How does an addiction counselor help with mental health therapy?

Howard Fradkin, PhD

An addiction counselor is trained to help their clients be able to understand, recognize, and accept the self defeating behaviors they are engaging in which have led to them developing an addiction.

People can be addicted to many things, including work, drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling, for example. The fuel of most all addictions is shame, and it is the counselor's job to help their client understand what shame is (the feeling of being inadequate, not good enough) and helping them to understand how they learned to feel such deep shame. Many people develop an addiction as a way of dealing with underlying problems.

My specialty is working with male survivors of sexual abuse, and many of these men have developed chemical dependency and sex addictions as ways to numb out the painful feelings that began when they got abused. For some of them, they came to believe that their addictions were healthy choices for them. It is true that for many, their addictions helped them survive, but addictions are quick fixes. An addictions counselor helps a client both accept their addictive behaviors as a problem, teaches them skills to become sober, and helps them address underlying problems that are at the root of their problems.

If you are a male survivor, you can read about these issues in my new book, Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive. Another very important way addiction counselors help clients is by giving them the tools and the courage to reach out for help from other addicts. This is one of the most powerful tools there is, finding out you are not alone and that others have successfully tackled the challenges of abuse, and so can you.

Fredrick Wade
Addiction Medicine
A qualified addictions counselor must be well aware and knowledgeable of symptoms and presentations that may signal an underlying psychiatric disorder. It is important to note that many addictive substances will cause its users to mimic a variety of psychiatric symptoms. It also very common to find psychiatric disorders as comorbid conditions in the array of issues that addicted patients suffer with. Having said all of this, the key role of the addictions counselor is identification, and referral to a mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Here, further identification and where indicated treatment of the onset of a psychiatric problem, or the undiagnosed psychiatric disorder of a given patient may begin
Mike Kirkeberg
Addiction Medicine

That is an excellent question. One old theory is that the addiction has to be treated first in order for the addiction treatment to be effective. That doesn't always make sense.

It is important for each person to be treated individually. A thorough assessment will often uncover underlying mental health challenges that could actually hamper alcohol or drug counseling or treatment.

When identified, an approach that makes sense in the long run is to treat both issues concurrently.

Robert Rozsay
Addiction Medicine
An addiction counselor is trained to address addictions from a mental health perspective and can help by using these tools. This approach often misses the spiritual aspects of addiction when the only thing discussed, is attendance at 12 step meetings. Meetings are a good source of information on spirituality but addressing a clients core belief systems in the often is often more fruitful.
Sheila Dunnells
Addiction Medicine
There are several theories about addictions counseling and mental illness: one point of view is to treat the addiction separately, then the mental illness. Another point of view is to treat the mental illness, then the alcoholism. A third approach is to treat them concurrently.

All mental illness should be evaluated by an expert in the field. There should be a diagnosis so the addiction specialist knows the exact nature of the issue. Some mental illness, such as Bi-Polar, which is very common among addicts, is much more serious than others, and as such, require a medical doctor. However, there are some problems that are a result of the addiction. Depression, for example, can be caused by substance abuse. Ameliorate the addiction and the depression will begin to subside.

An addiction counselor can help with both problems as long as the mental illness is within his/her area of expertise and he/she is certified in co-existing disorders. However, more specifically, the addiction specialist should be able to help you deal with the problems caused by your substance abuse and help you straighten out your life.

Mental health therapies are modes of treatment for mental illnesses. Most often, therapies include drug therapy and psychotherapy. Addiction is a form of mental illness and may include gambling, alcoholism, or drug abuse, among other issues. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers who are specially equipped to treat people with addictions are known as addiction counselors.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.