Valiant Living Blog

The Complex Nature of Addiction Interaction

Written by Valiant Living Recovery on Thursday, July 21st, 2022

It is quite common for people with addiction to use more than one type of drug in combination with heavy alcohol misuse. They may ingest or inject various substances separately or combine them for a stronger high or to achieve particular effects. Misusing more than one drug at a time is known as polysubstance use

But drugs and alcohol aren’t the only things Americans get addicted to. Whether it’s excessive sexual behavior, compulsively surfing the internet, gambling, shopping, or risky thrills such as reckless driving, the desire to experience a “high” becomes so strong that the addicted person loses control and continues with the activity despite severe negative consequences.

It is also not unusual for patients seeking treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) and other addictions to present with depression, anxiety, mood and personality disorders, eating disorders, unaddressed trauma, and other mental health conditions. This is often described as a “dual diagnosis.” Attempts to self-medicate the symptoms of underlying mental health disorders can lead to the misuse of substances. Unfortunately, this behavior then tends to exacerbate the mental health condition it was supposed to suppress— leading to a vicious self-reinforcing cycle.

For Stephen Sbanotto these complex conditions don’t just exist side by side, they interact. Sbanotto, MS, LPC, CSAT-S, is Valiant Living’s new clinical director. He has more than 12 years of experience as a licensed professional counselor and is a certified sexual addictions therapist supervisor (CSAT-S). Sbanotto did an additional master’s program in marriage and family therapy and is trained in emotionally focused couples therapy. He is also trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for trauma. 

This means he can approach the complicated disease of addiction from multiple angles. “Typically, when there is one addiction, there’s often another one or even three or more,” says Sbanotto. “Identifying those multiple addictions and how they interact is crucial. They don’t just co-occur, the better word for what’s happening is interaction.”

He calls it the “black hole of addiction interaction”: multiple addictions combine to overwhelm a person with their complexity and power. “The phenomenon is so strong that no specific focus is strong enough to escape from it.”

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Sbanotto presented the example of “Jonathan,” a race car mechanic addicted to stress and excitement. During treatment, Jonathan revealed that he had been using various substances, including heroin and cocaine since he was eleven. Now 48 and married with children, he was also compulsively hiring sex workers. 

Jonathan did not want to acknowledge that his sexual behaviors were far more compulsive and actually interacting with his substance misuse. He believed he only acted out sexually when under the influence of substances. 

Sbanotto explained that the core of Jonathan’s condition was his addiction to chaos and intensity. He needed a treatment plan that homed in on that central addiction. Jonathan finally had a breakthrough epiphany: fixing one thing did not stop the addiction process because his various addictions were all hooked together.

“Multiple addictions naturally compound, morphing into something powerful and biologically tenacious,” Sbanotto said. “Once the initial neural pathway is laid down, other addictions become overlays, using some of the same [brain] circuitry.” 

Addiction almost always impacts the family of the identified patient as well. The addicted person’s loved ones should be involved in the treatment plan as much as possible to ensure better outcomes. Frequently, patients are dealing with multiple interacting addictions while their families are in crisis and in danger of becoming completely dysfunctional. “Our mission is to create high-impact change in the addicted family system,” says Valiant Living’s chief clinical officer Michael Simms. “That is where we really shine.”

Sbanotto values Valiant Living’s comprehensive approach to addiction treatment, addressing all addictive behaviors of clients as well as any other mental health issues. Ultimately, he regards all addictions as intimacy disorders, meaning, fundamentally, they constitute “a failure to connect with other human beings.”

If you are seeking a more comprehensive start for addiction treatment, contact Valiant Living Detox and Assessment at 303-647-4932 and get the individualized attention you need for stabilization, assessment, and discerning the best next steps in your journey.  

The Professionals Program at Valiant Living helps male professionals understand and harmonize their minds and, thus, helps them and their family system heal. If you or a loved one has turned to drugs or alcohol to keep up at work and manage a high degree of daily stress, don’t hesitate to reach out for help by calling us today at 303-952-5035.