Psychiatrists often treat both the causes and the consequences of addictive behaviors. As a psychiatrist, I have treated many people with serious addictive behaviors ranging from cocaine addiction to kleptomania. I have also treated patients who have come to me with a broad range of other psychiatric problems. In addition, some of my patients have had problems with both addictive behaviors and psychiatric problems. In fact, studies indicate that many people with addictive behaviors also suffer from underlying psychiatric problems that must be identified and treated.
Whether the psychiatric problem came before or after the addiction is not always clear. Did the alcoholic begin abusing alcohol because of an underlying depression? Did years of alcohol abuse instead cause the individual to develop a depressive disorder? Knowing the answer may be hard or impossible. What most psychiatrists do know is that both disorders need to be treated.
In such cases, treating the addiction alone (and ignoring the depression or other underlying psychiatric problem) might temporarily resolve one particular addiction, but the patient will often develop problems in another area. For example, a person who is obsessed with spending time on the Internet, while ignoring her children and her spouse, may eventually learn to stay away from the Internet. However, if the underlying problem that caused this addiction is not identified and dealt with, she may then develop another compulsive problem such as gambling or compulsive overeating. For this reason, both the addiction and any accompanying emotional disorders need to be addressed.