Chemical Addictions vs. Process Addictions

By Lorraine Saldivar, LCDC-I

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First, it is important to understand that all addictions, chemical or process, affect the neuro-chemical reward and gratification system of the brain.  The reasons a person initially starts using substances or begins a process may differ, but because the pleasure sensors in the brain receive a surge of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and epinephrine, the brain perceives it as pleasurable and initially satisfying.  This is the reason people keep coming back.  When they come back again and again and again, the person can become addicted to the surge.  Addiction happens when the brain goes from wanting these chemicals in order to “feel good” to needing them…and eventually will need more of them. This is what is known as tolerance and can happen in chemical and process addictions, with some variances.  For example, when a person is addicted to crack cocaine, the person eventually needs more crack in order to feel the same level of high.  However, with a porn addiction, for example the person does not need more porn, but rather different types of porn in order to satisfy the craving.

Something we see that is common in both chemical and process addictions is that consumers continue to use their drug of choice, or practice the rituals of their process addiction despite negative physical, relational, emotional, and sometimes legal consequences.

So why am I talking about this on a blog for a treatment center for drugs and alcohol?  Well, it is not uncommon for us to find out a client that comes to us for treatment for a chemical addiction, also has, or has had a process addiction. Twelve Step support groups often warn people in recovery of the perils of cross addictions, and often people think only in terms of looking out for other chemicals.  Because we know chemicals are often used as a maladaptive coping mechanism to deal with overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depressions, or to alleviate pain, people in recovery need to learn to identify addictive thought, behaviors and actions.  For example, a person who turns to food for comfort may eat an entire pizza in order to cope with certain emotions.  However, once the pizza is gone the person may then feel an overwhelming amount of shame and guilt and thus may turn to alcohol in order to “feel better” about over-eating.

A key component to helping people who may be suffering from one or both of these types of addiction is education.  It is important to find out as much as you can and then to seek help either through treatment, support groups, counseling, prescribed medications (if warranted), or any combination of the these.  Finally, it is important to know that the brain is a wonderfully powerful organ that can overcome any addiction and to know that there is ALWAYS hope!

Life Lesson in Co-Occurring Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Disorders (COPSD) or Dual Diagnosis

Today’s blog post was written by contributor Rick TreadwayTeran, former Director of Clinical Services at Austin Recovery.  Rick writes about his life lesson in understanding, diagnosing, and helping those with co-occuring psychiatric and substance abuse disorders.  Thank you for your contribution, Rick!

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 4.35.04 PMI have been working with people in the helping field in some capacity since I was 18 years old. I worked as a cook, and later a nurse’s assistant, in a geriatric facility near my home. There was always a lot of discussion regarding medical and psychiatric diagnosis but at that time, people always just seemed like people to me. It didn’t matter if “Sam” was in a wheelchair, with dementia and had a low sodium diet as well as a catheter. He was one whole person who I had to accept and usually enjoyed caring for except for the angry bouts at night time bed routine. I later followed a path into psychology. There I learned some very big lessons. People were categorized based on illness. They were treated by one person for say Depression and another for addictions to pain killers. This is when I met “dual diagnosis” or, as the term now used “COPSD.” (A supervising psychiatrist told me once “When it becomes an acronym, it’s probably over diagnosed.”)

The term is used when a person has a psychiatric disorder (or many), and a chemical dependency/abuse issue (or many). It used to be that Mental Health Professionals would not treat chemical dependency due poor outcomes and general poor progress. Later, chemical dependency counselors and facilities responded by rejecting people due to psychiatric impairments. As you can see, this resulted in a whole lot of people going untreated and ultimately rejected by helping systems. I was too young, naïve and probably just plain silly to know the difference….people were still people to me.

My internship started at a community based non-profit. A board member wanted me to work with his friend who was having a hard time. The board member brought Jose to my office and left him with me. Jose babbled, rotated, gyrated and cussed at about every other word. I was sure that this man was suffering from schizophrenia by the end of a very confusing hour. I referred the board member and friend to Psychiatry. “They won’t see him. They say it is because of his crack cocaine problem.” This guy also had HIV, and I didn’t even know the acronym for this many problems!!!

Please remember that I was naïve. My supervisor was a psychodynamic psychiatrist and allowed me great leeway!


I saw Jose for about 8 months. He had periods of confusion, fear, anger, homelessness and periods of trust, clarity and focus…sometimes all during the same session. His health went up and down. His drug use went up and down. I talked to him about 12 step meetings and took him to some of them. I always made sure they accepted people who were “wing-nuts.” I listened to his tortured pain and realized the great amount of factual information he was sharing with me. I began to understand his verbiage…all that broken communication and odd behaviors. His unkempt appearance projected self hate and rage. I understood his relapses and regressions back to crack. I supported him to get health care.


Eventually he trusted me enough to meet my supervisor and take meds, and then he just disappeared.  I was dumbfounded. The Board member said he had gone homeless again.


A few years later, I was shopping at a local outdoor market, and a very tall Latino man in a large winter style hat (it was relatively temperate) reached out and touched me. I looked up, and it was Jose. Clean shaven, put together and smiling (Some dental decay left over from drugs and meds I assumed). He and I were both shopping for fresh produce. He hugged me and said, “Thank you for listening to me for so long back then. I was so crazy. I’m doing better now.” He informed me that he rents a room from the board member and lived at his home. He said the board member was very ill and that he was going to make him some fresh soup. He shared that he is taking his medication and that he doesn’t do drugs anymore. He was on social security (I assumed for mental illness and HIV). The smile he gave and tears in his eyes told me all I needed to know. Dual, Triple, COPSD….Jose was a real, living breathing soul that was now taking care of  the board member that brought him to me from an alley. That is dual diagnosis treatment and care to me. Person first…then deal with diagnosis and multiple diagnoses. Mental health and substance abuse walk hand in hand and must both be addressed with care, stern objectivity and clinician tenacity. I am thankful that I was so naïve.

Experiential Treatment at The Council on Recovery: Guided Imagery

By Rosemary Wentworth, MA, CGS, CAGS, CCDP-D, LCDC

Screen Shot 2015-09-14 at 4.38.50 PMAt The Council on Recovery, one of the tools used in the Experiential Programs is Guided Imagery. Its lineage is over a thousand years old in many cultures: Taoist, Buddhist and Western religious traditions.   About 40 years ago, medical pioneers Oyle, Drs. Simonton, Assagioli, Bresler, and Rossman began to research imagery in order to work with people dealing with chronic pain, immune dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, and other catastrophic illnesses.

Eventually, approaches from Jungian and Gestalt therapies, Psychosynthesis, Ericksonian hypnotherapy, object relations and communications theory were integrated in order to develop Guided Imagery.   Psychotherapist Naparstek, working with Vietnam Vets on issues of PTSD at the Medical Center in Virginia, catapulted the use of Guided Imagery into peer reviewed research domain. Emerging out of this field is the concept of PTG, Post Traumatic Growth, which states that positive change can come as a result of struggle.  Our clients struggle with addiction and recovery and can be helped along in their process with the tools of Guided Imagery.

Guided Imagery can be used to shed light on choices made that may have undermined well-being and to allow for a change of perspective that is more aligned with mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual wellness.

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