From addiction recovery support to expert input, our blog provides the tools and inspiration you need to thrive in long-term sobriety. Sharing hope, encouragement, and support to help people bounce back from substance abuse & behavioral addictions.
“I hope you aren’t paying for that,” said my old high school friend who’s currently employed a social worker and therapist. We were talking about my therapist…in that non-clinical, conversational way I chat with my mental health and researcher friends about therapy.
My friend asked if my therapist had a plan to treat the post traumatic stress disorder symptoms that still plagued me – adding that those same PTSD symptoms had likely triggered my drinking in the first place.
“Not really. I mean, he’s pleasant enough, but he mostly just sits there. Sort of like a houseplant,” I said, looking over at the tall ficus tree that had been my silent companion for the last twelve years.
In that moment, I realized I needed a new therapist – one who wasn’t afraid to take on my tough issues.
I was terrified of the coercive and confrontational therapists who long dominated addiction treatment (and still do in in many places). I needed someone who could work with me to make a plan – a plan that I could own and use to make positive changes.
Here’s a list of the characteristics I looked for (and found) in my new therapist:
Empathy In a therapeutic relationship, the importance of feeling understood can’t be overstated. After the very first conversation with my new therapist, I said to a friend, “She combines the perfect amount of horror and humor.”
Recommendations From People I Trust
My new therapist was suggested and vouched for by a contact I made through my harm reduction work. This is a person whose opinion I greatly value and trust.
I understand that they have the next patient in the waiting room, but it makes me shut down when I feel like I’m being rushed, especially when we’re talking about difficult personal issues.
This is characteristic is less important to me than some of the other things on my list, but it’s necessary to go to someone who is well-educated and keeps up with new developments in the therapeutic field.
Puts in the Effort
I need someone who will work with me to make a plan and address the specific issues I’m dealing with, instead of just sitting there nodding his or her head, listening like an unusually well-dressed houseplant.
In the end, it has to be my choice, whatever “it” is. I don’t need to have a therapist pushing his or her personal beliefs on me; I need someone who guides me to make my own best choices.
A Team Approach
My new therapist works closely with a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist specializing in pharmacology, so everything is coordinated. For too many people, they see one therapist who never talks to their psychiatrist, leading to a lot of confusion. People are on the wrong medications for years and no one connects the dots because the therapist sees the patient’s struggles, but the psychiatrist prescribing medication barely even knows the patient. A team approach is the way of the future in healthcare!
By putting in the work, I found the right therapist for me – a therapist who could never be mistaken for a houseplant. But don’t worry, my ficus tree is still on the job, sitting silently in the corner. He’s a great listener!
Growing up, I was fortunate in that many things came easy to me: getting good grades in school, playing sports, making friends. But this actually set me up for failure down the road, because once life’s inevitable hardships hit, I was unequipped to deal with them. I had no idea how to overcome setbacks in a healthy way, and I ended up using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Alcohol, then, soon became my crutch; I drank to escape all the difficult situations and emotions I experienced as a young adult. This “crutch” eventually landed me in prison for four years – after a night of drowning my sorrows, I got behind the wheel, crashed into another car, and injured two people.
Being seven months pregnant now with a little girl, I find myself wondering what kind of parent I will be. Will I be able to teach her healthy coping mechanisms and steer her away from drugs and alcohol? Will I be able to prevent her from repeating my mistakes?
A Little Bit of Parental Wisdom
If you find yourself in the same shoes, I’ve included some recommendations which could reduce your child’s risk of addiction:
Tip #1 – Lead by Example ‘You can’t really love others unless you love yourself’ rings true as a parent, as we must realize our attitude towards ourselves has a powerful effect on our children’s self-regard, as well. So, if we constantly put ourselves down, we’re more than likely going to transmit a negative self-image to our kids, too. It’s also essential for us to demonstrate directly coping with our problems, rather than looking for ways to avoid them. That way, kids can learn how to deal with conflicts head-on, instead of attempting to escape them through drugs and alcohol.
Tip #2 – Promote a Safe, Open Environment
Children are highly sensitive to their environment, and they need to be nurtured. And because they experience so many feelings and emotions, they want to be able to share them with someone. If they know they can come to you as a sounding board or for some advice, then they’ll be less likely to isolate, feel lonely and self-medicate with substances.
Tip #3 – Instill Self-Esteem
Multiple studies have shown a low self-esteem can lead to substance abuse, which is why it’s crucial to instill a healthy sense of self at an early age. We, as parents, should encourage hard work in our children, as well as patiently model, teach and assist them until they can clearly grasp what’s expected of them. That being said, however, it’s also important to understand when we need to “let go” and have our children take increasing responsibility for themselves, instead of us doing everything for them. The more they meet new challenges on their own, the more competent and confident they’ll feel.
We Owe This to Our Children
Above all else, experts stress there is no single right or wrong parenting technique that can keep our children from the grasp of substance abuse. After all, a large part of the disease is intertwined into our DNA.
With all that said, as parents or parents-to-be, I believe the best way we can promote a sober lifestyle for our children is by refraining from drugs and alcohol and serving as strong sober role models.
Arrest or treat? The debate rages on. As the nation struggles with an opioid epidemic that has touched nearly every family in America, law enforcement officials continue to look for potential solutions.
Some argue that arresting substance users and housing them in jail doesn’t remedy the problem. Others contend that law enforcement agencies could play a key role in solving the opioid crisis.
A New Approach?
In early December, hundreds of police officers from around the country met in Boston to discuss their role in the growing epidemic. The summit was organized by the Police Assisted Addiction and Recovery Initiative (PAARI). Officers in attendance shared ideas about how to help people with a substance abuse issue and prevent deaths from drug overdoses.
Many discussions centered around how to get people into addiction treatment instead of thrown in jail.
Officers talked about their available resources and the development of new tools to assist community members struggling with chemical dependency.
The summit included talks about a variety of potential solutions including:
Implementing protective custody laws – officers could take people to the nearest medical facility rather than to jail
Some police departments have already made changes in this direction, including the Arlington Police Department. Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan shared the efforts made by his law enforcement community, stating, “We stopped waiting for the 911 line to ring and the bodies to turn up, and we’ve employed the use of a social worker who is engaged in outreach work. Rather than wait for them to overdose, we’re meeting them where they’re at, getting them equipped with Narcan and working with their families on a long-term intervention plan.”
Is it Working?
In Ryan’s jurisdiction, at least one fatal overdose occurred every month between 2015 and 2016. With the new initiatives in place, they had zero fatal overdoses in 2017. Ryan noted the key is for the “…community, as a whole, to support people suffering from substance disorder and not dehumanize them.”
Ryan and others suggest that police departments consider moving from arrest and incarceration to treatment and prevention – viewing substance abuse as an illness rather than a crime. This revision would require a change in perspective, a change in laws, and a change in response efforts.
Ryan noted, “The leaders around America are taking the risk in their jurisdictions to get out of their comfort zone of arrest and incarcerate to partnering with public health to do the right thing.”
But is it the right thing? Will decriminalizing substance abuse and making these other efforts really make a difference? Ryan admitted, “Being smart on crime and addiction is difficult work.” He added, “If we don’t start looking at this thing in a more sophisticated and smart way about addressing addiction in the community, we’re going to continue to be frustrated with the results.”
Before I got sober, I relapsed…a lot. I would feel so confident in my sobriety, and then something would happen and there I was at the corner store, buying a twelve pack of cheap beer. Again.
Tears leaking from my eyes and a twelve pack on the floor, I’d sit on the couch staring out the window, thinking of all the responsibilities I was avoiding or leaving behind…and of the dangers of losing everything and everyone in my life.
Restoring Self Respect After a Relapse
When I relapsed, I would feel weighed down by shame and guilt. These negative thoughts and feelings would often lead to my further substance abuse. But once I got up the resolve to quit and get sober again, I managed to rebuild my damaged self esteem.
Here’s how I got my groove back…and finally, got it back for good.
#1 Take Care of Business:
After a relapse, there’s damage control to be done. Catching up on work or school, making sure the bills are paid, even just doing the laundry can seem terrifying, but you’ve got to take care of the essentials before you can refocus your efforts on recovery.
#2 Make Amends:
A relapse can harm relationships with friends and family. There are people you need to immediately talk to, and talk honestly. Take responsibility, and ask for forgiveness if you’ve missed responsibilities or scared your loved ones to death.
#3 Forgive Yourself:
The quickest way to relapse again is through self-condemnation. Take it from me – I was the queen of negative self-talk. Recovery is hard – if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it! Picking up the pieces and getting on the road to long term recovery is only possible if you can make peace with yourself.
#4 Make a Plan:
I remember after my final relapse, one of the people in my support group asked me, “What’s your plan for things to be different now?” I thought I’d been doing everything right: going to meetings, doing recovery reading, staying away from people, places and things. I realized that I needed to reduce stress in my life, up my meditation game, and avoid dramatic people and situations if I was going to avoid another relapse. I made some scary decisions, including walking away from a stressful job and a long term but toxic relationship. But none of those things were scarier to me than the prospect of crying on that floor again with an empty twelve pack of beer cans.
#5 Ask for Help:
Now isn’t the time to grit your teeth and go it on your own. Whether you get help from support groups, therapists, religious leaders or friends and family, get help. Not everyone in your circle of family and friends will be prepared to help, so try to find professionals such as therapists whose job it is to understand and be there for you.
Picking Up the Pieces
Picking up the pieces after a relapse is one of the scariest parts of recovery. The feelings of failure, the fear of disappointing everyone, and the thought that you’ve lost all you’ve worked so hard to gain can be overwhelming. But we’ve all done it, and you can do it too.
AA helped me get sober and the 12 steps continued to help me tremendously for the first few years.
But as I continued on my recovery journey, I realized I suffered from a multitude of emotional and mental health issues, and that’s when I developed a problem with the 12 step process.
AA Leads the Way
Early in my recovery, I attended at least three AA meetings a week. During those meetings, I kept hearing people say, “more will be revealed.” And, sure enough the more I stuck around, the more problems revealed themselves.
But I only came here to stop drinking, I thought.
I discovered my issues with codependency, sex, food, and mental health. Not to mention I suffered from a severe inability to communicate or express myself and emotional immaturity.
The suggested solutions to these problems (at the time) were specific 12 Step fellowships:
Al-Anon: To deal with family members in recovery or active addiction
CODA: To deal with my issues of codependency
SLAA or SA: To address my issues with relationships and sex addiction
OA: To address my eating disorders
The list went on and on.
Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings
Around a year sober, I was so fed up with my binge eating, I very reluctantly attended my first OA meeting. Perplexed by the experience, I sat there and wondered why I needed another 12 Step fellowship. I couldn’t fathom any reason to attend two fellowships with exactly the same Steps – the offending substance is simply swapped out. Where would it stop? Was I supposed to attend a different fellowship for every single one of my issues? I already attended three meetings a week – I really didn’t want to attend another three.
I understand there’s a level of identification within each group. But addiction has many facets and typically all of them show up in AA: We get sober and we can’t stop eating, or we come from a dysfunctional family and have issues with codependency which revealed themselves after we got sober. Many people in my AA meeting had exactly the same facets of addiction I had – I didn’t need another fellowship for that.
Take What You Need and Leave the Rest
I decided to use the Steps to examine all of the ways addiction manifested in my life and practice them as a solution. Which I did for as long as I could. And it worked – to certain extent. I was able to lose weight, stop drinking and binge eating. But my use of The Steps only took me so far.
I started feeling increasingly uncomfortable in 12 Step fellowships I eventually stopped going to meetings. My discomfort stemmed from my issues with:
All of the unhelpful phrases
Insistence on attending numerous fellowships
Spending my life in meetings
An outdated and un-relatable program
Freedom from Fellowships?
I broke free and started on a holistic path to recovery. Initially I was terrified because we’re told, if we stop attending meetings, we’ll relapse. But it turned out to be the most freeing thing I’ve ever done. And in many respects, my recovery has been enhanced by breaking out of that mold, trying alternative modalities and looking at my recovery holistically.
That said, throughout my journey over the last five years, there’ve been a number of issues which repeatedly presented themselves that I couldn’t seem to get a hold on. Specifically, how I should act in an intimate relationship. A friend suggested I check out ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). I balked. I kept balking for five years.
But when I reached a unbearable place of pain in a relationship, I decided to put my differences with the 12 Steps aside and check out ACA. Within that fellowship, there’s a list of traits adult children of alcoholics display throughout their lives. They’re so identifiable within my personality, just reading them terrified me. These traits are family of origin issues, and are often the root cause of substance abuse.
While I attended ACA meetings, I continued to struggle with my position on the 12 Steps – particularly around family of origin issues. I didn’t want to work The Steps, because I think they’re outdated and because I don’t want to share my darkest, most traumatic experiences with someone who isn’t a trained professional.
The Benefits of Counseling
Around the same time as I attended ACA, I started therapy. Remarkably, with the help of my therapist, I was able to take a step back and use that trait list as a barometer of how far I’d come in my recovery. While I still identified with a number of those characteristics, I could see I no longer acted on a number of them. It also became apparent I was already parenting myself, and had been for the last five years.
I told my therapist I didn’t want to attend ACA meetings anymore. I shared my difficulties with the 12 Steps and how I didn’t want to spend my life in meetings – which felt too confining and unproductive. I expressed how I found it far more beneficial to have a therapeutic relationship with her. A relationship which helped me focus on:
Perhaps I needed her reflection to see I don’t need to dig up old issues – especially ones I’ve already laid to rest – with a rusty old spade. I’ve been doing fine just on my own. I need to keep living my life, not adding more fellowships to it.
You were doing so well in your recovery, making progress on all your goals, and then…wham! You’re suddenly unemployed and your mind is racing 100 miles an hour. You panic and start thinking ‘I’ll soon have no income. I don’t have any job prospects. I’m doomed.’
For just about anyone, this can serve as a major trigger. It might be tempting to turn back to drugs or alcohol to cope with this frightening situation. But, your job loss doesn’t have to lead to relapse.
Maintaining Your Sobriety While Out of Work
Take a step back. Take a deep breath, realize this isn’t the end of the world, and then move forward with the following “JOB LOSS” steps to avoid relapse during this difficult time.
(J)ust keep moving: Do the basics. Get up. Get dressed. Exercise. Cook. Focus on doing the simple daily tasks you must do to survive. Take it day by day. Keeping this rhythm going and continuing to put one foot in front of the other will help you get through hard moments and allow you to build motivation to look for jobs and start something new.
(O)wn it: Did you know it’s okay to grieve a job loss? Just because no one died doesn’t mean you can’t mourn. Give yourself permission to cry, get angry, miss your job, and feel a little lost. It’s all part of the process. Denying your feelings won’t help. Go ahead and work through them.
(B)e good to yourself: It may be tempting to sleep, eat or channel surf your way through a job loss. While it’s good to grieve, and this might involve extra rest or a quiet evening watching your favorite flick, don’t neglect your health. Keep up the exercise routine and maintain a balanced diet. When you feel good physically, you feel better mentally.
(L)earn from it: What can you take away from this experience? Should you look for a job in a different industry? Do you need additional training? Is there something else you would like to do? Turn your job loss into an opportunity. Perhaps now is the perfect time to take a class or pursue your dream job.
(O)vercome: Again, look at this as an opportunity. You’ve already overcome so much. This is just another hurdle to jump in your recovery process. Keep in mind nearly everyone loses at least one job in their lifetime. You can do this. In the future, you’ll look back on this time and feel a sense of accomplishment for working through it and finding a new occupation.
(S)eek support: What systems have you put in place to help you in recovery? Turn to these for support during this time. Reach out to friends, family, a sponsor or support group. Search for job-seeker resources in your area. You don’t have to do this alone.
(S)trengthen your sobriety: This difficult time won’t break you. It will make you stronger. It’s hard, and it hurts, but you’ll come out better on the other side. As you learn how to cope with job loss without relapse, you grow in your sobriety and achieve an even stronger walk in recovery. Working through this situation will strengthen your resolve and help you move toward your goals for the future.
We’re imperfect beings. It’s hard enough to forgive someone else when they hurt you, but how are you doing with forgiving yourself?
Many of us are terrible at letting go of all our self hatred. We replay our regrets so often they become constant reminders of our perceived failures. We become our own worst enemy by dragging ourselves down in a cycle of self-criticism.
It’s defeating; it’s unhealthy; it leads to relapse.
Break the Cycle
So, how can you avoid this dangerous cycle of self recrimination? Here’s some advice to help you learn how to forgive yourself.
Tip # 1 – Throw Away the Rule Book
Have you created a set of rules for yourself that are impossible to follow? This list might include “I need to succeed at everything I try,” “I should be perfect,” “I must be the most attractive person in the room at all times,” or “I should be more interesting.”
Toss this book. In fact, burn this book. Get rid of these unrealistic expectations. Replace those with some healthy affirmations: “It’s okay to make a mistake.” “It’s okay to be boring sometimes.” “It’s okay not to be the best at everything.” Cut yourself a little slack. We’re not talking about rationalizing bad decisions. It’s a simple acceptance that you, like everyone else, are imperfect – and that’s okay.
Tip #2 – Think of Life as a Learning Experience
Hindsight is 20/20. Sure, you can look back now and see all of the terrible choices you made in a certain situation. But, you didn’t know then what you know now. Accept you messed up – and learn from it. Realize no one knows it all up front. We all have to learn from experience, and life is one big learning experience. An education that might be painful at times. Don’t make it more painful by expecting to have the entire lesson mastered already.
Tip #3 – Make it Right
Is there something you can do in retribution for your mistake? Do you need to apologize to someone? Repay money? If your regrets are based on actual events rather than unrealistic expectations, consider taking action to make amends. Keep in mind, you can’t control anyone else. If you sincerely apologize, and they don’t forgive you, that’s their choice. Once you’ve done your part, you have to let it go.
Tip #4 – Do a Flip
Try to focus on your strengths rather than your slip-ups. Find something that went right today and write it down. Give yourself credit for daily accomplishments. It doesn’t matter how small. Did you exercise today? Did you resist a trigger? Did you complete a work shift? Apply for a job? When you flip your focus to your strengths and accomplishments, you’re more likely to continue doing these positive things. Make moving forward the goal, rather than looking back at past mistakes.
~ Over 2 million Americans are currently struggling with an opioid use disorder, and more than half of them aren’t receiving treatment.
With statistics like these, it’s pretty clear we’re in desperate need of answers. Too many Americans are taking the path from prescription painkillers to opioid addiction. We need another way to manage pain.
Enter Electric Stimulation
Electrical stimulation or “e-stim” is an alternative method of pain relief often used by physical therapists. Adhesive patches are placed over problematic areas and small amounts of electrical energy are sent into affected nerves in the underlying muscle tissue. This current interferes with the nerves’ signals, stopping them from sending pain messages to the brain.
The treatment can be used to alleviate pain in areas, such as:
Does it Really Work?
“Evidence suggests this technique can reduce the need for opioids, reduce pain, improve quality of life, and reduce healthcare utilization and costs,” reports Dr. Timothy Deer, co-chair of West Virginia’s Expert Pain Management Panel.
Research supports Deer’s claims. A study of 5,400 patients who received spinal neuromodulation found 70 percent experienced a decline or stabilization in their opioid use.
E-stim has been around for decades, but recent technological advancements have made the process more precise. Scientists can now target areas of pain better than ever before, and this method is gaining support among both healthcare providers and people suffering from chronic pain.
Why Isn’t Everyone Using E-Stim?
Neuromodulation isn’t cheap and most insurance providers don’t cover the cost, which makes it inaccessible to most people. As a result of the nation’s current opioid crisis, some companies are slowly beginning to consider alternative forms of pain management. Perhaps, if this method becomes more mainstream, more carriers will extend coverage. For now, however, the majority of insurance policies only cover prescription opioids. Anyone seeking a different treatment option has to pay out of pocket. Ouch.
Another reason for neuromodulation’s underutilization is the individuality of pain. What works for one person could be less effective for another. Individuals must choose the pain management technique that works best for their situation. For some, that’s neuromodulation. For others, it could be an undiscovered method.
Researchers continue to explore alternative methods of pain management with the hope of offering additional solutions. Their goal is to develop enough pain relief options to break the wave of opioid addiction currently sweeping through our nation.
A couple of years ago, an acquaintance of mine was sat down by a group of her closest friends for an intervention. They expressed their concerns about her drinking and the increased frequency of her blackouts and drunken outbursts.
Even though her friends had the best intentions, their efforts didn’t go as planned – she stormed out halfway through. She later told me she felt attacked and targeted during the intervention.
To this day, nothing has changed. Her drinking has remained the same, and she still exudes the same negative demeanor…only now she holds a deep resentment towards those who coordinated the intervention.
Interventions: Life Saver or Not?
The situation made me wonder, do interventions actually work? Are these surprise group encounters set up by friends and family (most utilizing peer pressure to get their loved one into treatment) really effective?
If you choose not to hire a professional, it’s crucial to take your time and be prepared before staging an intervention.
Here’s a look at four useful suggestions that could increase the chances your friend or loved one will say “yes” to seeking help:
Tip #1 Don’t Yell, Shame, or Point Fingers
Assigning blame and venting your anger will only cause your loved one to become defensive and potentially leave the intervention. Instead, make clear distinctions between the person and their disease. Be specific about how their substance abuse, and not your loved one, has negatively affected you.
Tip #2 Keep It Short and Sweet
Nobody wants to hear a long-winded explanation as to why you think your loved one needs treatment. Instead, be concise and to the point. Rehearse your spiel ahead of time so you can get in all of your main points in five minutes or less.
Tip #3 Do the Legwork
Simply telling your loved one to “go get treatment” can be overwhelming, so have a specific rehab facility or provider in mind. Do your homework beforehand and confirm the treatment facility has openings and aligns with your loved one’s personality and values.
Tip #4 Follow Through
This one is a huge determinant of the outcome. Your loved one needs to realize the consequences you’ve laid out if they don’t seek treatment aren’t empty threats. Likewise, you’ve got to be emotionally prepared to follow through with what you’ve said, too, which usually means changing your relationship with them once the intervention is over.
The bottom line is, interventions CAN be effective and many times are what finally convinces someone to get help for their substance abuse. While you might feel there’s no time to waste, it’s crucial to have a game plan in place before you initiate the intervention to ensure you’re setting your loved one up for success and sobriety.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse on Drug Abuse (NIDA) recently awarded Yale a $1.25 million grant to teach…entrepreneurship. But how does this endowment help with the nation’s drug crisis?
Yale faculty member, Patricia Simon, PhD, explains, “The inspiration to write this grant came from my experiences as a scientist. I observed there are many scientific innovations that have the potential to reduce suffering from substance use disorders, but it takes a long time for these innovations to reach the market. Given the nation’s current drug use crisis, every second we wait to get these innovations to market is a second too late.”
An Ivy League Education
The hefty grant will fund a program called Innovation to Impact: Translation Support and Education. This initiative offers a free 5-day boot camp on entrepreneurship and product development to teach researchers how to get their products to the public.
Lacking training in this area, many researchers have developed great resources that fail to reach the people who need them most. The interdisciplinary team at Yale will train substance abuse researchers from across the nation.
To help these scientists increase the reach of their innovations, they will learn about different aspects of marketing, such as:
Networking with mentors
Seed funding for new ventures
Training in entrepreneurship
Fostering a Creative Atmosphere
Open to any U.S. researcher who’s interested in substance abuse innovations, the program will include students, trainees, and faculty who would like to learn business principles to increase the reach and impact of their inventions.
Yale hopes to recruit scientists from all fields of addiction research, including epidemiology, treatment, prevention, policy, and basic science. The goal is to support developments in all areas of substance abuse prevention and treatment, such as:
If a researcher has an idea or method that could help the nearly 21 million Americans struggling with a substance use disorder, Yale staff want to help them deliver it.
How Will This Program Impact the Opioid Epidemic?
Two Yale faculty members will be leading the training program. Seth Feuerstein, MD, JD, from the Department of Psychiatry, is also the Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Medical Officer of Medical and Digital Innovation at Magellan Healthcare. As an executive, inventor, entrepreneur, and investor, he has successfully commercialized research-based innovations across several fields. The second faculty member involved is Patricia Simon, PhD. She studied entrepreneurship at Duke University and is an expert in consumer market research. For the last years, she has operated an addiction research program that focuses on the development of substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.
Feuerstein notes, “It is incredibly exciting to see the foresight that NIDA has in funding this program.” The 5-year award was the only such grant given by NIDA, making it a prestigious honor for Yale. With expert faculty in place and the necessary funding to run it, the program is poised to truly have an affect on the research community and, potentially, the entire nation.