Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction

Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction | Harmony Recovery Center

Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction – When people see an image or smell an odor, we are encountering those senses as a response to specific stimuli. Before our brain interprets these stimuli, it must accurately process the information. For the vast majority of people, this exchange runs smoothly and without interruption.

For those who suffer from a condition known as sensory processing disorder, the interconnections between the five senses and their experiences are not so clear. Daily living can become challenging and painful as this constant struggle can dramatically imbalance a person’s life. Indeed, they may begin to deal with this by resorting to the use of drugs or alcohol.

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?

If you know someone who can’t stand specific sounds and becomes agitated or enraged or someone who becomes unreasonably upset over the feel of a certain fabric against their skin, he or she may be experiencing SPD. SPD is a clinical term that describes people who have abnormal behavioral reactions to sensory inputs, particularly sound and touch.

SPD and Sensory Cues

But why does this occur? Typically, sensory cues enable a person to respond in an appropriate way regarding motor response and behavior. Sensory processing disorder changes the way a person’s brain and central nervous system interprets messages from the five senses, interrupting these responses. The severity of this condition ranges from mild to severe.

Signs Of Sensory Processing Disorder

Although a large amount of data on SPD is specific to children, many symptoms may linger into adulthood. Although some adults who experience SPD may seem not to struggle as much, many have come up with ways to cope with or conceal symptoms. However, this does not mean that they are exempt from the effects.

The following are examples of how a person’s senses may be affected:
Smell—Certain smells may be repulsive.
Sight—Bright lights or some patterns may trigger a reaction.
Touch—Certain textures may be irritating, such as itchy, stiff, or tight clothes. Some people with SPD may be disturbed by a merely casual touch such as shaking hands.
Taste—Certain tastes or food temperature can be problematic.
Sound—Loud noises, certain frequencies, and even everyday noises, such as the sound of someone eating, can be aggravating.

An aversion to sound is sometimes also referred to as misophonia—a sound sensitivity disorder that invokes feelings of anxiety or rage in those who are affected when they are exposed to certain sounds, especially chewing. This condition is different than SPD, however, in that misophonia causes sensitivities to certain sounds only, while SPD can cause a person to experience sensitivities in more than one of their senses.

In teens and adults, behaviors associated with SPD may include the following:

  • Sensation seeking or avoidance
  • Being uneasy in group settings
  • High distractibility
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Processing delays
  • Difficulty performing tasks
  • Avoiding specific activities
  • Social awkwardness
  • High or low pain threshold
  • High or low levels of activity
  • Covering ears
  • Squinting or rubbing eyes
  • Picky eating
  • Low self-confidence
  • Antisocial behavior
  • Short temper
  • High-strung personality
  • Emotional dysregulation

The effects of SPD can hinder interpersonal skills and interactions, undermine relationships and work performance, and make it challenging to learn or process certain information.

Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction | Harmony Recovery Center

How Sensory Processing Disorders are Linked to Other Disorders

While some experts contend that SPD is merely a symptom of another disorder, others are resolute that SPD is a stand-alone condition. Also, some speculate that SPD is frequently misdiagnosed as other disorders.

In any case, SPD and its associated symptoms have been linked to the following:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Fragile X syndrome

Like other disorders, SPD may lead to other secondary conditions or effects, including the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Poor mental or physical health
  • Substance abuse

How Is Sensory Processing Disorder Related to Addiction?

Because SPD can be very overwhelming and difficult to cope with at times, some people attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Beyond the immediate effects of SPD, secondary effects, such as those mentioned above, may also result in substance abuse.

Unfortunately, as this persists, many people get become entangled in a web of drug or alcohol use that ultimately leads to physiological dependence and addiction. What’s more, for those who have SPD and are recovering from addiction, SPD can trigger a relapse.

Some research has also suggested that people with substance use disorders (SUDs) process sensory messages differently than others. These same findings also noted that sensation-seeking is associated with increased alcohol consumption. Other findings have suggested that SPD could result in, or even be caused by, a SUD.

Treatment for SPD and Addiction

Because sensory processing disorder is only a clinical description in some circles and not an official diagnosis, research is a bit limited. For this reason, treatment methods are still being developed and not supported universally.

However, occupational therapy, sensory-based interventions, and individual counseling have shown promise in addressing certain aspects of SPD. If SPD is occurring due to another disorder, addiction treatment should concentrate on treating the co-occurring disorder as well. Currently, there are no medications explicitly indicated for the treatment of SPD, but some experts believe that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have the potential to help.

That said, medications for any co-existing disorders (including addiction) may also help to improve daily functioning and quality of life.

A treatment program should be customized to the individual, and may consist of:

  • Coping techniques
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Peer support groups
  • Meditation and yoga
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Aftercare planning

Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction | Harmony Recovery Center

Similar to addiction treatment, people with SPD must become aware of their triggers and learn to adjust their life to this recognition. Using the right treatment approaches, medical and mental health care providers, and coping skills, many patients can find great success and begin to lead a stable, balanced and more fulfilling life.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of an official diagnosis, many insurance companies may not offer treatment for SPD as a stand-alone condition. In the case of dual diagnosis of SPD and addiction, however, insurance may cover treatment within a rehab program.

Although not every treatment facility will be able to address and treat SPD optimally, fortunately, those with relatively minor sensory sensitivities may also benefit from conventional programs. If SPD co-occurs with yet another disorder, such as anxiety, this may further increase treatment options.

Getting Treatment for Addiction

Harmony Treatment Wellness center offers comprehensive, evidence-based programs comprised of services vital to the recovery process, including psychotherapy, counseling, and group support. We employ highly-skilled, caring addiction treatment specialists who provide clients with the tools and support they direly need to achieve sobriety and enjoy long-lasting wellness.

We design our programs to address the symptoms and underlying causes of both addiction and mental health conditions. If you are suffering from an addiction to drugs or alcohol and are experiencing sensory processing disorder or other co-occurring disorders such as anxiety and depression, contact us as soon as possible to discuss treatment options.

We can help you reclaim your life and begin to experience the healthy and happy life you deserve!

Sensory Processing Disorder and Addiction
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