About Addictions

What is an addiction?

An addiction occurs any time an individual uses a substance or activity to such an extent that the person becomes “dependent” upon the substance or activity in one way or another.

A person may start out using alcohol, other drugs or behaviors casually or recreationally. Over time, if usage increases and more and more time is spent thinking about, seeking out and using these substances or behaviors, despite negative consequences, dependency or addiction occurs. Physical and psychological changes also take place and a person will lose control over the substance or activity. Usually there are negative withdrawal symptoms when an individual gives up the substance or activity which can make it harder to quit without professional help.

Common addictions include drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, work, and shopping; any of which can have serious negative consequences on life.

Denial, secrecy, financial problems, obsessions, and maintaining “stashes” are characteristics that are often associated with addictions.

What causes addictions?

Most often addictions occur in an effort to self–regulate or soothe difficult emotions and situations. Some people are more susceptible to becoming addicted than others and some substances are more addicting than others. Genetics and environment can also play a part in whether a person becomes addicted or not.

Addictions develop after an initial exposure to an addicting substance or activity and with repeated use cause physiological, chemical and anatomical changes in the brain, as well as psychological effects. Most often a physical tolerance to the substance or activity develops, so larger and larger amounts of a substance must be taken to feel the same effects. Attempts to stop using the substance or activity may cause painful withdrawal symptoms which perpetuates the addiction.

There are a number of underlying risk factors that set the stage for addictions. These include:

  • A family history of addiction
  • A history of sexual, psychological, emotional, physical abuse or trauma
  • Existing emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorders
  • A strong desire to escape frustration, stress or low self-esteem
  • Use of highly addictive substances such as cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine which create dependence after relatively few uses
  • Need to self-medicate painful feelings

Symptoms of addiction

People in all walks of life are challenged by addictions regardless of age, race, culture, background or socioeconomic status.

Common symptoms include:

  • Alcohol, other drugs, food or compulsive activities are taking over your life
  • Finding it necessary to take alcohol or other drugs to get through the day
  • Missing days from work
  • Finding relationships difficult
  • Often experiencing emotions such as anger, anxiety or depression
  • Have troubling thoughts or nightmares
  • Trouble with the law or experiencing financial problems
  • Have hurt oneself or others
  • Obsessing over an addictive substance or activity

If you recognize one or more of the above symptoms in your own life then there is a very high degree of probability that you may be suffering from an addiction.

How counseling helps

Addiction counseling provides a unique opportunity for an individual to gain control over their life. In a safe and non-judgmental space the skills needed to become free of addiction are taught. With great compassion, the reasons that led to addiction are uncovered, difficult experiences become learning experience and deep-rooted problems are healed.

New and more effective ways to handle stress, disappointments and difficult emotions are presented as well as techniques for feeling good in one’s own body without the use of substances or addictive activities. Additionally, problem solving skills and the ability to interact with others are significantly improved.

Because each person’s needs are unique, treatment for addiction works best when an individualized program is developed. In addition to counseling this might include support from groups, medical referral, spiritual counseling or family involvement when appropriate.

Benefits of counseling:

  • Stop using alcohol, or other drugs or engaging in unhealthy activities
  • Learn how to deal with difficult memories & emotions without addictive behaviors
  • Gain more control over everyday life
  • Feel better in your own “skin”
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved relationships & communication skills
  • Less depression/anxiety
  • Increased ability to deal with stress
  • More happiness & joy from everyday life
  • Develop a support system

To discuss how counseling can help you please email me in confidence or contact me by phone at 415 420-4464.

Mena K. Zaminsky
MA, MFT, CATC
55 New Montgomery Street, Suite #326
San Francisco, CA 94105
415 420-4464
Email me


My office is conveniently located in the Historic Sharon Building, 1/2 block from the Montgomery Street BART Station.

I have a second location in Berkeley.