Psychological Aspects of Addiction and Treatment

Psychological Aspects of Addiction and Treatment

Thought processes and the health of the brain and body impact your behavior. According to Columbia College1, psychology attempts to identify and understand why individuals behave in certain way or why they develop specific thought processes. It identifies abnormalities, such as mental health disorders, and then strives to find ways to improve a situation through cognitive therapies and similar activities.

Substance use disorders change your thought processes and your mental health. The American Psychological Association2 reports that roughly 40 million Americans abuse drugs, alcohol or nicotine each year and only about 10 percent receive treatment. When you decide to seek treatment for an addiction, consider a program that includes psychological treatments for substance abuse.

Drug Abuse and the Brain

Drug Abuse and the BrainThe National Institute on Drug Abuse3 reports that the chemical structure of drugs looks similar to the natural chemical structures in the brain. As a result, it changes natural behaviors by sending false signals to the body or causing the brain to release large amounts of natural hormones.

Due to the way that substance abuse changes your brain, psychological treatments allow you to make positive changes that encourage your recovery goals. Psychological treatments recognize the changes that occur in the brain and body. During the treatment, you will identify triggers and situations that make substance abuse tempting and then you learn different ways to avoid the triggers or to cope with temptations when they arise.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illness4 reports that 50 percent of men and women with severe mental health disorders abuse drugs or alcohol. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse5, mental health disorders can cause substance abuse or the substance abuse can cause the mental health disorder.

Common factors that cause comorbidity include:
  • Using a substance in an attempt to reduce the symptoms of a mental health disorder, or self-medicating
  • Developing symptoms of a mental health disorder after abusing the drug due to chemical changes in the brain
  • Overlapping genetic risk factors, which contributes to both disorders
  • Overlapping environmental factors, such as trauma or early exposure to substance abuse
Web MD6 says that counseling and psychological treatments help you manage stressful situations or psychological challenges that encourage substance abuse. Focusing on treatment plans that incorporate psychological treatments as well as programs to improve your spiritual and emotional well-being ensures that you handle several areas of addiction at the same time.

Psychological Treatment Options

The American Psychological Association2 says that psychological treatments, like cognitive-behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing, actually help improve your recovery results when you seek treatment.

Psychological treatment options include:
  • Cognitive and behavioral therapies
  • Various forms of counseling, including individual, group and family therapy
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Contingency management, or setting up a system to reduce relapse risks through planning and early preparation
The goal of psychological treatment is identifying the causes of addiction and then changing thought processes or behaviors so that substance abuse discontinues. Cognitive therapies focus on your thoughts and behaviors while motivational interviewing help you establish clear reasons to persist in the treatment program.

When you follow through with contingency management, you avoid drugs or alcohol after transitioning into a healthy lifestyle.Addiction harms your body and mind, but you can make positive changes with an appropriate treatment plan. Since drugs change your brain, psychological programs help reduce the risk of relapse after treatment and allow you to focus on reaching new goals.

  1. Major Perspectives in Psychology, Columbia College,
  2. Lea Winerman, Breaking Free From Addiction, American Psychological Association, June 2013,
  3. How Are Drugs Able to Affect Brain Chemicals?, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2008,
  4. Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders, The National Alliance on Mental Illness,
  5. What is Comorbidity?, The National Institute on Drug Abuse, March 2011,
  6. Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD., Counseling and Addiction, Web MD, October 4, 2014,

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