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.”

SELF-MEDICATION BECOMES ADDICTION

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.

TEENS MORE EASILY ADDICTED

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.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @Trib_Ed_Board and on Facebook

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.

WRITTEN BY SHELBY HENDRIX

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

Staying Sober/Clean & Safe Over Christmas

Christmas is a time for celebratory occasions, where people of all backgrounds gather together to shake off their winter blues. The festive season means plenty of parties and other events where alcohol or drugs are consumed.

Not everyone finds the holiday season to be such a joyful experience. It can be a particularly difficult period for those individuals who are battling with an alcohol/drug addiction. There is so much temptation at this time of the year. Such individuals may need to take precautions to ensure that they enjoy a sober Christmas. Those who are spending time in rehab over the holiday season can also find it a challenging time due to them missing family and friends.

Challenges to Sobriety at Christmas

Christmas can be a particularly challenging time for people who are in early recovery. As people mature in sobriety they become better at managing this time of year. They can then enjoy it fully without any need for alcohol or drugs. These are some of the challenges that people face at Christmas:

Christmas can be a time of year that practising alcoholics look forward to. There is a great deal of alcohol consumption going on over the holiday period and this is perfect conditions for the alcohol abuse. Even the behaviour of a hardened drinker can appear normal during the festive season. When people become sober, they can remember how much they enjoyed drinking at Christmas. Some reminiscing may encourage them to romance the drink, and this can lead to relapse.

At this time of year, it is usual to bump into old acquaintances at social gatherings. If these people are still drinking, they may try to tempt the sober individual to rekindle their friendship over an alcoholic beverage. It can be hard to say no to such invitations.

There are many parties and other drinking opportunities over the holiday period. There can be a great deal of pressure on people to indulge. Even those who generally do not touch alcohol will have a few glasses at Christmas. This means that there can be overwhelming pressure for those who are not yet comfortable with saying no.

Christmas is a time when people can feel incredibly lonely, especially those who are estranged from their family. Loneliness is a dangerous emotion for people in recovery because it can act as a relapse trigger. Such individuals may decide that life in recovery is unsatisfying or that they are unable to handle their negative emotions. They may view their only solution as a return to addiction.

Some recovering alcoholics can find themselves enjoying watching other people consume alcohol. This type of activity may appear harmless, but it can actually lead the individual back into their addiction.

Families are expected to come together over the holiday season. Such gatherings can be joyful, but they may also be incredibly stressful. Those who are newly sober can struggle when spending time so much time with relatives, particularly if they feel that their behaviour is being judged in any way. At this time of year, there can be a great deal of media promotion for alcohol consumption. Even family shows will have scenes where people are enjoying themselves while drinking.

This is probably the most dangerous time of year for alcoholics and some of them do relapse. Those who return to alcohol may try to tempt other friends in recovery to join them. The build-up to Christmas can be financially difficult for many people in recovery. If they have children they will need to buy presents. There might also be the expectation that they organize a Christmas meal. This can be difficult if people have not yet managed to sort out their finances.

How to Stay Sober Over Christmas

There are things that people in recovery can do to ensure that they remain sober over Christmas:

This is a good time for the individual to put more effort into their sobriety. This could include such things as reading some recovery literature or spending time with one of the recovery communities online. There are many newly sober people with similar fears about the Christmas period. Such individuals can come together to offer each other support. This can occur online in the real world.

Journaling over the Christmas period can be highly beneficial because it keeps the individual focused on their sobriety. A gratitude journal will remind the individual of the good things in their life that have arrived because of their recovery from addiction.

The drinker has traditions that they look forward to over the holiday season. This could be something like drinking a few glasses of whiskey as they wrap presents. It is necessary for the sober individual to invent new Christmas traditions. These can become even more enjoyable than the previous self-destructive ones. Those individuals who belong to a fellowship like Alcoholics Anonymous can benefit from increasing their attendance at the meetings over the holiday period. This can also provide a nice opportunity to socialize and enjoy the Christmas build up. It is also a good idea to collect telephone numbers of other members, as these can be used if the pressures of the season become too much. If spending so much time with family is starting to feel a bit overwhelming, the individual will benefit from taking a break. Even something as simple as going for a walk can help.

If people have a sponsor they will be able to rely on this person over the holiday period. The good thing about an AA sponsor is that they can offer one-to-one advice and support. Many sponsors are willing to allow their sponsee to contact them at any time of the day or night if there is an emergency. If people do not have a sponsor then they can still get contact details for people they contact in an emergency.

Discussing concerns and fears with family members can be helpful. This will they will be more understanding. The problem is that many of the general public just assumes that once the individual quits their addiction, the problem is over. So it may be necessary to tell family members that things like Christmas can still be a challenge.

How to Handle Parties at Christmas

If people are newly sober it is best if they avoid getting into a situation where they are surrounded by people who are consuming alcohol. There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous, if you sit in a barber’s shop long enough you will eventually get your haircut. What this means is that if you stay around drinkers for long enough, you will likely join them. Sometimes it is difficult to avoid such occasions. There are things that people can do to reduce the risk of problems when attending these parties:

The most important factor in handling these occasions is to never take them lightly. Even those individuals who have been sober a few years can be overcome at a celebratory occasion where alcohol is served. The urge to drink can come from nowhere, and it can be intense. People need to be prepared for how they will react if such thoughts and cravings occur.

It may be helpful if people practice saying no to alcohol before they attend the party. They can do this by using role play techniques. Some individuals can be particularly persistent when trying to get others to drink alcohol so it is best to be prepared for such people. There is no need to give a long-winded explanation for not drinking. This often only invites more questions. Sometimes the best solution is to just give a firm no and leaving it at that.

Bringing along another sober friend in recovery can be of great benefit. It is vital that this other individual already has a strong sobriety. Otherwise, it would be putting their recovery at risk as well.

It can also be beneficial if the individual brings along some recovery resources with them. Carrying around something like the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book might be a bit conspicuous, but modern technology makes it possible to have such resources discretely on your person. Having an iPhone or Android smartphone enables access many recovery apps. It is even possible to read the Big Book online.

If people feel that they are at any risk of relapse, they should leave the party immediately. Those who are in AA will want to go straight to a meeting or call their sponsor. Those who do not belong to a fellowship can call a trusted friend or a therapist. The key thing is not to ignore the event.

Staying in Rehab over Christmas

Those individuals who are staying in rehab over Christmas can find that this is a time when they miss their family and friends. Many of these inpatient programs will take extra measures to ensure that clients get to enjoy some festive activities. This can include a special Christmas meal and even watching Christmas movies. Spending this holiday season in rehab can prepare the individual for the later joys of a sober Christmas.

We at in-recovery.com wish you all a Safe and Happy Christmas

 

Abstinence Based Recovery

Russell Brand: my life without drugs

Russell Brand has not used drugs for 10 years. He has a job, a house, a cat, and good friends. But temptation is never far away. He wants to help other addicts, but first, he wants us to feel compassion for those affected.

The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday. I had received “an inconvenient truth” from a beautiful woman. It wasn’t about climate change – I’m not that ecologically switched on – she told me she was pregnant and it wasn’t mine.

I had to take immediate action. I put Morrissey on in my car as an external conduit for the surging melancholy, and as I wound my way through the neurotic Hollywood hills, the narrow lanes and tight bends were a material echo of the synaptic tangle where my thoughts stalled and jammed.

Morrissey, as ever, conducted a symphony, within and without and the tidal misery burgeoned. I am becoming possessed. The part of me that experienced the negative data, the self, is becoming overwhelmed, I can no longer see where I end and the pain begins. So now I have a choice.

I cannot accurately convey to you the efficiency of heroin in neutralising pain. It transforms a tight, white fist into a gentle, brown wave. From my first inhalation 15 years ago, it fumigated my private hell and lay me down in its hazy pastures and a bathroom floor in Hackney embraced me like a womb.

This shadow is darkly cast on the retina of my soul and whenever I am dislodged from comforts my focus falls there.

It is 10 years since I used drugs or drank alcohol and my life has improved immeasurably. I have a job, a house, a cat, good friendships and generally a bright outlook.

The price of this is constant vigilance because the disease of addiction is not rational. Recently for the purposes of a documentary on this subject, I reviewed some footage of myself smoking heroin that my friend had shot as part of a typically exhibitionist attempt of mine to get clean.

I sit wasted and slumped with an unacceptable haircut against a wall in another Hackney flat (Hackney is starting to seem like part of the problem) inhaling fizzy, black snakes of smack off a scrap of crumpled foil. When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what is surprising is that my reaction is not one of gratitude for the positive changes I’ve experienced but envy at witnessing an earlier version of myself unencumbered by the burden of abstinence. I sat in a suite at the Savoy hotel, in privilege, resenting the woeful ratbag I once was, who, for all his problems, had drugs. That is obviously irrational.

The mentality and behaviour of drug addicts and alcoholics are wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction and unless they have structured help they have no hope.

This is the reason I have started a fund within Comic Relief, Give It Up. I want to raise awareness of, and money for, abstinence-based recovery. It was Kevin Cahill’s idea; he is the bloke who runs Comic Relief. He called me when he read an article I wrote after Amy Winehouse died. Her death had a powerful impact on me I suppose because it was such an obvious shock, like watching someone for hours through a telescope, seeing them advance towards you, fist extended with the intention of punching you in the face. Even though I saw it coming, it still hurt when it eventually hit me.

What was so painful about Amy’s death is that I know that there is something I could have done. I could have passed on to her the solution that was freely given to me. Don’t pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: it requires incredible support and fastidious structuring. Not to mention that the whole infrastructure of abstinence-based recovery is shrouded in necessary secrecy. There are support fellowships that are easy to find and open to anyone who needs them but they eschew promotion of any kind in order to preserve the purity of their purpose, which is for people with alcoholism and addiction to help one another stay clean and sober.
Without these fellowships, I would take drugs. Because, even now, the condition persists. Drugs and alcohol are not my problems, the reality is my problem, drugs and alcohol are my solutions.

If this seems odd to you it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90% of people who can drink and use drugs safely. I have friends who can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack and then merrily get on with their lives. For me, this is not an option. I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house. I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see that dereliction can survive in opulence; the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare.

Spurred by Amy’s death, I’ve tried to salvage unwilling victims from the mayhem of the internal storm and I am always, always, just pulled inside myself. I have a friend so beautiful, so haunted by a talent that you can barely look away from her, whose smile is such a treasure that I have often squandered my sanity for a moment in its glow. Her story is so galling that no one would condemn her for her dependency on illegal anaesthesia, but now, even though her life is trying to turn around despite her, even though she has genuine opportunities for a new start, the gutter will not release its prey. The gutter is within. It is frustrating to watch. It is frustrating to love someone with this disease.

A friend of mine’s brother cannot stop drinking. He gets a few months of sobriety and his inner beauty, with the obstacles of his horrible drunken behaviour, pushed aside by the presence of a programme, begins to radiate. His family bask relieved, in the joy of their returned loved one, his life gathers momentum but then he somehow forgets the price of this freedom, returns to his old way of thinking, picks up a drink and Mr Hyde is back in the saddle. Once more his brother’s face is gaunt and hopeless. His family blame themselves and wonder what they could have done differently, racking their minds for a perfect sentiment; wrapped up in the perfect sentence, a magic bullet to sear right through the toxic fortress that has incarcerated the person they love and restore them to sanity. The fact is, though, that they can’t, the sufferer must, of course, be a willing participant in their own recovery. They must not pick up a drink or drug, one day at a time. Just don’t pick up, that’s all.

It is difficult to feel sympathy for these people. It is difficult to regard some bawdy drunk and see them as sick and powerless. It is difficult to suffer the selfishness of a drug addict who will lie to you and steal from you and forgive them and offer them help. Can there be any other disease that renders its victims so unappealing? Would Great Ormond Street be so attractive a cause if its beds were riddled with obnoxious little criminals that had “brought it on themselves”?

Peter Hitchens is a vocal adversary of mine on this matter. He sees this condition as a matter of choice and the culprits as criminals who should go to prison. I know how he feels. I bet I have to deal with a lot more drug addicts than he does, let’s face it. I share my brain with one, and I can tell you first-hand, they are total fucking wankers. Where I differ from Peter is in my belief that if you regard alcoholics and drug addicts not as bad people but as sick people then we can help them to get better. By we, I mean other people who have the same problem but have found a way to live drug-and-alcohol-free lives. Guided by principles and traditions a programme has been founded that has worked miracles in millions of lives. Not just the alcoholics and addicts themselves but their families, their friends and of course society as a whole.

What we want to do with Give It Up is popularise a compassionate perception of drunks and addicts, and provide funding for places at treatment centres where they can get clean using these principles. Then, once they are drug-and-alcohol-free, to make sure they retain contact with the support that is available to keep them clean. I know that as you read this you either identify with it yourself or are reminded of someone who you love who cannot exercise control over substances. I want you to know that the help that was available to me, the help upon which my recovery still depends on is available.

I wound down the hill in an alien land, Morrissey chanted lonely mantras, the pain quickly accumulated incalculably, and I began to weave the familiar tapestry that tells an old, old story. I think of places I could score. Off Santa Monica, there’s a homeless man who I know uses gear. I could find him; buy him a bag if he takes me to score.

I leave him on the corner, a couple of rocks, a couple of $20 bags pressed into my sweaty palm. I get home; I pull out the foil, neatly torn. I break the bottom off a Martell miniature. I have cigarettes, using makes me need fags. I make a pipe for the rocks with the bottle. I lay a strip of foil on the counter to chase the brown. I pause to reflect and regret that I don’t know how to fix, only smoke, feeling inferior even in the manner of my using. I see the foil scorch. I hear the crackle from which crack gets its name. I feel the plastic fog hit the back of my yawning throat. Eyes up. Back relaxing, the bottle drops and the greedy bliss eats my pain. There is no girl, there is no tomorrow, there is nothing but the bilious kiss of the greedy bliss.

Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web, I am reaching for my phone. I call someone: not a doctor or a sage, not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel. The phone rings and I half hope he’ll just let it ring out. It’s 4 am in London. He’s asleep, he can’t hear the phone, and he won’t pick up. I indicate left, heading to Santa Monica. The ringing stops, then the dry mouthed nocturnal mumble: “Hello. You all right mate?”

He picks up, and for another day, thank God, I don’t have to.
Russell Brand, The Guardian – 2013
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Overcome Addiction

Prescription Drugs Dependency

Where shall we start? At the beginning.

It all started when I first went to see my doctor. I knew something was not right, as I was feeling really low and anxious, and had no understanding as to why I was feeling like this. My doctor asked me to take a PAL test, which was a questionnaire with tick boxes. The score suggested that I was struggling with anxiety and depression, which was flagging cause for concern.

It was suggested that I need to be on some pretty serious medication due to my condition. I was initially prescribed Citalopram and Lorazepam. I was advised that this would make me feel a little easier and a bit calmer. I was also referred to the local mental health team for an assessment.

The mental health team were very nice to me, sat me down and we had an informal chat about how I was feeling on a day to day basis. They were very understanding, and it was of their opinion that I would benefit from taking more medication, so they prescribed me with Quetiapine. This was to be taken in addition to my current prescription. It was explained to me that there would be side effects; some of these may not be pleasant.

After a short period of time, within a few weeks, I started to notice that I was becoming very tired a lot of the time, and my appetite was starting to disappear. I also developed a skin irritation, with visible side effects. I also became very confused, i.e. not really aware of time.

Things took a turn for the worse when I had an accident at my place of work, injuring my back. After a couple of days, I got to see my doctor about the excruciating pain, which had left me finding it very difficult even to walk. I was prescribed co-codamol on top of my existing medication. After a few weeks, my back was feeling worse, so my doctor then prescribed a higher dose of co-codamol and I was given another prescription for Targinact to help with the worsening pain.

As time went on my depression was causing me more problems, I found I was unable to find the willpower or energy to carry out what I would call normal daily tasks. This made me feel very low, and my self-esteem was becoming non-existent.
I was experiencing a feeling of worthlessness and felt trapped.

After only a few months, the effects of all the medication I was taking started to wear off. I felt as if I was wasting my time? My doctor and my mental health worker then decided to change my medication? This caused me to experience an even higher level of anxiety, and I felt I was just not coping with my daily way of life. There were days when I felt like just giving in, and just didn’t want to carry on with the way things were. I consider myself very lucky to have had, and still have the support of my close family and a few trusted friends. Without this support, I think I would not have the willpower to continue.

I do get what I would call my good days, where nothing or no-one can harm me or bring me down. Those days are when I am at my best, mentally and physically. This gives me hope.

My daily routine?

The first thing I do when I wake up is to take my first instalment of tablets, which ones depend on whether I will need to drive or not. Lunchtime, more tablets. Evening, yes you guessed it, more tablets. Then just to finish an eventful day, more tablets. I end the day taking Zopiclone, which is supposed to help me sleep.

Some of my friends have said to me that if they were to pick me up and shake me, I would rattle, given the number of tablets I take on a daily basis. I laugh this off, but I know this is a genuine concern for me. I am very worried about the amount of medication I am being prescribed and the potential damage this could be causing me. I do have personal fears about whether it is safe for me to be taking so much.

At one stage I felt enough was enough, so I stopped taking everything. I felt I was not benefiting from all these tablets; they were no longer having the effects that I felt they should be.

My doctor was not happy, to say the least when I told him that I had lost faith and stopped taking all medication. He went on to inform me of the severe consequences that I could experience. I was in danger of a possible heart attack, severe panic attacks and other effects on my nervous system. It was implemented there and then that I should reinstate all medication.

So now I am on the following daily medication, with varied strengths

  • Co-codamol for Pain Relief
  • Mirtazapine for Depression
  • Targinact for Pain Relief
  • Zopiclone for Help with Sleep
  • Diazepam for Anxiety
  • Pregabalin for Anxiety
  • Red & Blue Inhalers for a Respiratory Condition

I am now fully aware that I can’t just stop taking my prescribed medication because of the side effects I may experience, such as hot and cold sweats, shakes, hallucinations and possible heart attack.

If there comes a time when my doctor agrees to reduce my medication, will I be at risk of swapping one addiction for another? I.e. Alcohol. Will I feel suicidal?

I try and come to terms with the fact that I am on, and will be on a lot of medication for the foreseeable future. For this to ever change, I know I will need a lot of support, and it will be a very long time before I am in the position to safely stop taking the levels of medication I am now dependent on.

Will, I ever be able to slowly reduce the amounts I am dependent on, history presumes otherwise.

It saddens me to think that prescription medication may forever now be part of my life

Anne Townsend (June 2013)

“Detox” The facts about a safe drug or alcohol detox?

If you’re trying to detox from alcohol or drugs, you may want to advise a medical consultant. Detoxing incorrectly from alcohol and some drugs can lead to serious side effects. Medical consultants are there to help you, and they will know exactly what to do to prevent your withdrawal symptoms from taking over while you detox.

If you’re considering detoxing on your own, knowing the facts will make it easier. If you stop drinking alcohol, cold turkey? it may cause you serious harm, seizures, or comas, depending on how much you usually drink. If you’re detoxing at home, you might be able to avoid professional help if you taper off your alcohol consumption and can stick to a serious regime. This means reducing the number of drinks or proof of alcohol little by little over time, which could be days or weeks, depending on how much of a tolerance or dependency you have. If you can’t do that, then you will need to watch for the signs of serious withdrawal and seek medical help when necessary.

If you are shaking and haven’t had any alcohol for an extended period of time, you’re probably heading for some serious withdrawal symptoms. You may need to seek medical detox treatment, since doctors will be able to provide medications to prevent withdrawal symptoms like seizures or heart failure, and you’ll be more comfortable while you detox. Simply drinking alcohol when these symptoms occur will not always help, and in some cases, it may complicate these problems.

Weaning yourself off alcohol may work if you haven’t been a heavy drinker, but heavy drinkers will face some additional issues that will likely cause a relapse if not treated correctly. Firstly, can you be sure that you can drink less and less alcohol over time, or will you relapse and end up binging? Second, do you have the expertise to know how much alcohol you need to take in or reduce by, in order to prevent symptoms of withdrawal that could be life threatening? Most likely, you will need medical help/supervision to keep yourself from relapsing, or from suffering serious side effects. Stopping without any help can actually lead to a much more difficult detox than if you seek attention for the problem.

Detoxification via a rehab/clinic is done with medication that can mitigate the side effects, and medical advisors will help you through, so you’ll be more comfortable and more likely to succeed.

Detoxing from drugs is different in some ways from detoxing from alcohol. Some drugs are relatively easy to quit, but opiates like heroin are a different story. Heroin withdrawal can start within a few hours after the last time you took the drug. The symptoms peak around 48 to 72 hours, and after a week you should not have many more withdrawal symptoms, besides some weakness or a little bit of pain.

The most serious withdrawal symptoms associated with heroin detox include seizures and comas. Normally, people who don’t take large amounts of heroin could suffer from restlessness, cramps, dilated pupils, chills, and other side effects, but those who take large amounts and try to quit without help could suffer the more serious problems, which, if not treated immediately, could cause death.

A physical withdrawal occurs because the body needs to have the drug to function correctly. If you have taken a drug for a long period of time, there could be more issues because you may have built up a tolerance, and you may have taken very high doses frequently throughout the day. Severe opiate addiction needs to be treated by a professional who can prescribe drugs like Suboxone, which will help reduce the likelihood of any withdrawal symptoms.

Another serious drug, crystal meth, can cause major problems if you detox incorrectly. The withdrawal process can cause mental changes that you will be unable to prepare for. Violent tendencies, sleeplessness, delirium, and paranoia are common, and these can cause injury to you or to others. During detox, these episodes can last for hours, which is why detox from this drug needs to be treated with care by a professional.

If you are considering a home detox? Tell your doctor or a family member/trusted friend.

Do not suffer in silence, Stay Safe…