Addiction Needs to Be Treated as a Mental Illness, Says PhD

Edited by Living Sober

Last updated March 27, 2013

In an article for, Andrew Tatarsky, PhD, author and founder of the Center for Optimal Living in New York argues that addiction is a mental health disorder and needs to be treated that way.  The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) defines addictions to alcohol and drugs as psychiatric disorders, while Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been centered on a simpler program that emphasizes individual responsibility and professing one’s powerlessness over alcohol.

Tatarsky employs what he calls Integrative Addiction Psychotherapy, which is based on the following assumptions:

  • That addictions are mental health/psychiatric disorders.
    That many or most addicts have an additional psychiatric disorder, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.
  • That people use substances for various reasons that need to be addressed and respected.
  • That treatment of addictions requires professionals who are trained in mental health and skilled in psychotherapy.

Tatarsky says there are seven essential components to treating addiction using the Integrative Addiction Psychotherapy model, including:

  1. Providing individualized psychotherapy to address each patient’s unique needs
  2. A strong connection between psychotherapist and patient
  3. Addressing the deep-seated reasons for drug use
  4. Addressing inner conflicts (multiplicity of self)
  5. Strengthening each individual’s “inner leader”
  6. Addressing both dimensions of substance abuse (the use itself and the underlying causes)
  7. Developing a new identify other than that of “user”

Understanding addiction as a mental illness may help alleviate the feelings of guilt and shame associated with addiction.  A medical approach to treatment combined with a program that focuses on steps individuals can take toward their own healing, such as AA, can be extremely beneficial.

Northbound Treatment Services takes an integrative approach to treatment, combining the latest addiction science with tried-and-true methods like 12-step for healing the body, mind and spirit.  For more information about our rehab treatment approach, visit our website.

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