When a person sees an image or smells an odor, they experience those senses in response to certain stimuli. Before our brain interprets these stimuli, however, it must also accurately process the information. For most individuals, this process is smooth without interference.
For those who have a condition known as sensory processing disorder, the dialogue between the five senses and their experiences is distorted. Day-to-day living can become challenging and unpleasant as this constant struggle can cause a tremendous amount of stress in an individual’s life. Indeed, they may begin to cope with this problem by resorting to substance abuse.
What Is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)?
Do you know a person who is enraged by specific sounds or becomes unreasonably upset over the feel of a particular fabric? In these cases, this individual may be experiencing SPD—a clinical term that describes persons who have abnormal reactions to sensory inputs, particularly touch and sound.
Sensory Cues and SPD
Sensory cues enable an individual to react in terms of behavior and motor response in an appropriate way. SPD alters how an individual’s brain and central nervous system (CNS) interprets messages from the five senses, disrupting these responses. The intensity of this disorder can range anywhere from mild to severe.
Signs of SPD
Although much data that has been examined regarding SPD is specific to children, many symptoms can persist into adulthood. Although some adults who experience SPD may appear to struggle as much as they once did, many have devised ways to deal with or conceal symptoms. However, it is essential to remember that this does not mean that they are immune to the effects.
The following are examples of how an individual’s senses may be affected:
Smell – Certain smells are irritating or repulsive.
Sight – Bright lights or specific patterns may trigger a reaction.
Touch – Certain textures may be irritating, such as itchy, stiff, or tight clothes, or sometimes casual touching, such as shaking hands, is bothersome.
Taste – Certain tastes or food temperatures can be problematic.
Sound – Loud noises, specific frequencies, and even everyday sounds, such as when a person is eating, can be irritating or abhorrent.
An aversion to certain sounds is sometimes also referred to as misophonia. This is a sound sensitivity disorder that induces feelings of anxiety or rage in those affected when exposed to certain sounds, especially chewing. This disorder is different than SPD, however, in that misophonia causes sensitivities to specific sounds only, while SPD can cause an individual to experience sensitivities in multiple senses.
In teenagers and adults, behaviors associated with SPD can include the following:
- Sensation seeking/avoidance
- Unease in social settings
- Poor attention/concentration
- Processing delays
- Difficulty performing tasks
- High or low levels of activity
- High or low pain threshold
- Covering ears
- Squinting or rubbing eyes
- Picky eating
- Low self-confidence
- Antisocial behavior
- Short temper
- Emotional dysregulation
- High-strung personality
SPD’s effects can impair interpersonal skills and interactions, have adverse effects on relationships and work performance, and make it difficult to learn or process certain types of information.
How Sensory Processing Disorders Are Connected to Other Conditions
While some experts contend that SPD is a symptom of another disorder, others are convinced that SPD is an independent condition. Also, some theorize that SPD is commonly misdiagnosed as other conditions.
In any case, SPD and its related symptoms have been associated with the following:
- Anxiety disorder
- Autism spectrum disorder
- Fragile X syndrome
SPD may also lead to other secondary conditions or effects, such as the following:
- Profound fatigue
- Avoidant personality disorder
- Poor overall health
- Substance abuse
How Is Sensory Processing Disorder Linked to Addiction?
Because SPD can be overwhelming and challenging to cope with, many individuals attempt to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Secondary effects, such as those noted above, such as anxiety or depression, may also lead to substance abuse. Unfortunately, as this persists, a person can rapidly become entangled in a web of drug or alcohol use that eventually leads to physical dependence and full-blown addiction.
Some studies have suggested that persons with substance use disorders (SUDs) process sensory messages differently than others and that sensation-seeking is associated with increased alcohol use. Other findings have suggested that SPD could cause or be caused by a SUD.
Treatment for SPD and Addiction
Because SPD is a clinical description in some circles and not an official diagnosis either medically or in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), studies have been somewhat limited. The DSM is a clinician’s official guidebook for diagnosing psychiatric conditions. For this reason, treatment methods are still under development and are not universally supported.
Fortunately, however, occupational therapy, sensory-based interventions, and individual counseling have shown promise in treating certain SPD aspects. If SPD is occurring due to another condition, addiction treatment should focus on treating the co-occurring disorder, as well.
There are currently no medications explicitly indicated for the treatment of sensory processing disorder. Still, some experts believe that certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have the potential to help. Medications for any comorbid disorders (including addiction) may also improve daily functioning and an individual’s quality of life.
A treatment program should be tailored to the individual and may consist of the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual therapy
- Group and family therapy
- Peer support groups
- Art and music therapy
- Meditation and yoga
- Relapse prevention
- Aftercare planning
Like addiction treatment, people with SPD must become aware of their triggers and learn to adjust their lives to this recognition. Using the right treatment approaches can help many people successfully manage SPD symptoms and begin to foster a more stable, balanced, and satisfying life.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of an official diagnosis, many insurance providers do not offer SPD treatment as a stand-alone disorder. However, in the case of a dual diagnosis of SPD and addiction, insurance may cover treatment within an addiction rehab program.
Although not every treatment center will be able to address and treat SPD optimally, fortunately, those with relatively mild sensory sensitivities may also benefit from conventional programs. If SPD co-exists with yet another disorder, such as anxiety or depression, this may also increase treatment options.
Getting Treatment for Addiction
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer comprehensive, evidence-based programs that feature services vital to the recovery process, including behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and aftercare planning. We employ highly-skilled, compassionate addiction treatment specialists who provide those we treat with the tools, education, and support they need to stay sober long-term and enjoy long-lasting happiness and wellness.
We design our programs to address the symptoms and underlying causes of both addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. In doing so, we ensure that each person we treat receives the very best, most comprehensive care available.