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Do you use drugs and alcohol to manage your emotions?

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I really dislike the word addict to describe someone. I believe that people are more than just their addiction! Yes, many of my clients are trauma survivors who use (or have used) drugs and alcohol (or food or self-harming behavior) to feel less bad and they are/have been addicted to their drug of choice, but they are people in pain. More than just the word addict is needed to describe them.

The truth is, if someone is using drugs or alcohol, it’s likely the best coping mechanism they’ve got right now. That’s right. They are using as a coping mechanism … not because it’s fun or enjoyable.

Let’s face it. The general public sees addicts as bad people. But when addiction touches your life—it suddenly becomes clear that addiction isn’t selective between good people and bad people. It impacts everyone. While tragically addiction is becoming more common, it’s also (thankfully!) becoming less stigmatized.

I believe it demonstrates a major shift in our country’s perception that the Surgeon General is calling for compassion. I applaud and say it’s about time!

“This Report is a call to all Americans to change the way we address substance misuse and substance use disorders in our society. Past approaches to these issues have been rooted in misconceptions and prejudice and have resulted in a lack of preventive care; diagnoses that are made too late or never; and poor access to treatment and recovery support services, which exacerbated health disparities and deprived countless individuals, families, and communities of healthy outcomes and quality of life. Now is the time to acknowledge that these disorders must be addressed with compassion and as preventable and treatable medical conditions.”

In light of this powerful statement, I want to help further the compassion with a few tips and resources:

  • You can’t treat addiction without treating trauma. There is always a reason someone is using drugs or alcohol and a pattern of addiction has taken hold. Often times, this reason can be a perceived trauma in the person’s life. While trauma is in the eye of the perceiver and can be different for everyone—it’s crucial that we treat addiction through a trauma-informed lens.
  • Understanding addiction is key to responding effectively. By better understanding the nature and formation of addiction, we can help people with addiction and their loved ones find new, positive ways to support the journey to recovery. Understanding addiction.
  • Opiate addiction is widespread—and compassion is essential. Right now, there is a heroin/opiate epidemic going on. It’s spanning all communities, all ages, all races, all genders, and all socioeconomic statuses! Like the Surgeon General stated, compassion is essential in treating addiction.
  • If your adolescent is using… If you believe your child is using drugs or alcohol, talking with them is very important. No matter how terrified or anxious you feel, your love and concern can provide great strength for your child’s recovery. Discover how to talk with your adolescent about their drug or alcohol use and learn about substance abuse and the teenage mind.
  • If you are a family member of someone using addiction… I understand how hard it is to watch a family member who is using addiction. I understand how powerless you feel as you watch your loved one struggle in the depth of their addiction. What I’m about to tell you is really important: YOU deserve care too.

As a trauma-informed therapist who treats addiction, I know that addiction and recovery don’t happen overnight. But I also know that there is help and that it works. In almost 20 years of practice, I have seen so many people recover, get healthy, and no longer have the need to use the addiction. There is hope!

Other articles I’ve written on addiction and compassion that may be helpful:

  • Robyn Brickel, LMFT, Level II C-PTSD, CCTP
    Robyn Brickel, LMFT, Level II C-PTSD, CCTP

    Brickel and Associates, LLC; EMDRIA Certified & Approved Consultant-in-Training; Level II C-PTSD, CCTP

    Robyn Brickel is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of Brickel and Associates, LLC in Alexandria, Virginia. Her practice provides a safe, therapeutic environment for recovery from trauma, addictions, challenged family systems, and mood disorders including maternal mental health issues. She is also a professional educator, therapist consultant, and community volunteer.  Because so many mental health issues emerge in adolescence (with roots in childhood), she places special focus on support for teens, their parents and families, and professionals who work with them.  Her insights on teen substance abuse and parenting appear in interviews in The Washington Post, and  Washington Parent magazine. Among other activities, she volunteers for Saving Promise (a violence prevention organization) and is a speaker for high school health and wellness programs. Robyn also provides professional training on trauma, addictions, and treating adolescent substance abuse and trauma, including workshops at the Institute for Advance Psychotherapy Training and Education. An avid reader, Robyn shares helpful links on FacebookTwitter, and her blog.  

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