Telehealth for Addictions

Telehealth for Addictions

An addiction is a behaviour or substance that a person repeatedly and compulsively engages with despite it potentially being harmful to them. When a person is addicted to something they will be unable to control how they use it and may become dependent on it to cope with everyday life. 

The most common type of addiction is a substance use disorder (SUD). This is where a person relies on a substance such as alcohol or drugs and experiences strong withdrawal symptoms if they do not take the substance. Typically someone with a substance use disorder will build up a tolerance to the substance over time resulting in the need to take more, more often in order to get the same effect as when they started taking the substance.


Types of Addiction 

There are two main types of addiction:

  • Physical addiction which is where your body becomes reliant on the frequent consumption of a substance such as alcohol, cigarettes, party drugs or medication. Trying to give up a physical condition will result in strong withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychological addiction is where you emotionally or physiologically desire to take a substance or engage in a certain behaviour. If you don’t engage with the addiction your brain creates withdrawal symptoms. Types of psychological addiction include addictions to things such as gambling, sex, shopping, exercise or eating.


Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

Whilst not every person will experience all symptoms, it is common to experience at least some of these symptoms if you have an addiction: 

  • Repeatedly engaging in a certain behaviour even though it interferes with your life
  • You are doing certain activities or taking a certain substance more often than you used to in order to feel relaxed
  • Losing interest in other activities you used to enjoy
  • Feeling shaky or sick when you don’t do a certain activity or take a certain substance
  • Stealing or selling things in order to sustain your addiction
  • Often angry, violent or depressed
  • Your eating or sleeping habits have changed


Withdrawal symptoms are common when a person stops engaging in an addictive behaviour or taking an addictive substance. Being able to identify withdrawal can help to recognise addiction. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aches and pains, fever, a runny nose or other cold like symptoms
  • Cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion or disorientation


Withdrawal symptoms can last for a few days or weeks depending on the type and severity of the addiction.


Causes of Addiction 

A variety of different things can affect the development of an addiction. Often there is not just one thing that causes an addiction. Some factors that can result in a person developing and sustaining an addiction include:

  • Using a substance or engaging in a behaviour feels good and can result in a euphoric feeling. This euphoric feeling can be addictive. For example drugs, alcohol and nicotine all make changes to your physical and mental state that can help you relax or feel really happy. The same with behaviours such as gambling and shopping - a win in gambling or purchasing a new item can create that happy mental state. 
  • Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant and can affect your relationships or ability to perform at work as you try to quit which can encourage a person to continue to engage with an addiction as it is easier to do so. 
  • Some research suggests that your genetics can increase the likelihood of you developing an addiction.
  • Being exposed to someone with an addiction when you are growing up also increases the likelihood that you will develop an addiction as you get older.
  • Experiencing ongoing stress or anxiety can also increase the likelihood of developing an addiction as you seek to find ways to relax or forget your problems. People suffering from anxiety or depression or experiencing stressful conditions such as homelessness, unemployment or poverty are all at greater risk of developing an addiction, especially a substance use disorder.


Diagnosis of Addiction 

The diagnosis of addiction is still a developing medical field with more research and information available for substance use disorders than other forms of addiction. Despite this most common types of addiction have some sort of standardised tool or measure used by doctors and other medical health professionals to identify addiction and quantify it’s severity in terms of the effects of the addiction on a person’s life. For example the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the Alcohol, Smoking and Substance Involvement Screening Test (ASSIST), the CRAFFT Screening Tool and the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) are all tools used in Australia in the diagnosis of addiction. 

A lot of these tools use similar measures and in general to diagnose an addiction a doctor will typically ask about the behaviours of the addiction including the frequency and duration of the addictive behaviour, when the addiction started and any other relevant factors such as where you or your family have any history of addiction or other mental health disorders. 


Treating Addiction 

The first step of treating an addiction is deciding to make a change. Quitting an addiction can be hard work and requires commitment when faced with withdrawal symptoms. The next step is seeking support - quitting an addiction is much easier when you have both professional and personal support. A doctor, psychologist or counsellor can help refer you to treatment services while a friend or family member can help limit stress and the effect of other withdrawal symptoms as you recover. The last step is to get treatment as required. 

Common treatments and services for overcoming addiction include:

  • Counselling support
  • Specialised withdrawal, detoxification and addiction rehabilitation services which aim to support you gradually reduce usage of your addiction and assist in managing withdrawal symptoms
  • Medicines to reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings
  • Relaxation therapies and mindfulness techniques
  • Peer and focus group support such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous


Some other strategies you can use to help yourself overcome addiction include: 

  • Knowing what triggers your desire to engage in an addictive behaviour and planning ahead to avoid what you can, e.g. if you have an alcohol addiction suggest going out with friends for breakfast rather than dinner to avoid feeling like you want to drink.
  • Develop positive distraction techniques such as deep breathing, listening to music or talking to someone when you experience a craving.
  • Knowing that relapse is common and part of the withdrawal process. If you relapse, don’t give up on quitting but instead keep a positive attitude.
  • Create a meaningful life outside of your addiction. Having hobbies that challenge you or doing things such as volunteering that make you feel like you are doing a good thing can all help to put you in a mindset of knowing there is more than your addiction.
  • Regular sleep, exercise and healthy eating can make you feel better and more in control of your life.
  • Staying out of environments that cause temptation. Sometimes this might require radical change to your life but it can make a very positive difference. For example if you are living with someone who also suffers from the same addiction it can be hard to set firm boundaries for yourself and moving out might be an important step to overcoming your own addiction. 

Recovering from an addiction takes time and support. If you think you might be suffering from an addiction or are in need of a mental health professional to help in your treatment give us a call at Inner Psych. Our professionals can provide a comprehensive online assessment of your condition and personalize an ongoing treatment to help you take back control of your life.

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