bringing him similar feelings of openness and calm without the injury to his body and purse involved with smoking weed.


I had another client who had called to do work with me many years ago.  Back then he was still using cocaine regularly. I told him that he would need to be off the cocaine for at least a month before I would see him. Back then I didn’t yet know how to help someone to get off the drugs with few if any symptoms of withdrawal. A couple of years later he called to tell me that he had won a workman’s compensation claim and had the money to pay me in cash. This was a good thing since that was another of the conditions that I had set up with him knowing that he had a history of breaking and entering into homes to get the cash or material goods he could turn into cash to pay for his cocaine habit. He was open enough with me to let me know that he was wanted in two other states for breaking and entering with the “cops” looking for him to serve his time very shortly. This was of course a situation where the client was indeed addicted to the drug. The willingness to do anything including putting his liberty at risk, to to get the ‘hit’ is an indicator that the drug was running him instead of he running the drug. Any time a person is spending inordinate amount of time obtaining the substance, while giving up normal activities of living despite the problems, one is considered to be substance dependent, otherwise known as being an “addict”.


Keep in mind that one needs to be aware of co-existing mental disorders that have a significant direct effect on the client’s mood, thought processes, mental functioning, and personality. Professionals who can address these issues as well is a required part of the treatment for the treatment to be complete and for it to hold.


So to make this very clear for you, one who abuses substances is one who is using them in a manner that is not prescribed or is taken to get some desired effect which in the ingesting can do more harm than provide any help. People abuse substances to fit in with others, to stop thinking about negative situations or feelings about themselves, or to black out – all of which are to be rid of the pain they are feeling. In these cases the individual can usually walk away from the drugs without much incidence if any.


A person who is addicted to a drug will find that when the drug is used up in their system, that they have urges for more. If those urges are not fulfilled with another dose of the drug, then the withdrawal symptoms of coming off that particular drug will start to be experienced. This can take on many forms from very mild effects to paranoid or suicidal thinking to a racing heart, or even a heart so slowed down with such depressed breathing that the person dies. It is really a matter of the types of drugs that are being abused. This is known as an overdose.


The tricky thing is that one really doesn’t know how much of a drug one’s body can handle especially if the addiction has been occurring over a protracted period. What the body may have been able to once tolerate, may come to a state where it no longer can, bringing on the shutting down of the body.


Now, what I want you to understand is that one can indeed get off of drugs and do so safely using hypnosis. Please find someone who has experience doing this work. Find someone who understands the psychology and physiology of drug abuse and addiction. And that person definitely needs to understand what happens with the withdrawal off of each class of drugs. It is always wise to have someone with you as you go through the process of withdrawal for your own safety. That being said, coming off the drug is by far the easiest part of the process. It generally last for a for a few days and is then is over. The much harder and more important part of the healing program is learning how to establish a life that creates a sense of feeling whole and complete, including love, joy and fulfillment. That is where the real work begins. Any program that one goes through regarding addictions should last no less than a year, it taking that long for a person to recognize that they have gained the stability required to move forward without the desire to reach for the drug of choice ever again. This is borne out by many studies that have been done in the area of addictions research.


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photo by: Alan Cleaver



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