Calgary Addiction Counselling: Treating Addiction Beyond Substances

We are living in a society where people hear the word ‘Addiction’ and automatically think of those struggling with severe substance use disorders. While this is certainly part of the reality, the face of Addiction goes well beyond this to those struggling in many other areas. 

In this article we will explore Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist’s, experience of providing Calgary Addiction Counselling to those struggling with food, sex, love/relationship, spending, work, gambling, and media concerns and what she has observed helps those in their recovery journey. As you will see, Addiction can certainly involve substances but does not end there. This is an area Paige has been exploring for years. We invite you to visit a past blog on The Top 5 Areas Addiction Impacts After Drugs & Alcohol’ to learn more.

Calgary Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling Calgary

Understanding Calgary Addiction Counselling: Defining Addiction

I wish there was an easy, unified answer on this but, unfortunately, there is not as there are still a lot of different opinions and perspectives when it comes to defining Addiction (if they are even willing to do so and not just focus on substances). 

For instance, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) focuses on Substance Use Disorders in its diagnostic criteria rather than Addiction. People entrenched in this system are still debating whether problem gambling and sex addiction are real things which, for those of us working with people, is absurd because these are challenges we see almost everyday whether in isolation or conjunction with problem substance use. 

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines Addiction as “a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences.” This definition certainly allows for inclusion of other behaviours beyond drugs and alcohol which, as a professional providing addiction counselling since 2008 is definitely more representative of the reality out there. 

Identifying a Problem That Requires Addiction Counselling Calgary

If there is no unified definition of Addiction, then I’m sure you are not surprised to hear that there are no unified diagnostic criteria either. Attempts have been made at these over the years, with varying inventories out there to help, but most still focus on drugs and alcohol rather than addiction beyond substances. 

A lot of my clients in Calgary addiction counselling have found value in the ABCDE of Addiction which was part of the American Society of Addiction Medicine’s Long Definition of Addiction released in 2011. Part of this definition stated that Addiction is characterized by:

  1. Inability to consistently Abstain
  2. Impairment in Behavioral control
  3. Craving
  4. Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships
  5. Dysfunctional

For many of my clients in Calgary addiction counselling, this descriptor has come to act like a checklist at helping them identify when there are problem behaviours afoot (based on the first 3 criteria) along with the cognitive, relational, and emotional aspects of addiction (based on the last 2 criteria). As a provider of Addiction Counselling in Calgary, I would agree that these are helpful at identifying when Addiction with and beyond substances is present. 

Calgary Addiction Counselling: Cassie’s Story

(Disclaimer: All case information is a fictional amalgamation of many clients and not representative of one specific person to preserve and protect confidentiality. This is for demonstration purposes only). 

Let us take Cassie. She/her presented to Calgary addiction counselling for problems with drinking alcohol. She did not feel her problems were over the top but she was struggling with low motivation, low mood, higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, and overall felt like she was being held back in life. 

While sharing about her life, Cassie also shared that, in addition to alcohol, she was having trouble in relationships. Cassie sought out multiple, sequential sexual partners and struggled maintaining a long-term relationship, even though she wanted one. 

In discussing the ABCDE, Cassie identified that she had told herself multiple times she would no longer drink or seek out sexual hook-ups online and in person, yet continued to (A criteria-inability to consistently abstain even when wanting to). 

She would make promises to herself about her drinking limits and also how many times she would go on a dating app and how many men she would talk to at a time, yet consistently found herself going over these boundaries (B criteria-impairment in behavioural control which means difficulty sticking with limits that are comfortable). 

Calgary Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling Calgary

She reported more cravings for men and the hit that sexual encounters provided her (validation, approval, a sense of being wanted) than with alcohol, but she acknowledged some thoughts for alcohol that kept her going back (C criteria-cravings which can be physiological as well as psychological-or thoughts of using, “That would be nice…”)

Cassie felt like alcohol is what was holding her back and, if she could only kick that habit, that her relationships would be great (D criteria-diminished recognition of problems in relationships and behaviours).

Cassie also had difficulty navigating her emotions and would find herself acting out with dating apps, men, sex, and/or alcohol when lonely, bored, sad, stressed, scared, happy, joyful, shameful, and angry (E criteria-dysfunctional emotional response).

As you can see, the ABC can be present for any behaviour as they can for substance use, they just may present differently. The DE can be there and pervade most areas of life much of the time, not just when people are intoxicated by their behaviour or substance. Cassie sought out Calgary Addiction Counselling to support her journey of change and was able to attain her goals of sobriety in substances and relationships.

Strategies for Supporting Yourself Before & While Seeking Addiction Counselling

Much like Cassie, people are often trying self-guided strategies long before they participate in any kind of addiction counselling. Some people never find the need for addiction counselling and find recovery and sobriety on their own. There is no ‘right’ path when it comes to healing, it is truly about whatever works for the individual. 

Some self-management tools that may be of assistance if you are struggling with impulsive behaviour of any kind are:

  1. Consider a support group. There may be different types available in your community and there are plenty more online. These may include anything from 12-Step groups to SMART Recovery to professionally led workshops or groups to secular groups all with support around emotions and/or the specific behaviours with which you are struggling
  2. Educate yourself. Learning more about the brain, compulsive behaviour, and addiction is something I have found is very empowering for individuals engaging in Calgary Addiction Counselling and is beneficial for those not participating in addiction counselling. To help you get started, please check out our list of Free Resources to inform yourself on why you are caught in this repetitive cycle. 
  3. Talk it through with trusted supports. “A burden shared is a burden halved” (T.A. Webb), though keep in mind it can be doubled if shared with an unhelpful support. Trust your instincts and start small about what you are sharing with who. Having support can help us process emotions, identify what is helping and not helping us, and/or introduce us to new coping strategies. Having neutral support can be beneficial, which is why people often turn to anonymous support groups and/or Calgary Addiction Counselling for support rather than friends or family.
  4. Prioritize small changes. Small steps of progress lead to big change. Even if your goals seem indirectly related to your ultimate hope of sobriety and recovery, it is all related. Improving physical, emotional, or relational health directly benefits your relationship with problem behaviours. 
  5. Take time for introspection. Addiction problems are always made worse by denial, which I see often when providing Addiction Counselling Calgary to people. Taking daily time to reflect on feelings, what is going well/not, what changes you would like to make and where you were successful/not all help in the journey of transformation ahead of you. 
  6. Consider changing your relationship with other behaviours. For instance, if you have a problem with spending money, changing your relationship with alcohol may seem irrelevant but it may help clear your mind, reduce impulsivity with spending, and set the stage for further steps of change. Another example is if you are struggling with food, changing your relationship with media and your phone may help you as it reduces the amount of unhealthy messaging, clears your mind, and frees up time to prioritize other healthy action. Starting somewhere is what it is all about. Generally when providing Calgary Addiction Counselling, I encourage people to look at all of their behaviours and consider where they are willing to start making changes (Hint: Usually it is not in their key goal area). 
  7. Improve your self-care. Improving nutrition, hydration, rest, fun activities, social connection, spiritual connection, cognitive functioning, financial health, taking time for yourself, etc. all help provide a foundation of overall health. 

Whether you are engaging in Calgary Addiction counselling at this time or not, I hope these suggestions are helpful to you in your journey of change. Remember that recovery IS possible and you can change the life that you are living today.

More About Addiction Counselling Calgary at Sana Psychological

Paige Abbott and the team at Sana Psychological provide support for a number of areas related to mental health and addiction counselling Calgary. Addiction Counselling is one of many specialties that the team members focus on for substances and problem behaviours. 

Calgary Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling, Addiction Counselling Calgary