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Addiction Problems: A Moving Target

by Eoin Stephens, addiction specialist and Programme Leader

MSc Addiction Counselling & Psychotherapy


Addiction problems are always changing and evolving in unpredictable ways, as society changes and evolves. A hundred years ago, the nature of alcoholism as an addiction problem was just beginning to be teased out (and widespread acceptance of the idea was still a long way away). The reality of addiction to heroin and other narcotics only began to dawn after World War 2, even though the problems were far from new, and was only really taken seriously in the 1970s.


The shift to taking behavioural addictions seriously has been even slower, though addiction to gambling, being so ancient and so widespread, is the main exception, having been treated in rehabilitation centres along with alcohol and drug addictions for many decades. Sexual addictions, workaholism, shopping addiction, gaming addiction etc have remained largely outside of mainstream treatment – whether this is a good or a bad thing is a more complex question…


Treatment approaches have also evolved and changed, from primarily medical approaches, to approaches based on Twelve-Step programmes such as AA, to the incorporation of CBT, Motivational Interviewing, Harm Reduction philosophies, etc. Many controversies still remain in relation to these different approaches (medical versus psychological, abstinence versus controlled use, etc), and our responses to addiction problems continue to grow and evolve.


Towards the close of the 20th century, a new factor began to impact addiction problems, and especially behavioural addictions, namely the growing presence of the Internet and social media. The exact addictions that have been most neglected (the primarily behavioural ones) are the ones which we increasingly have to pay attention to due to the fact that they have become primarily online addictions: online gambling, online sexual activities, online work habits, online shopping, and online gaming. Along with these, potential new addictive behaviours have emerged, the most obvious being social media activity.


Because mainstream quasi-medical approaches are slow to take on these areas of addiction, or even to recognise them formally as addictions, there is a need and an opportunity here for those who work in the area of the talking therapies. On top of this, the old reliables of alcoholism and drug addiction are still part of the picture, and the illegal drug trade in particular is facilitated by the internet. The MSc Addiction Counselling & Psychotherapy is an up-to-date and comprehensive professional training course, focused on working therapeutically with people dealing with addictions of all kinds, and focuses on the full range of addictions described above.  On completion of the course, students will have developed an advanced competency and proficiency working with clients presenting with addiction problems. They will more fully understand the complex and challenging nature of addiction and recovery. They will be well placed to influence attitudes and affect policy in the workplace, community and society.


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