Once a person becomes addicted to a substance, be it alcohol, tobacco or drugs, the addiction becomes a biological and medical problem. But how as person thinks about quitting, and often, why they started using the substance in the first place, is far more psychological. It’s because of this that substance abuse is so often grouped with mental health rather than physical health. For example, the government agency concerned with addiction is called the Substance and Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And a person being treated for substance abuse, when physically stable, will almost always work with a therapist or counselor in their recovery.
In the past week, two new studies have been published that shed additional light on how we think about addiction. First, an article from the American Journal of Epidemiology on what stops people diagnosed with alcoholism from entering treatment programs. The study found that a portion of people diagnosed with alcohol dependence avoid treatment programs, even if they think the programs will help, because they’re afraid that attending will “confirm their membership in a stigmatized group.” To these people, the perceived negative judgment of others is great enough to outweigh getting help. The study found that younger people hold less fear of stigma (and so, presumably, less stigma as well) about alcoholism.
The second study looked at the relationship between smoking and happiness. There’s a fairly widespread belief that people facing depression or anxiety turn to cigarettes as a form of self-medication, a behavioral replacement for therapy or counseling. But a study from Brown University found that smokers who are depressed become much happier once they quit. There may very well be an initial ‘high’ from the success of kicking the habit, but this study found that their happiness was consistent, even 6 months after quitting. Those who quit temporarily and then went back to smoking plunged to an even lower level of depression than they’d had at the start. Between the two studies, a picture emerges: overcoming addiction through quitting, support groups, and even therapy can be very good for a person’s mental health; the goal now is to lessen stigma in order to encourage more participation in such life changes.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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