Drug and alcohol use is a common human behaviour, and many people use legal or illegal substances as part of their daily life. Unfortunately, using substances can negatively affect the general wellbeing and functioning of individuals, families and their communities. Clinical Psychologists can work with individuals to help prevent and reduce the harm that the misuse of alcohol and other drugs can cause.
People use alcohol and other drugs for a range of reasons, and the pattern of consumption can vary considerably from person to person. Furthermore, the harm associated with substance misuse can occur across a range of domains including: physical health, psychological wellbeing, mental health, social supports, financial stability, and legal status. There is also the potential for substance misuse to not only affect the individual involved, but also their family, friends, work colleagues and wider community. Factors that might also contribute to the impact of substance misuse include age, gender, cultural background and social circumstances. Consequently, effective treatment approaches need to address a range of social and individual factors.
When is come to substance use, people tend to choose substances that help them in some way, such as increasing pleasure, or decreasing emotional and/or physical pain. Thus the same drug may be experienced by different people in different way. Substance use may be considered problematic when someone:
- has difficulty fulfilling their responsibilities either at home, work or school
- has tried unsuccessfully to cut down or quit
- needs to use more than they intended, despite wanting to stop
- feels that they need to use substances to cope with everyday life, or particular experiences
- experiences symptoms of withdrawal when they haven’t used in a while
- experiences recurring problems with health
- experiences recurring problems with their relationships
- experiences recurring problems with their finances
- experiences recurring problems with the legal system
Whilst some people recover from harmful substance use on their own, a Clinical Psychologist may be able to help in this process. Clinical Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professionals, skilled in diagnosing and treating a range of mental health issues including substance use problems. This includes helping an individual identify and manage the factors that contribute to their substance use, whilst also providing practical information and strategies for harm minimisation. Depending on the reasons behind an individual’s substance use, additional goals might also include developing alternative coping strategies for coping with a range of difficulties (such as low self-esteem, relationship difficulties, grief, past trauma, and other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety).
A number of psychological treatments can help people who experience problems with alcohol or other drug use. These include motivational interviewing, psycho-education, harm minimisation, cognitive-behavioural strategies and mindfulness.