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.
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)
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 - email@example.com
The Blessing of Relapse? Really. Yes, really. Let's say Joe has been using alcohol and pot since he was 13. At 29 he's tired of being exhausted, broke, fighting with his girlfriend, having his parents upset with him. He's done. Joe starts attending AA/NA 12 step meetings. But, he doesn't do the 90 meetings in 90 days as suggested. He doesn't get a sponsor. H's doing ok. Four long sober months go by and the stresses of every day life are getting to him. He may be romancing the feeling that a beer or a toke will give him. His cravings come up especially when he's struggling to pay the bills or his girlfriend is on his case about there not being enough money. Joe's thinking about using to solve his problems becomes a daily thing. He's still going to meetings, but he's not talking about what he's thinking or feeling. You know what happens.... Joe stops by his friend Don's on the way home from work - like hs used to. He gets high. He's off and running for the weekend. He's relapsed.
What are the steps that brought Joe to relapse? According to Terence Gorski and Merlene Miller, Relapse Specialists, there are warning signs that show up before the first drink or use.
Here are 5:
1) You aren't attending meetings or meeting with your sponsor as much as you were before - you're slacking off.
2) Stress level is building: This could be from a major change - job, family financial or the daily build up of problems, mood swings or bigger emotional ups and downs.
3) Denial: You might start thinking "I didn't have that big of a problem." "It wasn't so bad."
4) Behavior Change: Your healthy, sober daily routine slips back to old behavior - not getting up on time, not staying honest with yourself, overworking again or not thinking things through.
5) Social: You make excuses not to socialize, stop hanging around sober friends or withdraw from family.
Following these 5 steps you have set up the perfect scenarios for drinking or using again.
I love this quote by Terence Gorski: "Abstinence from alcohol and other drugs is only the beginning of sobriety. It's the ticket to get into the theatre, not the movie we are going to see."
Relapse Prevention Recipe: (Gorski)
1) Write up list of personal warning signs. For example Joe's could include: Less attendance at meetings, stress building up or conflict with girlfriend.
2) Warning sign management - what to do with stress: Write, journal, talk to sponsor or other 12 step friends, exercise, get enough sleep.
3) Stay away from risky enviroments - bars, old using friends. Don't let others pressure you to drink/use. Hang out with new sober friends.
4) Pay attention to how you feel - angry, sad, afraid, guilty - write or acknowledge and breathe. Talk about at meetings.
5) Work to change negative thinking - catch the negative thoughts early - Use image of a BIG RED STOP SIGN or Cancel Cancel words and replace with opposite or more positive words.
The blessing of relapse is when the experience and process leads back to more stable recovery. Recovery as every one says is a process. What's one change you'll make today to prevent relapse?
Struggling with Anxiety or Depression in recovery? Try Amino Acids. No surprise many addicted folks are anxious, depressed or stressed and self-medicating with their drug or food of choice. Many years ago I discovered I suffered from anxiety while giving a client an anxiety assessment. (Physician heal thyself!) As I scored the clients responses, I mentally checked off and scored my own. Momentarily shocked, I realized the pit in my stomach that was so normal was anxiety based. (*For quiz & treatment see book: From Panic to Power by Lucinda Bassett)
I wanted natural, rather than pharmaceutical treatment for myself and clients and discovered the power of amino acid supplementation for mild to moderate anxiety and depression. Amino acids are naturally occurring substances in the body that we (especially anyone with an addiction) can become deficient in. I love them because, unlike many prescription drugs, they do not have side effects other than a mild headache if the dosage is too high. If that occurs, drink lots of water and take Vitamin C to flush it quickly out of system. Amino acids are best taken on a empty stomach. They are available at health food stores. If you’re a health care practitioner you may purchase them wholesale through Infinity Health (800) 733-9293.
Here are my top 3 suggestions:
GABA: For anxiety or stress: (*See Julia Ross’s Mood Cure or Diet Cure books)
Recommended dosage one 500 mg. capsule on empty stomach. (Can take 1- 3 capsules depending on severity of mood 2 or 3X a day or at night if having trouble getting to, or staying asleep.)
5 HTP : For mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Helps sleep and can lessen addictive cravings. Improves serotonin functioning in brain. (Important: Do not take if currently using an anti-depressant.)
Recommended Dosage: One-three 50 mg. capsules on empty stomach during afternoon or at bedtime. (Try 1 capsule first) (See Julia Ross’s Mood Cure or Diet Cure books)
P.S. Very helpful for the 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. low-energy dip or if you have afternoon sugar or carb cravings. Serotonin levels are lowest in the late afternoon which is why cravings get more intense then.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR ON YOUR WEB SITE?
You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Lynn Telford-Sahl, M.A. Psychology, Certified Addiction Counselor, author of Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom.
L-Theanine: Amino acid found in green tea.
Supports mental calmness, focus and relaxation. Dr. John Gray suggests 200-400 mg 2-3X a day, as needed. He says taken at bedtime it melts away stress.
Dr. Gray: Just released Venus on Fire, Mars on Ice)
Julia Ross: The Mood Cure or The Diet Cure
(* Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and am not prescribing any supplementation. Please take responsibility and be an informed consumer. Do your own research – see resources above)
Americans are addicted to legal and illegal drugs and by drugs I mean pharmaceutical drugs. Pharmaceutical companies are the most profitable industry in the world. Marcia Angell, M.D. first woman editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine reports that in 2002 the $35.9 billion the top drug companies earned were greater than the profits of the other 490 Fortune 500 companies combined.
In my city of Modesto, California, (and two other small cities) there are 31 Walgreens, CVS and Rite-Aid pharmacies. This doesn’t count all the pharmacies within grocery stores, Target or Walmart. Many of these have been build in the last few years.
In 1997 the FDA reversed it’s policy on direct-to-consumer advertising. At that time, 220 million a year was spent by pharmaceutical companies on advertising. In 2002, the amount was 2.8 billion. Big pharma spends twice as much on advertising as research and development and it’s working.
Perhaps we’re buying so many more prescription drugs because we’re being brainwashed to believe we need what they’re selling. “Tv advertising, works by mobilizing the appeal of group morale. "By showing you pictures of beautiful, happy people, they persuade you that everyone else in the world is having a terrific time, only you are left out. Want to stop being a lonely loser? Join them -- just tune into this, or buy that,” says Bill Manville, ex advertising copywriter for Grey Advertising and now NY Daily News columnist.
Pharmaceutical ads subtly increase fear and worry about medical conditions. For example, statins were first prescribed only to those with heart problems. Now, they’re routinely prescribed for anyone with high cholesterol.
As an addiction specialist of 25 years I understand and support the benefits of medications for the right reasons. I’ve seen suicidal clients survive because of the anti-depressant they were taking. I’ve also seen clients so over-medicated they were zombies. Somewhere there’s a healthy meeting place between personal responsibility, the medicine now available and all the seductive advertising. The good news is that many of us are looking for ways to combine traditional with non-traditional medicine. The National Center for Complimentary & Alternative Medicine states that consumers spend 33.9 billion out of pocket on complimentary and alternative therapies.
As consumers we need to ask questions when we see new research come out. To change the control big corporations have on advertising, and us, it will take thinking outside the box. As Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.”
If you're struggling with an addiction or dependence to oxycontin, vicidin or other drugs of this type, there is help available. Check out AA or NA groups. Try 6 before you decide you don't "like" them - do you "like" being addicted? And, look for 1 thing each meeting that you can take and use for yourself. The tendency for the mind is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but a focus on 1 positive thing you can take for yourself is good. Also, see a physician, or a treatment program in your area, and get help for the withdrawal process. It's not recommended to stop taking the medications cold turkey. Others have quit and created a good life for themselves. You can too!
Sugar lights up the pleasure centers in the brain like the 4th of July. It seems we humans can become addicted to anything that makes us feel good. And, sugar feels GOOD. "Princeton Univeristy and University of Florida researchers have found that sugar-binging rats show signs of opiatelike withdrawal when their sugar is taken away-including chattering teeth, tremoring forepaws and the shakes." Yikes, sugar sounds like a drug to me!! (NY Times Well 9-23-12)
In 1994 I started groups for women with "food addiction" issues. My goal for the groups was to interrupt the addictive cycle of feeling stressed or upset and then going for food to submerge the feelings rather than consciously feel them. The method introduced was to become aware of the yo-yo cycle of dieting and to develop skills to deal with cravings in new, healthier ways.
We practiced breathing exercises to effectively cope with stress and develop an ability to be more centered. The beginnings of what eventually became the Pause Button formed when women talked about the uncontrollable cravings they would have with their food of choice - cookies, ice cream, salty and crunchy foods. Awareness is the first step of change and this was new information back then. Notice we don't become addicted to healthy foods like lettuce or carrots. (Free Mp3download of Intentional JOY's Pause Button Available).
Food Addiction treatment has come a long ways since 1994 and yet obesity is on the rise. The world is more stressful, not less. We have more coming at us, more processed foods available than ever. The pace of life, the rushing to get from here to there makes it really important to stay aware with your feelings, to take 10 BREATHS and to Pause before deciding what you're going to eat. Dr. Pamela Peeke, author of "The Hunger Fix," (& Fight Fat After 40 - excellent) says what I did so long ago - "...that meditation and exercise can help engage the brain to overcome food addiction..." And, to replace or find food alternatives that give pleasure but don't set off the fired up craving response - for example: a fruit smoothie instead of ice cream. ((NY Times Well 9-23-12)