How Does Mindfulness Help You Recover From Addiction?
We’ve all heard a lot about mindfulness in recent years. It has gone from a fringe practice to a common, even obligatory wellness practice. It has even been incorporated into mainstream treatments for addiction and other mental health issues. Treatment modalities such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, and dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, use mindfulness to help clients become more aware of their thoughts and emotions in general and better tolerate challenging emotions. Mindfulness meditation is often incorporated into addiction treatment programs, too. There are a number of reasons mindfulness is such a powerful addition to any recovery program, including the following.
Mindfulness reduces stress and anxiety.
One of the most publicized benefits of mindfulness practice is that it can reduce stress and anxiety. This is crucial for two reasons. First, having an anxiety disorder such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, or PTSD, significantly increases your risk of addiction. If you want to have a long recovery, you must find effective ways to manage your anxiety. Second, most people identify stress as their biggest trigger of cravings. Therefore, learning effective ways to manage stress will also reduce the number and severity of drug and alcohol cravings.
One of the first clinical uses of mindfulness meditation was to reduce stress. Programs like Herbert Benson’s relaxation response and Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR, are perhaps the two most prominent examples. If mindfulness were only about spending 20 or 30 minutes a day sitting quietly and relaxing, that in itself would help reduce stress. However, there’s more to mindfulness meditation. Perhaps the most important effect in terms of stress and anxiety is that mindfulness trains you to stay in the present moment, rather than worrying about things that might happen. This effect will eventually extend into your regular life, not just when you’re deliberately practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness improves metacognitive awareness.
Another useful aspect of mindfulness meditation is that it builds metacognitive awareness — or being aware of what you’re thinking about. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it is. Much of the time, our thoughts, beliefs, assumptions, and even emotions, lie beneath the level of conscious awareness. Other times, we get so swept up in some train of thought that we’re not even aware of what’s going on. Both of these can be barriers to insight and recovery.
Most treatment programs and therapists use techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, the premise of which is that our thinking, rather than external events, is what causes disturbing emotions. If you adjust your thinking to be more objective, you will naturally suffer less, emotionally. The problem is that thoughts can be evasive and slippery. Practicing mindfulness will make you more aware of what you’re thinking and how it affects your emotions. This makes therapy much more effective.
Mindfulness improves behavioral awareness.
Part of the challenge of overcoming addiction — and bad habits, more broadly — is that a lot of our behavior happens on autopilot. If you’ve ever tried to quit smoking or quit biting your fingernails, you’ve probably noticed your body seems to engage in these behaviors without your consent or awareness. This automatic behavior happens on an even deeper level with addiction.
It’s hard to change your behavior when you’re not even aware of what your behavior is. Mindfulness helps you bring more attention to what you’re doing at any given moment. You are more aware of what you’re doing and also how you feel about it. For example, smokers who are asked to smoke mindfully are often surprised to discover that they don’t like the taste or smell of cigarettes or the feeling of smoke in their lungs. Getting off of autopilot through mindful attention gives you more control over your behavior.
Mindfulness changes patterns of avoidance.
Substance use is often a symptom of avoidant behavior. That is, you may use drugs or alcohol as a way of avoiding some kind of emotional stress rather than deal with it. While this offers temporary relief, it makes the problem worse in the long run and causes new problems to go with it.
Mindfulness is really the opposite of avoidance. Instead of trying to ignore or suppress a challenging emotion, you accept it and observe it without judgment. You notice what the emotion is like, what thoughts arise with it, where you feel it in your body, how it changes over time, and so on. Several studies have found that people who are more accepting of their emotions suffer less distress and fewer negative outcomes, such as depression when they’re under stress. This isn’t only limited to emotions like anxiety or pain from traumatic memories, but it can help you get through cravings, as well. This is sometimes called “surfing” a craving.
Mindfulness can improve your relationships.
Having strong relationships is one of the most important parts of addiction recovery. Social connection reduces stress, gives you a sense of purpose, and helps keep you accountable. Mindfulness helps improve your relationships in several ways. First, from a practical perspective, it helps you pay attention when someone is talking. We’re often too distracted by our phones or by our own thoughts to listen properly. Just making an effort to give someone your full attention will improve your relationship.
Second, one of the challenges of communicating is that we are often too reactive. We get angry, defensive, or critical and a conversation quickly devolves into an argument. When you learn to be more mindful, you’re aware of these emotional reactions within you but you don’t necessarily take them too seriously. You can entertain different interpretations and consider things from the other person’s point of view before you respond.
Mindfulness is not a replacement for therapy or treatment, but it can be a powerful addition to any recovery program. It reduces stress, helps you to be more aware of your inner life and outer behavior, and improves your relationships. At The Foundry, mindfulness meditation is one of many modalities we use to treat substance use disorders. For more information about our programs, explore our website or call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
Why Is Structure Important for Addiction Treatment and Recovery?
One thing you’ll notice in pretty much any addiction treatment program is that structure and routine are important. Part of this is just practical; afterall, you can’t just have people showing up for group therapy and other activities whenever they feel like it, or nothing would get done. However, structure also plays an important part in treatment and recovery. Here’s why.
Structure in Treatment
In treatment, most activities are scheduled. You’ll wake up at a certain time and go to bed at a certain time. You’ll exercise and eat meals at certain times. There is free time, but there is also much to accomplish in a relatively short stay, so there are a lot of activities scheduled during treatment.
As noted above, this is practical, but it’s also therapeutic. By the time most people enter treatment for substance use disorder, their inner lives are fairly chaotic. This results in confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety. One way to bring those feelings under control is to impose some degree of outward order. With a reasonable structure in your day, you are less restless, bored, and anxious. You know basically what to expect from the day. This lets you focus on healing and sorting out your thoughts.
Structure in Recovery
Ideally, you should try to continue your treatment routine after you finish the program. While a month is typically not enough to make a new behavior automatic, it’s a pretty good start. If you make an effort to keep getting up at the same time and going to bed at the same time, going to meetings, eating healthy meals, and so on, it should be relatively easy to stay on track. The following are reasons having structure and routine in recovery makes things easier for you.
A regular routine helps manage stress.
Stress is a major issue for most people starting out in recovery on their own. This is especially true when transitioning out of an inpatient treatment program where they are mostly sheltered from everyday stressors. Stress is typically cited as the number one trigger of cravings, so it is crucial to manage stress in the first year.
Keeping a regular routine is a great way to manage stress. For one thing, it reduces anxiety resulting from uncertainty. When you have to constantly decide what to do next, or have no idea what each day might bring, you’re always a little anxious. Having a regular routine allows you to have some idea what your day is going to be like. What’s more, it’s a way of increasing your self-efficacy. How you spend your time is something you largely have control over. When you intentionally structure it in a productive way, you exert more control over your life, which reduces feelings of stress. Having a plan for the day, even a provisional one, even helps you deal with unexpected problems.
A routine makes healthy decisions easier.
Another major advantage of having a regular routine is that you don’t have to put so much effort into making healthy decisions. Once you’ve established a healthy routine, you make healthy decisions on autopilot. For example, it’s much easier to go to 12-Step meetings every day at the same time, rather than going at different times or just two or three days a week. That’s because you get into a routine. It’s time for your daily meeting, so you go to your meeting. The same is true for any part of your recovery routine — exercise, writing, getting up and eating breakfast, and so on. When you’ve established a good routine, it takes more effort to break it than it does to just do what you’re supposed to do.
A routine revolves around your priorities.
A good routine isn’t just about doing the same things every day; it’s about doing the important things every day and doing them first. This ensures that the things that will most benefit your recovery and your life don’t get lost in a sea of low-priority obligations. Incidentally, having clear priorities and making them part of your daily routine also reduces stress. If you don’t get to a low-priority task or you have to put it off to the next day, you don’t worry about it too much because you know it’s a low-priority task. By creating a routine around your recovery plan, you can be sure you are always prioritizing your recovery.
How to create a healthy routine.
For most people recovering from a substance use disorder, the whole idea of structure and routine will feel at least slightly irritating. It may feel restrictive or patronizing. If that’s the case for you, then trying to schedule your day in 15-minute chunks, like some productivity gurus advocate, will probably not go well for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of living a slightly more structured life.
The first thing you have to do is adjust your thinking about structure and routine. Routine isn’t a cage; it’s a ladder. It’s a way to ensure you’re doing the things that matter to you and that you’re making some kind of progress. The first concrete step is to establish one anchor point for your day. It might be getting up at a regular time or it might be going to your 12-Step meeting at a regular time. If you have a job with regular hours, that’s a pretty good anchor point.
Next, you want to connect new behaviors to your anchor points. So, for example, you might get off work and head immediately to your 12-Step meeting. It shouldn’t take long for this to become routine. Now you have two solid points of structure in your day. For behaviors like exercise, don’t be afraid to start small. It’s most important to establish the habit; you can always scale up later.
Structure and routine are crucial elements of addiction recovery. They build conscientiousness, which is a personality trait that research shows protects against substance use issues. They reduce stress, ensure you address your priorities each day, and make healthy choices easier. At The Foundry, we strike a delicate balance — we provide enough structure for therapeutic purposes while changing things just enough to keep them interesting throughout treatment. To learn about our treatment options, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.
When Do You Need More Than the 12 Steps to Beat Addiction?
AA and the many mutual-aid programs they’ve inspired have been helping people get sober since 1935. Working the 12 steps is a time-tested method for quitting alcohol and drugs, and millions of people are now staying sober one day at a time. The social support of mutual aid meetings like AA is especially important, which is why most people go to meetings even after completing professional treatment programs. However, it’s important to remember that 12-Step meetings are just one approach to recovery. Everyone has different needs when trying to overcome addiction. For many people, AA or NA will be all they need. Others may require more help. The following are some reasons you might need something more than your neighborhood 12-Step meeting.
When You’re Facing a Tough Detox
You don’t have to be sober to attend a 12-Step meeting; you only need to want to be sober. Unfortunately, beyond possibly offering some helpful advice, your 12-Step group won’t be able to help you detox. Sometimes, you will be able to tough it out at home, but other times that might be too difficult or too dangerous to attempt. For example, people trying to quit opioids often have a hard time making it all the way through detox because the withdrawal symptoms get too intense. It can be hard to take care of yourself when you’re experiencing what many have said feels like the worst flu you’ve ever had.
If you’re detoxing from a serious drinking problem or a benzodiazepine addiction, your life may even be at risk. Severe alcohol detox, DTs, can come on without warning and lead to death in a small percentage of cases.
It’s hard to know when you might need a medical detox and when you can do it at home. It’s always a good idea to consult with your doctor before deciding. If you have any medical conditions, especially cardiovascular issues or pregnancy, a medical detox is typically a good idea. If you’ve had a difficult time detoxing in the past, it’s likely the next time will be tough too. In general, the longer and more heavily you’ve been drinking and using drugs, the harder detox is likely to be.
When You Have Comorbid Health Issues
As noted above, if you have any medical conditions, it’s best to detox under medical supervision. However, medical issues can continue to be a challenge even after acute withdrawal symptoms have subsided. Many people starting in recovery have problems related to malnutrition, weak immune systems, and other issues related to substance use. Spending some time in a residential treatment program can help you avoid complications and restore your health more quickly. You get healthy meals, plenty of sleep, a bit of exercise, and easy access to medical care, should something go wrong.
When You Have a Co-occurring Mental Health Challenge
Perhaps the most common problem that mutual-aid groups aren’t well suited to deal with is mental health issues. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, at least half of people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health issues, such as major depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, ADHD, personality disorders, schizophrenia, and others. Many of these conditions require specialized care and medication. That’s far beyond the support that a mutual-aid meeting can provide.
Trying to get sober without diagnosing and treating co-occurring mental health issues is extremely hard and probably won’t succeed for long. For most people with co-occurring disorders, the mental health issues are the main driver of their substance use. Mental health issues and substance use each tend to make the other worse, so only treating the addiction is not likely to solve the problem for long.
When You Have Trouble Sticking with a Program
Mutual-aid programs can be very effective in helping you to stay sober if you keep going. The problem is that most people don’t keep going. They may go to a few meetings but that’s all. One study¹ found that only about 10 percent of people who go to AA meetings keep going for three months. Some of the features that make AA attractive, such as free attendance, anonymity, and open doors, also make it easy to quietly disappear.
When you invest in a professional treatment program, you are far more likely to stick with it. For one thing, you may actually be in residence, perhaps far from home, so you’re less likely to just stop showing up. You can leave, of course, but your level of commitment is much higher, especially if you’re paying to be there. What’s more, the staff and other clients are more invested in your success. People will definitely notice if you don't show up for group therapy or other activities. You also form connections to others more quickly in treatment and that social bond creates an incentive to stay engaged.
When You Don’t Fit In
There are many effective approaches to addiction recovery, but unfortunately, some people who have succeeded through 12-Step meetings don’t always see it that way. Some groups are fairly rigid and dogmatic, which can put people off. Since 12-Step groups aren’t centrally organized, there is a lot of variation among meetings. However, if you’re in a place without many options, you might have trouble engaging with a group where you don’t feel welcome or comfortable. You may have to explore other options.
Twelve-Step meetings like AA and NA can be a great option for many people who want to get sober, but sometimes meetings alone are not enough. If you might face a hard detox, have co-occurring mental health issues, have had trouble sticking with the program, or you just don’t feel comfortable with the available groups, you might need something more. At The Foundry, we use the time-tested 12-Step principles combined with evidence-based modalities for treating co-occurring issues. To learn more, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.
Do Drugs and Alcohol Permanently Affect Your Brain?
We’ve all heard clichés like “alcohol kills brain cells” or “drugs fry your brain.” Watching someone who’s under the influence of drugs and alcohol, few of us are inclined to doubt it. However, the idea that a period of heavy substance use can leave you mentally damaged for life is also terribly discouraging. If you’ve struggled with drugs and alcohol, the following can give you some idea of how that might have affected your brain.
Most effects are temporary.
First of all, the vast majority of effects from most drugs only last as long as the drugs are in your system. If you drink too much, you can sleep it off. The next day or two might be rough, but you’ll be okay before long. Our bodies are pretty good at maintaining equilibrium, so individual episodes of drinking or drug use typically won’t have lasting effects except perhaps in extreme circumstances, like an overdose. It turns out that the anti-drug scare tactics of the 1980s and 1990s largely backfired, so it’s not a good idea to overstate the dangers of isolated drinking or drug use. It’s worth noting, however, that substance use does have a larger effect on the developing brain and people who experiment with drugs and alcohol at a younger age are more likely to have substance use issues later in life.
It may take months for your brain chemistry to rebalance.
A bigger concern than isolated use is developing a tolerance, which is another way of saying developing a dependence. This is when your body is so used to the presence of drugs and alcohol that it compensates in order to bring you back to equilibrium. Once you’ve developed a dependence, you need drugs or alcohol in your system to feel normal — and when you quit, you will probably notice some emotional and cognitive effects.
Exactly what those are depends on what substance you’ve recently quit. If you’ve quit drinking, you’re likely to experience irritability and insomnia. If you’ve quit cocaine, you’re likely to feel lethargic and unable to focus. While the effects of the drugs themselves might wear off pretty quickly, the effects of withdrawal might hang around for a while. Acute withdrawal typically only lasts about a week or two, but many people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. Symptoms of PAWS often include emotional numbness, depression, trouble concentrating, and lack of motivation. These are thought to be caused by changes in your brain’s dopamine system, which is related to motivation, reward, and goal-seeking behavior. This typically lasts a few months, but some people report symptoms lasting up to 18 months.
The long-term effects of addiction aren’t entirely clear.
There’s still quite a bit of discussion in the scientific community over whether addiction permanently changes your brain. We know that addiction does appear to cause some structural changes in your brain. As noted above, some of the most important changes have to do with the dopamine system. The dopamine system is designed to reward behaviors that keep us alive and help the species propagate. However, drugs and alcohol can throw this system into overdrive — especially among people with the right genetic predisposition.
This overclocking of the dopamine system has downstream effects, too. In your prefrontal cortex, there’s a region that becomes sensitized to stimuli that might lead to substance use. We call these stimuli “triggers,” and they are a direct result of the dopamine system realigning your brain’s priorities.
There is also a region of the prefrontal cortex that is primarily in charge of inhibiting behaviors — a sort of mental brake — and this region becomes weaker as addiction progresses. The result is that after a certain period of addiction, you have a brain that is completely bored with anything other than substance use, is extremely sensitive to the possibility of substance use, and is less able to inhibit behavior related to substance use.
Much of the debate around this subject relates to whether this structural change can go back to normal. It’s possible that some people’s brains were never “normal” to begin with. As noted above, there’s research showing that some brains are just wired to respond more strongly to drugs and alcohol. However, we do know that the dopamine system will gradually respond more normally to other stimuli over time and that the prefrontal cortex can change its structure in a matter of weeks using techniques like mindfulness meditation. In other words, we don’t know for sure whether your brain can ever return to some pristine, pre-addiction state, but it can certainly get much better.
Damage from long-term, heavy use may be permanent.
There are a few cases where brain damage from substance use may be permanent. Inhalants, for example, are extremely damaging to the brain. There’s also a condition called stimulant psychosis, which is usually temporary but may be permanent in a small percentage of cases. Korsakoff syndrome, also called “wet brain,” is typically caused by decades of heavy drinking and results in severe memory impairment, confabulation, and apathy. Probably the most common concern in terms of mental impairment is early-onset dementia. A large study¹ of more than a million patients in France found that alcohol use disorder was the single biggest cause of early-onset dementia.
Brains are more resilient than we used to think.
The good news for anyone recovering from addiction is that our brains are extremely adaptable and resilient. Even people who have had strokes that would have been debilitating 20 years ago are able to regain much of their original function. As recently as ten years ago, most neuroscientists believed the adult brain didn’t create new neurons, but now we know it does and that exercise promotes this function. In general, our brains will typically figure out a way to do what we repeatedly ask them to do and new methods and technologies can help them heal even faster.
It’s normal to worry that maybe you’ve abused your brain so much that it will never work quite right again. In some cases, your brain might have undergone some permanent changes, but our brains change anyway, whether we’ve struggled with substance use or not. The important thing to know is that brains are adaptable and they can always get better. At The Foundry, we use a variety of evidence-based methods to help our clients heal and create better lives. To learn more, explore our website or call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
What Is Evidence-Based Treatment?
When looking for an addiction treatment program, one of the most important factors is whether that program uses evidence-based treatment methods. Evidence-based simply means there is some scientific evidence that a treatment method works. Treatment methods are typically compared to a placebo, to other common methods, or to doing nothing at all. The idea is that if you are going to put time, money, and effort into some form of treatment, you want some kind of indication that it is better than doing nothing and certainly some assurance that it isn’t harmful.
For example, if you go to the doctor, you assume whatever treatment the doctor prescribes will be evidence-based. The standard way of developing medical treatment is to try one treatment on one group and another treatment on another group and see which treatment helps more people. For a medication to get FDA approval, it has to go through a rigorous process testing both its safety and effectiveness. For a new drug to be considered effective, it has to perform better than placebo with no active ingredient.
Unfortunately, testing treatment methods related to addiction is not so straightforward. For example, it’s hard to create placebo psychotherapy. A bigger problem has to do with the nature of the disease. Mental health issues play a significant role in addiction but you can’t monitor mental the same way you would an infection or cancer. As a result, it’s hard to quantify the effectiveness of an intervention for, say, depression, because symptoms are erratic and evaluation is subjective.
Despite these challenges, some treatment methods do appear to work better than others and evidence-based treatment has become an increasingly important aspect of addiction treatment – and mental health treatment in general – in recent decades. Not only is evidence-based treatment important in itself to ensure you’re doing something that actually works, but when a treatment program uses evidence-based methods, that indicates that the staff and administrators keep up on new developments in the field.
The following are some common evidence-based treatment methods for addiction and common co-occurring conditions that you should look for when choosing a treatment program. Keep in mind that a program doesn’t have to use all of these or use them exclusively, but their main focus should be evidence-based.
Twelve-step facilitation is the oldest method on here, based on AA, which was developed 85 years ago. The 12 steps are also the basis of many professional treatment programs, including those at Foundry Treatment Center. Since so many people have used 12-Step programs to get sober, researchers have long been interested in evaluating its effectiveness. The key elements of 12-Step facilitation include accepting you have a problem; surrender to your higher power, the program, and support structure; and active participation in 12-Step meetings and activities. As you might expect, the strongest evidence for the efficacy of 12-Step facilitation exists for people who want to stop drinking, especially if their peer group supports drinking. However, there is evidence that it is also effective for other substances, including cocaine.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is currently considered the gold-standard for psychotherapy. CBT is a collection of techniques and strategies to manage your behavior and thinking. Whereas other forms of therapy might focus on your past, CBT tends to focus on the present, especially your underlying thoughts and assumptions that may be creating challenging emotions. CBT also includes behavioral strategies like thinking of positive and negative consequences for actions, coping with cravings, and avoiding high-risk situations. What makes CBT especially effective is that it involves learning a set of skills that clients retain after treatment, essentially allowing them to act as their own therapist.
There are also a number of other treatment methods based on CBT. Dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is one that is commonly used to treat addiction and related conditions, including borderline personality disorder, suicidal depression, and eating disorders. Other methods based on CBT include acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT.
Motivational interviewing is a process of helping someone find their own motivation for getting sober and staying sober. It is not a persuasion technique like an intervention where you might lay out an overwhelming case that someone has a problem and needs treatment. Rather, it’s a process of helping someone think about their substance use, its effects on their life, and how that relates to their values and priorities. Pretty much everyone enters treatment feeling ambivalent about sobriety and these tensions can undermine recovery. Motivational interviewing is typically a series of a few conversations that can help people resolve their internal conflicts, freeing them to succeed in recovery. Motivational interviewing is just a first step, designed to help clients commit to a treatment plan. It also appears to be most effective for people trying to quit alcohol and marijuana, while being less effective for opioids and stimulants.
Family Behavior Therapy
It is often said that addiction is a family disease. This is true both in terms of genetics and behavior. If you struggle with addiction, there is a very good chance that at least one parent also had substance use issues or that you grew up in a family with some kind of dysfunction. Often, people assume their own family environment is normal and don’t realize how it may have contributed to their addiction and the same is true for other family members. Family therapy is often an effective element of treatment, especially for adolescents and young adults. It helps to resolve family conflicts, improve communication, help family members set and maintain healthy boundaries. This creates a better family environment for everyone and a more supportive environment for addiction recovery.
It’s important to note that there are significant variations among individuals, even those that are apparently struggling with the same problems. For example, there is mounting evidence that depression may be several kinds of conditions with similar symptoms. Treatment that works for one kind of depression may not work as well for another. An evidence-based approach is not a guarantee that a particular treatment will work for you, only that there is good reason to try it. Quality programs typically incorporate a number of evidence-based treatments and focus on providing individualized care.
Steamboat Springs, located in the Rocky Mountains, provides a setting for the natural stimulation of mind and body, allowing for a return to our innate senses and a new foundation from which to build. Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
Why Are Some Afraid of Entering Treatment for Their Addiction?
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is often painful and frustrating. If you’ve never struggled with substance use issues yourself, it’s very hard to understand the behavior of your addicted loved one. They may ignore the overwhelming evidence that they have a problem or, if they admit they have a problem, they may resist getting help. This stubbornness can be baffling, especially since it often comes off as anger. What’s important to understand is that the prospect of going to treatment and fundamentally changing how you live can be terrifying, even when your life isn’t going that well at the moment. Seeing your loved one’s resistance as fear rather than stubbornness can give you insight into their behavior and help you be more patient. The following are some common fears people have about entering treatment for addiction.
Fear of Losing Control
Just getting to the discussion of treatment can be a long road. You might think that when someone admits they have a problem, getting treatment is just the next logical step. Clearly, if they could quit on their own, they would have done it by now. However, many people with substance use issues don’t see it that way. They’ll admit they have a problem but insist on dealing with it on their own.
This is another form of denial because they’re denying the full implications of having a substance use disorder. It doesn’t just mean that you use drugs and alcohol excessively and to your own detriment, but also that you don’t have control over it. Insisting you can deal with it on your own is denying the nature of addiction. Again, this is typically motivated by fear. No one likes to give up control of their life. Admitting you need help means admitting that you really don’t have control over your drug and alcohol use. In the context of treatment, it also means you will have to do some things you don’t want to do. The key is to emphasize that they have already lost control of their lives and that seeking help is a way to get it back.
Fear of Withdrawal
You can’t start recovery until you go through withdrawal, and for many people, the prospect of withdrawal is intimidating. Many people try to quit on their own but give up when withdrawal symptoms get too bad. The thought of having to see it through with a supervised withdrawal may be frightening. This is especially true for people addicted to substances that have intense withdrawal symptoms. Opioids, for example, have symptoms that people often compare to the worst flu they’ve ever had, with runny nose, watery eyes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, sweating, aching, and chills. It’s no wonder people aren’t eager to go through that.
Withdrawal after heavy alcohol use is no joke either and can include headache, irritability, shaking, seizures, vomiting, and, in a small percentage of cases, death. Anyone facing those symptoms would be anxious. The key is to emphasize the safety of a supervised detox. Detox staff can make you a bit more comfortable and respond quickly if symptoms become dangerous.
Fear of Loneliness
When people think of going off to treatment, especially an inpatient program where they will spend at least a month, they are often bothered by the prospect of being locked away in this facility where they don’t know anyone. They fear embarking on this adventure with no support. While it’s true that they probably won’t know anyone at first, it’s the staff’s job to make sure they have everything they need and that they feel comfortable. They will be talking to a therapist very soon after arrival and they will probably have a roommate. Since people in treatment share a lot of traumatic experiences, they often form deep bonds. A lot of people say they’ve met their best friends in treatment. If you feel lonely at first, it probably won’t last more than a few days.
Fear of Sharing
Group therapy is a common feature of both professional treatment programs and mutual-aid groups like AA. Many people feel intimidated by group therapy because you have to speak in front of people and often share things you’re not particularly proud of. However, there are good reasons group therapy is part of nearly all addiction treatment programs. One of the biggest reasons is that members quickly learn they have nothing to be ashamed of. Other people in the group have probably had similar experiences and they learn they aren’t alone. This is important for dispelling the stigma attached to addiction as well as related issues like having been physically or sexually abused. People tend to find a lot of support in their group sessions and despite their initial trepidation, find it rewarding.
Fear of Coping
For many people, drugs and alcohol are a way of coping with challenging emotions and memories. Someone with PTSD, for example, might use alcohol as a way of coping with intrusive images. The thought of getting sober and having to go through life without a trusted coping mechanism may be too much to bear. This is why treating co-occurring conditions is so important. Long-term recovery entails figuring out the underlying causes of addictive behavior and finding more productive ways of coping.
Fear of Failure
When someone agrees to enter treatment, especially for the first time, everyone gets a little hopeful. The person’s history of increasingly problematic behavior might be about to turn around finally. What’s more, treatment represents an investment of time, money, and effort. What if it doesn’t work? Everyone will be disappointed and it will have been a waste of resources. This is an understandable fear but all you can do is try and make an honest effort. If it doesn’t work out the first time, it may work out the second or third time. You don’t fail at getting sober until you quit trying.
Fear of success
Ironically, success can be just as frightening as failure. If you do manage to get sober and stay sober – then what? You can no longer blame your failings as an employee or a parent on drugs and alcohol. You are responsible for yourself and you have to make decisions about what kind of life you want to live, whereas before, drugs and alcohol were making those decisions for you. While this can be a lot to deal with at first, it’s by far the better problem to have. You will, of course, make mistakes, but you will gradually learn to live the kind of life you want to lead.
Fear is normal when it comes to entering treatment for addiction. You fear losing control, you fear to be vulnerable, you fear the pressure of living without drugs and alcohol. However, that fear is a good sign. It means trying something new and taking responsibility for the results. At Foundry Treatment Center, we share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
“What Should I Expect at My First 12-Step Meeting?”
AA has been around for about 85 years now and has helped millions of people get sober and stay sober. It has also spawned many other 12-Step programs based on the same format. These include Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and many others. Since these groups are free and widely available, they are often the first thing someone will try when they decide their drinking or drug use has become a problem.
These meetings are also helpful for people who have completed a professional treatment program. Meetings provide much needed social support and help keep you focused on recovery in the long-term. Therefore, they can help you transition from a treatment program back to regular life while providing support indefinitely.
Attending 12-Step meetings can be a great asset for recovery but many people are nervous about going to their first meeting. In addition to walking into a room where they don’t know anyone, they may have some mistaken preconceptions based on what they’ve seen on TV or in movies. The following should give you some idea of what to expect in your first 12-Step meeting.
What Not to Expect
Most people have seen a movie or TV show where a nervous first-timer is called on to introduce himself and share. Reluctantly, he stands up and says, “I’m Bill, and I’m an alcoholic.” The group says, “Hi Bill,” and then Bill proceeds to share the worst thing he’s ever done. While you will be given an opportunity to introduce yourself to the group during the meeting, you won’t be forced or even expected to. Still less will you be expected to share anything about yourself? Everyone there knows how hard it is to walk through those doors for the first time and they won’t pressure you to do anything.
Some people also expect to be swarmed when they walk in the door, as they might have been the first time they attended a church or youth group. For people who harbor some suspicions that 12-Step groups might be a sort of cult, an excessively warm welcome is the last thing they want. In reality, people will mostly leave you alone. Some people might introduce themselves to be polite but you are unlikely to feel like you’re in the spotlight.
How a Meeting Goes
There are several different kinds of meeting formats including a single speaker, speaker/sharing, step study, and round-robin sharing. They all follow the same basic structure. First, the chairperson will read the group preamble, then the Serenity Prayer, which you’re free to join in or not, then someone will read the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. After this, the chair will ask if there are any first-timers who want to introduce themselves by their first name. You can introduce yourself if you want to. If you decide to introduce yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to share. Next, the chair hands out chips, another well-known part of 12-Step programs.
After that, the meeting proceeds according to what kind it is. If it’s a single speaker meeting, then one person will speak for most of the time. If it’s a speaker/sharing meeting, the chair will introduce the speaker, who will speak for most of the meeting and then other members will share. If it’s a step study meeting, the chair will introduce a speaker to speak on a step or topic and then members will share on that same topic. If it’s a round-robin sharing meeting, everyone who wants to shares.
The meeting concludes with welcoming newcomers, announcements, and a prayer.
After the Meeting
People typically stick around for a while to talk after the meeting. You can go if you like or you can stick around and have coffee and doughnuts. There isn’t much opportunity to talk to people during the formal meeting, so after the meeting is the time to chat with other members. When you feel comfortable enough, you might consider introducing yourself to the meeting chair and maybe volunteering to help clean up afterward. This is an easy way to get to know people and be more engaged in the group.
Open vs. Closed Meetings
Some 12-Step meetings are open and most are closed. If a meeting is open, it means anyone can come, whether or not they want to stop drinking or using drugs. This includes family and friends of members as well as students and counselors who want to understand addiction or how meetings work. If a meeting is open, it will be listed as “open.” Otherwise, assume the meeting is closed.
A closed meeting is only for people who want to quit drinking or using drugs. Most meetings are closed because members typically prefer to share in the company of people who understand what they’ve been going through.
Bring a Friend
It’s normal to be nervous about going into a meeting where you don’t know anyone. If that’s the case, then consider bringing a friend for moral support. The ideal situation would be to attend a meeting with a friend who is already a regular member. That way, you already know someone and they can introduce you to other people and let you know what to expect. If you don’t know someone who is already a 12-Step member, bring a friend who is also interested in getting sober. That makes it easier to walk into the meeting and you can help keep each other accountable. If you don’t know anyone who wants to get sober, bring a friend to an open meeting.
12-Step meetings are a great way to take your first steps toward sobriety and a great way to transition from a treatment program back to regular life. It’s normal to be nervous about going to your first meeting but keep in mind that everyone in the room has been in your position and no one is going to pressure you. You decide your own level of engagement and you can take as much time as you need to.
Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
How Can I Best Support a Loved One Preparing to Enter Treatment?
No part of treatment or recovery is exactly easy. Each phase of the process has its own unique challenges. For example, it can take quite an effort to convince your loved one they have a problem at all and it might be just as difficult to convince them to accept professional help. Once they’ve agreed to accept help, getting them physically into treatment is sometimes a project in itself. There’s no point at which you should assume that recovery or even treatment is a done deal. You will probably have to put some energy into it throughout the process. There will be times when your loved one is scared or when they just don’t have the ability to help themselves. This is when you, as a friend or relative, have to do what you can to help. Once your loved one has expressed willingness to get help for a substance use disorder, the following are some things you can do to help make sure it actually happens.
Help with a treatment plan.
There are a dizzying number of options for addiction treatment. There are more than 14,000 addiction treatment centers in the US alone and that doesn’t count other elements of treatment such as consulting with counselors, therapists, or doctors. With all these options, it’s hard to narrow down the best one, and it may be next to impossible for someone with a serious substance use issue, especially if there is a co-occurring issue like major depression to consider.
Choosing a good treatment program is beyond the scope of this post, but start by getting recommendations from your doctor, therapist, or people you know who have gone through a program and have a strong recovery. Also, look for accreditation and credentialed staff. When making a final choice, a good program will want to know a lot about any potential client to make sure they are a good fit. Be wary of a program that accepts anyone. This is quite a bit of work and it’s likely you will be much more motivated than your loved one to make the effort.
Pack a bag.
One common route to getting a loved one into treatment is to hold an intervention. Most people are familiar with this concept. A group of people, typically family and maybe a close friend or two, get together and explain calmly and clearly why the person has a problem and needs to accept help. One element of an effective intervention is that there can be no space between someone agreeing to accept help and actually leaving for treatment. Otherwise, they start having second thoughts, come up with excuses for why they don’t need treatment or why they want to go later, or maybe just disappear.
By the time you have the intervention, everything should be ready for them to enter treatment. That means they should have a place booked in a treatment program, travel arrangements to get there, and a bag full of necessary items packed and ready to go. Each treatment center has its own list of items to bring and this list can typically be found on its website. These items typically include a credit card for medications and other expenses, current medications, insurance card, photo ID, family and emergency contacts, a small amount of cash, casual clothes, sleepwear – assume they will have a roommate – gym clothes, toiletries, a journal, and recovery-related books. Items that typically aren’t allowed include clothing with drug or alcohol references on them, excessively revealing clothes, anything – including toiletries – with alcohol in it, weapons, valuables, food or drink, electrical devices, and books not related to recovery.
Escort them to the facility.
A lot can go wrong between intervention and walking into the treatment center. Your loved one’s motivation is already fragile and it might collapse at any point, especially if the treatment center is far away. Also, keep in mind that you might be dealing with someone whose mind may not be that sharp outside of drug-seeking behavior. Sometimes people intend to enter treatment only to get lost or distracted on the way. You should have a plan either to accompany them or to have someone accompany them to treatment.
Some treatment centers provide this service and there are also third-party services that will escort your loved one to treatment. As noted, travel arrangements need to be made ahead of time so you’re not working out details while your loved one has time to reconsider.
Encourage them to complete treatment.
Your loved one will likely have some fears about treatment. These typically revolve around being out of control, being vulnerable, being lonely, letting everyone down, or fear of change in general. Again, this is beyond the scope of this post, but do your best to assure your loved one that it’s going to be fine, that everyone has their best interests at heart, and that they will be happy they saw it through.
It’s not uncommon for people to spend a week or two in treatment and sort of panic, often feeling like they don’t belong there or that they’ve gone through detox and can handle the rest on their own. Sometimes they feel like staff members are out to get them. This is especially common among people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder. If those are considerations in your loved one’s treatment, they should be in a program that is equipped to handle those co-occurring conditions. As for their promise to complete the program before they leave and if they call wanting to come home, remind them of their commitment and encourage them to stay.
Sending a loved one to treatment for a substance use disorder is never easy, for you or for them. They have no idea what to expect or how their life might change. They may feel like they are being treated unfairly. You don’t know what to expect either. Your time, money, and hope may not amount to anything. On the other hand, you might save your loved one’s life.
Steamboat Springs, located in the Rocky Mountains, provides a setting for the natural stimulation of mind and body, allowing for a return to our innate senses and a new foundation from which to build. Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at 1-844-955-1066.
Do You Have a Cold or the Flu?
You’re feeling tired, achy, can’t sleep, coughing and maybe have a runny nose to boot. It’s that time of year for those pesky bugs that have us singing the blues and wondering if our symptoms are those of the cold or the flu. Both the common cold and the flu are respiratory illnesses. Each is caused by a different virus but result in similar symptoms making it hard to tell the conditions apart. Here’s a primer on the difference between these two ailments and what to do to send them on their merry way.
In general, the flu causes greater complications with more intense symptoms which come on rapidly. These include bodily aches and pain, sore throat, fatigue, fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, sneezing and watery eyes and an overall miserable feeling. Symptoms of the common cold are typically milder than those of influenza and usually characterized by sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, scratchy throat, and watery eyes.
A cold will usually run its course, leaving you tired and maybe a bit cranky, but symptom-free. You can be vaccinated against the flu but there is no vaccine (yet) which prevents the common cold. In addition, there are antiviral medications to treat the flu. Both the flu and a cold can lead to a bacterial infection resulting in sinusitis, bronchitis, pneumonia or an ear infection which could require antibiotic treatment. Unfortunately, complications of the flu, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections, can require hospitalization.
What Can You Do to Avoid These Unwelcome Winter Visitors?
The viruses that cause flu and cold are typically spread when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or talk, dispersing droplets through the air, and the virus can also be picked by touching an object which has viruses on it. The U.S. flu season can start as early as October and continue into May.
Avoid big groups of people – For you introverts out there, this is an easy one. The more people you expose yourself to, the more likely you are to get the flu. The flu spreads fast in confined groups of people. This is just good life advice, but stay away from sick people and stay away from strangers who are sneezing and coughing.
Please wash your hands like you mean it! – The flu can live on surfaces for 24 hours, so make sure that you are washing your hands as much as you can, especially before you cook food that you are going to eat or after using the restroom. When you wash your hands wash them with warm water for at least 20 secs and make sure to dry them before leaving the sink area.
It's not a bad idea to carry around a bottle of hand sanitizer – It might be considered rude to wash your hands immediately after shaking someone's hand, but you can probably inconspicuously apply hand sanitizer when they aren't looking. Make sure you aren't sneezing into your hands, always sneeze into a napkin or your elbow. Also, use hand sanitizer after touching things other people are touching a lot, such as doorknobs or light switches.
Strengthen Your Immune System
If your immune system is sleeping at the wheel, your chances of getting sick go up a lot. So, make sure you are getting enough sleep, exercising at least 30 minutes, 3 days a week, and consider taking a multivitamin.
You are what you eat – Avoid eating out, just because you are doing everything you can to make sure you don't get sick doesn't mean everyone working in your favorite burger joint is doing the same. Stick to healthy, nutrient-dense foods as much as possible.
Get your shots – The flu changes every year, so every year, you need to get a flu shot. The flu shot lessens your chance of getting sick by 40-60 percent. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to be active, but even if you do get the flu, the flu shot can make you get better fast and be less sick during the process.
Keep it clean – Wipe down surfaces in your house, such as counters, doorknobs, light switches, and shared telephones if you still have one for some reason. If someone in your home does become sick, it's time to quarantine them in their own section of the house. It's not overkill to wear surgical masks and gloves when attending to them.
What if the Worst Happens?
If you get the flu, get to a doctor right away. There is no cure for the flu, but the doctor can prescribe antiviral medication like Tamiflu to help you get back on your feet faster with an easier road to recovery.
This is a lot of information to take in, but it can really help to keep you healthy. Obviously, no one can do all of these things all of the time. You can't walk around in a hazmat suit and bath in hand sanitizer all of the time, but if you can find a few of these things and implement them into your life, you will have a leg up on the flu and be ready to beat flu season into submission.
Steamboat Springs, located in the Rocky Mountains, provides a setting for the natural stimulation of mind and body, allowing for a return to our innate senses and a new foundation from which to build. Foundry Treatment Center’s vision was formed through personal experiences and continues to grow through the dedicated compassion of the Foundry team. We share a commitment to provide a comprehensive, whole-body treatment program that encourages each to seek their values and beliefs through innovative and evidence-based treatment modalities. For more information on how we can help you or a loved one, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What’s the Difference Between CBT and DBT?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, are both forms of psychotherapy frequently used as part of a comprehensive addiction treatment program. Both have been proven effective for treating substance use disorders as well as many commonly co-occurring mental health issues. As the names suggest, CBT and DBT have much in common. In fact, you could say that DBT is a specialized form of CBT. Which is best for you depends on your particular situation. The following is a look at the important differences between CBT and DBT.
CBT Came First
As noted above, DBT is a specialized form of CBT. CBT was developed in the 1960s by psychologist Aaron Beck, based in part on the rational-emotive behavioral therapy, or REBT, of Albert Ellis. Beck was trained as a psychoanalyst but wanted some way of giving his clients more tangible results in less time. The core insight of CBT is that the things that happen to us don’t directly cause our emotions.
Our emotions are a result of our thinking about what happens to us. What’s more, many of our thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions are distorted in such a way that we suffer more than is necessary when things don’t go how we would like. Much of CBT is about identifying and challenging these faulty beliefs and thereby changing our emotional reactions.
Behavior is another important element of CBT. Imagine thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as sides of a triangle. Any change in one has some effect on the others. So, for example, you can change your emotions by changing your thoughts or by changing your behaviors. Therefore, CBT also emphasizes strategies for behavioral change that don’t necessarily require you to feel like doing something. More than anything, CBT represents a fairly large toolkit--skills that therapists can teach their clients to help them better control their emotions and behavior.
DBT Was Developed to Help With Borderline Personality Disorder
DBT was developed in the 1980s by psychologist Marsha Linehan to treat clients with borderline personality disorder, or BPD. BPD is a condition characterized by volatile and intense emotional reactions and frequent relationship problems. For example, someone with BPD might adore a particular friend one day, then feel like that friend has betrayed them--often based on little or no evidence--and switch to hating that person the next day. The friend, understandably, would be confused by this behavior and consequently, close relationships are fraught for someone with BPD. Linehan found that her BPD patients were often resistant to typical CBT.
The main issue was that CBT emphasizes changing challenging emotions by changing faulty thinking. Patients often felt this approach failed to validate their feelings. As a result, Linehan developed an approach to therapy that attempted to balance change and acceptance, and this is where “dialectical” became part of the method. Treatment becomes more of a discussion about which feelings are more valid and which might be constructively altered.
While DBT was originally developed for people with BPD, it has since been adapted for treating other conditions. It has been proven effective for substance use disorders, as well as commonly co-occurring conditions like eating disorders, self-harm, PTSD, and suicidal depression.
DBT Emphasizes Distress Tolerance and Social Skills
In addition to more emphasis on acceptance, DBT also focuses on distress tolerance and social skills. These are particular areas where people with BPD typically struggle the most. CBT focuses on managing challenging emotions by managing thoughts. The volatility and intensity of emotions common in BPD can make this challenging and the patient’s desire for validation may make them less likely to employ cognitive strategies.
Therefore, DBT adds an element of distress tolerance. These are skills include mindfulness and acceptance skills, as well as short-term survival skills like distraction and self-soothing. The idea is that the patient will inevitably feel unpleasant and strong emotions but they can develop the skills to keep them from causing problems in life.
Social skills are another important aspect of DBT. These are typically incidental in CBT. For example, you may have social anxiety resulting from an unfounded belief that others are judging you harshly. Since relationship problems are such a central feature of BPD, it makes sense to give special attention to developing social skills--called interpersonal effectiveness. These include skills like expressing your needs, saying no, and resolving conflict.
DBT Is More Structured
In a way, DBT is more intensive than CBT and it is also more structured--both in terms of time and content. In terms of time, people in DBT typically meet individually with a therapist once a week to work on specific issues and skills. They also have a group session each week, which typically lasts two-and-a-half hours. In between sessions, patients will typically check in with the therapist over the phone.
There are also four specific modules in DBT. Distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness are two of them and have been discussed above. The other two include mindfulness and emotional regulation. Mindfulness is especially helpful in distress tolerance. It emphasizes observing emotions and events nonjudgmentally. Emotional regulation includes skills like recognizing and labeling emotions, increasing positive emotions, and applying distress-tolerance techniques.
DBT Has a Group Component
As noted above, DBT typically includes both individual and group therapy. CBT can be used with either or both but doesn’t specifically incorporate both. The purpose of including group sessions in DBT is to give patients an opportunity to practice their new interpersonal and emotional regulation skills in a safe, supervised environment.
Neither CBT nor DBT is necessarily better than the other. It really depends on your specific needs. If you do struggle with borderline personality disorder, major depression, an eating disorder, or PTSD, it’s likely you will need DBT. Each of these conditions carries a very high risk of a co-occurring substance use disorder and if you have both, you need treatment for both. Substance use and mental health issues each make the other worse so it’s crucial to treat them in an integrated way. At The Foundry, we know that everyone seeking help for a substance use disorder has different needs. We offer many options for individualized treatment, including CBT and DBT. To learn more about our treatment options, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What Is EMDR?
EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. It’s a form of psychotherapy developed specifically to help clients process and overcome trauma. EMDR is a targeted form of therapy that uses bilateral movements, such as side-to-side eye movements, to mute the intensity of traumatic memories.
For cases of simple trauma in adulthood, this can often be accomplished in only a few sessions, compared to months or years of traditional therapy. A course of EMDR therapy usually takes between six and 12 sessions, with clients attending one or two sessions per week.
Why EMDR Is a Great Tool for Addiction Treatment
EMDR was originally developed to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and it is still primarily used for that purpose. Trauma is a factor common to many, perhaps even most, people who struggle with substance use issues. There have been many studies examining the connection between PTSD and substance use disorders and these have found that among people seeking treatment for substance use disorders, between 20 and 50 percent also have a lifetime diagnosis of PTSD and between 15 and 40 percent met the criteria for PTSD in the past year.
Childhood trauma is an especially large risk factor for developing substance use issues as an adult. Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, include things like being abused or neglected, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent get arrested, and other experiences that make a child feel threatened or unsafe. The more ACEs someone has, the greater their risk of negative outcomes such as substance use and mental health issues as adults.
According to an article published in the North Carolina Medical Journal, each ACE increases your risk of developing a substance use disorder by two to four times and as many as two-thirds of people who struggle with addiction can trace their problems to ACEs. For these reasons, identifying and treating trauma should be a top priority for any addiction treatment program and EMDR is a targeting way of doing that. What’s more, it delivers quick results, making it perfectly suited to the context of an intensive addiction treatment program.
How It Works
The big idea behind EMDR is that the mind will heal itself, given the chance. Just as your body will heal a cut or a broken bone on its own, your mind has its own way of healing from trauma. This becomes apparent when you consider that PTSD is actually surprisingly rare. According to the US Department of Veteran’s Affairs, about 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women will experience trauma in their lives but only about four percent of men and 10 percent of women will develop PTSD.
That indicates that trauma is necessary but not sufficient for developing PTSD. Something is preventing the mind from healing itself in the normal way. Often, this happens when the brain is still developing at the time of the trauma or the trauma is repeated.
The idea behind EMDR is to help the client change the way the trauma is stored in the brain so it can be processed in the normal, healthy way. The exact mechanism by which this works is not exactly clear but we know from many clinical trials that it does work. Part of it has to do with re-experiencing the trauma in a safe, controlled environment. Often, people with PTSD are unable to access certain aspects of the experience and part of EMDR therapy is to bring those into conscious awareness.
There is also a hypothesis that the bilateral stimulation, such as eye movements, mimic the process your brain uses during REM sleep to consolidate new memories. The effect is that you change the way you think of the traumatic memory at a deep level. Some people describe it as forgetting to let the traumatic memory – or things related to it – bother you.
What to Expect From EMDR Therapy
EMDR is delivered in an eight-phase process. How long this process takes varies by individual and depends on factors like whether you’re treating a single trauma or complex trauma, when you experienced the trauma, and how severe it was.
In phase one of treatment, the therapist will take your history, decide whether EMDR is a treatment approach that makes sense, and develop a treatment plan. You will work with the therapist to identify possible targets for processing. These may be traumatic memories from your past or even recurring situations you are currently dealing with.
During phase two, you will work with your therapist to develop interim strategies for coping with emotional stress. Since the process will take at least a few weeks to work, it’s important to have ways of coping with stress in the intervals between sessions. These might include imagery or relaxation techniques.
Phases three through six are when you identify and process target memories. You will start by identifying three things: an image related to the memory, a negative belief about yourself, and emotions and bodily sensations related to the memory. You will also develop a positive belief.
During the processing phase, you will be asked to focus on the negative image, thought, and emotions, while simultaneously engaging in the bilateral stimulation. You might be asked to follow the therapist’s hand side to side with your eyes, follow a light, or tap with your fingers. The therapist will then ask you to notice whatever spontaneously happens. When you no longer have negative emotions associated with the memory, your therapist will ask you to recall your positive belief.
In phase seven, you will be asked to keep a log for a week to remind you of the calming techniques you used in phase two and to note any additional issues that come up. Phase eight is about evaluating the progress you’ve made so far.
EMDR is becoming increasingly popular because it is a focused, time-limited, and effective way to process traumatic memories. Instead of changing your thoughts or beliefs around a trauma, you change the way that trauma is stored in your brain. At The Foundry, we understand that trauma is the driving force behind most addictions and we use a number of methods, including EMDR, to help our clients heal. To learn more about our methods and programs, explore our website or call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Cope with Loneliness in Addiction Recovery?
It’s not uncommon for people to feel lonely when starting out in addiction recovery. There are several reasons for this. If you’ve just come home from inpatient addiction treatment, where you were around people most of the time, you might suddenly find a normal amount of alone time rather stark. None of the people you are used to chatting with in the dining hall or rec room are around anymore.
Second, when you’re starting recovery, it’s a good idea to distance yourself from friends and acquaintances who use drugs and alcohol. Even if they don’t pressure you to drink or use drugs, the association might trigger a craving. Feeling this avenue of socializing is restricted in this way might make you feel lonely.
This loneliness can have real consequences for your recovery, your mental health, and even your physical health. Loneliness and boredom often trigger cravings. Feeling both bored and sad is a bad combination for recovery.
It’s important to remember that loneliness isn’t just the absence of companionship; it’s the presence of psychological stress. Studies have shown that loneliness is linked to a greater likelihood of high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and psychological distress. If you’re feeling lonely in recovery, here are some suggestions for what to do about it.
Accept That What You’re Feeling Is Normal
First of all, accept that it’s normal to feel lonely sometimes. We’re a social species and we depend on each other for survival. From an evolutionary perspective, to be isolated is to be vulnerable. Part of coping with loneliness entails acknowledging the feeling, accepting that it’s ok, and knowing that it will eventually pass. Just labeling the feeling can help you feel a bit better. So, if you’re alone and feeling restless, bored, or sad, think, “Ah, that’s loneliness; it won’t last though.”
Go to Meetings Regularly
The best way to beat loneliness is obviously to have regular social connections. For people in recovery, that often means attending regular 1Step or other mutual-aid meetings. This is a time to connect to other sober people and it may also be a good time to discuss your feelings of loneliness. Most of the other members will know what you’re talking about.
Some people may even make themselves available if you feel like you need someone to talk to. Going to meetings regularly also gives structure to your day so that if you do feel lonely, you have a definite idea of when that might end. Keep in mind, especially if you’re relatively new, that engagement is key. While it might help just to be around other people, you still might feel lonely if you just sneak into a meeting and sit in the back.
At the moment, we’re all under quarantine from the coronavirus and that might put a damper on meetings in your area. If that’s the case, you may be able to connect with your group digitally. A lot of meetings are now being held on Zoom, Google Hangouts, and other platforms. Not only is this safer, but it also gives you a chance to get some different perspectives from different groups.
Work on Repairing Damaged Relationships
Another reason you may be feeling lonely is that you may have alienated some of your friends and family when you were actively addicted. If you’re feeling lonely, that may be an indication that it’s time to start mending those relationships. This may be a long-term project but it has to start somewhere. Reach out to the people you’ve wronged and who you want back in your life.
You may have already done this to some extent while working the 12 steps. If so, great. Try reaching out to some of those people. Relationships are typically built through frequent, low-intensity contact. If you still haven’t apologized and made amends to some people, now might be a good time to do that. An apology and making amends won’t fix your relationship right away but it’s a good place to start.
Get Involved in New Activities
People are often surprised how much harder it is to make friends as an adult. When you’re younger, you’re around other people your age every day in school and other activities. When you’re an adult, you’re around other people at work--sometimes. However, people at work have their own lives and concerns and you may or may not have any points of connection.
One solution is to get involved in some new activities. Join a cooking class or a yoga class. Find a running or biking group. Join a recreational sports league. Volunteer for a worthy cause. These are great ways to see the same people regularly and meet people who share your interests. Beyond that, these all aid your recovery by giving you a challenge and a sense of purpose.
Another important thing to remember about loneliness is that it’s really just in your head. Just because you’re alone doesn’t mean you are necessarily lonely. Loneliness only happens when you are alone and craving company. Being alone can also be an opportunity to do some things you can’t do when other people are around. It may be a chance for you to read, write, meditate, create, listen to music, and think about your values and priorities.
Many of these things require deep, uninterrupted focus, which makes alone time perfect for working on them. Under the current quarantine, we’ve all been reminded several times that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while under quarantine from one plague and Newton invented calculus while exiled from another plague. While we all need to socialize to various degrees to be healthy and happy, we can also use alone time to think, focus, and work.
Loneliness is a common challenge early in recovery but it gets better. You can build a sober network pretty quickly if you make a regular effort and stay engaged in meetings. You may also be able to salvage some old relationships. In the meantime, it’s important to accept that what you’re feeling is normal and that it will pass, and to make what use you can of your alone time. At The Foundry, we understand that a strong recovery is about treating the whole person—mind, body, and spirit. We incorporate many different proven treatment methodologies to help you stay sober long term. To learn more about our programs, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What Do You Do After a Relapse?
Addiction is a chronic condition and relapse is common. It’s hard to know exactly how common, but the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that about 40 to 60 percent of people who get treatment for a substance use disorder relapse within a year.
Although relapse is common, it should be avoided if at all possible. Not only is it terribly discouraging, but it also leaves you more vulnerable to overdose, since you no longer have any tolerance. The good news is that if you do relapse, it doesn’t have to be the end of recovery. The following steps can help you get back on track.
Know That Relapse Is Not a Permanent Failure
The first step after a relapse is to sort out your thinking. One common reaction is to think something like, “Well, I’ve already ruined my recovery so I might as well go all out.” It’s normal to feel disappointed and discouraged after a relapse, but this all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t help matters. Yes, it would have been better not to relapse, and starting again will be hard.
However, instead of thinking of relapse as a permanent failure, think of starting again as the second-best option. The best thing would have been to stay sober but since that opportunity is gone, focus on the second-best option. Many people relapse several times before ultimately staying sober long-term. The sooner you decide to move on from this setback, the easier it will be.
Reach out to Someone You Trust
Once you’ve decided to stop digging a new hole, reach out to someone you trust. Good options are your 12-Step sponsor, your therapist, your group, or a supportive friend or family member. Tell them what happened and that you want to get sober again. There are several reasons for this. For instance, it moves things along if someone can help you make a plan and follow through.
Another reason is that it creates a higher level of accountability. Once you tell someone that you relapsed and that you want to get sober again, you feel a greater sense of obligation to follow through. Third, being open and honest makes a clear break from addictive behavior, which is typically evasive and deceptive. Coming clean about a mistake is a clear sign you want to make a real change.
Figure out the Best Way to Get Sober Again
Once you’ve reached out, the next step is to figure out the best way to get sober again. If you had more of a minor slip, like just drinking or using once or even a few times, you’ll probably be fine getting sober again without a medical detox. However, if the relapse was more extensive, you may need to consider whether to go through medical detox. Your doctor or addiction counselor can help you make that determination.
Analyze What Went Wrong
After you’ve addressed the emergency of drinking or using and you’ve gotten sober again, it’s time for some serious reflection. You want to understand exactly what led up to your relapse. Start by writing out a sort of narrative that includes where you were when you actually relapsed, who you were with, how you felt, what you were thinking about, and so on. Then, think about things more broadly. What was going on in your life at the time? Were you feeling depressed or anxious? Were you feeling unusually good?
When people relapse, it’s often days or weeks after they make a definite decision to relapse and they are just waiting for the opportunity. Do you remember when you made that decision? Was it around the same time the possibility first occurred to you or was it sometime later? Had you been sticking to your recovery plan? These are all important questions to ask if you want to better understand what happened. Also, don’t rely solely on your own memory. Get input from your therapist, your friends and family, and from your sober network.
Think About What You Still Have Going for You
One of the biggest challenges in getting over a relapse is the feeling that you have to start over again from scratch. In some ways, you do have to start over. You might have to detox again and you have to start again at one day sober. This matters because sobriety tends to get easier the longer you’re in recovery. You may feel like you’ve wasted a lot of time, money, effort, and will power.
However, in some important ways, you don’t have to start over. You know that you can make it through detox and stay sober for a while. You are familiar with some kind of recovery process, whether it’s participation in a professional treatment program, talking to a therapist, or going to 12-Step meetings. You may have identified and made some progress toward treating any co-occurring mental health issues. You may have something resembling a sober network already in place.
Write down an actual list of all the advantages you have this time that you didn’t have last time. Take it one step further and write down all the advantages you have in general. When you see all the things you have going for you, the prospect of “starting over” won’t seem quite as overwhelming.
Make a New Plan and Try Again
Finally, once you’ve gotten sober, analyzed your mistakes, and taken stock of your current assets, make a new recovery plan that incorporates what you’ve learned. This will be different for everyone. For example, you might realize that after a few months, you started cutting a lot of corners on your recovery plan by skipping meetings, not exercising, and so on.
Your new plan will have to focus on keeping you more engaged and less complacent, possibly by increasing your social support. Another common problem is that people have a rough time transitioning from an inpatient treatment program back to their normal lives.
Your revised plan might include repeating treatment but this time with a more gradual transition, such as stepping down to an outpatient program or sober living environment before heading home. Whatever the stumbling blocks were last time, and there may be several, create a plan for exactly what you will do if you encounter them again.
Relapse is unfortunately very common in addiction recovery, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Plenty of people relapse and go on to have a strong recovery. You don’t fail until you quit trying. At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is never a straight line. We use a variety of proven methods to give our clients the tools they need to stay sober long term. For more information about our treatment options, call us at (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.
How Do You Choose a Good Addiction Treatment Program?
If you, or someone you care about, has finally realized drugs or alcohol have become a problem and it’s time to get help, congratulations, you’ve taken the first big step toward a better life. However, the next step--figuring out where to get help--can be incredibly challenging. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than 14,000 addiction treatment facilities in the US alone.
Some of them are excellent, many are mediocre, and a few are terrible. Treatment is a big commitment of time, money, and effort, so it pays to do your research before you commit. The following will at least help you narrow down the field of treatment options.
First, Assess Your Needs
Start by figuring out exactly what you need from treatment. It’s a good idea to start by talking to your doctor and therapist, if you have one. There are also independent consulting services that help people identify good treatment options. You may also ask for recommendations from your doctor, therapist, or people you know who have been through treatment. As noted above, be sure to research those recommendations thoroughly before committing.
One thing you definitely want to look for is accreditation. The two main accrediting agencies are The Joint Commission and The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. These are non-profit organizations that base accreditation on industry standards, client outcomes, and value. Typically, treatment centers will display these accreditations somewhere on their homepage.
Evidence-based methods are the next big thing to look for. That means there is actually scientific evidence for the treatments provided. Just as you expect that any treatment administered by your doctor has been shown to be effective in clinical trials, you should expect that addiction treatment has some evidence supporting its effectiveness. Unfortunately, evidence-based practices are the exception rather than the rule among addiction treatment providers.
Some common evidence-based methods include cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, family therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, and motivational interviewing. There is also substantial evidence that wellness practices, such as a healthy diet and regular exercise significantly strengthen recovery.
The best available treatment methods don’t mean much unless there is a competent, experienced staff to administer them. Ideally, a program will have a doctor certified in addiction medicine as well as qualified nursing staff. There should be therapists with graduate degrees in psychology or social work, as well as qualified counselors. Common certifications for addiction counselors include LADC, LPC, CAC, and CCDP. There should also be experts in other areas, such as exercise and nutrition.
Works with Insurance
Most people entering addiction treatment will rely on insurance to help them pay for it. However, even if you’re paying out of pocket, you want to be sure that a facility works with insurers. Insurance companies want to know their money is well spent and typically don’t cover programs with poor outcomes. Good programs typically work with several different insurers.
Clean, Comfortable Facilities
Some programs try to sell you on their luxury facilities but that’s typically not what you want. It suggests that your money is going to amenities rather than treatment. Neither do you want facilities that are excessively spartan. That suggests low regard for clients and perhaps even cutting corners. You certainly don’t want facilities that are dirty or shabby. Look for the middle path--something clean and comfortable but not too fancy.
Everyone has different needs in treatment and it’s crucial to find a program that tailors its treatment to the individual. There is no one-size-fits-all in addiction treatment. Patented methods and miracle cures rarely work. You want a program with flexibility, that can use a diversity of methods to meet your specific needs.
Equipped for Co-Occurring Disorders
Most people seeking help for addiction will have some kind of co-occurring disorder. At least half of people have a co-occurring mental health issue, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, and others that must be treated concurrently for recovery to last. Many people will also have medical issues, perhaps related to their substance use that will require special care. Be sure to ask in detail about a facility’s capacity to provide care for these issues.
Watch Out for Red Flags:
Lack of Rigor
As noted above, addiction treatment should be individualized. Even programs that provide individualized care know that not everyone is suited for their program. Quality treatment programs will want to be sure you or your loved one are a good candidate, that they can meet your needs and that you will do well in their specific environment.
Therefore, they should ask lots of questions about your addiction and medical history, ask to see your medical records and contact your therapist. Treatment centers are bound by the same privacy rules as hospitals, so don’t worry about sharing this information. However, if a program seems to take anyone who calls, it might be a sign that they don’t really care whether you are a good fit for their program.
Guarantees of Success
Addiction is a chronic condition and therefore inherently difficult to treat. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people relapse in the first year after treatment. Therefore, if a program guarantees a high success rate like 80 or 90 percent, you should probably be skeptical.
Some programs offer a guarantee in that you can return for free if you relapse after completing the program and that’s fine since they’re acknowledging the ongoing nature of addiction recovery. As with anything in life, beware of miracle cures.
Finally, beware of generic addiction treatment services that don’t seem to have a physical location. These are often referral services who claim they will match you to an appropriate treatment provider but will really sell you to the highest bidder. You want to be doing your own research and making your own decisions as much as possible.
Choosing an addiction treatment program is one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. Treat it with the gravity it deserves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you feel weird about a program or you feel like someone is being evasive, move on. There are plenty of fish in this particular sea and you should feel good about your final decision. At The Foundry, we know what a big decision this is and we want to help you make a good one. Call us today at (844) 955-1066 to ask us anything you want to know.
When Should You Consider Changing Therapists?
Therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment and most people will continue therapy, at least intermittently, throughout recovery. In an ideal situation, your therapist is your partner in mental health.
You work together to figure out what’s not working in your life and what to do about it. However, as with any relationship, your relationship with your therapist might not be very good or it may start out good and later fall apart. Here are some times you should consider finding a new therapist.
Obviously, if you’re moving, you may have to find a new therapist. Consistency is important in therapy and if you have to drive an hour or more to appointments, it will probably wear you down eventually. However, geography is becoming less of a barrier to treatment these days.
Many therapists were already expanding to remote sessions and that number has probably increased dramatically, since, at the moment, we’re all under quarantine to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So if you like your therapist and you’re moving, see if remote therapy is an option. Otherwise, consider asking your therapist for a recommendation for someone who can see you remotely or who works in the area you’re moving to.
Unprofessional conduct is definitely a sign you should consider switching therapists. It depends to some extent on how bad the conduct is. For example, breaching confidentiality or making sexual advances should make you dump your therapist right away. These behaviors are pretty rare, given that the vast majority of therapists genuinely want to help people and they depend greatly on their professional reputation.
Other forms of unprofessional conduct might include missing appointments, showing up late, or canceling appointments last minute. Sometimes these things are unavoidable, so it shouldn’t be considered unprofessional unless it becomes a pattern. Behaviors, like looking at their phone during your session, eating, or otherwise not paying attention, are also not encouraging. If you generally like your therapist but you’re bothered by these behaviors, it might be worth a discussion before moving on to someone else.
You Feel Like You’re Not Making Progress
You may get to the point in therapy where you feel like you’re not making any progress. Ideally, you will have set out some goals for therapy and some benchmarks so you can tell how you’re progressing, so it should be fairly obvious when you’re stuck. Another way you can tell you're stuck is if you feel like every session is the same.
You come in and complain about the same things for 50 minutes, then leave and nothing seems to change. Therapy can start to feel like a chore if you’re not getting anything out of it. If this happens, discuss it with your therapist. Perhaps you can change strategies or re-examine your goals.
Your Needs Change
Sometimes people find that they make a lot of progress in therapy at first and then somehow they get stuck. This is often because your needs change as you go. For example, maybe when you first started in therapy, your biggest challenge was coping with drug and alcohol cravings but as you got those under control, you found the biggest problem in your life was your relationships.
Yet your therapist keeps focusing on managing cravings and so you feel bored and stuck. Typically, your therapist will check in from time to time and make sure your needs are being met, but they are not mind readers. If your goals have shifted, you need to let them know. Usually, you will be able to refocus and work on your new priorities.
However, therapists, like everyone else, are better at some things than others. It’s possible your therapist was great at helping you deal with cravings but not so good at helping you improve your relationships. If that turns out to be the case, it may be time to look for a therapist whose strengths better match your needs.
You Feel Like You Can’t Speak Freely
If there’s one thing that’s essential in a therapist-client relationship, it’s that you should be able to speak freely. This is why confidentiality is so critical. You can’t be worried about whether your therapist is going to testify against you in court or blab all your secrets to their barber if you’re going to share what’s really bothering you.
However, confidentiality isn’t the whole issue. If you feel like your therapist is judgmental or critical, it can be just as hard to speak openly, as if doubting their discretion.One skill every therapist should have is non-judgmental listening. As a client, you should feel heard and validated.
That doesn’t mean your therapist has to approve of everything you say or do, just that you shouldn’t be made to feel like a bad person. However, we all have our prejudices and sore spots. It’s not always possible for your therapist to refrain from judgment. If you raise the issue and it doesn’t improve, it might indicate that your therapist isn’t the best person to help you with your particular issues.
Your Therapist Has Boundary Issues
Healthy boundaries means you protect what’s important to you and you respect what’s important to others. A good therapist might give you suggestions but they shouldn’t try to control you, tell you what to do, or otherwise violate your autonomy.
Nor should they be too familiar. While you should feel like you can be open with your therapist, your therapist is not your friend. If they share too much about their personal life or try to have a relationship outside of therapy, it signals a lack of boundaries and you may want to find someone else.
It’s important to keep in mind that it can take a little while for a therapeutic relationship to develop. It may take several months for you to feel comfortable opening up and it may take that long for your therapist to get a clear picture of your background and needs. For those reasons, it’s always better to talk it over first if you are not happy with the way therapy is going. It’s usually better to fix a problem if it can be fixed rather than start over with someone new. However, some problems just can’t be fixed, at which point, you should just move on. At The Foundry, we know that mental health is a key aspect of a strong recovery and we use evidence-based methods to treat substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Find a Good Therapist?
If you are recovering from a substance use disorder or even just considering getting help, a good therapist should be part of your foreseeable future. Substance use issues are rarely just about drugs and alcohol. They are almost always embedded in a nest of trauma, mental health issues, dysfunctional relationships, and other unhealthy behaviors.
Just trying to abstain from drugs or alcohol without addressing these other issues is difficult and typically short-lived. If you have been through a treatment program already, finding a good therapist is an excellent way to stay on track and work on applying the lessons of treatment to real-life challenges.
Even if you don’t see your therapist regularly at some point, it’s helpful to have someone to call when things get tough. However, the task of choosing a therapist is not that simple. If you live in a mid-sized city, there are likely hundreds of options. And now that more therapists are holding remote sessions, you have even more choices. The following are some ways you can find a therapist you like.
Ask for Recommendations
Asking for recommendations is a good place to start. There are several ways to go about this. Probably the single best way is to ask a therapist. Therapists know each other, know what their colleagues specialize in, know their treatment styles and personalities and, most importantly, know who to avoid.
The best situation is if you have a friend or relative who is a therapist because they know you and can better match you to someone you might work well with. However, if that’s not an option, you probably know someone who is in therapy.
If they like their therapist, you might contact them and ask for recommendations or have your friend ask. You might even consider seeing your friend’s therapist. It doesn’t hurt to put them on the list. Keep in mind, though, that therapists have rules about conflicts of interest, so your relationship to the person will affect whether you can see the same therapist.
Another possibility is to ask your doctor for a recommendation. This has the particular advantage of allowing you to describe your needs in some detail without worrying about confidentiality. However, it’s also important to make sure your doctor’s recommendation is based on personal knowledge and they’re not just picking a name off a list. When asking for recommendations, always ask for two or three names so you have some options.
See Who Your Insurance Covers
If you’re paying out of pocket, this isn’t quite as important, but if you’re relying on insurance to pay at least some of the cost of therapy, then this will narrow down your options to some degree, depending on your insurance. If you can afford it, it might be worth it to pay out of pocket even if you do have insurance. That way, you’ll be making your decision based on who you really think is best, not based on who is willing to accept your insurer’s rates.
There are several online listings of therapists. The most comprehensive is on the Psychology Today website. There, you can narrow down your choices by location, issues, type of therapy, insurance, and other factors.
Not everyone is listed in these directories but you can usually find several strong candidates. Their profiles often link to their professional websites so you can get more info. Do not look on Craigslist for a therapist.
Check Cut a Few Before Committing
It may be tempting to just commit to the first therapist who looks like a good fit. However, there is sometimes a huge difference between a good fit on paper and a good fit in person. Start by calling or emailing a few promising candidates.
See if you can do a 10 or 15-minute consultation. This should give you a pretty good idea if this is someone you feel comfortable talking to and has a therapeutic style you feel good about. Doing this over the phone instead of coming in for a whole session makes you feel less committed to a particular therapist.
Ask About Their Specialization and Experience
When you email, or during your initial consultation, be sure to ask about their background, their education, and their experience with your particular issues. Where they were educated is not nearly as important as their relevant experience. This is especially important because most people struggling with substance use issues will need a therapist who specializes in addiction and something else.
Most therapists will list depression and anxiety disorders among their areas of expertise, since these, by far, affect the most people. However, you should be able to get a sense of their specializations--whether they primarily treat children or adults, families or individuals, and specific issues like addiction, PTSD, sexual abuse, and so on. Beware of therapists who claim to be experts in everything.
Ask About Their Approach to Treatment
Different therapists have different treatment philosophies. Some are happy to use whatever works while others are more orthodox. Most therapists these days rely heavily on cognitive behavioral methods but there are still some practicing psychoanalysts. More therapists are now incorporating things like mediation, exercise, and healthy eating into their treatment.
Some have a more religious or spiritual bent while others pay close attention to the science. Ask open-ended questions like, “How would you describe your approach to treatment?” The more research you do beforehand, the better questions you can ask.
Ask About Price
If your insurance covers a therapist, ask about price anyway. Insurance is still very dodgy about covering mental health. Even if a therapist is in-network, you may end up having to pay for sessions exceeding a certain amount per year. In other words, in October, you might discover that your insurance has paid for all the sessions they’re going to pay for that year and you’re on your own for November and December.
Or your therapist may drop your insurance, meaning you have to pay out of pocket if you want to continue working with them. Either way, it’s best to know what it might cost you and decide accordingly. Often, therapists will work on a sliding scale, so ask about that before you decide you can’t afford to work with a particular therapist.
For some people, a good therapist is all they need to change their substance use habits. For others, a therapist can help them make the often difficult transition from treatment back to regular life. For anyone with co-occurring mental health issues, a good therapist is crucial for maintaining recovery. Ask for recommendations, do your research, ask questions, and take your time deciding. There are many good therapists out there but there might not be many good therapists for you. At The Foundry, we know that good mental health is the core of a strong recovery. That’s why we use a variety of evidence-based methods to help our clients address co-occurring mental health issues. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What Can You Do to Help Reduce the Stigma of Addiction?
Because of the opioid crisis, the public has been more well-informed in recent years about addiction. Most of us know someone who has been affected by opioids in some way, and that tends to force us to examine our assumptions about addiction and who becomes addicted. Despite this progress, there is still a long way to go. For example, a 2018 poll found that while a slim majority of Americans now believe that addiction is a disease that requires treatment, many people still hold inaccurate views about addiction and biases against people who struggle with substance use disorders.
For example, 44 percent of respondents said they believe opioid addiction results from a lack of willpower or discipline and fewer than 20 percent said they would be willing to closely associate with someone with a substance use disorder. Clearly, the stigma of addiction is real, and it is often a factor that makes people reluctant to seek treatment. The following are some things you can do to help reduce the stigma of addiction.
Educate yourself about addiction.
You can’t help others if your own beliefs are wrong or outdated. There are many resources available online, including information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Public Health, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Organizations such as AA, NA, and SMART Recovery also offer a lot of free literature online and at meetings. Additionally, there are many excellent books about addiction, including In the Land of Hungry Ghosts, by Gabor Mate, High Price, by Carl Hart, and Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz.
Addiction science is relatively new and experts disagree, even on certain fundamental details. Therefore, it’s a good idea to get some different perspectives. However, most experts agree on several points about addiction. First, it seems clear that genes account for about half your addiction risk, so if you have a parent or a sibling with a substance use disorder, you are at greater risk.
Second, addiction is far more common — between two and five times as common — among people with mental health issues. Third, trauma and adverse childhood experiences significantly increase your risk of addiction. The more you know about addiction, the more you can help circulate accurate information and prevent the spread of misinformation.
Beware of stigmatizing language.
It’s important to pay attention to how you communicate about addiction both in speech and writing. You want to especially be on guard against stigmatizing and dehumanizing language. Never use words like “crackhead” or “junkie.” It’s also important to beware of more subtle stigmatizing language. Just calling someone an “addict” is stigmatizing and it’s still fairly common in media coverage, even sympathetic media coverage. Similarly, “substance use disorder” is preferable to “substance abuse.” Stigmatizing language reduces someone to a label rather than recognizing that a real person is struggling with a real problem.
When you talk about addiction or someone with a substance use disorder, imagine that it’s your friend, sibling, parent, or child and don’t say anything you wouldn’t say about them or to them. It’s possible that even in a small group of friends, someone in your company might have a substance use issue that you don’t know about. Remember that addiction is a tragedy, it happens for reasons that are mostly beyond your control, and it can happen to anyone.
Correct misinformation when you hear it.
While paying attention to your own language is a good start, it’s also helpful to correct misinformation when you hear it. If someone uses stigmatizing language or repeats false information, correct them. Most of the time, people just don’t know any better and they’re just repeating what they heard somewhere. When you contest wrong information, you might change the mind of the speaker, and you will certainly reach the listeners, as well. They might not otherwise know about alternative viewpoints.
Don’t just limit yourself to correcting misinformation you hear in person. When you see stigmatizing language or stories in the media, either in news stories or fictional representations, say something. Often, these sources prefer to be fair and simply aren’t aware of their mistakes.
Support treatment over punishment.
One of the biggest ways addiction stigma matters is that public opinion affects public policy. If people believe that individuals with substance use disorders are dangerous criminals who chose addiction, they are likely to favor punishment over treatment and resent public money being used for harm reduction and treatment.
However, people who are more informed know that the scientific evidence supports treatment and harm reduction. For example, drug courts give people the choice of treatment or jail and those who choose treatment — which is most — have much better outcomes.
Since so many people have now been personally affected by the opioid crisis, most politicians are pretty reasonable in their attitudes toward addiction these days, but there are still some who hold to the old punitive view. Support politicians at every level who advocate for treatment over those who promote punishment, and make sure your representatives know your views on addiction.
Share your experiences with addiction when appropriate.
Finally, when appropriate, consider sharing your own experiences with addiction and recovery. Addiction largely remains an invisible problem and people often don’t even realize when a close friend or relative is struggling. This allows many negative stereotypes to persist. Sharing your own experience can put a real face on addiction and it might encourage someone to seek help if they know they aren’t alone.
The stigma of addiction remains a real problem. Not only does it discourage people from getting help, but it makes people feel less than; it makes them feel more ashamed when they are already struggling. By educating yourself, correcting errors when you hear them, and being open when possible, you can do your part to fight the stigma of addiction. At The Foundry, we know that addiction is something you go through, not something that defines you. We give our clients the tools they need to be resilient and live more fulfilling lives. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.
Why Is Transitional Care Important for Addiction Recovery?
A lot of people assume that completing an addiction treatment program is all they really need to do in order to recover. Unfortunately, treatment isn’t like taking your car to the shop. Treatment gives you a great start in recovery. It gets you away from bad influences and bad situations, helps you detox safely, gets you started in therapy, and it teaches you some crucial recovery skills.
However, all of this is just a beginning. Addiction is a chronic condition that requires you to stick to an ongoing treatment plan. As with high blood pressure or diabetes, when you abandon your treatment plan, the condition gets worse. Transitional care is a way of making sure that the positive changes you make during treatment continue long after you leave.
When you leave treatment, you go from a highly structured environment to an unstructured environment. When you’re in inpatient treatment, pretty much everything is scheduled such as sleep, meals, therapy, activities, and free time. While this clearly has a practical purpose, it also has a therapeutic purpose.
You know what to expect from each day and you don’t have to put much energy into deciding what to do, making healthy decisions, and so on. Having structure in your days minimizes boredom and restlessness and it fosters conscientiousness. This self-awareness is a personality trait that helps protect us against substance use.
It can be rather jarring to go from a highly structured environment like treatment to one where there is essentially no structure at all. Usually, a month is not long enough to make your treatment routine automatic, but it is a pretty good start. It’s a good idea to try to keep to that regular schedule as much as possible after you leave.
When you’re in treatment, pretty much everyone around you is invested in your recovery. The staff is paid to help you get sober and stay sober. Beyond that, most people choose that work because helping people with substance use issues means something to them. Most of the other people in treatment want to stay sober and many of them will support your efforts too.
It’s very different after you leave. Most people will have no idea you are recovering from addiction and some will actively make it harder for you to stay sober. There is also a lot more stress in regular life, which you were mostly shielded from during treatment. One of the first things you’ll have to do after leaving treatment is to create a sober support system as quickly as possible. Social support is one of the most important factors in a strong recovery.
Applying Recovery Skills
There’s often a big difference between theory and practice. During treatment, you’ll learn a lot of skills. You’ll learn how to manage your emotions, cope with stress, and to interact more effectively with others. You will even be able to practice these skills to some extent.
While this is great preparation, life often surprises us with new problems. It’s always important to have a plan but it’s also important to realize that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. We face new challenges all the time and having someone to help you apply your new recovery skills to real-life situations can make a big difference.
What Is Transitional Care?
Having seen some of the issues that make transitioning back to normal life after treatment so difficult for many people, what can be done about it? There are many different modes of follow-up care but they mainly fall into the three categories below.
Creating Social Support
The lowest level of follow-up care involves helping clients create some degree of social support. For example, many programs help clients get situated in external 12-Step programs so they will have an established meeting when they leave. Some programs offer alumni services that connect program graduates to alumni in their area.
Some programs offer counseling services or virtual group sessions for a period following the formal program. These are not only helpful for clients but they often provide useful feedback for treatment programs.
Another common strategy is step-down care. For example, if you’ve just completed a period of inpatient treatment, you might continue on in an intensive outpatient program. This continues much of the intensive support and therapy and provides a bit of structure while giving you more freedom to live at home and work or go to school.
Even if you don’t enroll in a formal program following treatment, you should find a good therapist and go to appointments at least once a week. For many people, daily 12-Step meetings help them stay on track during the first few months following treatment. The basic idea is that whatever level of care you’ve recently completed, you move down to a slightly less intensive form of treatment rather than heading straight back to normal life.
Sober Living Environment
Finally, you might consider a sober living environment to help you transition back to normal life. These are typically houses where only sober people live. Structure is a condition of living there and you can usually enjoy some support from your housemates. Usually, there is a curfew, and residents are required to do some chores, attend 12-Step meetings, and work or at least look for work.
Intensive treatment is a great start to recovery, but it’s important to keep in mind that addiction is a chronic condition that will require management for years, and possibly for life. You typically have to make a lot of changes during treatment and making these part of your normal life will take a bit of time, practice, and social support. At The Foundry, we know that the transitional period after treatment is a difficult time for people. That’s why we do everything we can to smooth that transition and make it successful. To learn more about our transitional care and our treatment programs in general, call us at (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.
How Do You Care for Yourself When a Loved One Has a Substance Use Disorder?
It’s hard when you have a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder. Not only are you constantly worried about their health and welfare, but their substance use and resulting behavior probably affect you directly in various ways. They may get belligerent, ask to borrow money, keep strange hours, bring around suspicious people, and disrupt your life in countless other ways.
You want to help them but they may not be ready for help yet. The situation is a source of chronic stress as you try to deal with your own conflicting motivations. If you have a loved one with a substance use disorder, the following are some ways to take care of yourself.
Know That It’s Not Your Fault
First of all, know that whatever struggles your loved one is dealing with, it’s not your fault. Addiction is complex, typically involving genetic factors, mental health issues, childhood environment, or trauma. Sometimes these things combine in just the wrong way and most of the relevant factors are beyond anyone’s control.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
Maintaining healthy boundaries is good for both of you. Healthy boundaries mean you expect your loved one to respect your values and autonomy and you respect theirs. Healthy boundaries are also a safety issue. If your loved one is going to live with you, they need to respect certain rules, like not bringing drugs or alcohol into the house, not bringing people over, and so on. They also need to respect you and your property by not trying to manipulate you, lie to you, or steal from you.
Boundaries are a way of protecting yourself and a way of not enabling their addictive behavior. Maintaining healthy boundaries may also be a way of improving the situation. Dysfunctional family dynamics, including poor communication and weak or nonexistent boundaries, often contribute to addiction.
Dealing with a loved one’s addiction can wear you down and take a toll on your health. Chronic stress produces hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to various health issues over time.
To reduce stress and maintain health, three things are most important: sleep, diet, and exercise. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every night. Even a modest sleep deficit can lead to increased anxiety, poor concentration and memory, poor planning, and lack of self-control. Over a longer period, a sleep deficit increases your risk of major depression and anxiety disorders.
Diet is the next important aspect of staying healthy. There are now many studies connecting a good diet with better mental health. One meta-analysis with data from more than 45,000 participants found that a healthy diet significantly reduces your risk of depression. Healthy diets in the various studies typically included mostly whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with very little processed grain, meat, or sugar.
Exercise is the third leg of the stool. It improves your physical health, especially your cardiovascular health, and helps you maintain a healthy body weight. Perhaps more importantly, it helps improve your mental health, particularly by making you less reactive to stress. All you really need is to walk 30 minutes a day to notice improvements.
Find Ways to Relax
Some people have trouble relaxing because they feel like it’s just doing nothing. However, relaxation helps you reduce stress and recover from the stress of the day. Find something that works for you whether it’s meditating, listening to music, reading, or taking a hot bath or shower. Schedule some time to relax every day.
Talk to a Therapist
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is a difficult situation to deal with. You may have trouble dealing with guilt or setting boundaries. You may have trouble coping with the associated stress or communicating effectively. A therapist can help you with all of these issues.
As noted above, family dynamics often drive addiction and it’s possible that by improving your communication skills, learning to set and respect boundaries, and resolving your own issues, that you might have a positive effect on your loved one.
Seek Social Support
Finally, seek social support. One of the hardest things is feeling like you are dealing with this situation on your own. People with substance use issues will sometimes deliberately try to isolate you as a means of control. Connect with others who are facing the same challenges.
Consider attending Al-Anon or Nar-Anon meetings in your area. You can talk to people who have been through the same thing and understand. Having that sense of connection makes you feel less stressed and more confident about dealing with the challenges related to your loved one’s addiction.
Having a loved one with a substance use disorder is always a difficult situation. It’s hard to know to help without enabling. Many people feel personally responsible for their loved ones’ addiction and recovery and the ongoing stress can have a serious effect on your health. While it’s great to want to help your loved one and encourage them to get help, remember that ultimately, they have to make their own decisions and that you can’t help them if you are sick and depressed. At The Foundry, we know that family is one of the most important elements of a strong recovery and we want you to play an integral role in your loved one’s treatment. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066 or explore our website.
How Do You Forgive a Loved One After Addiction?
It’s hard living with a loved one with a substance use disorder. You may have put up with years’ worth of bad behavior, including lying, stealing, violent behavior, manipulation, and general unreliability. You may find that even when your loved one gets sober that you still have trouble forgiving them for everything they put you through when they were actively addicted.
If you want to repair and preserve the relationship, it’s necessary to forgive them at some point, so you can move on, but that can be a huge challenge. It’s hard to let go of the hurt. The following tips can help you forgive a loved one for their sake and yours.
Remember That Forgiveness Is Not Approval
One reason people find it hard to forgive is that they feel like forgiving someone is the same as condoning their behavior, that it’s like saying that they really didn’t do anything wrong after all. That’s not what forgiveness is about.
Forgiveness is nearly the opposite. It’s saying, “You certainly did something wrong but I’m not going to continue being angry about it.” Forgiveness is not approval and it’s not forgetting. You should certainly retain the lessons you learned from your loved one’s addiction, but in forgiving them, you let go of your resentment.
Remember That Forgiveness Is for You as Much as Them
Your loved one may want your forgiveness and even ask for it but that doesn’t mean forgiveness is only for them. In fact, forgiveness is primarily for you. Holding on to anger and resentment is bad for you. It’s a form of chronic stress that impairs your immune system, disturbs your sleep, and generally makes you less happy.
Resentment also means you are continually reaffirming your status as a victim in this situation since you still feel harmed by the person’s past actions. Forgiveness means taking responsibility for your own mental state, leading to greater freedom and well-being.
Try to Understand Addiction
If you’ve never experienced addiction for yourself, it can be very hard to understand from the outside. Every bad thing your loved one does seems like a choice--something they deliberately do to you. It’s easy to take their actions personally and hard to forgive. However, as you learn more about addiction, the role of choice in addictive behavior appears to shrink significantly.
Addiction often causes structural changes in the brain that optimize your thinking for drug or alcohol-seeking behavior while ignoring collateral damage. The roots of addiction are also complex, involving genes, childhood environment, and mental health issues. Being angry at someone for a substance use disorder is like being angry at someone for having diabetes. It’s not something anyone chooses.
In addition to understanding addiction better in general, it’s important to understand your loved one’s particular experience. For that, listening is important. Becoming a better listener is a whole skill in itself but the basics include giving your loved one your full attention, reflecting back what they say, “So, what you’re saying is...” and trying to put yourself in their place.
That means suspending judgment at least temporarily and trying to imagine what it must have been like for them to struggle with substance use and related behaviors. Often, you’ll find that their experience has been far worse than yours, which will engage your compassionate instincts.
Talk to a Therapist
Forgiveness isn’t something you have to work through on your own; you can always enlist the help of a therapist. Your therapist can help you untangle the difficult emotions you feel related to your loved one--love, hurt, anger, sadness, fear, concern, compassion, resentment, and so on. You may be having trouble with your own feelings including guilt, shame, and anger towards someone you’re supposed to love and care for.
Validating these feelings is just as important as understanding what your loved one has been through. It may also help to participate in family therapy as part of your loved one’s treatment. Many programs like to involve the families in treatment as much as possible. It helps untangle unhealthy family dynamics, improve communication, and educate families on the recovery process.
Seek Social Support
If therapy isn’t an option for you, or even if it is, you may consider attending a group like Al-Anon or Nar-Anon for families of people with substance use disorders. Forgiveness is a common theme of these groups and you can talk things over with people who have had many of the same experiences as you’ve had.
Maintain Healthy Boundaries
As noted above, forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. In fact, remembering how bad things got can give you ancentive to maintain healthy boundaries with your loved one. Part of the ongoing resentment is the fear that you’ll be hurt again. If you are able to insulate yourself from the consequences of your loved one’s substance use, you will be better able to forgive their past behavior.
Be Patient With Yourself
Finally, be patient with yourself. Often, the anger and resentment you feel towards a loved one with a substance use disorder is a habit of mind built over years of pain and disappointment. You can’t expect to let it all go overnight. The point of forgiveness is to allow yourself to be free from that anger and resentment but if you criticize yourself for being slow to forgive, you only add to your own pain. Give yourself time. The important things are that you want to forgive and that you’re actively working on it.
Forgiveness can be hard. It feels like you’re condoning your loved one’s past behavior or leaving yourself vulnerable to being hurt again. In reality, you’re letting go of an unnecessary burden, even if you have to do it one brick at a time.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery is stronger when you have the support of friends and family. That’s why we promote family involvement and building a strong recovery community as well as addressing the underlying causes of addiction. To learn more, contact us today at (844) 955-1066.
Are You Afraid of Change?
Fear is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help for addiction--fear of withdrawal, fear of loneliness, fear of vulnerability, fear of failure, and more. Underlying many of these fears is a general fear of change. Getting sober is perhaps the biggest change you’ll ever make in your life and it requires other changes, including how you relate to others, what you do for fun, who you spend time with, and how you take care of yourself.
That can feel pretty daunting and fear can slow your progress in recovery. The following suggestions can help be less afraid of change, and perhaps even embrace it.
Why Change is Scary
First, it helps to understand why change scares us. It may seem irrational to fear change. For example, you may look at what drugs and alcohol have done to your life and think that any change has to be better, and, in fact, that’s what motivates many people to seek help. However, you may still resist change, even when you rationally know it will be better for you.
Why? Well, however bad your life is right now, at least you know you can survive it. You know what to expect and you know how to deal with the challenges that come with your current way of life. Even if it’s bad, at least it’s familiar. If you make a change, who knows what will happen?
You may face some situations that you don’t know how to deal with. Even if you know, rationally, that getting sober won’t threaten your life--and will likely save it--we instinctively fear the unknown. You don’t know quite how to imagine sober life and at the very least, that can undermine your resolve.
Do Your Research
One way to reduce your fear of change is to understand it better. The clearer your idea of your destination, the less threatening it will seem. For example, in the days before the Internet, if you wanted to book a hotel room or rent an apartment in another city, you pretty much had to cross your fingers and hope for the best. Now you can look at pictures, explore the neighborhood with Google street view, and get step-by-step directions to the front door. The whole process is much less scary.
Similarly, if you’re trying to make a big change in life, whether it’s getting sober, moving to another area, or changing careers, knowing what you’re getting into helps minimize your fears. If you’re trying to recover from addiction, that means reading memoirs about recovery, listening to others at 12-step meetings and group therapy sessions, and talking to people who have been where you want to go. This helps replace simplistic and distorted ideas of what that change means with more accurate and inspiring possibilities and it also alerts you to possible challenges along the way.
Approach Change With Curiosity
However much research you do, you won’t be able to predict the future. There will always be unexpected challenges and every individual has a different journey. These unknowables can be a significant source of anxiety.
One way to cope is to approach the change with curiosity, rather than trepidation. Fear and excitement are physiologically the same--your heart rate and breathing speed up, your senses are sharpened, and so on--and you can choose how to interpret those physiological signals. That means you can feel afraid and choose to be excited. Being excited about the unknown is another name for curiosity.
Think of recovery as a film, in which you can’t wait to see what happens. This applies to big and small changes alike. Is your therapist asking you to do something that stretches your comfort zone a bit? Think of it as an experiment and be curious about the result.
Confront Your Fear of Failure
As discussed above, we often prefer the familiar to the unknown, even if the familiar is pretty miserable. The reason is that in the primitive parts of our brains, we believe the unknown can be fatal. While death is not a likely outcome of getting sober, failure is certainly possible. Recovery takes a lot of time and effort.
You and your loved ones may have high hopes and the thought of letting everyone down can be frightening. Or you may be afraid that once you’re sober, you’ll no longer have an excuse for failure in other areas of your life, such as work or relationships. In short, you’re afraid that trying to get sober will somehow expose you as inadequate.
That’s a normal fear but it’s also a kind of illusion. Say, for example, that you do relapse. That’s certainly a setback, but it’s not a permanent failure. Plenty of people relapse several times and still eventually get sober. Everything worthwhile takes practice and perseverance. You will inevitably have setbacks and disappointments but they don’t have to be permanent failures.
Focus on the Process
Part of the fear of change is that you see a clear dividing line between the person you are now and the person you want to become. That idea of transformation can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying. The problem is that the person you are changing into only exists in the future, in your imagination.
If you could somehow snap your fingers and turn into that person, it would feel strange and alienating. All you can really do is focus on the present and the process of recovery. Recovery is really a matter of practicing new skills, learning new things about yourself, and making small changes in your habits, and eventually, you will move from being able to abstain from drugs and alcohol to preferring to live without them. There is no point at which you change into a different person but at some point, you’ll look back and realize life is different now.
It’s normal to fear change. Most of us are hardwired to prefer the familiar. However, fear of change can keep you stuck, and sometimes it can even threaten your life. The keys to overcoming change are to know what to expect, be curious about the process, be aware of your fear of failure, and focus on the process in the present moment.
At The Foundry, we know that making any big change in life is scary but we also know that treatment helps people live happier, more fulfilling lives. We use proven therapeutic techniques and provide a great support system to help you make one of the best changes in your life. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.
What if Exercise Makes You Feel Worse?
Exercise is one of the most important lifestyle habits to adopt when you’re recovering from addiction. There’s a lot of research showing that regular exercise reduces stress and anxiety, improves mood, and reduces relapse risk. Exercise also helps reduce some of the physical health risks of excessive drinking and drug use. Adopting even a moderate exercise regimen, such as walking for 20 minutes a day should definitely be part of your recovery plan.
However, some people find that exercise makes them feel worse--typically more anxious but sometimes depressed as well. If you’ve tried adopting an exercise habit and find that you feel worse, here are some possible reasons.
You’re Relying Only on Exercise
With all the media coverage of the wonderful ways exercise benefits your mental health, a lot of people get the idea that exercise is all you need to deal with a mental health issue. However, mental health is about more than mood. Your thinking, your external circumstances, and even your brain chemistry all play a role as well.
You’re not likely to have any kind of strong recovery if you don’t look at the whole picture. That’s why exercise should be just one part of a recovery plan that includes therapy and possibly medication and other lifestyle changes.
You’re Prone to Panic Attacks
If you have a panic disorder, exercise is a bit of a gambit. On the one hand, exercise is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. It reduces your reactivity to stress and improves your mood. It’s also a great way to desensitize yourself to the physical sensations of panic.
When you exercise, you feel physiological stress similar to anxiety, but you know it’s just a normal response to exertion. However, if you push too hard, you may actually trigger a panic attack because your heart is beating too fast, you’re having trouble catching your breath, and so on. Typically, the best thing to do is back off and just push yourself a little bit at a time.
Get your heart rate up for a few minutes, then take a break for a few minutes. Remind yourself that what you’re feeling is normal. It might help to have some soothing music handy to calm you down during the rest intervals. Gradually build the challenge by pushing yourself a little bit, then resting and calming down.
You’re Going Too Hard
Most people getting into exercise for the first time tend to overdo it. They’ve seen too many training montages and Nike commercials and they think they have to exhaust themselves during every workout. Excessively-long endurance workouts are especially bad for raising the stress hormone cortisol and they may actually disrupt your sleep, further compounding your anxiety.
At the other end, you may be overdoing high-intensity exercise such as heavy lifting or high-intensity interval training--HIIT--by cramming too many workouts into a week. These kinds of workouts take more time to recover from and you may end up feeling worn down, depressed, or anxious. There is a saying in fitness circles: Volume, frequency, intensity--pick one.
More to the point, you don’t have to exhaust yourself every workout. In fact, when you’re first starting out, it’s far more important to create the habit, which means making your workout as easy as possible. Once you’re in the habit of exercising most days, you can gradually make it harder.
Also, you can get a lot of benefits from even moderate exercise, such as walking 20 or 30 minutes a day. Instead of trying to train like a pro, take the opposite approach and ask yourself how little you can do and still get some benefit. As you get in better shape, that minimum will gradually increase.
You Need to Give It More Time
A lot of people, especially in January, start exercising, then give up after a week or two. They don’t see results and they just feel tired all the time. As discussed above, the first thing is to make sure you’re not going too hard, but rather focusing on establishing a regular and sustainable habit. The second thing is to give it a bit of time. Every change is uncomfortable at first.
You have to squeeze a new activity into your day, you have to use more energy than you’re used to, and you’ll probably feel a bit sore for the first week or so. Many people notice an improvement in their mood and sleep pretty quickly, but if you don’t, try to stick with exercising for at least a month before you give it up.
You’re Exercising at the Wrong Time of Day
Time of day can make a big difference. For example, if your body doesn’t regulate blood sugar well, working out before breakfast may be especially miserable. At the other end, exercising too close to bedtime may increase your cortisol and make it harder to sleep, which increases your anxiety. Everyone is different so the important thing is to try some different things and figure out what time of day works best for you.
You’re Doing the Wrong Exercise
Most research on exercise and mental health has focused on moderate aerobic exercise. The typical recommendation is at least 20 minutes of moderately intense aerobic exercise, such as running, biking, or swimming. Weightlifting typically doesn’t have quite as strong an effect on mental health, although several studies show it does help.
However, as noted, we’re all different and we all respond differently to different kinds of exercise. Research may show that aerobic exercise is best, but plenty of people have put many miles on their running shoes to no avail. Then they give it up and start lifting instead and feel like someone flipped a switch on their mood. Listen to your body. If one kind of exercise makes you feel more anxious and another kind calms you down, do the latter. There’s no right or wrong here.
You’re Exercising in the Wrong Environment
Finally, consider the environment where you exercise. If you run along a busy and dangerous street, you’re going to feel more anxious about it than if you run on a treadmill or in a nice park. If you feel like people are staring at you and judging you every time you walk into the gym, you are likely to feel self-conscious and anxious.
Typically, no one in the gym is worried about what you’re doing so make sure you don’t have distorted beliefs about the situation but it is important that you’re exercising in an environment where you feel safe and accepted.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health and some level of regular exercise should be part of every addiction recovery plan. When exercise makes you anxious or depressed, the most common issue is overdoing it. It’s also important to listen to your body and make exercise decisions based on your own needs.
At The Foundry, we know that exercise is one of the most important lifestyle changes you can make when you’re recovering from a substance use disorder. We help you make exercise a regular part of your life in a way that’s fun and promotes social connection. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Protect Yourself With a Family History of Addiction?
Much of your addiction risk is influenced by your family history. Genes and the environment both play a significant role in how addiction is passed down in families. Research has identified many gene variations that appear to be related to substance use disorders.
These aren’t “addiction genes” per se but rather they affect different aspects of your physiology. For example, genes related to how well you metabolize alcohol and its intermediate products, how your dopamine system responds to alcohol, and how active your brain’s fear centers are may all contribute to your risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
However, there is also a saying that genes load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger. In other words, having a genetic predisposition to substance use issues doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop an addiction. Your odds are significantly higher if you grow up in an environment where you feel unsafe or neglected, where you’ve experienced trauma, or where your parent or guardian had substance use issues.
Children are especially sensitive to trauma and chaos and they often learn substance use behaviors from their parents. As a result, if you have a parent or sibling with a substance use disorder, you are at much greater risk for developing a substance use issue yourself. The following tips can help limit your risk.
Ask About Your Family History
Addiction, even now, is a largely invisible disease. Families want to protect their loved ones’ reputations and people with substance use are often very good at hiding it. However, if your relatives have struggled with substance use, you need to know about it. Ask your relatives about your family history. Be curious about that aunt that no one ever seems to hear from, what your parents were like before you came along, or that grandparent who died at a suspiciously young age.
Limit Your Exposure to Drugs and Alcohol
If you’re concerned about your own addiction risk, the safest bet is just not to drink or use drugs. If you do drink, set strict limits for yourself. What those limits are, depends on your situation and how worried you are about your risk.
If both of your parents had an alcohol use disorder, you might not want to drink at all but if you had an uncle with a drinking problem and your other risk factors are low, perhaps you’ll feel safe having a drink with dinner now and then. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. It’s much easier to avoid addiction than to recover from it.
Know the Red Flags
It’s also important to know the red flags of addiction. This is true even if you have decided to abstain completely. Depending on your risk factors, you may also be vulnerable to process addictions, such as gambling, shopping, sex, or eating, so being aware of addiction red flags, in general, is a good idea. The trouble is that really clear signs tend to come too late. These are things like getting a DUI, losing your job, having serious relationship issues as a result of addiction, and so on.
Addiction typically creeps up on you slowly and by the time you realize what’s happening, it’s already hard to get clear of it. If you pay attention, you might notice addictive behavior before it becomes very hard to change course. For example, you might notice that you’re drinking every day, even if you’re only having one or two drinks.
That might be fine for most people but if you have an elevated risk, it might be time to take a break. If you feel like you need drugs or alcohol to relax, that’s another pretty clear sign because it indicates you may have begun to develop a physical dependence.
Needing more to feel any effect is another sign of dependence, as is feeling achy, jittery, shaky, or irritable when you go for a few days without drugs or alcohol. Also, beware if you find yourself lying or being deceptive about your drug or alcohol use. If you notice any of these signs, take action immediately, whether it’s talking to a therapist, addiction counselor, or doctor, or going to a 12-step meeting.
Talk to a Therapist
One of the best ways to preempt a substance use disorder is to talk to a therapist, even if you’re not sure if you need therapy. As noted above, genes are only part of the equation. Most people seeking help for addiction also have a co-occurring mental health issue, such as major depression, anxiety disorder, PTSD, bipolar disorder, ADHD, and others.
Substance use often begins as a way of self-medicating these conditions. If you did grow up in a house with addiction, it’s likely that you have some issues stemming from that experience and it’s better to address them on your own terms rather than wait for addiction to derail your life. If you don’t know what to tell your therapist, just say that your parents struggled with addiction and you don’t want to fall into the same trap. You certainly won’t be the first.
Make Your Doctor Aware of Your Concerns
Unfortunately, much of the opioid crisis in the US is a result of people using prescriptions as directed by their doctors. They would get these prescriptions for chronic pain or pain following a medical procedure, use them for far too long, and end up addicted, often switching to street drugs like heroin.
Doctors are typically far more cautious about prescribing opioids these days but it’s still important to make your doctor aware of any family history of addiction, just as you would make your doctor aware of any family history of cancer or heart disease. There are often non-addictive treatment alternatives and at the very least, you can take precautions against overusing potentially addictive medication.
Talk to Your Kids When They’re Ready
Finally, make sure your own kids know about the family history of addiction when they’re ready. This should be part of an overall approach to teaching your kids about drugs and alcohol from a young age. For example, when you give a young child cold medicine, you can remind them that they should only take medicine from you or a doctor, and scale up the lessons as they age.
At a certain point, they will need to know if they have a genetic vulnerability to addiction. This point may come much sooner than you realize since early experimentation with drugs and alcohol is another major factor in addiction risk.
Genes, epigenetics, and early environment play a major role in our lives, but they aren’t destiny. By taking sensible precautions, keeping an eye out for warning signs, addressing problems early, and taking care of your mental health, you can avoid the trap of addiction. If you do end up developing a substance use issue, help is available.
At The Foundry, we know that the roots of addiction are complex. We involve the entire family in treatment to create a supportive home environment through healthy boundaries and better communication. We also use evidence-based methods to treat co-occurring conditions and help you live a happier, more fulfilling life free of drugs and alcohol. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Can You Make Yourself Less Neurotic?
Neuroticism used to be a fairly broad term used to describe certain kinds of psychological disturbances. These days, it’s mostly limited to one of the big five personality traits, which include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which you can easily remember with the acronym OCEAN. Neuroticism is the tendency to experience negative emotions and more intense emotional reactions to threatening or frustrating situations.
While research suggests scoring high-ish on the other personality traits tends to result in better outcomes, including better relationships, more positive emotions, and even higher income, higher neuroticism tends to result in greater risk of mental and physical health issues and addiction. This is especially true when high neuroticism is paired with low conscientiousness. Given that high neuroticism increases your risk of addiction and makes you less happy overall, you might wonder if there is anything you can do about it if you happen to have high neuroticism.
As a basic personality trait, neuroticism is hard to change but it can be changed a bit. You are not likely to go from being in the ninetieth percentile to the tenth percentile of neuroticism--a huge change--but with persistent effort, you can probably dial it down a bit. It also helps that neuroticism tends to decline slightly as you age. The following are some ways you can reduce your neuroticism and thereby promote your recovery from addiction.
Go to Therapy
The most direct way to reduce neuroticism is to enter therapy. Your therapist can help you address it in a comprehensive way, including thought patterns, relationships, lifestyle factors, and perhaps medication. There is typically a biological component to neuroticism, meaning that some people are just physiologically more sensitive to stress, so it’s important not to think of neuroticism as a weakness or personal failing. Often, it also has a lot to do with early childhood environment and learned behaviors, and addressing those issues typically requires professional help.
Change How You Talk to Yourself
Although our ideas about neuroticism have changed a lot since Freud’s day, at least one thing is still similar: Negative feelings are, to a large extent, caused by our beliefs and assumptions, many of which we may not even be aware of. Although people who score high on neuroticism are often aware of their self-defeating behaviors, they feel powerless to actually change them. This is why a therapist can be especially helpful. One way of combating neurotic tendencies is to identify your underlying assumptions, challenge them, and replace them with more accurate and helpful thoughts.
For example, if you’ve had an argument with your spouse, you might think something like, “I’m always ruining my relationships,” a thought which characterizes yourself as comprehensively and permanently inept at relating to other people. This is an example of overgeneralization.
Instead, focus on the matter at hand. Did you listen to your spouse? Can you see things from their perspective? Were you making unreasonable demands? How might you best resolve the issue in a way that will make you both happy? More broadly, you probably have other relationships that go pretty well or you might even get along with your spouse pretty well most of the time. All of these ways of thinking can help you dismantle the cognitive distortions that worsen your challenging emotions.
As noted above, neuroticism is the tendency to feel more negative emotions and to feel them more intensely. Exercise combats both of these tendencies. First, exercise promotes the release of several neurotransmitters that improve your mood, including serotonin and endorphins. It also increases levels of BDNF, a neurotransmitter that grows neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region involved with memory formation that also helps regulate emotions.
Second, exercise causes structural changes in the brain that actually make your brain less sensitive to stress. A structure called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is plugged into several areas of the brain that are responsible for identifying and responding to threats. Regular exercise appears to help turn down the volume a bit on the HPA axis. Most studies suggest that at least 20 minutes a day of moderate-intensity aerobic exercises, such as brisk walking, jogging, biking, or swimming, is all you need to get the benefits.
Eat a Healthy Diet
More and more experts are becoming aware of just how important diet is for mental health. There are now quite a few studies showing that diet plays an especially large role in depression. One large meta-analysis of the research found that participants who adopted healthier diets--typically consisting of more nutrient-rich whole foods--had significantly fewer symptoms of depression.
This study found no effect of diet on anxiety symptoms--which are at least as common as depressive symptoms among people with high neuroticism. However, other research suggests that magnesium--specifically magnesium deficiency--may play an important role in anxiety disorders, making people more sensitive to stress. You can boost your magnesium levels by eating more magnesium-rich foods, many of which you should be eating anyway. These include nuts, beans, legumes, dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, avocados, and dark chocolate. If you decide to take magnesium supplements, consult with your doctor first since excess magnesium can cause problems.
Finally, you can reduce neuroticism by practicing mindfulness. One study of graduate students found that participating in a seven-week mindfulness course reduced neuroticism over a six-year follow-up period. Participants who completed the mindfulness course reported decreased psychological stress, due at least in part to personality changes.
There are several ways mindfulness can help reduce neuroticism. Perhaps the most important is that it’s a way of practicing acceptance of challenging emotions. Instead of trying to avoid or suppress them, you learn to sit with them and see they’re only feelings or thoughts and they can’t hurt you. Mindfulness also helps support other healthy lifestyle changes such as reducing emotional eating and improves your relationships by helping you be more attentive to the people around you. There are mindfulness classes available for free in many areas and online and you can practice in just a few minutes a day.
Personality traits change slowly and you should be looking for progress over months or years, not days or weeks. For that reason, it helps to make some of these changes habitual and to enlist the support of positive people. However, with persistent effort, you can reduce the intensity and frequency of negative emotions and make recovery from addiction a little easier.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about reorienting your life. It’s not just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but about feeling more connected, purposeful, and comfortable in your own skin. That’s why we employ a variety of methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy to help you relate better to challenging emotions. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Know When Your Anxiety Is Really an Anxiety Disorder?
Anxiety is one of the most common co-occurring disorders with addiction. Nearly 18% of people with substance use disorders experienced the symptoms of an anxiety disorder within the past year, and that figure doesn’t include post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, which may affect as many as half of people with a substance use disorder.
Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illnesses in the US. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 30% of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
However, nearly everyone experiences anxiety to some degree, and in many situations, it would be unusual if you didn’t feel anxious. What’s more, it’s hard to compare your own experience to anyone else’s to know whether you experience an excessive amount of anxiety. How can you tell if your anxiety is really an anxiety disorder?
You Feel Anxious for No Apparent Reason
The first thing to remember about anxiety is that it plays an important role in our survival. That’s why there are far more people who experience too much anxiety than people who experience hardly any. Anxiety is meant to warn you of danger and spur you into taking action. However, if you have an anxiety disorder, your brain or other parts of your physiology might decide to become anxious for no apparent reason. One minute, you’re sitting at home, minding your own business, and the next minute you’re overcome by worry or fear. If you find you’re anxious for no apparent reason, there may be some system in your brain or body that’s not properly regulating your state of mind.
Your Anxiety Continues After the Stressor
Sometimes you may have a good reason for anxiety--perhaps you have a job interview or you just narrowly avoided getting hit by a car. In cases like those, it’s normal to respond with some level of anxiety. However, after the danger has passed, your brain should send the “all clear” signal so you can wind down. However, if you get stuck in a loop, you may keep thinking about the inciting incident and your anxiety will stay pretty high. You try to stop but you just keep thinking about it. If this happens frequently, you may have an anxiety disorder.
You Feel Anxiety Out of Proportion to the Situation
As noted, there are plenty of times when some amount of anxiety is appropriate, but you always seem to feel much more anxious than the situation warrants. For example, someone has a birthday at the office and you get together with your coworkers for cake only to feel intense social anxiety. They’re all people you know, having an informal gathering with no stakes--why are you nervous? Unfortunately, this kind of reaction is not that uncommon and the anxiety can persist even if you know, rationally, that it’s excessive.
You Experience Panic
While anxiety, in appropriate amounts in appropriate situations, has a useful purpose, panic is never useful. Panic is runaway anxiety that keeps you from doing anything or even thinking clearly. Symptoms of a panic attack include a sense of impending doom, pounding or rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest or throat, shaking, dizziness, or feelings of unreality or depersonalization.
People having a panic attack often mistake it for a heart attack. Panic attacks often start with an inciting incident, something that might normally cause anxiety, but then it gets out of control. After you’ve had one panic attack, just fearing another panic attack can trigger a panic attack. If these symptoms are familiar, you may have a panic disorder.
You Feel Anxious Most of the Time
In addition to feeling anxious at inappropriate times, you may just have a low level of anxiety most of the time--when you get up in the morning, when you’re out with friends, when you lie down to sleep, and so on. Anxiety is just the background noise of your life. This may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. You may think of yourself as a worrier or your friends may say you worry too much. If you’re always fixated on possible problems, even if they are unlikely, it may indicate an anxiety disorder.
You Have Physical Symptoms
Anxiety isn’t just a state of mind; it affects your body too. When you anticipate a threat, your body undergoes many adaptations, including faster heart rate and breathing, withdrawing blood from the extremities, and ramping up your immune system to protect against possible injuries, stopping digestion and other processes unrelated to fight or flight, and others.
While these are sometimes helpful in the moment, they are meant to be very short-term. If you feel anxious all the time, you are more prone to physical symptoms such as digestive problems like nausea or diarrhea, headaches, muscle tension, and even long-term problems like obesity and heart disease. Digestive symptoms and headaches with no apparent medical cause are often a red flag for an anxiety disorder.
You Have Trouble Sleeping
Insomnia and disturbed sleep are among the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders. You lie down and all you can do is worry. Since your defenses are down while you’re asleep, worry can get a jump on you, even if it’s totally irrational. Therefore, you might find yourself waking up in the early hours of the morning unable to go back to sleep. This is also a common symptom of depression, which often overlaps with anxiety disorders.
You Avoid Certain Situations
Finally, avoidance is a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. In a sense, it’s one of the defining symptoms, since it’s a practical way that anxiety limits your life. Maybe you avoid social situations or things you have a specific phobia of or things that remind you of a trauma. Unfortunately, avoidant behavior tends to grow and it can end up being fairly debilitating, whether it causes you to avoid social interactions, high-stakes situations, or even leaving the house.
Anxiety disorders are too often dismissed as not “real” mental health issues--just a case of being too tightly wound or overly nervous. However, anxiety disorders can seriously affect your life, limiting your scope, and even driving substance use.
At The Foundry, we know that mental health is one of the keys to a strong recovery, which is why we emphasize the diagnosis and treatment of co-occurring mental health issues as part of our holistic treatment program. We know that trauma is especially common and we use a variety of trauma-focused therapies to help our clients heal. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Addiction Recovery?
In recent decades, more people have become aware of the importance of emotional intelligence, and it is especially important for recovering from addiction. While cognitive intelligence can help you get good grades in school and excel in certain jobs, it won’t protect you from developing a substance use disorder. In fact, some studies suggest that IQ correlates with a greater risk of substance use issues.
The problem is that cognitive intelligence has little influence over emotions. And once you develop a substance use issue, you mainly use your intelligence to get more drugs and alcohol. That’s why they often say in AA that “your best thinking is what got you here.” In a way, recovery from addiction is all about strengthening your emotional intelligence. The following are the five standard components of emotional intelligence and how they contribute to sobriety.
Self-awareness is the foundation of all emotional intelligence. It means being aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, blind spots, biases, and triggers. It means knowing what your core values are, what you enjoy, and what you don’t. Having relatively good self-awareness is like having a good map of your own mind. It helps you accomplish the things you want to do.
Unfortunately, self-awareness is not easy. As noted above, well all have biases and blind spots and these are usually most extreme regarding ourselves. This is compounded by the illusion that we know ourselves very well. Luckily, you can improve your self-awareness. The best tools for doing that are group and individual therapy.
These provide the rare opportunity to get objective feedback about your personal history, your beliefs, and your thinking habits. Another way to improve self-awareness is just to ask for feedback from people who know you well--friends, family members, coworkers, and so on. However, these people may be reluctant to be too honest, so you have to make it clear that you’re trying to better understand yourself, including your weaknesses.
Self-regulation is when you put your self-knowledge to good use. It’s the ability to keep yourself from lashing out in anger or from pouring a drink when you feel stressed. It’s the ability to cope with feeling overwhelmed or comfort yourself when you’re feeling anxious.
When you know yourself, you know what kinds of situations are likely to trigger cravings and which people you have trouble saying no to. Self-regulation is the main area where the rubber meets the road in addiction recovery, where the self-discovery you did in therapy is put to practical use improving your real-life behavior.
Self-regulation, like self-awareness, is a never-ending process and each depends on the other. Again, therapy is the single most powerful way to improve self-regulation. You learn many cognitive and behavioral strategies to help you cope with challenging emotions and make better decisions.
Some therapeutic methods, like dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, specifically use group sessions as a safe space to practice new skills before you have to use them in the wild. For example, it’s a good place to practice hearing constructive feedback without becoming angry or defensive.
Motivation is being able to motivate yourself and others to do what needs to be done. In addiction recovery, self-motivation is most important, but it can also be a way to support fellow group members and possibly even mentor others later on. People often start out in recovery feeling motivated because they are desperate for change. However, motivation often wanes as people encounter unexpected challenges or start to feel complacent about recovery. Knowing how to motivate yourself can make the difference between sticking to your recovery plan and gradually sliding toward relapse.
Motivation is mainly about three factors: remembering why sobriety matters to you, remembering how bad things were when you were actively addicted, and overcoming your doubts about whether you can succeed. There are various ways to address each of these but a good place to start is by connecting sobriety to your highest values. Having a why can keep you going through tough times.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place, to be able to have some idea of what they’re feeling and thinking. It’s the basis of compassion, which is empathy plus the desire to relieve someone’s suffering. In the context of addiction recovery, empathy is most important for its role in strengthening relationships--both with friends and family and with your sober network. The more connected you feel to others, the easier it is to stay sober. Socially connected people feel less stressed, less lonely, more accepted, and more accountable.
Increasing your empathy is mainly a matter of making a consistent effort to understand other people’s perspectives. This is especially important for people you don’t especially like or get along with. It helps to start by identifying the things you have in common. For example, you both want to be happy, you don’t want to be in pain, you want to feel like you matter, and so on. Recognizing these universal needs can help you understand what other people are going through.
Social skills are built on empathy and they are important for many of the same reasons as empathy is important. However, just as self-awareness is the foundation of self-regulation, empathy is the foundation of social skills. Much of our stress in life comes from interpersonal conflict, and much of that comes from poor communication. By improving your communication and conflict resolution skills, you can eliminate a lot of stress and irritation.
Improving your social skills is a huge subject, but it all starts with being a good listener. Give the person you’re talking to your undivided attention--which means put down your phone for a minute. Use reflection to show you’re listening and figure out whether you’ve understood correctly. Reflection usually involves phrases like, “So, what you’re saying is--” Validate what the person is saying and try to understand points of confusion or ambivalence.
Although some people are born with more emotional intelligence than others, we can all improve our emotional intelligence. What’s more, some people are stronger in some areas than others. You might have loads of empathy but poor self-awareness or vice versa. Correcting your weaknesses can help you have a better, longer recovery and be happier overall.
At The Foundry, we believe that overcoming a substance use disorder is really part of the larger project of living a better life. We use methods like DBT, group therapy, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients live fully realized lives, free from drugs and alcohol. For more information about our treatment options, call us at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Cope With Depression During Stressful Times?
Living with depression is never easy and that’s especially true during times of stress. At the moment, we’re all coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Although the quarantine is beginning to be lifted in some areas, the virus remains a threat and the economic impact has been huge. However, it doesn’t take a global pandemic to cause a personal crisis.
We all go through stressful times and whether it’s buying a house, getting a divorce, or being quarantined at home, stress can trigger a depressive episode, especially if you have a history of depression. If you have struggled with depression in the past, or are struggling with it now, here are some tips for keeping it together during stressful times.
Stick to Your Treatment Regimen
First of all, if you are already on a treatment regimen for depression, keep it up. Keep taking your medication, if that applies to you, keep doing your writing exercises, keep meditating, and keep exercising. If you’re seeing a therapist, keep seeing them, even if you have to see them remotely. If you haven’t been seeing your therapist lately, now is probably a pretty good time to resume. Reach out either through the phone or email and see if they can fit you in.
Set a Strict Limit on Media
This especially applies to news and social media. While it’s understandable that you want to stay informed, it’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of divisiveness and negativity that is the 24-hour news cycle. Set a strict daily limit on how much time you spend consuming news. Try to remember that in a week, 90 percent of it won’t matter anyway.
The same is true of social media. When you don’t have anything else to do, it may be especially tempting to endlessly scroll through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and so on. A number of studies have found that excessive social media use is terrible for your mental health, mainly because it promotes comparisons and fragments your attention.
One study found that participants who limited their social media use to 30 minutes a day for three weeks reported significantly lower levels of depression and loneliness by the end of the three-week study.
Try to Follow a Routine
Sometimes, when you’re feeling depressed and overwhelmed, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. Having something like a regular routine can help you get through the day in several ways. First, a regular routine reduces anxiety because you feel more in control and less uncertain about what’s ahead. Second, a routine breaks your day into manageable chunks.
The whole day might be too much to think about all at once but maybe you can think about just taking your shower, then just having breakfast, and so on. Your regular activities can serve as signposts throughout your day.
Get Some Exercise
Getting a bit of exercise is one of the most important things you can do if you feel depressed or if you want to avoid feeling depressed. Exercise helps improve your mood and it improves your stress tolerance. Many studies have found that exercise improves mental health outcomes overall. Of course, when you’re depressed, summoning the energy to do anything, much less exercise, is a big ask. Whatever you can do, even if it’s just a five-minute walk, will make you feel a little better.
There are now quite a few studies showing that diet has a significant effect on depression and depression risk. A number of studies have shown that dietary interventions can even improve depressive symptoms. The most beneficial diets typically include mostly whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, and fish. They are also low in processed meats, refined flour, sugar, and fried foods. It may be that such a diet helps reduce inflammation, which recent research suggests may be a significant factor in some forms of depression.
Look for Ways to Help Other
Part of the trouble with depression--especially during the current pandemic--is that it too often leads to isolation. You end up sitting alone feeling awful and even feeling awful about feeling awful. You may feel like you have very little control over the situation or anything else in your life. One way to fight both of these feelings is to look for ways to help other people.
For example, in the current crisis, just staying home helps, but you may also be able to do other things, like check on neighbors and relatives, donate to food banks, or sew masks. This helps take your mind off your own problems and allows you to contribute in some way, which boosts your sense of self-efficacy.
Try to Stay Present
As noted above, operating on a short time horizon can help you get through your day. The more you can stay in the present moment, the better you will feel in general. It’s too easy to get swept up in ruminations about past mistakes or worries about the future. The more you can stay present, the less you will fall into either of these traps. This is easier said than done.
It may help to practice mindfulness meditation, which is essentially just training yourself to be present for 20 or 30 minutes a day. In a pinch, you can also use grounding techniques, such as closing your eyes and paying attention to all the sounds around you or feeling sensations such as your breath or your weight in your chair. These things help you connect to the present moment and worry less about the past or future.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
If you’re recovering from a substance use disorder, this one is obvious, but if you feel depressed, trying to cope with it using drugs or alcohol is a huge red flag. Depression significantly increases your risk of developing a substance use disorder. One study found that among people with mood disorders such as major depression or bipolar disorder, 32 percent also had substance use disorders--nearly four times the risk than in the general population.
Men are especially prone to self-medicating depression with drugs and alcohol. Even if you don’t have a substance use issue, drugs and alcohol are likely to worsen depression. If you quit drinking, for example, you’re likely to feel better pretty quickly. If you can’t quit drinking, reach out for help, whether it’s to a therapist, a 12-Step group, or an addiction treatment program. If you have substance use issues and depression, you will need a program that can treat both.
At The Foundry, we know that substance use disorders are usually accompanied by other mental health challenges, such as trauma, anxiety, and depression. We use a variety of proven methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, or EMDR, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients heal and sustain their recovery long term. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Improve Your Self-Awareness in Addiction Recovery?
Self-awareness is the degree to which you are aware of your own tendencies, your strengths and weaknesses, your values, your interests, and how you respond to various situations. Self-awareness is the foundation of addiction recovery and good mental health in general. It is a key skill of emotional intelligence and is the basis for the other skills of self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.
However, self-awareness is also deceptively difficult. We all assume we know ourselves well because we have unique access to our own thoughts, emotions, and personal history. While that is true, we are also constrained by biases, blindspots, and cognitive distortions. What’s more, it’s hard to understand ourselves when we don’t really know what it’s like to be anyone else. Despite these challenges, we can all improve our self-awareness and reap the benefits in addiction recovery and in life. Here’s how.
The most direct route to greater self-awareness is therapy, both group and individual. Both can help you become more aware of your blind spots and biases. Individual therapy can help you dive deep into your personal history and explore your cognitive distortions. For example, if you have a habit of focusing on the negative or discounting the positive things about yourself, you may have an unfairly negative view of yourself and your abilities. Or perhaps you have unfair expectations of other people or the world in general. You may never even consider these possibilities without expert guidance.
Group therapy can be especially helpful for increasing self-awareness since you can get many different perspectives on your problems. Perhaps most importantly, in group therapy, you learn to give and receive feedback and generally improve your communication skills. These can help improve your self-awareness outside of the therapeutic setting as well.
Asking for Feedback
As noted above, getting feedback from different people is a great way to improve your self-awareness. In the context of therapy, this is relatively easy since much of your therapist’s job is to help you in this regard and create a healthy environment for sharing in group therapy. However, outside of a therapeutic environment, soliciting feedback becomes more challenging.
The people who know us well and spend a lot of time around us, whether they are friends, relatives, coworkers, or romantic partners are often reluctant to be completely honest. It’s uncomfortable to hurt someone’s feelings--even with the best of intentions--and then have to live or work together.
To get around this obstacle, you have to find ways to give them permission to be honest. This might start with choosing the right medium. For example, people typically find it easier to be honest over text or email than face-to-face. Also, make it clear that you are seeking honest feedback and not just testing them. You might also give them an opportunity to say something nice about you to offset the constructive feedback, something like, “What would you say is my greatest strength?
What is my greatest weakness?” Or, in a work environment, you might ask something like, “What’s one thing I could work on to most improve my performance?” People tend to feel more comfortable answering specific questions rather than making a judgment on you as a person. Just be sure you aren’t deliberately shielding yourself from the feedback you don’t want to hear.
One way to improve your self-awareness on your own is to practice mindfulness meditation. This is a simple practice; just set aside 20 or 30 minutes a day, and during that time, try to remain present. You typically do this by paying attention to your breath, listening to ambient sounds, or feeling for sensations in your body.
Inevitably, thoughts and emotions will arise on their own and you can use these opportunities to practice observing them without judgment. So, for example, an unpleasant memory may suddenly come to mind. Instead of trying to ignore it or think of something else, you might try tracing the chain of associations that led to that memory.
Or you might pay attention to the emotions the memory evokes and ask yourself why you respond that way. The more you learn to accept your own thoughts and emotions, the more you will be aware of what's going on in your own mind.
Journaling is another great way to improve self-awareness on your own. Part of the reason is that writing about what happens and how you feel about it helps you make connections that you might not notice otherwise. Just the act of writing about your feelings can change your brain in ways that make you more aware of your emotions. However, journaling can go far beyond that.
For example, just keeping an accurate and relatively detailed record of what you do all day can yield surprising insights into your behavior. If you’re skeptical, try estimating how much time you’ve spent on your phone today and then check it against your actual screen time in your phone’s settings. Writing is a way of keeping ourselves honest about what we’ve actually done, thought, and said.
Writing about what happens and how you feel about it will reveal a lot of patterns. Even if you never go back and read what you’ve written, you’ll probably notice you spend a lot of time worrying about your work situation or complaining about your parents, or whatever else.
Self-awareness is an ongoing project. Not only is it a big challenge in itself, but we are always changing and growing. Knowing yourself better requires that you make a consistent effort, keep an open mind, and learn to accept constructive criticism with equanimity.
At The Foundry, we know that overcoming addiction isn’t just a matter of abstaining from drugs and alcohol; it’s a journey of self-discovery. We use proven methods such as dialectical behavioral therapy, group therapy, and mindfulness meditation to help our clients better understand themselves and live a fuller life. For more information, call us at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Stay Motivated in Addiction Recovery?
It’s often said that recovery from addiction is a marathon, not a sprint. As in a marathon, there are plenty of opportunities to give up in recovery and the people who do well aren’t necessarily the ones who come blasting off the start line, but the ones who can keep themselves going when they feel totally exhausted. There is no easy trick to staying motivated, but some of the following strategies might help.
Understand that Motivation Is Variable
First, understand that motivation is not some intrinsic quality and it’s not something you can do equally well every day. Motivation is a skill and sometimes you can do it well and other times you just have to be content to make it through the day. The good news is, that like any skill, the more you practice motivating yourself and creating the right conditions for motivation, the easier it gets.
Identify Your Core Values
When you’re trying to keep yourself motivated, it helps to have a clear vision of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Otherwise, you don’t have much incentive to persist through tough times. While it may be hard to picture your perfect sober life, you can certainly identify some of your core values and how staying sober relates to those values.
For example, many people decide to get sober when they realize what their drinking and drug use is doing to their family. For these people, it’s important to keep the value of family clearly in front of them. You can do this in various ways. You might keep pictures of your family around you, where you can see them easily. You might periodically write about why family is important to you. Studies have found that this practice--called self-affirmation--can help you make healthier decisions and improve your relationships.
Create Good Habits
As discussed above, motivation goes up and down. Therefore, it’s important to create structures in your life to hedge against the risk of relapse on low motivation days. Part of that structure is made of healthy habits and routines. It typically takes about two months for a new behavior to become automatic, but after that, the healthy behavior is on autopilot.
This may be one reason people new to recovery are often advised to attend 90 12-Step meetings in 90 days. If you commit to that, then going to your meeting should be automatic by the end of the 90 days. That’s a major piece of your recovery plan that you won’t have to put any thought or effort into--you just go. The more healthy habits you create, the more the odds are stacked in your favor.
Build a Great Sober Network
Another big part of creating a structure that will keep you on track is creating a great sober network. This includes sober friends, supportive family members and friends, and fellow 12-Step members as well as your therapist, your doctor, your sponsor, and anyone else that has a special interest in your recovery. A sober network helps you in many ways.
It helps reduce stress because there are people who will listen without judgment and who can offer advice and support. You have more resources to deal with any problems that arise and you feel a greater sense of accountability. The last thing you’ll want to do is go to your 12-Step meeting and admit that you slipped up. That can be a powerful incentive to stay sober even when you don’t feel like it.
Find Ways to Cope with Doubt
Learning to deal with doubt is crucial for staying motivated because nothing kills your motivation faster than listening to that little voice that asks you, “Why are you putting yourself through this? You’re just going to fail anyway.” In order to stay motivated, you have to have a reasonable expectation of success. The problem is that it’s hard to judge what’s reasonable, especially when you’re just starting out.
The other strategies described here can help you cope with doubt. Having a strong sober network is especially helpful since you’ll meet people who have succeeded despite significant challenges. It’s also important to learn ways to push back against irrational thoughts. For example, if you think things like, “You’ll fail at this because you fail at everything,” you might recognize this as an overgeneralization and push back with a thought like, “Really? Everything?” and think of some evidence to contradict your overgeneralization.
Take One Day at a Time
This may sound cliche, but it’s a cliche because it works. If you think that you have to motivate yourself to keep going forever, it will feel exhausting. However, if you only think that you have to make it through the day or even through the hour, that typically feels more manageable. You can only act in the present moment, so if you can motivate yourself to not drink, to go to your meeting, to call your therapist, or whatever else you need to do right now, that’s really all you have to worry about. If you can do it today, you can do it tomorrow too.
Play the Tape
Finally, in an emergency, you can always play the tape. This is where you think through the consequences of drinking or using again. Typically, when you have a craving, you’re only imagining the immediate gratification of drinking or using again. Unfortunately, that gratification only lasts a short time and then you have to deal with the consequences of relapse. Instead of focusing on the relapse itself, think through the entire thing--the next hour, the next day, the next week, and so on.
Imagine how you’ll feel about relapsing after so much hard work, how disappointed your family will be, how hard it will be to tell your 12-Step group, and so on. Think about how bad things were in active addiction when you finally decided to get help. Picturing all of this clearly can make the momentary gratification of relapse seem small by comparison.
Motivation is a single thing, but rather learning to select and use a range of skills appropriate to the situation. Identify your core values, create good habits and routines, create a good support system, and learn to play the mental game.
At The Foundry, we believe that recovery from addiction entails a set of skills that anyone can learn. We use a variety of methods, including dialectical behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, yoga, and lifestyle changes to help our clients learn recovery skills and build a sense of self-efficacy that will serve them long after they graduate from our program. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
How Does Binge-Watching Affect Your Mental Health?
We’re living in the age of bingeable TV. Not only are there a lot of great shows available to stream in their entirety, Netflix and other platforms automatically play the next episode before you even have time to go to the bathroom. Therefore, we have a lot of little incentives encouraging us to sit on the couch watching one show for hours at a time. While we all have days--especially when we’re sick--when sitting on the couch and binging a TV show is all we can manage, we have to wonder: Is binge-watching good for you?
This question is especially pressing for anyone recovering from a substance use disorder, a mental health issue, or both. In fact, most people who struggle with a substance use disorder will also have a co-occurring mental health issue and a strong recovery entails looking after your mental health. While there are specific ways you should be doing this, such as seeing a therapist and possibly taking medication, lifestyle factors--including how much time you spend binge-watching TV--also play a major role. Let’s look at some ways binge-watching might affect your mental health.
Binge-Watching May Increase Anxiety, Depression, and Loneliness
Since binge-watching is a relatively new phenomenon, ballooning over the past five years or so, there hasn’t been a lot of research into how it affects mental health. However, what research there is should give you pause. One study by researchers from the University of Texas at Austin found a high correlation between binge-watching, depression, and loneliness.
Other studies have found negative effects including increased fatigue, mood disturbances, and insomnia. Many of these studies show correlation, rather than causation and it’s easy to imagine that someone who is already depressed or anxious might spend more time binge-watching TV. However, there are also a number of reasons to believe that binge-watching may negatively affect your mental health.
Binge-watching Can Disturb Your Sleep
At least one study has found that people who binge-watch more have more insomnia and poorer quality sleep. While this may also be a matter of correlation to some extent, “pre-sleep arousal” also appears to play a significant role. Pre-sleep arousal includes both biological and psychological factors. Biologically, a number of studies have found that the bright light from screens, especially in the blue spectrum, mimics daylight.
If you are exposed to this kind of light before bed, it may disrupt your circadian rhythm, making it harder to sleep. Psychologically, a show may get you wound up, perhaps for hours, when you should be winding down for sleep. We enjoy the drama, tension, suspense, and action of good TV shows, but these also increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and adrenaline. When you finally go to bed, you may feel like you’ve just been through a stressful or even mildly traumatic experience, which is not conducive to sleep.
This sleep disruption can take a toll on your mental health. A number of studies have found that a chronic sleep deficit can quickly impair mental faculties such as attention, working memory, and emotional regulation. In the long run, insomnia has been linked to a higher risk of major depression and anxiety disorders.
Binge Watching Makes You Less Physically Active
Perhaps the biggest single problem with binge-watching is that it has a high opportunity cost. That is, every hour you spend watching TV is an hour you’re not spending doing something else--not even moving. This affects both your mental and physical health. Too much sitting--and snacking--increases your risk of obesity and related conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Recent research has found that obesity significantly increases your risk of depression and vice versa.
Perhaps more significantly, if you have a history of depression or anxiety, getting regular exercise is a critical part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Many studies have found that exercise improves mood by increasing levels of endorphins, serotonin, and BDNF, a neurotransmitter that grows neurons in certain parts of the brain. Exercise also causes structural changes in the brain that make you less vulnerable to stress and anxiety. If you have struggled with depression or anxiety, spending hours sitting on the couch is the last thing you should be doing.
We Tend to Binge-Watch Alone
Or alone together. Watching TV is an activity that mainly entails getting absorbed into the world of the show. No company is necessary or even desirable. If you are binge-watching with someone, it’s unlikely you are simultaneously having a stimulating discussion or otherwise connecting in any meaningful way. You’re both just watching the show.
Binge-watching may just be a symptom of loneliness, but it may also make you less likely to accept an invitation, reach out to friends, or even just leave the house, all of which perpetuates loneliness. However, it’s worth noting that many people cite social motivations for binge-watching. In other words, they want to be able to talk about a show with friends or colleagues. So in this limited way, binge-watching may have a prosocial silver lining.
You May Feel Let Down When a Show Is Over
Finally, you may feel better while binge-watching a show, but it will inevitably end, at which point, you may feel a significant letdown. At some level, we respond to TV characters as if they are real friends and acquaintances and we miss them when they’re gone. We get invested in the meaning created by the storylines, the exciting events of the show, and the interesting worlds in which it all happens. When it’s all over, you’re left facing dull reality and it’s not great for your mood.
The explosion of quality TV shows in recent years has been amazing, but like most things in life, moderation is key. Binging is bad for you, whether it’s alcohol, cake, or TV, even if it’s good TV. What’s more, binging has become a phenomenon largely through behavioral manipulation by media giants. It’s in your own interest to decide how to use your time and to use it in ways that maximize your health and happiness.
At The Foundry, we know that abstinence from drugs and alcohol is only one aspect of a strong recovery. Long-term success depends on making healthy lifestyle changes and generally taking control of your own life, rather than falling prey to destructive habits. To learn more about our approach to addiction treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Can Hypnosis Help You Overcome Addiction?
Hypnosis has been around for hundreds of years, and during that time, its reputation has periodically risen, fallen, and risen again. It has been used for everything from entertainment to battlefield surgery and some attribute to it near-magical abilities while others believe it’s pure nonsense. Using hypnosis to treat anything is generally based on the idea that if you can directly affect your subconscious mind in some way, you can dramatically change your experience of reality, whether you’re on stage believing you’re a chicken or undergoing surgery without pain.
The idea that you could use this power to overcome addiction is tantalizing. Wouldn’t it be great, for example, if someone set a glass of beer in front of you and instead of feeling a powerful desire to chug it, you only felt bland indifference? This is the dream that has been sold to many people trying to overcome various substance use issues. As with many treatment methods, hypnosis appears to be a bit of a mixed bag. Here are some of the things hypnosis can and can’t do.
What Hypnosis Isn’t
First of all, hypnosis isn’t some kind of magic power. There’s no animal magnetism, as Franz Anton Mesmer--where the word “mesmerize” comes from--believed. There may not even be anything physically identifiable as a hypnotic state. No one can hypnotize you to do anything you don’t want to do, contrary to many Hollywood storylines.
Although the relaxed state you typically achieve in hypnosis may make it easier for you to recall certain memories, it’s not like opening a file on your computer. In fact, hypnotically retrieved memories are no longer admissible in court, following a disastrous spate of false accusations in the 1990s. Most importantly for our purposes, it’s very unlikely that hypnosis is like flipping a switch for major behavioral change, such as overcoming addiction.
What Hypnosis Is
Experts actually disagree about what exactly hypnosis is. As noted above, various studies have failed to identify a specific hypnotic state in the brain. To the extent that hypnosis works, it is typically by a combination of deep relaxation and subtle reframing. So, for example, the hypnotist may ask you to relax and just notice the weight of your body against the couch, which, of course, you can feel.
And don’t you also notice a warm feeling in your chest? Sure you do. And now it’s expanding outward. And your arms and hands, which are feeling warm and also heavy, and so on. In the context of a medical procedure, the hypnotist may describe an incision as a feeling of slight pressure, drawing your attention to the feeling as it is, rather than the frightful thought of your skin being cut. Much of hypnosis is just allowing yourself to be led into a certain way of thinking.
Some Studies Show Promise in Treating Addiction
We’re currently on an upswing in scientific interest in hypnosis and a number of studies have found some promising results in using hypnosis to treat addiction. For example, one small study found that treatment that included hypnosis for alcohol use disorder led to an impressive 77 percent sobriety rate after one year. Another small study of people with opioid use disorder found that hypnosis helped all participants remain abstinent from all drugs for six months and 56 percent remained abstinent from heroin for two years. These were small preliminary studies but they suggest hypnosis may be a useful tool for addiction treatment.
Hypnosis May Enhance the Effect of Other Treatment Methods
In addition to treating addiction directly, hypnosis may be useful in addressing some of the factors that contribute to addiction. These typically include mental health issues, such as major depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others, trauma, and dysfunctional relationships--in addition to genetic factors, which, unfortunately, we’re stuck with for the moment. Insofar as hypnosis can help improve these issues, it can help your chances of long-term recovery success too.
Hypnosis Can Help With Mental Health Issues
At least half of people with substance use issues also have some kind of co-occurring mental health issue. Addiction and mental illness each make the other worse and they must be treated simultaneously. Hypnosis may be useful in conjunction with other therapeutic methods. As noted above, hypnosis is really a skillful way of managing your attention through subtle suggestion and reframing.
In a way, this is what your therapist is trying to accomplish anyway. For example, a therapist using CBT might help you reframe a situation by bringing to your attention your irrational beliefs about the situation. Hypnosis can be used as an extension of this process.
Hypnosis May Help You Manage Pain
Many people develop substance use issues because they are taking opioids for chronic pain. This puts them in a bind because they are afraid quitting opioids will leave them defenseless against the pain. However, there are other ways of treating chronic pain, and hypnosis may play a part. Pain feels real and undeniable, but it’s actually complex and somewhat ephemeral.
It depends to some extent on our expectations and how we think about pain. In this regard, hypnosis can be helpful. As noted above, hypnosis has been used in battlefield medicine and its use for surgery is pretty well established. If it can help you through surgery, it can help with chronic pain. Just relieving some of your distress about pain can make the pain less intense and make it easier to give up your reliance on pain medication.
Not Everyone Is Equally Susceptible to Hypnosis
Finally, it’s important to note that not everyone is equally susceptible to hypnosis. We all fall somewhere on a spectrum from highly-hypnotizable to not at all hypnotizable, and so far, researchers have no idea why some people can be hypnotized and others can’t. This clearly will affect whether hypnosis can play a part in your recovery.
While this seems like a clear strike against hypnosis as a treatment methodology, it’s important to understand that the same applies to pretty much every treatment method. SSRI medications, for example, only work for about 40 to 60 percent of people with depression, but they remain an effective tool in the kit, and perhaps something similar is true of hypnosis.
Hypnosis isn’t magic and it won’t cause major behavioral changes overnight, but it is an adjunct treatment method with some scientific backing. If you’re interested in trying hypnosis as part of therapy or addiction treatment, look for a therapist or addiction counselor with real training in hypnotherapy, ideally, one certified by the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, or ASCH.
At The Foundry, we understand that addiction is a complex problem that requires individualized solutions. We bring a number of evidence-based practices to the table to help our clients. These include CBT, DBT, EMDR, family therapy, lifestyle changes, and more. For more information about our approach to addiction treatment, call us at (844) 955-1066.
Should You Quit Smoking While Recovering from Addiction?
One stereotype commonly associated with people recovering from substance use disorders is that they are constantly drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. At least one study suggests there may be some truth to this particular stereotype. The study of nearly 300 AA members in the Nashville area found that nearly 57 percent smoked cigarettes, compared to only about 14 percent of Americans overall.
By now, we’re all aware of the negative health effects of smoking but many in recovery tend to regard it as the lesser evil--it’s clearly bad, but if it helps keep you sober, maybe it’s worth the health risks down the road. However, it’s not clear that smoking does help you stay sober, and there may also be other reasons to consider giving up smoking at the same time you give up drugs and alcohol.
Smoking and Relapse
As noted above, smoking in recovery is a bit of a gambit: You’re accepting possible risks down the road to hedge against a present threat. The assumption that smoking can help prevent relapse is largely based on the idea that it can help manage negative affect--more on that below--but research suggests there may be more important factors in play.
One study of more than 34,000 adults found that smoking was correlated with a much higher risk of relapse. Researchers from Columbia University examined three years’ worth of data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, or NESARC, and found that among people who had struggled with substance use issues in the past, those who smoked were nearly twice as likely to relapse as those who didn’t--about 11 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. Those who started recovery as smokers but later quit had a relapse rate somewhere in the middle, about 8 percent.
With so much data and such a large disparity between smokers and non-smokers, this is one of the more compelling studies related to addiction. However, it does leave some questions unanswered. Although the study controlled for a number of factors, including demographics, mood, anxiety, alcohol use disorders, and nicotine dependence, it may be that smoking correlates with more serious substance use issues. And this was a population study, not an intervention. Despite these limitations, there may still be reasons to think smoking increases relapse risk, including those below.
Smoking Can Trigger Cravings
Perhaps the biggest reason to think smoking may increase risk of relapse is that it is often a powerful trigger. For example, people quite often drink and smoke at the same time. Smoking is a perfect trigger because it has a distinctive taste, smell, and motor pattern associated with it.
So, for example, if you had been in the habit of coming home from work, lighting a cigarette and pouring your first drink of the evening, you may find yourself craving a drink after you light a cigarette. Identifying and avoiding triggers is especially important early in recovery and smoking may be a potent one.
Smoking Kills More People
Since the rationale for smoking involves a risk calculation, it’s a good idea to look at the actual numbers. In 2018, more than 67,000 people died of a drug overdose, and each year, about 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes. That’s about 155,000 deaths a year combined. By comparison, more than 480,000 people die from smoking-related causes each year. These include lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, respiratory infections, and COPD.
For many people, a serious health scare--perhaps an overdose, a heart problem, or a diagnosis of liver disease--is what finally convinces them to get sober. It makes little sense to trade one serious medical issue for another.
Even if the trade buys you an extra 10 or 15 years, diminished quality of life is almost certain. Other people decide to get sober because of the way their substance use affects their families. Similarly, it’s worth considering how a protracted struggle with cancer, heart disease, or emphysema would affect your family.
Smoking and Unresolved Issues
In the study of Nashville-area AA members, smokers typically reported that the reason they smoked was to reduce negative effects, such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. While these are all common problems early in recovery, they may also be symptoms of untreated mental health issues, such as major depression or an anxiety disorder.
Mental health issues affect at least half of people with substance use disorders and they must be treated simultaneously for recovery to succeed long term. One shortcoming of mutual aid groups such as AA is that they can’t offer mental health treatment. So, if you are smoking more specifically to ward off depression or anxiety, it’s possible that you need to talk to a doctor or therapist about getting to the underlying cause.
Quitting and Willpower
Finally, quitting smoking might give you a slight boost in willpower. While it’s not a good idea to rely on willpower alone to recover from a substance use issue, it does play a supporting role and it can be handy in a pinch. One line of psychological research suggests that willpower is a faculty that can be strengthened with use.
A study on--of all things--smoking cessation found that participants who were asked to avoid sweets or squeeze a hand gripper for two weeks were more successful at quitting smoking than participants who were given a task that required no willpower. It’s possible you get a similar boost in willpower from quitting smoking, which can transfer to greater adherence to your recovery plan and longer abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but then, neither is overcoming any addiction. People with multiple addictions are expected to quit them all at the same time--with the exception of cigarettes. Although most addiction treatment programs don’t currently offer help quitting smoking, you can always decide to do it yourself. Given the other challenges of recovering from addiction, early recovery may be the least difficult time to quit smoking and it may improve your chances of a long recovery.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction isn’t only about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but rather about making changes that help you live a healthier, more fulfilling life. We provide a supportive recovery environment and use a variety of evidence-based methods to help our clients succeed long term. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Escape a Recovery Rut?
Recovery from addiction isn’t a steady progression. There are times when you are super focused on it and make a lot of progress and there are times when you are distracted, indifferent, or depressed and can’t be bothered. Motivation is never constant. Many people find they are motivated and engaged early on when they still remember vividly how bad life was when they were actively addicted, when they are most hopeful that life can change, and when they are making a lot of progress quickly.
However, as recovery gets easier, it can also get boring. You forget what the big deal is and it’s harder to see progress from day-to-day. When you get complacent, you are in danger of backsliding. The following tips can help you escape your recovery rut and start making progress again.
Review Your Recovery Plan
The first thing you should do is have a look at your recovery plan and see to what extent you are still following it. Instead of just looking down the list and mentally checking boxes, spend about a week actually keeping track, in writing, of how you spend your time. You may be surprised by the disparity between how you think you spend your time and how you actually spend it. When you find some way that you’ve deviated from your recovery plan, try to correct it.
For example, you may discover that it’s actually been a while since you’ve been to a meeting or that your daily exercise has become weekly exercise. The whole purpose of a recovery plan is to help you stay physically and mentally healthy, maintain some accountability, and stay focused on recovery. It’s easy to start cutting corners when recovery gets less challenging and that can lead to trouble.
Pay Special Attention to Self-Care
Self-care is an especially important part of any recovery plan and it’s something many people find easy to neglect. It includes things like eating healthy and exercising, but it also includes things like taking time each day to relax, spending time with supportive friends, doing fun things, and getting enough sleep. We often sacrifice these things when we’re busy or stressed, but that’s when we need them the most.
Relapse is a process that typically starts with emotional relapse, and emotional relapse is typically caused by poor self-care. Fortunately, at this stage, it’s pretty easy to turn things around if you focus on self-care. Make sure you’re following your recovery plan, that you’re eating healthy and exercising, sleeping, taking time to relax, socialize, and have fun, and so on.
Talk to a Therapist
If you’re following your recovery plan and you still feel stuck, it may be time to talk to a therapist. Ideally, you’ll already be seeing a therapist regularly for at least the first year of recovery, but that’s often not the case. If you get to a point where you feel stuck, like you’re not seeing progress, or maybe you are seeing progress but you still feel awful, it could be that you have some co-occurring mental health issues that need to be addressed. At least half of the people with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health challenges including anxiety disorders, major depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and others.
These issues tend to drive addictive behavior and it’s very hard to stay sober with an untreated mental health issue. Even if you did have therapy as part of treatment, it’s possible that the issue persists or that something new has come up. If your mental health issue is well-controlled, your therapist may be able to help you figure out why you feel stuck.
Having a regular routine in addiction recovery is a two-edged sword. On the positive side, a regular routine reduces uncertainty and stress, it helps you automate healthy decisions, and it helps ensure you’re giving adequate attention to your recovery priorities. On the downside, it can get boring. You feel like you’re just living the same day over and over without much challenge or engagement.
If it’s the monotony of your daily routine that’s dragging you down, change something, anything. It doesn’t have to be something big. In fact, too big of a change can be stressful and distract from the productive parts of your routine. But there is plenty of room for tinkering. You might decide to take a different route to work or text a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Maybe you can go on a media diet or read a book that’s outside of your usual tastes. A change in perspective can make a big difference.
Take On a New Challenge
Along similar lines to making a change, it may be time to take on a new challenge. The point of recovery is not that it’s supposed to be challenging for the rest of your life. It’s supposed to get easier with practice, allowing you to do more in other areas of your life. If you’re sticking to your recovery plan and managing your mental health challenges, maybe you’re just bored and need something to do.
Maybe it’s time to get a job or take on more responsibility at work. Maybe it’s time to pursue another goal, like going back to school or learning a second language. Striving toward meaningful goals may be the next step in your recovery and feeling bored or restless may indicate it’s time to take that step.
Finally, it may be time to change the way you engage with recovery. When you’re first starting out, you need a lot of help and support. Later on, you don’t need so much help but it’s still important to stay engaged with your recovery community. That might mean taking on a more active role, like volunteering.
There are plenty of opportunities to help out at 12-Step meetings. Even if you don’t volunteer in any official capacity, you can get to know new people and help them feel welcome. This strengthens the group and it strengthens your own recovery.
Recovery from addiction doesn’t stay the same all the way through and you can run into problems if you try to resist these changes. On the one hand, you have to keep paying attention to the basics, the things that work. On the other hand, you have to be responsive to changing circumstances and your own growth.
At The Foundry, we know that recovery doesn’t end after 30 days of inpatient treatment. That’s why we include three to six months of partial care following treatment, to help clients transition back to normal life and deal with new recovery challenges. To learn more, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Have You Replaced Alcohol With Sugar?
There is a common pattern you may have noticed in people who have recently quit drinking: They start eating a lot of sugary snacks. They’re always munching on chocolate, candy, or pastries. Although it’s common for people to lose weight when they quit drinking, people who pick up this habit might actually gain weight instead. Here’s a brief look at why this happens, why it’s bad, and what you can do about it.
Why It Happens:
Many people aren’t aware that hypoglycemia--or low blood sugar--is extremely common among people with alcohol use disorder. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include irregular or fast heartbeat, pale skin, shakiness, anxiety, sweating, hunger, and irritability. Severe hypoglycemia may cause confusion, abnormal behavior, blurry vision, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Some of these may look familiar since they are also symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and hypoglycemia may easily be mistaken for protracted withdrawal symptoms.
There appear to be several reasons why heavy drinking causes hypoglycemia. First, the liver plays an important role in regulating blood sugar by storing and releasing glycogen. Alcohol impairs the liver’s ability to release glycogen, so this method of regulation becomes less effective. Simultaneously, alcohol changes the patterns of blood flow in the pancreas, increasing insulin production, which lowers blood sugar. These complementary effects are compounded by the high sugar content of many alcoholic drinks--particularly beer, which people often forget has a lot of sugar--which also causes an increase in insulin.
People suffering from low blood sugar typically try to fix it in the quickest way possible: eating sweets. They aren’t always aware of what they’re doing. Often, they just learn unconsciously that sweet snacks relieve their symptoms and it soon becomes a habit.
2. Low Dopamine
Another reason many people develop a sugar habit after they quit drinking is that it can replace some of the dopamine boost they lost when they quit drinking. Our dopamine system exists in order to reinforce survival behaviors like eating and having sex but drugs and alcohol overclock that system so that it mainly seeks drugs and alcohol. Normal sorts of stimulating behavior become dull by comparison.
However, sugary foods give you a little more dopamine bang for your buck than other foods. People who experience protracted depression or emotional numbness in the early days of sobriety might find a bit of relief from eating sweets.
Why It’s Bad:
In one sense, swapping alcohol for sweets sounds like a pretty good bargain. Sweets can make you fat and ruin your teeth but alcohol can ruin your life. While that’s true to a certain degree, there are some good reasons why replacing alcohol with candy is not a sustainable strategy.
First, refined sugar is a highly inflammatory food and inflammation is gaining attention as a major cause of a variety of problems, including mental health issues, medical problems, and even addiction itself. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. It helps destroy pathogens that make us sick. It also triggers other adaptations that are designed to aid the body in fighting infection and prevent spreading disease. These adaptations include pain to immobilize an injured area, lethargy to help us conserve energy, fever to kill microbes, and social isolation to prevent it from spreading.
You may recognize lethargy and isolation as symptoms of depression, and in fact, recent research has found that as many as half of depression cases can be attributed to chronic inflammation. Depression is also a common driver of addictive behavior and must be treated and managed for recovery to last. Research also shows that a diet low in sugar and other inflammatory foods like processed meats and vegetable oils also reduce your risk of depression.
2. Health Risks
As noted above, inflammation is increasingly being identified as a mechanism behind many health problems. For example, why should it be the case that obesity increases your risk of heart disease? Part of the answer appears to be that fat cells release inflammatory compounds and chronic inflammation leads to problems such as heart disease. That means two things: First, inflammatory foods such as sugar can directly increase your health risks, even if you otherwise lead a relatively healthy lifestyle and aren’t overweight.
Second, excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity, which can cause health problems. A lot of the health risks of prolonged heavy drinking--heart disease, high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, diabetes, some cancers, and so on--are compounded by obesity. While making the switch from alcohol to sweets certainly buys you time, some of your long-term health risks will be similar.
What to Do:
1. See Your Doctor
If you think your blood sugar is out of whack, the first thing to do is see your doctor. Your body and especially your brain need sugar to function so hypoglycemia is a serious matter. You want to be sure there isn’t some underlying medical issue causing your low blood sugar.
2. Fix Your Diet
Most of the time, low blood sugar or blood sugar swings are caused by poor diet. You feel a bit faint so you eat a candy bar, which boosts your blood sugar temporarily, but then you crash again and need more sugar, so you’re always on this blood sugar rollercoaster.
You can normally sort this out by reducing your sugar intake as much as possible--it’s nearly impossible to eliminate sugar completely, unless you make all of your own meals from scratch--and eating foods that are high in fiber and protein, such as vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and legumes. These slow your digestion and ensure a more steady supply of carbs to your system.
If you must have something sweet, choose fruit. The fiber will fill you up and slow the absorption of sugar. Also, keep in mind that it may take a while for your body to adapt to the absence of alcohol in your system but you should start feeling better after a relatively short time on a healthy diet.
At The Foundry, we understand that healthy eating is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make to support a strong recovery. Our program emphasizes good nutrition and an active lifestyle, which boosts your energy and mood, as well as healing your body. To learn more about our program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
What Are the Most Common Challenges People Face Early in Addiction Recovery?
When people start thinking about quitting drugs and alcohol, they often imagine that recovery is only about abstinence. They believe they’ll be fine as long as they can resist drinking or using again. However, they soon discover that there’s a lot more to recovery. They encounter many unexpected challenges, and some of the biggest challenges are the tricks played by their own minds. The following are some of the most common challenges people encounter during their first year of recovery from addiction.
For many people, staying sober isn’t terribly difficult as long as life is going pretty smoothly and they’re in a pretty good mood. Unfortunately, few of us get to abide in such a carefree state for long. Problems arise, bad things happen, and sometimes we just feel bad for no apparent reason. Dealing with difficult emotions is one of the biggest recovery challenges because drug and alcohol use often begins as a way of coping with these kinds of emotions. Stress is perhaps the biggest culprit but shame, anger, grief, sadness, and anxiety are major challenges as well. One of the most important parts of addiction recovery is learning strategies to manage stress and cope with challenging emotions.
You might predict that cravings would be a problem when recovering from addiction since you no doubt experienced plenty of cravings during active addiction. However, coping with cravings when you intend to never use drugs and alcohol again is a next-level challenge because you often experience a craving as a sort of command that’s very hard to refuse. Learning to deal with cravings takes a multifaceted approach that includes identifying and avoiding triggers, behavioral strategies to keep from giving in to a craving, and emotional regulation strategies such as distraction, “surfing” the craving, and staying present.
Your health and your career can survive addiction for a little while, but your relationships are usually the first to suffer. Substance use issues quickly lead to deceptive behavior, which undermines trust in a relationship. Your priorities become focused on drugs and alcohol and you neglect your responsibilities to your friends and family. You may even get to the point where you’re lying to them and stealing from them to feed your addiction. Drugs and alcohol impair your judgment, leading to more fights and faster escalation, and the list goes on. On the other hand, social support is one of the most important things in recovery. A lot of sober people find themselves examining all their burnt bridges, wondering which ones can be repaired.
After relationships, addiction is almost always hard on your finances. Drugs and alcohol cost money. Some drugs cost a lot of money. However, the really crippling expenses are secondary. They include high-interest debts, legal and medical costs, and lost income. It can be pretty demoralizing to come out of treatment, feeling like you’ve made a pretty good start turning your life around, only to realize your finances are in total chaos. It can certainly add to the stress discussed above. These problems can be overcome and they are certainly easier to overcome when you’re sober, but it will still take time.
People starting out in recovery often face a dilemma: They know that if they spend time with old friends who drink and use drugs, they will likely slide back into old habits, but they haven’t yet made new friends and so they often feel lonely. Loneliness itself is often a challenge because it can lead to boredom, depression, and anxiety, which are not helpful for recovery. As noted above, social connection is an especially important part of recovery, so loneliness is nothing to take lightly. Typically, the best way to deal with loneliness is to make friends within your recovery community. They could be people you went through treatment with or people from your 12-Step group. These are people you see regularly, who understand what you’ve been through and share your commitment to sobriety.
People are often surprised how big of a challenge boredom is in recovery. There are two reasons boredom is so powerful. First, drugs and alcohol actually take up a lot of your time. You have to get them, which sometimes takes some effort, and you have to carve out enough time to use them with the least amount of trouble. When people quit, they suddenly find they have loads of free time and they aren’t sure what to do with it.
The second reason is that addiction actually restructures your brain. Drugs and alcohol become the most interesting things in the world and everything else is a bit dull by comparison. Drugs and alcohol can also enhance your experiences, so even things you liked to do that weren’t substance-related might suddenly seem flat. Again, coping with this is a matter of deploying smart behavioral strategies and to some extent just being patient while your brain adapts to sober life.
Mental Health Issues
The majority of people with substance use issues have co-occurring mental health issues. A quality treatment program will identify and begin treatment of any mental health issues, since managing them is essential to a long recovery. However, people who try to get sober on their own or by going to AA or NA meetings might find that getting sober throws their mental health issues into sharper relief. Often, some form of therapy is necessary if recovery is going to last.
Transitioning from a treatment facility back to normal life is often more challenging than people realize. They go from a highly structured, sheltered, and supportive environment back to basically the same environment where their drinking and drug use was out of control. There is a big difference between coping with problems in a controlled environment and coping in real life. For that reason, transitional care is especially important. This might take the form of stepping down to a lower level of care such as an intensive outpatient program, a sober living environment, or transitional services.
Finally, it’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease and relapse is fairly common. It can be dangerous and demoralizing. You might feel like you’ve wasted all your time and money and disappointed everyone who cares about you. You might feel like since you already messed up, you might as well go all the way. However, a relapse doesn’t have to be a permanent failure. People do recover after several tries. The important thing is to minimize the damage and try again as soon as possible.
At Foundry, we understand that substance use problems are only partially about substances. Recovery doesn’t come from white-knuckled abstinence, but from creating the kind of life where you feel happier and more connected and no longer feel like you need drugs and alcohol just to get through the day. Our treatment program is a multifaceted process that involves treating mental health issues, learning effective behavioral strategies, learning practical life skills, and building social support to help you solve whatever problems you may encounter. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Fix Your Finances After Addiction?
There are two things addiction will ruin very quickly: your relationships and your finances. Drugs and alcohol get expensive when you need them every day, but the secondary costs are even more expensive. These include debts, legal and medical bills, and lost income. You might find yourself facing a pretty bleak financial situation in recovery. Financial stress is one of the biggest sources of stress for most people, which makes it a liability for recovery. As stressful as money problems are, it’s important to remember that they can be solved with a good strategy and consistent effort. The following is a brief look at how you can recover financially as you’re recovering from addiction.
Write Down All Your Debts
Before you can make a plan, you have to figure out exactly what your situation looks like. This part can feel incredibly demoralizing but it’s necessary. Write down all your debts, including credit card debt, private debts, past due bills, student loans, home, and car loans, as well as any money you owe people for damaging their property or stealing from them. It might help to sort of compartmentalize while doing this. Don’t worry about how you’re going to deal with all of this; you’re just taking inventory right now. In the end, it actually makes you feel a little better to know what all of your financial obligations are, rather than having them all lurking in the dark.
Contact Your Creditors
If you thought writing down your financial liabilities was unpleasant, wait until you have to contact your creditors and other people you need to repay. Talking to creditors and people you’ve wronged is one of the most humbling things you’ll ever have to do, but again, it’s a necessary step. At this point, you have two primary aims: let them know you intend to repay them and see if they’ll be flexible on terms. Many people underestimate how much their creditors are willing to negotiate on repayment terms. It’s important to understand that debt collectors often buy your debt for pennies on the dollar, so pretty much anything you’re willing to pay them is gravy and other lenders would much rather work with you than write off your debt or sell it for a big loss.
Your friends and family will likely be the most flexible on repayment terms, although it largely depends on how mad they are at you. Some might be willing to forget it entirely, but this isn’t just about the money; it’s also about taking personal responsibility and putting things right. Let these people know you intend to repay them even if it might take you a while.
Prioritize Your Debt Repayment
Once you have a complete picture of your debts and repayment terms, it’s time to make a plan for repaying them. Start with debts that are both urgent and important. For example, if you’re about to lose your house because you’re behind on the mortgage, focus on that first, and make minimum payments on the other things until you get out of danger. Next, focus on debts that are important but not urgent. Typically, these will be things like paying off high-interest loans or credit cards. Nothing bad will happen immediately if you don’t pay them, but the longer you wait, the bigger they get. Debts with high interest are like having a very big hole in your bucket: No matter how much money you make or how well you invest your money, your bucket is very hard to fill.
Another good strategy for paying off debts is the “snowball” strategy. With this strategy, you focus on paying off the smallest debts first. There are a number of reasons this is often a good strategy. First, it can give you a huge psychological boost. If you have a list of 10 debts but five are small enough to pay off in a month or two, you feel like you’re making great progress and it’s much easier to think about how to pay off five debts rather than 10. It’s a big load off your mind. Second, knocking out small debts frees up money that you can use to pay down larger debts--hence “snowball.” While focusing on getting rid of high-interest debt is often numerically superior, the snowball strategy is often less stressful and more sustainable.
Write Down Everything You Spend Your Money On
Next, you have to figure out where to get the money to pay off these debts. Just like you made a list of all your debts, make a list of all your expenses. The best way to do this is to actually track your spending in real-time. This includes big things like car payments and small things like candy bars. Online credit card and bank statements make this process easier but you might want to keep a notebook to record spending as it happens. We often spend more money than we realize on things that don’t really improve our lives. This will help you spot that kind of wasteful spending and recording each transaction as you make it will force you to reflect on whether you really need the thing you’re about to buy.
Eliminate Wasteful Spending
Once you have a clear picture of your spending habits, look for things you can get rid of. How deep you go will depend on your money situation. There are probably things you can get rid of and not even notice--magazine subscriptions, apps, the membership to the gym you haven’t been to in a year, and so on. The tighter your money situation, the deeper the cuts. You may have to consider finding a cheaper place to live or do without some things until you get your money situation under control.
Work on Increasing Income
Eventually, you’ll need some kind of income. For most people, that will be from a job. There’s a huge range of employment situations people find themselves in after treatment, from going right back to their six-figure professional job as if they had been on vacation, to having trouble getting any job because of their substance use history. If you’re in the former category, you’re probably doing fine in terms of income but people in the latter category are in a tighter spot. For the moment, any job will do but be looking to trade up as soon as possible. The main things are to establish your reliability and skills. It may help to volunteer for a cause you care about. This helps improve your reputation, builds skills, and broadens your network. If you can, it’s also a good idea to learn some new job skills, possibly at a university or community college.
Start Saving as Soon as Possible
Once you have things basically under control, which means you're making regular, perhaps even automatic, payments on your debts and you have some kind of steady income, it’s time to start saving some money. Living hand-to-mouth is extremely stressful and the more savings you have, the less you’ll stress about money. You might feel like you should wait until your debts are paid before you start saving but that might take years and in the meantime, you’ll be working without a net. Put a little money in savings every time you get paid, even if it’s only 10 bucks, and don’t touch it unless it’s an absolute emergency.
Getting your finances sorted out in recovery may take a while. The hardest part is taking an honest look at your financial situation and talking to creditors. However, once you get working on the problem with a good strategy, you’ll feel much better. Keep in mind that paying your debts isn’t just about money; it’s part of the recovery process and often explicitly part of making amends. At Foundry, we know that addiction is a problem that affects every area of your life and therefore requires holistic solutions. We don’t just teach skills to help you abstain from drugs and alcohol; we teach skills to help you live a happier, more purposeful, more connected life. To learn more, call us at (844) 955-1066.
How Do You Make Relaxation a Regular Part of Recovery?
We often think of relaxation as a luxury, something we do every once in a while if we can manage to get a few days off of work or get someone to watch the kids. However, daily relaxation is a necessity. It’s a vital part of good self-care, especially for anyone recovering from a substance use disorder and their families as well. Most people recovering from addiction say that stress is their biggest cause of cravings, and in fact, many addictions begin as a way of coping with stress and other challenging emotions. Chronic stress can also worsen health risks, such as heart disease, obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, and more frequent illnesses. These are all risks that are also increased by heavy drug and alcohol use.
In short, taking time each day to relax isn’t just a luxury, but a way of protecting your physical and mental health, and a vital element of your recovery plan. However, it’s not always easy to relax, especially early in recovery when you may be feeling unusually tense, anxious, and irritable. The following tips can help you make relaxation part of your everyday life.
Set Aside Time
If you want to make relaxation a habit, you need to actually dedicate some time in your day to it. If you just figure you’ll squeeze it in when you have some free time, you’ll usually end up skipping it. Figure out a time that will work most days. Just before bed works pretty well for most people and relaxing can be a great way to improve your sleep as well. Right after work might be another good time and having a little buffer between your work and home life might improve your relationships. Find a time that works for you and try to stick to it every day.
As for relaxation itself, this is often harder than you would expect. You might sit down in your comfy chair with some nice music and still feel tense and agitated. One strategy that will probably help is progressive relaxation. Start at the top of your head, notice any tension there, and let it go. If it won’t seem to go away, try tensing the muscles for five seconds or so and then relax. When that area feels warm and relaxed, move on to the next area, perhaps your face or the back of your neck--both places that hold a lot of tension. It may also help to use visualization. For example, you may imagine the tense areas as a block of ice melting.
The body and mind are connected in complex ways and it’s very hard to relax your body if your mind is tense, agitated, or racing. Relaxing your body should help to calm down your mind, but it can work the other way as well. Meditation can be an excellent way to relax your mind. There are many different methods of meditation and many of these are great for helping you mentally relax. Mindfulness meditation is currently the most popular form of meditation and it specifically emphasizes not getting wrapped up in thoughts. The Relaxation Response is a simple meditation method that combines progressive relaxation and mantra meditation. Research published in Public Library of Science ONE found that this technique--and likely others as well--actually cause genetic changes in the way your body responds to stress, including genes related to inflammation and oxidation, two kinds of stress that can lead to heart disease and cancer, respectively.
Meditation can relax your mind and help you respond better to stress but it does take a little practice. In the meantime, deep breathing is a quick way to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and get your body and mind to relax. Deep breathing, and in particular, a long exhale, has been shown in many studies to activate the vagus nerve, which stimulates your rest-and-digest system. The ideal rate for relaxation appears to be about six breaths per minute. A regular rhythm like a three-second inhale, six-second exhale, and a brief pause before repeating should help you relax both mentally and physically. Furthermore, taking a few slow deep breaths is something you can do pretty much any time throughout your day when you need a short break.
Many studies show that exercise is good for your mental and physical health, and good for addiction recovery. One reason is that regular exercise makes your brain less reactive to stress, which makes it easier to relax. If stress relief is your main goal, it’s best to keep your exercise fairly moderate because intense exercise, whether it’s long endurance-training sessions, or spending hours in the weight room can increase cortisol and require more sleep to recover. To relax, you would do better to engage in more moderate forms of exercise like walking or tai chi. Yoga can be a bit more intense but it also incorporates relaxation, stretching, deep breathing, and meditation, which can make it ideal for relaxing. The only caveat is that exercising within two hours of bedtime can make it harder to sleep.
Hot Bath or Shower
For relaxing your muscles and getting a little space from other people, it’s hard to beat a hot shower or bath. Music can make it more relaxing, and many scents, such as lavender are relaxing as well. Guys typically prefer showers but it’s hard to beat the relaxing power of a hot bath. As with exercise though, a hot bath too close to bedtime can raise your core temperature and impair the quality of your sleep. Therefore, if you’re taking a shower or bath near bedtime, go for warm, not hot.
Be Careful About Media Consumption
Finally, if you’re trying to relax, beware of unnecessary exposure to things that will make you tense. Exciting, suspenseful, or violent movies and TV shows get your adrenaline going and make it harder to relax. News and social media are terrible if you’re trying to wind down because much of that content is specifically calculated to make you angry. If you’re trying to unwind by looking at Facebook, you’re not doing yourself any favors. If you’re going to watch something to unwind, go for something funny or positive. Laughter is great for relaxing.
Relaxation plays an important role in addiction recovery. It helps keep you mentally and physically healthy. It’s crucial to make relaxation a regular part of your day. In fact, the more moments of relaxation you can work into your day the better. If you look at the best pro athletes, for example, they are typically the ones who look the most relaxed the instant they step off the field, off the court, or out of the ring. They know it’s time to let go of whatever mistakes they made and rest before they have to get back in the game. Stress is cumulative, so the more of those kinds of microbreaks you can incorporate into your day, the less burdened you will feel.
At Foundry, we know that recovery from addiction is really about living a better life. It’s about being more skillful in the way you cope with stress, manage your emotions, and relate to other people. That’s why life skills, emotional regulation skills, self-care, meditation, yoga, and other practices are integral to our holistic addiction treatment program. For more information, call us today at (844) 955-1066.
Can a Pet Help You Recover From Addiction?
People want pets for many reasons. They’re cute, they’re friendly, and they can keep you company. If you are in your first year or so of recovery, there may be ways that having a pet can actually help you out and make your recovery stronger. However, it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. If you’re not in a good place, a pet may be an unnecessary liability. It may be better to wait. Here are some things to consider if you’re thinking about getting a pet.
How a Pet Can Help
Pets Are Good Companions
One of the most common reasons people want a pet, especially a dog or a cat, is that a pet is a good companion. They don’t judge, they’re affectionate, and they’re always around. Loneliness is a common problem early in addiction recovery because people often cut ties with old friends who drink and use drugs. However, making new friends can take time and meanwhile, people often feel lonely. Loneliness isn’t just unpleasant; it can worsen issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues that commonly occur with addiction. Finding ways to feel connected is essential to recovery success and having a pet around is one such way. It’s not a substitute for human companionship, but it’s certainly an improvement over isolation.
Pets Can Make You More Conscientious
We typically don’t think of responsibility as a selling point but for people recovering from a substance use disorder, it can be. Conscientiousness is a personality trait that appears to protect against substance use disorders. Conscientiousness includes things like being responsible, being organized, following rules, following a regular routine, and so on. While personality traits are inherently difficult to change, conscientiousness is more related to action than other personality traits are, which means you can become more conscientious by behaving more conscientiously.
Having a pet exercises your conscientiousness muscles in mainly two ways. First, having a pet is quite a bit of responsibility. You have to feed it, make sure it gets plenty of exercise, and make sure it has basic things like toys, a carrier, and somewhere to sleep. You have to make sure your pet is vaccinated and you have to take it to the vet when it’s sick. You’re responsible for the well-being of another living thing, which means you will get plenty of practice doing mildly annoying and unpleasant things. While this doesn’t seem very appealing, learning to care for a pet can help you cultivate compassion and get you outside of your own head, which may not always be a nice place to be.
The second way a pet will help you be more conscientious is that it will help you have a more regular routine. You have to feed a pet regularly and a cat, dog, or bird will even wake you up when it’s ready to eat. You are aware that you have to be home at night to feed your pet, so you’re less likely to stay out late or stay over with friends. This routine can help with other things like having a more regular sleep schedule and generally keep you tethered to the normal rhythm of the world.
Pets Are a Way to Connect With Others
Having a pet means you have an easy conversation topic most of the time. Everyone wants to talk about their pets because they love them, it’s rarely a controversial topic, and it’s more interesting than the weather. Having a dog is especially good for promoting social connection because you have to walk them and you are much more likely to meet and talk to your neighbors. Even people without dogs will be more likely to strike up a conversation. While most of these interactions will be superficial, it’s good to have more points of contact, especially with the people who live around you. As noted above, loneliness is a common problem in early recovery, and having a sense of social connection is one of the best ways to ensure your recovery lasts.
Pets Encourage You to Be Active
This is mainly true of dogs, who have to be walked. Some dogs need a great deal of exercise, which means you’ll get plenty of exercise, whether it’s walking them, running with them, playing fetch, and so on. Having a dog usually means you get more activity spread throughout the day and it means you will be less likely to skip exercise if the weather isn’t perfect. While a short walk with the dog doesn’t seem like a big deal, many short walks throughout the week add up to quite a bit of exercise. Not only is that good for your health, but it’s also good for your recovery. Many studies have linked regular exercise to less stress, lower anxiety, better mood, and even longer periods of sobriety.
When You Might Want to Wait
Pets Can Be Expensive
Pets are a lot more expensive than you think. There are sometimes adoption fees, vaccinations, accessories like beds, carriers, toys, grooming items, and so on, vet bills, and food. A lot of people aren’t in the best shape financially when they start recovery and the financial stress of taking care of a pet certainly won’t help.
Pets Entail Responsibility
As discussed above, responsibility can be a good thing for recovery, but it can also be too much. Keep in mind that if you drop the ball, it’s your pet who will suffer. It’s also possible that the responsibility of caring for a pet will be too much stress too soon. Stress is a major cause of cravings, so it makes sense to only increase your responsibilities gradually to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Pets Can Be an Emotional Liability
The emotions involved in having a pet aren’t always positive. Animals have much shorter lifespans than people. They get sick and they have accidents. If you’re attached to a pet, its death can be devastating. If you feel like that’s not an emotional shock you’re prepared to handle--meaning you’re not sure you could stay sober if your pet dies--then it might be better to wait until you’re in a more stable point in your recovery.
Pets can be great companions. They can help us learn to be more compassionate and responsible, both of which improve your recovery and make you happier and more fulfilled in life more generally. However, once you adopt a pet, you’re responsible for its welfare. If you think there’s any chance that you will forget about it, neglect, or not be able to afford to care for it, it’s better to wait. You can always get a pet later. It’s also important to remember that as emotionally rewarding as caring for a pet can be, it creates an emotional vulnerability as well. Getting a pet is just one of many life choices that will affect your recovery from addiction and your overall well-being.
At Foundry, we know that drug and alcohol use is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addiction. Mental health issues, trauma, stress, and isolation are often the real driving forces. That’s why we emphasize a comprehensive approach to recovery, one that doesn’t just emphasize abstaining from drugs and alcohol, but also addresses the root causes of addiction and gives clients the skills they need to live happier, more fulfilling lives. To learn more about our addiction treatment program, call us today at (844) 955-1066.