Lois Zsarnay
LMFT, BCPC, RD

"What causes problems is a problem." Father Joseph Martin

When someone comes in for counseling they are acknowledging on some level that something in their life isn't the way they want it to be. Sometimes they only come in when someone significant in their life has said there's a problem here. Sometimes they have had something happen in their life that is forcing them to take a look at what's not working. Either way, as Father Joseph Martin said, "What causes problems is a problem." So if someone's use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, shopping, eating disorders, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs or MMOs) or any other behavior is causing problems in their life, then there's a problem that counseling can often help with. The key is to start talking about and exploring what's working, what's not working, and how you would like it to be. Life doesn't have to be the way it is or has been. Change can be scarey and difficult so it's important to gather together your team so you can learn the skills it's going to take to let go of the cane (i.e. what you are leaning on in life).

Alcohol and Drug Use/Abuse/Addiction

On the one hand, not everyone who uses alcohol or drugs is an addict. On the other hand, no one started out using with the intention to become an addict! They didn't wake up one day and say to themself, "Gee, I think I will become an addict - it sounds like a good thing to do!" The research is clear that there is a genetic component that makes some people very susceptible to becoming an addict. Their brain is wired differently and responds differently to alcohol or drugs from the very first time they try them. The key is to take a realistic look at what part alcohol or drugs are playing in your life, what problems are they causing? It's not the quantity that makes the difference - it's the quality of use that is the most important aspect. By that I mean, it is more about what happens in the person's life when they use alcohol or drugs rather than the quantity or frequency of use. Are there negative things that happen in their life as a result of using - like legal problems, work/job problems, relationship problems or medical problems? Have they tried to quit and not been able to? Have they tried to have controlled drinking but find that as soon as they have one drink then they can't stop? Those are common symptoms that the alcohol or drugs has taken control of them and their life. Maybe it hasn't gotten all the way to that point where it's causing lots of problems but maybe the thought has occurred to you that you better be careful or this might take over your life. Every time they use again they are one step closer to the slippery slope with one foot on a banana peel where friends and family may not be able to pull them back up the slope or where they might lose their family/friends. The sooner a person reaches out for professional help and starts to build their support team, the better. Start your journey back up that slippery slope today with the help of a support team around you! I'm a Ventura based addiction therapist and i'll support you in your quest to return to being addiction free.

Process Addictions

Process addictions are behaviors that have taken over life and the person feels out of control with or have tried to stop or cut back but have been unable to make that change and maintain it. It is important to understand that they affect our brain the same way drugs and alcohol do. They affect the neurotransmitters in our brains the same way a drug or alcohol does. Our brains become dependent on the behavior in order to feel normal. Sometimes the behavioral addiction is serving a purpose and sometimes it's just the visible part of an underlying struggle. Our job in counseling is to pull apart the pieces of the puzzle so you make sense. Then we start to build a new picture puzzle with some of the old pieces, some new pieces and some old pieces that have been turned a different way.

I have been playing World of Warcraft (WOW) on-line for several years now. I started playing when my daughter was in high school in Ventura, CA as a way to connect with her. I continue to play for a few reasons. One important one is that it allows me to also connect with my adolescent clients because I understand on-line gaming. I am also able to explain to parents how the games are designed to get kids to spend more and more time in the make believe world. I actually take my Addictive Disorders Studies classes at Oxnard College in Ventura County to a computer lab, sign on to my WOW game and show them how quickly the game can get people caught into playing it more and more until, for some people, it becomes an addiction. The games are developed using psychological principles of operant conditioning and the developers have done a very good job of it! For some people, they would rather live in that make believe world than in the real world because their experience of the real world is that it's too harsh or painful for them. Now some people would say, "oh they're just too sensitive." Well, children are born with a tendency towards a certain temperment and a "sensitive temperment" means that they will actually physically feel things more intensely than other people. That is exactly the type of temperment that often feels the need to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or escape real life through a make-believe world because they don't know the skills to manage their feelings of being overwhelmed by the world's harshness. My therapy dog, ZsaZsa works really well with this type of client. :)