Understanding Mental Health

We all have mental health. It affects our psychological, emotional, social and in some instances, our physical wellbeing. It also affects how we feel, how we act, how we communicate and how we deal with the many challenges life can throw at us. Because mental health holds such a significant role in our overall wellbeing, when it starts to decline, whether through a one-time traumatic experience or through long-term mental illness, it can have a serious impact on our lives. To avoid negative experiences escalating into something more severe, it is vital that we are mindful of our mental health as much of the time as possible.

 Does The Internet Affect Our Mental Health

It is ‘normal’ to be concerned about the effects of the internet on mental health. In our new digital era, the internet is considered to be a necessity for almost everybody – we use the internet to communicate with our friends and families, catch up on news, access education and there are now very few jobs left on the planet that doesn’t require at least some use of the internet! Although it has revolutionized the way we work, learn and communicate with each other – it also carries the exact same power and potential to cause harm and distress to users who might be unprepared for exposure to such diverse and ‘unregulated’ content and materials. Because of the wide-open nature of the internet, there is a risk that some users can be upset, disturbed or adversely affected by their online experiences. Some examples of this might be the ‘triggering’ of people with pre-existing conditions relating to eating disorders or self-harm.

Negative Effects Of  Social media On Mental Health

 Most people first learn about the terms ‘cyberbullying’ and ‘online harassment’ through cases of suicide reported in the media, where the internet has been used to target a victim with digital abuse or harassment to the point that they can no longer see an alternative but to end their own life. We have seen time and again, that when we experience this type of targeted ‘toxic’ behaviour – it can affect our mental health in the same way similar experiences would in real life. Our emotions are real, they do not differentiate between what is online and what is offline – we respond in a similar way and feel similar negative emotions regardless of the way the hurtful words or content are delivered.

 The Effects Of Cyberbullying On Our Mental Health

People who are targeted with cyberbullying or harassment might experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, self- doubt, depression and anxiety. All of these affect our mental health, and it is important to be mindful of the emotions that we are experiencing and to seek help if these feeling become debilitating or overwhelming.

 Helpful Organisations for Mental Health Problems

There are many useful organizations who can help you with your mental health concerns. Some organizations offer mental health helplines to provide support for long term mental health problems and short-term crisis support.

Missing the mark on addiction

When treating addiction, contributing mental health issues must be considered. Serious drug problems, and we’re seeing only half of it.

We continue the fight with prescription opioid addiction. Police say that heroin is now undercutting the price of prescription drugs. Intravenous overdose deaths quadrupled between 2011 and 2012, while orally administered prescription opioids – chillingly known as “painkillers” – are responsible for three-quarters of the fatalities. Total drug overdoses have surpassed automobile accidents as the leading cause of accidental death.

And that’s not all. Unsterile needle use for intravenous heroin is associated with multiple, potentially deadly, infections such as hepatitis C and B, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, tetanus, septic thrombophlebitis, skin abscesses/cellulitis, brain abscesses, osteomyelitis, pneumonia and endocarditis.

The problem has been studied from every angle, but we are missing something that’s very important.

Addicted patients have been treated over the years, many hospital-based dual-diagnosis programs with appointments with support workers and in private practice.

In almost every case of addiction seen, regardless of the substance, pre-existing and undiagnosed conditions such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. Usually, it’s these conditions that brought on the addictive behaviour in the first place.

But when a patient comes in for drug treatment, he or she gets treatment for his addiction and only addiction.

The traditional addiction model was summarized by Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., in 2013: “At its core, addiction involves a biological process: the ability of repeated exposure to a drug of abuse to induce changes in a vulnerable brain that drives the compulsive seeking and taking of drugs, and loss of control over drug use.” Generally, adolescence represents the most sensitive time for a still-developing brain to be susceptible to drug use.

Traditional addiction treatment couples programs such as detoxification with Alcohol Anonymous-style self-help groups. Over more than 80 years, these programs have rescued millions of lives worldwide. However, a scathing June 2012 report from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse states that “51.8 percent of (programs) don’t assess co-occurring mental health disorders.”


Addiction treatment programs commonly miss that individuals attempt to “drown out” varying degrees of misery using alcohol and/or other drugs. Misery triggers addiction with a phenomenon known as “self-medication.” Mind states such as depression, anxiety, irritability and impulsivity can result from pre-existing and undiagnosed mood, anxiety and/or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, causing pain that the sufferer tries to numb with drugs, including alcohol.

Usually, multiple addictions and disorders are present in every patient and addicted individuals are rarely aware of these underlying disorders.

Self-medication addiction treatment includes diagnosis of these pre-existing disorders, appropriate medication use and individual talking therapy, supplemented by (with informed consent) couples, marital or family therapy.

The comprehensive dual-diagnosis model and treatment integrates the “traditional” and “self-medication” models and treatments. Both are necessary to understand and treat addiction.

Pre-existing and undiagnosed disorders should be searched for as part of every evaluation of every addicted person, adolescent, adult or elderly. It is as much a mistake to treat the addictions and ignore the underlying disorders as it would be to treat the underlying disorders and ignore the addictions.

It’s a problem that can start young and last a lifetime.


A recent study determined that one in four Americans who began using any addictive substance before age 18 became addicted, compared to 1 in 25 Americans who started using at age 21 or older. Thus, parents need to frequently tell their children and adolescents not to begin smoking, drinking or using other drugs. Fear of upsetting parents is the biggest reason kids don’t use drugs.

But this is not a problem for drug treatment specialists alone. Approximately 80 percent of Americans go to primary care practitioners – physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants – and receive evaluation for addiction and treatment when needed.

These practitioners should additionally identify and treat these underlying mental health disorders or refer their patients to addiction and psychiatric physicians to do so. If pre-existing mental health disorders still remain undiagnosed, then addictions will likely worsen.

How many more millions of lives could be rescued, worldwide, if only the comprehensive dual-diagnosis model and treatment, described above, became routinely implemented by health care professionals?




What can be learned by not drinking for two years

Two years ago, a few days before New Year’s Eve, I last got drunk. It was the closing night of the Lincoln Lodge, a fantastic comedy venue in Chicago in the back of a now-closed diner. They’ve since moved, but after that show, I thought I should take a breather from drinking — and eating meat — and focus on productivity.

Here’s a short list of what I’ve accomplished since I stopped drinking:

  • Lost 75 pounds.
  • Bought an amazing loft condo.
  • Finished the first draft of an advice book.
  • Started exercising three days a week, then four.
  • Went from a size XXL to size Large.
  • Performed in three comedy festivals.
  • Got an amazing new job.
  • Finished multiple drafts of multiple television and movie scripts.
  • Went from a 42-inch waist to a 36-inch waist.
  • Went from hating myself daily to relatively enjoying myself.

A lot of this is what I externally accomplished, what I can show on paper. But I think that the last one is the most important.

How to ease your alcohol drinking

I’ve learned a lot in two years, so I thought I’d share that with you, in case you’d like to take a break from the booze cruise. Also, that’s what I tell myself: I’ve taken a break. Maybe I’ll drink again. Maybe I won’t.

But overall, life seems to be a whole lot better for me because I took a break. Perhaps it could be for you too.

Things I’ve learned

  1. You don’t have to drink to have fun.

What a shocker! As someone who’s been drinking since senior year of high school (sorry, Mom, we weren’t just “hanging out” in the basement), most events in my life revolved around booze.

Almost everything does Comedy shows, concerts, after-work functions, meetups, dates, conferences, dinner, museum tours. But guess what? The events don’t change if you decide not to drink!

You’re still you. Maybe you’re more “inhibited,” but is that altogether terrible? I’ve found that when I hang out with folks who have been drinking, I start to feel the same way I felt — in terms of becoming silly, goofy, fun — when I was drinking too.

America’s drunken history: From the Civil War to the Kennedy assassination

And I remember everything that happened during the events, which is always nice.

  1. You have way fewer regrets.

Since I stopped drinking, I’ve yet to wake up and look at my phone, see something I texted, and go, “Ugh, wwwwwwhhhhhy.” I’m in control of my actions basically all of the time.

I think longer before I respond to something someone says. If I’m angry, it gives me time to calm down. Drinking definitely helped my inner jerk come out a lot more often. Now I am better at keeping the jerkier side of me locked up. It still comes out, sure, but at least I have more control over when that happens.

  1. People will judge the heck out of you.

This was the weirdest one to deal with. Many, many folks will give you attitude for not drinking. Here are some things I’ve been told:

“C’mon, dude, just have one beer! It’s not like you’re going to meetings or whatever!”

“I can’t trust someone who doesn’t drink.”

“You’re not fun unless you’re drunk.”

“When you don’t drink, it makes me feel bad about myself, which makes me not like you.”

“I can’t date someone who doesn’t want to get drunk with me, sorry.”

I’ll bet I said some of these things myself, back when I used to drink — because when you’re around someone who doesn’t do something you like doing, you can be taken aback by it.

I’ve had friends who’ve stopped hanging out with me because I don’t drink anymore. I’ve had relationships end (or not even start) because of it. I have been sent screenshots of people I know talking smack about me to other people because I choose to not do a thing.

It’s weird. But it makes you realize the bad relationship with booze that other folks must be having. And for that, I have empathy. And I hope they figure it out.

  1. You sleep so much better.

I haven’t slept this great since before high school. Man, it’s fantastic. I could point you to all the studies that show how alcohol affects your sleep, but hey, take my word for it.

  1. You get less sad.

I don’t know if I have depression, but I used to get bummed out a lot. There were days when I wouldn’t want to leave my apartment, or see anyone, mostly because I hated myself. I don’t hate myself nearly as much as I used to. I’m generally OK with my life and who I am. Positivity is now my go-to emotion, even when something bad or terrible happens to me.

It’s like I flipped this switch inside my brain: Instead of going to negativity, I try to find the reason something is positive. It’s definitely weird to have this happen to me.

  1. You develop more empathy for others.

A few weeks ago, this guy blared on his horn because I was crossing at a crosswalk and he wanted to turn, and he almost hit me with his car, then he flipped me off and cursed at me.

Old me probably would’ve stood in front of him, not moved, taken a photo or video of him, shared it on the Internet, explained, “Hey, look at this jerk who tried to hit me with his car!” and felt smug and wonderful about it.

Instead, after an initial moment of fear and anger, I realized this dude was probably having an awful day. Maybe he was late for an appointment. Maybe he was trying to get to the hospital to see his son who has cancer. Maybe he didn’t have parents as loving as mine and that’s filled him with resentment his entire life.

Either way, that guy had something going on, and I wanted him to be happier. Then I felt weird because my brain has been wired forever to be a little twerp to anyone who wrongs me. But now? I generally jump to empathy. I like that.

  1. You save so much money.

I bought a condo. I’d like to pretend as though it wasn’t because of how much money I saved by not drinking and buying food while drunk, but probably a quarter of my down payment came just from abstaining from booze.

Yeah, I know.

  1. You get tired earlier.

It’s pretty hard for me to stay up past 11 p.m. most days, even on weekends. When I was drinking, booze was a magical fuel that kept me going, trying to find a new adventure.

Now that I don’t drink, I’m not constantly searching for adventure, trying to find one more fun thing that will fill the empty void inside of me. I’m content with what I’ve done for the day, and my body wants to go to bed. I dig that.

  1. You become amazingly productive.

When you’re not spending most of your free time at bars, you get a lot done. I read more. I write more. I learn more.

I spend more time working on bettering myself and my skills than I ever would have sitting at a bar, chatting with a buddy or two. I’m much less social than I used to be, but I’m also creating more art and failing a lot more than ever before.

In the end, I know I’m going to die. I’d rather there be a few things of me still hanging around after I’m dead, some sort of personal expression that others can enjoy. That requires me to put in the time to work on projects, make something tangible and real for people to enjoy.

That seems, now, like a better use of my time than chatting with some pals at a bar. That conversation may have been great, sure, but in the end, it dies with me and those people. If I can create a few things that last longer than me, it makes my life last longer. It means I mattered a little more.

I’m glad I haven’t been drunk for two years. Sure, I’ve done a few shots of Malort with people who’ve never tried it. And yes, there was that one time a dude threatened to kick my rear if I didn’t drink that shot of whiskey he bought to congratulate me on “being so funny” after hearing me tell jokes about how I don’t drink anymore.

If you ever think, hey, this drinking thing isn’t fun anymore, it’s OK to take a break. I just quit. For me, it’s been relatively easy, and I know it isn’t easy for everyone. But just know I’ve found countless rad people who can have fun without booze. And you can too.

Good luck.

Andy Boyle is a comedian, writer and web developer in Chicago.

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Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune


The 10 Most Damaging Myths About Alcoholism

By definition, a myth is a widely held but false belief or idea. In the world of alcoholism and treatment, myths are dangerous because they can be determining factors in life and death situations. Be honest, how many of the following myths did you take for a fact?

  1. The Only Way to Get Better is to Hit “Rock Bottom”

This myth allows alcoholics at any stage in their disease to rationalize their drinking. While some alcoholics do lose everything before they decide to seek treatment, people should and do seek help before they reach this point. You can seek help at any stage in your drinking – whether it’s the first time you binge drink or you’ve been drinking habitually for 25 years. There’s no line you have to cross before it becomes “bad enough”. You can and should seek treatment the moment you feel you need help.

  1. Drinking Culture is Harmless

In our culture alcohol is ever-present. After work, you expect to meet coworkers for happy hour. Binge drinking is viewed as a harmless rite of passage during college and drunken escapades are often considered funny even if they cause significant harm. Not only is this irreverent attitude toward alcohol consumption dangerous, it is yet another way people with dependency issues rationalize their habits. It can make those who desperately need treatment, put off getting help for years longer than they should.

  1. “You have a job, you’re not an alcoholic!”

Thinking this way causes two major problems. First, it gives those alcoholics whose drinking is not yet negatively interfering with their job an excuse to rationalize and deny their drinking. Second, it increases the shame associated with alcohol dependence. There is fear surrounding admitting you have a problem and it stems from the negative stereotype of alcoholics. These two effects can cause someone to delay seeking treatment and cause potentially irreparable damage. Alcoholism is a disease that spans all socioeconomic ranks; anyone can find themselves in the grips of addiction.

  1. Willpower Alone Can Stop an Addiction

There are people who are able to stop drinking cold turkey, but they are the exception, not the rule. There are two things to note here: (1) The decision to stop drinking is often the result of an emotional event, such as the death of a friend due to alcohol poisoning, a pregnancy, or a drunk driving accident, and (2) a person who stops drinking without processing the “why” for their addiction is at high risk to pick up another addiction in its place. Addiction is not a switch you can turn on and off at will.

  1. Controlled Drinking is Possible

Alcoholics who try to drink socially or have “just one” drink are usually playing with fire. Most will quickly end up in a full-blown relapse because the mind and body fall back into old habits. People who try to push you to drink in moderation probably don’t have your best interest in mind. Having a strong sober support network you can call on when you’re thinking that having “just one” won’t put you back on a harmful path is key to a successful recovery.

  1. Everything will be Perfect Once You Stop Drinking

Most alcoholics didn’t start drinking because their lives were perfect. More likely, it began as a reaction to a painful or traumatic situation. If you never deal with trauma in a direct and healthy way, its effects will still be waiting after you stop drinking. Early sobriety can be tough because all those emotions you tried to avoid by drinking can come back to the surface. But dealing with those feelings and tackling the “why” of your alcoholism is the only way to get on a healthy recovery path.

  1. Treatment is the Magic Cure

Participating in an organized treatment program can be extraordinarily beneficial for someone suffering from alcoholism. While in treatment alcoholics have the opportunity to develop healthy coping mechanisms and network with others seeking sobriety. But treatment programs aren’t a one-stop shop to fix alcoholism. Alcoholism is a chronic disease and maintaining sobriety will be a lifelong journey. Continuously tending to your recovery is a rewarding process because you will be building lifelong relationships and a gratifying life outside of alcoholism.

  1. Alcoholics Must go to AA

Alcoholics Anonymous can be very helpful for people fighting alcoholism. But the recovery community is not limited to one way of doing things. Maintaining sobriety and establishing a fulfilling life outside of addiction is a unique journey for everyone. So figure out what works best for you by trying different things. For example, you can go to a few AA meetings per week but also incorporate activities like yoga and meditation to maintain sobriety. There are countless options and an enormous recovery community at your fingertips.

  1. Sobriety is Boring

A lot of people mistakenly assume that after they get sober, life will be boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the vibrancy and support that can be found in the recovery community are unlike any other. Clearing your mind of the fog of your addiction opens it up to so much more. Now is the time to discover or regain beloved hobbies and restore meaningful relationships. Most people who are seeking sobriety report that they have renewed appreciation for life and making the most of their time.

  1. Getting Sober is Impossible

Some people may feel like they’re too far gone in their disease to get help. This is simply NOT true. At any age or stage in your alcoholism, you can successfully seek sobriety. Once you enter treatment or start your recovery journey, you may feel overwhelmed. That’s normal, but it’s important to remember that you have the ability to change your life and sobriety is within your reach.

If the first step is awareness, the next step is to stop the widespread acceptance of false information. Stop believing and perpetuating these myths so we can open up a truthful dialogue about alcoholism and create a better treatment process.


Shelby Hendrix is a blogger from the Northern Midwest with close personal ties to the addiction world. She focuses on the addiction landscape to reach out to those fighting alcoholism and compel them to seek an informed, healthy recovery.

Why Some People Are Drug Addicts

Is science finally on the verge of cracking addictions?

We know that addicts lose control over their lives and that they would as soon give up breathing as stop using their preferred substance(s). Yet, the critical question of why one member of an adolescent peer group becomes an addict and the others do not remains open.

The oldest explanation of addiction as a moral weakness is unsatisfactory because it is circular. It does not tell us why some individuals are capable of resisting addiction. Scientists also dislike the moralistic interpretation because it evokes free will that is considered inherently unscientific.

Tossing out the moralistic pseudo-explanation, addiction researchers are left with two plausible theories. According to the disease model, an addict is someone who suffers from a biological vulnerability to some, or all, addictive drugs. The alternative explanation is that drug use is reinforcing and that addicts simply learn to repeat actions that had made them feel good.

The disease theory of addiction

Drug addiction causes all sorts of a medical problem but the disease theory holds that the addict has a biological vulnerability to addiction before they ever began to use the drug.

This perspective underlies the strategy of Alcoholics Anonymous that unquestionably saves many lives and it also seems helpful to family members and to therapists. If the disease theory were correct, it would offer the promise of a medicine that could correct the chemical abnormality of the brain underlying addiction.

Needless to say, there is no such magic bullet and there may never be. The alternative theory focuses on the addictive properties of drugs.

Are addictions learned?

The notion that addiction is produced by reinforcing properties of drugs got a boost from experiments showing that lab animals would work at pressing a lever in order to receive small injections of addictive drugs.

This approach is uniquely helpful in explaining why crack cocaine that is smoked is more addictive than the snorted variety. The smoked variety gets to the brain sooner. The idea is that more immediate reinforcement strengthens the drug-taking behaviour more.

The learning theory of addictions is also backed up by neuroscience because addictive drugs activate dopamine-based reward systems that are designed by natural selection to strengthen naturally-rewarded behaviours such as feeding and mating.

This evolution-based interpretation of learned addictions actually provides an elegant explanation of why addiction occurs. Yet, it does not help in explaining why some individuals get hooked whereas others having a similar drug history do not.

The riddle of who gets addicted

The problem of why some individuals become addicts remains an open question but biological psychologists may be zeroing in on a solution. It has long been known that addicts have underactive dopamine systems and suffer from a decreased capacity to experience pleasure in their ordinary lives.

That is not too surprising because brain receptors tend to get depleted from over-stimulation by the neurotransmitter. Now researchers are reporting genetic abnormalities in dopamine systems that are correlated with addictive tendencies prior to the development of addictions (1).

Reading between the lines, it is possible that some people are more prone to addiction because they obtain less pleasure through natural routes, such as from work, friendships and romantic relationships. That could explain why they are more thrill-seeking, or “stimulus-hungry.”

Dopamine abnormality might also be related to a lack of social inhibition found in some addicts. Alcoholics ignore many of the social conventions about alcohol use, for instance: it should be social; it should never begin before noon; it should be restricted to the evening meal; never have more than three drinks, and so forth.

Supposing that these approaches pan out, we may finally begin to understand why some individuals succumb to addiction. The answer may combine aspects of the disease theory and a sophisticated understanding of the effects of drugs on the brain.

Written by Nigel Barber PhD 2013