The fight against overdose involves psychotherapy

A man standing in pitch black with hundreds of tiny blue lights behind him

Photo by Daniel Jensen

“Time to Remember. Time to Act.” It is the powerful message for International Overdose Awareness Day which will take place on August 31, 2020. In 2017, approximately 585,000 people worldwide died of psychoactive substance overdose and most of these deaths could have been prevented.

Problematic use, abuse and dependence on psychoactive substances are a widespread phenomenon that affects all categories of the population regardless of gender, socio-economic level, age or ethnic and cultural origin. In Canada, about one in five people have experienced a substance use disorder in their lifetime, such as alcohol, cannabis, cocaine, prescription drug, etc.

The negative impacts of psychoactive substance misuse are numerous on the social, physical and mental levels. They are part of a continuum of severity ranging from small conflicts to relationship breaks, from a few failures at work to loss of employment, from stomach aches to cancer or cardiovascular disorders, from a gloomy mood to a mood disorder, from minor injuries to major sequelae. Accidental death linked to overconsumption is also one of the possible consequences; it is a scourge regularly reported in the media. Many states and specialized organizations are now trying to prevent it.

In addition to preventive measures offered to the population, important and targeted actions can directly be taken by mental health professionals with patients who consult them. Every August 31, International Overdose Awareness Day reminds us of this! However, according to psychologist Andrew Tatarsky, it is not uncommon for psychologists and psychotherapists to be reluctant to welcome people suffering from an addiction or presenting risky drinking behaviors in their office.

Several prejudices shared and maintained by clinicians seem to contribute to this: “these are very difficult patients”, “you cannot do psychotherapy with someone who’s an addict” or “addiction is an incurable organic disease”. However, while these prejudices do not correspond to the complexity of the clinical reality, they harm those who seek help and who could benefit from psychotherapeutic intervention.

It has been proven that most patients with substance abuse problems are unwilling to stop even if they are greatly concerned about their own situation. Dr. Tatarsky’s position begins by giving up moralism, learning to work with ambivalence and starting the treatment where the patient is.

Even with active drug use, it is possible to set goals for psychotherapy and encourage small changes. This is about developing a corrective relationship experience by helping the patient to better understand their substance usage and promoting better emotion regulation. It is also necessary to offer concrete tools to the person so that they can regain more control and freedom, such as mindfulness and cognitive restructuring.

Throughout his clinical practice and with the advancement of scientific research, Dr. Andrew Tatarsky has progressively integrated several techniques and theoretical models to offer an effective therapy, adapted to patients who consult for a problematic use, substance abuse or addiction. Apart from the epistemological and ideological disagreement often encountered in the field of addiction, Dr. Tatarsky zealously evokes his clinical experience and guides clinicians towards an inspiring working method.

Christelle Luce, Ph.D, Psychologist

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