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How Therapy Can Address Chemical Dependency

So, which came first, your addiction or your mental health disorder? Do you use drugs and alcohol to cope with your mental health issues? Or do you have a mental health disorder caused by your drug addiction?

Only a complete evaluation done by a trained professional can determine which came first and why. If you are trying to recover from chemical dependency it is crucial you obtain therapy from a qualified professional. Therapy is a process, not a one-size fits all technique. Be prepared to put in the effort and learn many beneficial ways to stay sober and live the life you were meant to live.

No Quick Fix

If you think therapy to address your chemical dependence means meeting with a counselor a few times, long enough to help you stop using, and then you can go on your way, you are wrong. Therapy is much more entailed than that and you are much too important. There are several areas of your life that need to be changed for you to succeed in your recovery.

The environment where you live, your support system, alternative therapeutic methods, physical and mental health issues caused by your addiction, and cultural issues can be addressed in therapy.

Several types of counseling can be used to help those suffering from chemical dependency. These include individual, group, and even family therapy.

What is Chemical Dependency

Chemical dependence is more than just the occasional drug use or recreational drug use. Dependence means you are addicted to mind-altering substances such as alcohol or cocaine. You can no longer function without your drug of choice and you spend most of your time thinking about acquiring more of it. If you try to quit, you experience withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and other flu-like symptoms.

Individual Therapy

There are many advantages of seeking individual therapy for chemical dependency. Meeting one on one with a therapist allows the entire treatment time to be focused on your needs and your recovery. Therapists can provide you with a great deal of information and guide you to a variety of resources that can aid in your successful recovery. For example, they can give you information on the mental health issues regarding addiction. They can also direct you to local recovery meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

A licensed individual therapist will be able to help you recognize your triggers, hold you accountable, teach you coping mechanisms, and help you build self-esteem so you can better handle urges to relapse. The most common type of therapy used in individual counseling is cognitive behavioral therapy. This method teaches you how to change your thoughts, feelings and actions to maintain recovery. Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that your thoughts cause your feelings and behaviors. Your therapist can listen, teach and encourage you to make positive changes. However, it is up to you to learn and implement what you have been taught. It is a structured type of therapy based on goals you created with your therapist.

Group Therapy

There are a variety of group therapies that can help you find support on your road to recovery. Two of the most common are support groups and therapeutic groups. Groups offer the most benefit when they are used in conjunction with individual therapy.

Support groups are formed to focus on one specific part of your recovery. If you have an addiction to alcohol, you may want to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. If you are recovering from narcotics, then Narcotic Anonymous is more appropriate for you. Support groups are usually free and open to the public and lead by members of the group.

There are also groups that are usually held within a therapeutic setting with people who are also in recovery. These types of group therapy are very structured and are led by licensed therapists. Many times group therapists will teach through activities, workbooks and group discussions. What you learn in the groups can also be discussed with your therapist.

Attending individual therapy, along with group therapies gives you an even better chance at success. You can even find groups for family members who can benefit from finding their own support system. Family members can also attend sessions with your individual therapist to learn about what they can do to help you in recovery.

Family Therapy

Family therapy is extremely important part of your treatment plan when getting help for chemical dependency. You need to know who can support you in your recovery and who will be a trigger for relapse. Your family also needs to learn how to hold you accountable, boundaries and they need to get treatment for their own mental health or substance abuse issues.

Your family means well when they think they are helping you by loaning you money or giving you a place to stay. These are great ways of helping when you are sober. However, they could be enabling you and causing more damage to your recovery than good if they are doing these things while you are still using.

Family doesn’t always have to mean blood relatives. Your family may be comprised of significant others, close friends and even employees who have an integral role in your life. Your individual therapist will help you in facilitation of the therapy sessions with these important people in your life.

There are many professional therapists that are trained and certified to help people suffering from chemical dependency. Find the one who can teach you a variety of tools and techniques to maintain sobriety. Don’t go with the therapist who only gives you a place to talk about your issues. Go with the one who gives you that space, plus coping skills, trigger recognition abilities, and helps you build a strong support network. The therapist that helps you build an army to fight your addiction is the one you want.

Overcoming chemical dependency is rarely something you can do on your own. The addictive substances can take control over your brain and your body. They make you feel like you can’t live without them. But they are wrong. You can live without them and seeking therapy is one of the most effective ways to learn about what it takes to remain sober.


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.