An inside look into our Addictions Management Program

November 22, 2021

National Addictions Awareness Week is November 21-27

Addiction can take many forms. This broad term encompasses a dependence on, obsession with or compulsion toward:

  • a process like gambling or shopping
  • a physiologically addictive substance like opioids or alcohol
  • substances that aren't in and of themselves chemically addicting, like marijuana.

But while addiction is complicated, the process to reach out for help through the Addictions Management Program with Manitoba Blue Cross's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is simple. Members with EAP or Individual Assistance Program coverage, as well as members of the public on a self-pay basis, can get support. Both self and third-party referrals are accepted.

Once a person reaches out, he or she can typically begin treatment within a week of contacting the program, says Myrna Friedenberg, who is a counsellor with the Addictions Management Program.

Choosing to turn away from the addictive activity or substance is only the first step though, says Friedenberg.

"It's huge, but equally daunting is learning to feel and learning to tolerate regular, difficult and intense feelings," she says. "In the throes of addiction, people turn away or " numb out" from feelings as a way of life (for example, reaching for a drink when anxious, sad, happy or celebrating an accomplishment). Some people even pick fights with a spouse as a way to generate a reason to grab a drink."

Treatment teaches and encourages overall psychological wellness. This includes ordinary things like picking friends who like us and support our recovery, and saving time on days off to do laundry and make a trip the grocery store. Healthy people have more energy to deal with emotional struggles, and the program can give clients the tools to tackle everyday life without the addictive dependence.

For the most part, the program's therapy is done in groups, although individuals can opt to receive treatment through individual counselling if that is better suited to their needs. All services are led by a multidisciplinary team of professional addictions specialists, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social work clinicians and nurses.

One unique aspect of the program is that assessment is two staged and extremely thorough. In the first meeting, the client completes a series of written instruments. These are coded and interpreted prior to the second meeting, which is set up with one of the specialized addiction team members. By completing a thorough assessment, the clinician has a better sense of where the client is starting from, and the client learns more about themselves and their own behaviours. Both clinician and client can use this information to inform the treatment goals based on the needs and capacities of the client. This makes treatment more focused and effective, and allows both client and clinician to measure change more effectively too.

Another unique aspect of the program is that sessions follow a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) model, a type of psychotherapy that challenges patterns of thought about the self and the world in order to alter unwanted behaviour. CBT is very effective for the treatment of addiction because it treats the root cause –thought patterns– that influence the emotions that lead to the addictive behaviour, like using alcohol or gambling.

Treatment takes place over a ten-week period. The first six weeks aim to help individuals understand the thought processes behind their emotions and to get a grasp on the basis of recovery. Topics like guilt and shame, dealing with change, and managing anxiety are covered. In the remaining four weeks, the focus changes to group interaction with discussion of after-care issues and relapse prevention.

Addiction can manifest itself in many different ways and people come in for treatment at varying stages of recovery. For some, they have to hit that point of rock bottom. For others, the best possible time to reach out is when they are feeling strong.

If you are struggling with an addiction, reach out for support. Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here.

Unsure of your coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross ? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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