Addiction, COVID-19 and How to Help

For many people, the year and a half of the pandemic has been a stressful one.

Initially, in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus and not overstress health care resources, a quarantine was launched in March 2020 in Israel and many other locations around the world.

Fortunately, in Israel, the vaccination program continued about nine months later. Israel became an early proponent of vaccines, helping to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and its variants.

Although the vaccination program has been successful in Israel, as well as in other countries, life has not returned to “life as we knew it”. And, although we are constantly learning how to adapt to living in the covid world, this does not necessarily lessen its stressful effect on us.

Each stage of the fight against the virus has its challenges and has generated its stressors, both financial and emotional. People are constantly stressed, by social isolation, by financial insecurity.

For some, constant stress can lead them to rely on maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and drug use, gambling, and overeating. During this pandemic period, experts agree that addictions of all kinds are on the rise. (Frontiers in Psychiatry 12: 653674; Israel Health Policy Research Journal 10:46).

Calls to a mental health hotline in Israel doubled during the recent crisis, and many people expressed anxiety about conditions within Israel. (credit: GETTY IMAGES / JTA)

What is addiction?

An addiction is any behavior in which an individual indulges over and over and over again, which becomes so compulsive that this person loses control, that is, of the voluntary ability to reduce the behavior, and the behavior continues despite the done. that causes psychological, physical and emotional havoc in the life of the person and those closest to them.

Additionally, people with addictions often jeopardize their vocational and professional goals, run into serious financial trouble, and may run into trouble with the law (for example, being caught using illegal drugs).

Another hallmark of addiction is the psychological defenses that the individual employs in an attempt to deny or rationalize the continuation of the behavior. One does not look honestly at the damage that this behavior is inflicting on oneself or others. Sooner or later, almost all addictions cause harm.

Guy, laid off from his high-tech job, was depressed. Married for three years, he began spending all his free time in his room and discovered gambling sites. Before long, he became totally addicted and, although he was getting into serious debt, he couldn’t stop.

Finally, his wife told Guy that he had to stop playing and seek help or she would quit. At this point, Guy approached me for help.

Why is it so difficult to stop an addiction?

There are many debates in the addiction field about the causes of addictions. Many factors come to mind and they certainly reflect my long experience in the field.

Pre-existing vulnerabilities are almost always present. An individual may have had family problems growing up, emotional and / or biological vulnerabilities, for example, loss of a parent, victim of child abuse or some other traumatic event, learning disabilities, severe emotional rejection. Wealth does not protect anyone from the risks of becoming addicted.

One of the more established theories about the origins of addictive disorders is called the self-medication addiction hypothesis (Edward J. Khantzian, American Journal of Psychiatry, 1985). The theory posits that an individual uses his addiction to self-medicate a series of problems that overwhelm him. Khantzian adds that the choice of a particular drug or addictive behavior is not accidental, but is welcomed because it changes or alleviates feelings, states that are especially painful or unwanted for reasons special to that person.

Addiction specialists turn to social learning theory to understand addiction and its resistance to change. After repeated experiences, addictive behavior is associated with external cues, such as people, places, and things, experienced during compulsive addictive behavior. These associated signals become independent triggers and can provoke the desire to reactivate the addictive experience. In other words, the brain unconsciously remembers experiences because they have been conditioned.

For example, Guy’s excitement begins even before entering his apartment, due to his anticipation of approaching his computer, triggering the desire to turn it on and find his favorite gambling site. A recovering addict is very vulnerable to slip or relapse into addiction because there can be many signals that can independently trigger craving.

In addition, addicts have selective memory and often remember the good times when they used a substance or participated in addictive behavior, and they do not remember the destructive parts of their behavior.

Help for addictions

People with addictive disorders can be treated successfully, despite the difficulties. Initially, motivation is the key factor. Motivation is high when people are seriously hurt by their addiction and want to change. For example, Guy’s fear that his wife will leave him strongly motivates him.

Addiction counselors call this opportunity for change a “teachable moment.” It is the moment when one’s denial has given way to letting the truth in and seeking help.

Before starting treatment, you must first undergo a comprehensive evaluation by an addiction specialist. During the first stage of treatment, you have to admit you have a problem and then agree to stop the addiction.
With the right amount of support, there are some people who can undergo this therapy in the community, while others may need a residential rehabilitation program.

The optimal and highly effective therapy method for addiction is relapse prevention, a cognitive-behavioral therapy designed to teach addicted people how to self-manage the high-risk situations associated with their addictive behavior.

Additionally, 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, or Compulsive Eaters Anonymous are highly recommended for a successful outcome.

For addicts, there is light at the end of the tunnel, even as the uncertainty surrounding covid continues. 

The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.; [email protected]

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *