addiction counseling

Holiday Family Coping Strategies: Know How & When to Draw The Line

Holiday Family Coping Strategies: Know How & When to Draw The Line

The Holidays are HERE and when families get together there is joy and struggle. We want things to be perfect, loving, happy. But, sometimes old buttons get pushed, painful patterns of communication come to the surface, again, and feelings get triggered that lead to the "excuse" to cope by drinking or using another substance. There's an old saying that our parents install our emotional buttons and our children and close loved ones push them. I think of emotional buttons that get pushed as opportunities for healing. Yeah.

Does Smoking Pot Effect Your IQ?

Does Smoking Pot Effect Your IQ?

Does smoking pot affect your IQ? Yes, if you start smoking under the age of 18. A study from New Zealand's University of Otago of 1,000 people IQ tested and followed from 18 to 34 showed that people who smoked and became dependent by 18 had an average drop of 8 points.  Unfortunately, quitting didn't remove the problem researchers reported.  (Modesto Bee, Tue. 28, 2012)  

Internet Porn: Best Sex Ed for Teens?

Is Internet Porn the best sex education for teens? I hope not. According to research by TopTenReview, the average age at which a child first views porn online is 11. Another survey published by Psychologies magazine in the U.K. found that one-third of children surveyed had seen online porn by age 10.

Why are parents still not talking to their children about sex? My parents didn't talk to me either and I ended up a pregnant teen. Talking to your kids about sex is uncomfortable, embarrassing, etc. So, what? Is supergraphic internet porn how we want our children to learn about sex? And, believe me, they're not going to tell you they're watching it.

If you're looking for an informative tell-it-like-it-is Ted Talk to share with a young adult child of yours try: Makelovenotporn.com by Cindy Gallop. Watch it first. The website shows 10 myths about porn and their real world comparisons. For example: Myth: All women love to have men come on their face. Real world: Some do, some don't. It’s a non-judgmental, lighter way to see the distortions porn promotes.

As a therapist and woman I'm sad that internet porn has negatively affected so many relationships. I know four women that have ended relationships because of their husband/partners porn addiction and unwillingness to change that behavior. I'm not talking about clients, but friends and acquaintances.

Internet porn is not the Playboy, Hustler or adult store of yesteryear. This stuff is live and action oriented and for some highly addictive. Mari Lee, a therapist who specializes in sex addiction in the Los Angeles area, said in a training I attended, that if cocaine creates a chemical high in the brain 100 times what a drink of alcohol does, porn creates an effect 1,000 times that of alcohol. Now we know why porn can be SO compelling and addictive.

As a Certified Addiction Counselor for 25 years I’ve seen how difficult this behavior is to break. More so than other addictions? Maybe. The brain gets rewired with the intense activity. Normal sex then feels like what? A lukewarm version. For healthy sexuality to feel normal again, the brain and behavior have to be retrained and re-sensitized to normal sexual sensitivity and sensuality. That takes time and practice. Twelve step programs like S.A.A. ( Sex addicts anonymous) are available in most cities now and help break the addictive cycle. A good place to get help is:  www.sexualrecovery.com. Or, google S.A.A. 12 step groups in your area. 

Lynn Telford-Sahl holds a Masters in Psychology with a Holistic Specialization from John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA. 

Feel free to use all or part of this blog as long as you list my name, website and contact information.

Lynn is the author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.

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Make a Habit, Break a Habit: Here's How:

Make a habit, break a habit. Are addictions treatable habits? Yes, but it's just a little more complicated than that. If you're wondering if you have a drinking problem, do you remember when you first started drinking, what it was you were really going for? Some of my clients report everyone else was doing it - these are usually teens.  For many the drinking provides temporary relief from stress or anxiety, a way to shed the days worries. Or, just to relax and have fun socially. Over time, a habit forms and gets bigger because it creates a craving which can become an obsession.  The habit of self-treating anxiety or stress with a few glasses of wine or a 6 pack of beer. That's when people start to feel really out of control of the addictive habit.

Is it possible to shift drinking behaviors and other addictive habits by developing new routines which become new habits?  Of course. AA members know the truth of this. Sceptical new members attend meetings where they see that seasoned members are staying sober because they've developed the "habit" of attending meetings rather than drinking.  Group support becomes part of the new habit.

What's the process to change a habit?  Let's say you have a slight drinking issue you'd like to adjust. You come home and drink a glass of wine each night with a meal and you're not happy about the weight gain. How do you begin? First of all identify the "cue" or what's driving the craving. For this wine drinking woman, the cue is stress relief. She comes home stressed, tired and a glass of wine relaxes her. The "routine" is getting the bottle out and pouring a glass of wine. The reward is the "relief" as the stress and anxiety melts away as she drinks her wine with her meal.

To change this habit she needs to look at other more positive ways to relieve stress and anxiety. New behaviors which turn into routines could be stopping at the gym and working out for an hour between work and home. Here the cue is the still the stress, but the routine is different and leads to the reward of relaxation AND weight loss. Practicing this change over 90 days will cement in the new habit. The reward of stress reduction with exercise and weight loss helps to keep the new habit in place.  (For more:  read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

 

We Must Do Better with Alcoholism Treatment - Remember Smoking?

We must and can do better to prevent and treat alcohoism and addiction. We have had success with another addiction - smoking. The U.S. reduced smoking rates from nearly 60% in the 1950s to about 20% today. We did it with a collective will to stop that killer and with a focus on prevention and treatment through Public Service Announcements, early education in the school system, and government supported smoking cessation programs.

Alcoholism is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States and it's an expensive illness both emotionally to those struggling with it and their families. Financially, alcoholism is incredibly costly. "Each year medical problems caused by addiction, along with lost earnings, accidents and crime, cost Americans more than $500 billion."* 

Very troubling to me as an addiction counselor is that the failure rate for long term sobriety is a grim 70%. This is a shocking statistic because treatment success rates have remained virtually unchanged for the 30 years I've been in the counseling profession. The majority of addiction professionals and the medical community treat the problem primarily with behavorial and psychosocial approaches meaning group therapy, 12 Step meetings and education. This is important, but the newly sober brain often can't process or remember well until the brain has had time to heal - 4-12 months for most.

Part of what gets in the way of better treatment is that society still views addiction as a moral rather than a medical issue. But there's plenty of scientific evidence that concludes "...addiction is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain with many simiarities to other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma..."*

Cutting edge treatment for alcoholism includes medications such as Vivitrol and Campral. Vivitrol is a once a month, extended-release injected medication (naltrexone), approved by the FDA in 2006. Vivitrol reduces the high that someone gets from drinking, and it decreases cravings. Because it's prescribed once a month, it eliminates the daily decision making that goes with Antabuse.  

Another effective medication is Campral approved by FDA in 2004. Campral also reduces cravings and "...restores the balance in certain neurotransmitter pathways altered by chronic use." Campral can accelerate brain healing which normally takes 4-12 months after someone stops drinking. Vivitrol and Campral can be prescribed together to enhance the effects according to Dr. Urschel* and he recommends usage for 18 months on average. 

Society needs to get over judging alcoholics and drug addicts as moral failures, treat addiction as the medical problem it is and spend the right kind of money on prevention, early education and treatment. We can change the course of this disease as we've done with smoking.  


 

*Healing the Addicted Brain by Harold C Urschel, III, MD, MMA, Advances in Addiction and Recovery Magazine Spring 2013

Make a Spending Habit, Break a Spending Habit!

Feel like a hamster on a never-ending-habit treadmill?  Losing weight and keeping it off has always been tough. But bad spending habits can be just as challenging and destructive. Now there are Apps like Urge or Make a Habit, Break a Habit to make it easier to stay on track.

What kind of bad money habits do you have?  Are you an unconscious spender? Do you go to the mall and two hours later have bags of purchases and you can’t really remember what exactly you paid for them?  Are you an unconscious spender or secret shopper? And, I don’t mean the kind that’s hired by Safeway to check up on their customer service. I mean, do you sneak your purchases home when your husband is busy and hide them so you don’t feel guilty, or get grilled? Do you struggle to maintain a budget or is budget a behavior you resist with all your might?

Changing our habits is not easy, but with practice certainly achievable. We need repetition to build awareness. Like poor spending habits or money management, food, weight and exercise habits have been particularly tough to change long term.  Behavorial Modification programs are getting positive attention again and are based on making small incremental changes that build progress over time. You may be surprised to know that Weight Watchers is basically a behavorial modification program and it’s one of the most effective.

For those of you that have a money problem, try Urge which “prompts users to hold off on impulse purchases to hit budgeting goals.”

As an addiction counselor for over 20 years I love the new Apps. Check out NY Daily News Addictions & Answers for Lynn's tips on Compulsive Shopping. They make paying attention and taking a pause from cravings and impulses so much easier than will power alone and they work because they improve on the principles of good ol’ 12 Step Programs – support, feedback, slow steady changes and the good feelings that come with healthy change.  (The Perfected Self by David H Freedman, The Atlantic June 2012)

 

Joy Training for the Addictive Brain?

Joy training for the addictive brain? Yes, it’s possible I’m happy to say. I was at my brother Lee’s 12 Step N.A. meeting when he got his 1 year chip. Yeah Lee!!  There were 100 people in the room celebrating each other for their hard work to stay sober from 1 year to 28 years.  It was amazing to see and feel the hope, love and JOY in the room.

Addicts and those of us in the addiction field know that negativity, stress and fear are part of addiction and that recovery includes good coping skills. Relapse prevention’s is about coping skills and dealing with negativity is primary.

Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness says that the brain’s thinking naturally skews to the negative. “The brain is velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive.”

The brain has a “negativity bias” and that’s good for survival.  Those happy, joyful, la la people apparently didn’t make it because they didn’t see and respond to the dangers of life.

BUT, this negativity bias makes it harder to find JOY in our adult lives. Not kids – kids ARE happy for the most part. It’s sad to say, but we grown ups have to WORK at JOY.

Twenty-five years ago I went on a quest for JOY when I recognized my own tendency to react to stress, be run by anxiety and negativity. That led me to The Course In Miracles. Another time.

The other truism is that “what fires together, wires together.” To counter the natural negativity of the brain and CREATE more JOY it takes practice, practice, practice.

Here’s a simple practice that if you’ll do over the next 30 days will lower stress and anxiety and increase happiness. (*Abbreviated from Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson)

Take In The Good

1)   Notice what you’re thinking or feeling without changing anything. Notice your body. Breathe and begin to relax.

2)   Think about a strength you have or recognize protections such as a friend nearby. Notice that you’re all right, right now.

3)   Bring to mind one or more things you’re grateful for or glad about. Think about something that makes you happy.

4)   Think about one or more people (or a pet) who care about you. Feel appreciated, liked or loved. Be aware of your own warmth and caring for others.

5)   Let this sense of peace or contentment weave together and rest. Imagine moving through your day with this sense.

Practice for 30 days a 3 or 4 times a day for 20-30 seconds at a time.  Brain research shows that this type of practice counters the negativity bias of the brain and increases feelings of contentment, peace – even JOY.

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Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, National Speaker & Author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom, writes the blog for addictionmodesto.com from her 25 years experience and research in the addiction field. 

Wealth Addicts: Is There Ever Enough Money?

How much money is enough? There's never enough! If I ask people how much money will make them happy many say: "Just MORE." How much more? They don't know. The quest for more money without a specific number or goal keeps us acting like hamsters on the wheel - running, running, running toward MORE and often away from meaning, purpose and happiness.

Sam Polk, author of the NY Times article, "For the Love of Money", is a former hedge-fund trader whose last bonus was $3.6 million and it wasn't enough. Sam grew up with little, but in his new career cwas soon making millions. Over the years, his goal was to make a billion dollars and he truthfully admits money meant power. Sam says his "wealth addicted" co-workers are like "alcoholics driving drunk and are responsible for the ever widening rift between rich and poor." Remember McDonalds C.E.O., Don Thompson, with an 8.5 million bonus and a brochure for his workers about how to survive on low wages? Addiction anyone? (NY Times Jan 19, 2014)

Sam's awakening came through his bosses and co-workers who were endlessly greedy and never satisfied. He says we are letting money addiction drive too much of our society. Sam, was lucky because as a recovering addict he recognized the signs of addiction - always looking for the next high, doing whatever it takes to get that high - including lying, cheating, stealing, denial of how your behavior is affecting yourself or others, emotional numbness, emotional isolation. 

I think the difference between wealth addicts and the average American, besides the money, is that wealth addicts are power seekers and most middle-class Americans are happiness seekers. Money does provide power - especially in large amounts, but it can't provide happiness.  "Money can bring pleasure, but it will never provide JOY." Robert Holden, of Happiness Now.

Most of us aren't wealth addicts. But be aware of that push to always want MORE money. My advice is to figure out how much money is enough for you. My enough number is $80,000 a year. Harvard Researchers and authors of Happy Money state that after $75,000 more money does not increase happiness - AT ALL!!

Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, Certified Money Coach, author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom, National Speaker. Lynn has a private practice in Modesto, CA and specializes in treating addiction, anxiety, co-dependency and family addictive concerns. As a Certified Money Coach she works to identify top money challenges and create positive strategies to move forward.  

 

 

Tips to Handle Holiday Stress, Anxiety & Depression for Addicts & Alcoholics

Holiday stress, anxiety and depression are relapse triggers for the newly sober and just plain stressful for recovering folks depending on the health and sanity of your family.

While the Holidays can be a fun, family time, for many, they are also a sad, depressing, no family time.  See picture - is this your family?  Perhaps - but remember we can all pose for a picture...

Family celebrations can also be stressful if you're newly sober and there's alcohol around. Or, stressful and anxiety provoking because of family "stuff" - you know - Susie always comes late to dinner and Mom makes excuses for her. Sam's kids get the best presents - obviously mom and dad like them better. Our head tapes can get very active during the Holidays.

Here are some suggestions to keep you sane and healthy during the Holidays: 

1) Think about what kind of Christmas Holiday you'd like to have. Then make decisions about whether you'll be staying home in your cozy little place or venturing out to parents or other family. Really, you have a right to choose where you want to be for the holiday, and yes, sometimes that creates a wave of upset with family. However, in my experience, they are able to move past it with time.

2) If you're going into a Holiday celebration that's stressful or anxiety producing, consider setting a time limit and letting folks know ahead of time.  "I'm looking forward to being with you all and we'll need to leave by 7 p.m. - or whatever).  This allows you to feel you have some control and and will cut down on anxiety.

3) For Family Gatherings:  

If you're at a family gathering or office party and you're feeling uncomfortable or anxious ask yourself what's up - what's pushing your buttons - take a breath (you don't have to solve it, just become aware) and then decide if you want to stay or not.  If not, find the host, thank them for the party and gently excuse yourself. You don't have to give a reason. "Thank you so much for the party. I'm going to need to get going." (If you need to make up an excuse to politely leave - just say I have to get home to take care of my pet, grandmother, ...)

4) Attend more 12 Step Meetings during the Holidays if you have been going. 12 Step is still the MOST effective treatment approach for addiction because the commaraderie replaces the isolation, the meetings give you a safe place to go instead of drinking or using, and as you build friendships and connections you build trust - in the group and in yourself to stay sober.  

5) If you haven't tried 12 Step meetings. Do.  See #4 above.

6) For anxiety - breathe - really - take 10 breaths - here's a FREE MP3 that shows you how. Also see Lucinda Bassett's work http://tinyurl.com/nmsudo8  Midwest Center for Anxiety & Depression

7) For depression the path out is with medication for some - talk to your doctor - and by looking at the quality of your thoughts. Part of the illness around addiction are the negative thoughts that generate depression. Resources:  Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom and Happy for No Reason Marci Shimoff.

Pills for Problems: What To Do Instead

Pills for problems - can't take just one. Pills, pills, pills. By pills I mean Vicodin, Lortab, OxyContin. So many pills for so many problems. Got pain? Feeling sad or blue? Not happy enough? Or, do you just want to get high? Take a few pills.

As an addiction counselor I've seen the number of folks with pain pill problems increase over the years.

"Prescription drugs account for about three-quarters of all drug overdose deaths in the United States, with the number of deaths from narcotic painkillers, or opioids quadrupling since 1999, according to federal data." (Modesto Bee 10-25-13)

We know painkillers can be appropriately prescribed and used, but we also know there's a lot of street selling or these same drugs. I would say most of the clients I've worked with that are taking painkillers aren't getting them through their doctors. They get some pills at a party, then they raid their parents pain prescription bottle, then they start buying them off friends or the street or ordering online if they have the money. 

Here are a few assessment questions and suggestions for slowing down or stopping.

1) Be honest with yourself first about how much you're taking a day and for how long. 

2) Talk to a friend, family member about what's going on - how much you're using and for how long. If you're not willing to do this, you're probably not ready to get help.

3) If you don't have a SAFE family member or friend to talk to, find an addiction counselor, or go to 12 Step meetings like Narcotics Anonymous. You can find them listed online. 

4) Before you go stop using here are some SAFETY guidelines:  Talk to your doctor about your usage and that you want to stop or wean yourself.  Going cold turkey is dangerous - I don't recommend it.  iI you've been using for a number of months and want to wean yourself do so with your doctors help, or talk to your counselor.

5) 12 Step Meeting Suggestions:  Go to 6 meetings before you decide if you like them or not. You don't have to speak if you don't want to. Just say I pass. Pay attention to the positive things said in the meeting. Focus on getting 1 thing out of the meeting that is helpful for you. If you keep attending and following the program you will make new friends and you will start to feel different.

6) If 12 Step meeting aren't working for you then check out Out-patient treatment, In-patient depending on the length of time and dosage you've been taking or Long Term Sober Living Environements. These are community based, inexpensive treatment options to help people develop a schedule, have daily support and education about their illness.

7) Opioids affect the feel good chemicals in the brain so once you've stopped using it takes time for the brain to heal - 4-12 months. I know. During this time exercise helps you feel better. Eating well is helpful. Not eating to many sweets will help. You can also try Amino Acid therapy as recommended by another addiction expert Julia Ross in her book Mood Cure.  Amino acid therapy helps you feel better.

8)  Stress and anxiety increase in early recovery so check out my FREE 7 1/2 Tips to Reduce Stress & Anxiety - they're easy and short audio tips that come every couple days and help you practice stress reduction.

Email me with questions - lynntelfordsahl@gmail.com