Good Mental Health is the Basis of Sobriety

Good Mental Health is the Basis of Sobriety - TRC

The brain reacts to addictive drugs. The reason these drugs are so dangerous is because a percentage of people who take them can’t stop.

That doesn’t mean all people who take them can’t stop – as most studies and statistics will tell you, the number of people who have used or are using addictive drugs heavily outweighs the number of people who are considered to have a substance use disorder.

What exactly does that mean? And how does a person break away from that?

The basis of drug addiction treatment is to unravel these two questions, to figure out what happens when a person goes from using drugs to not being able to stop, and to figure out what needs to happen in order to help them stop.

 

How Addiction Affects the Brain

While we haven’t completely solved addiction, and there’s plenty left to research and verify, we do understand more about it today than ever – and a big part of treating an addiction is understanding a person’s mental state as a whole.

There’s often more to the story than just the one substance use disorder. Physical conditions, mental disorders, financial or social circumstances, genetics, lifestyle – these are just some factors that influence both drug use and drug use disorders.

When a person uses an addictive drug, it leaves an impression on the brain. The brain often reacts in a way that shows the drug left a significant impact, subtly changing to want more of that experience.

This is because addictive drugs interact directly with portions of the brain that are linked to reward and motivation, tapping into what makes us want to do the things we do, and feel pleasure as a result of them.

Heavy use can lead to dependence, wherein a person simply cannot stop using drugs anymore due to extreme withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and mood and personality changes. There is no proper timeline for when this begins.

Some people become addicted much faster than others. Some can use drugs and never become completely addicted, quitting when it’s no longer convenient to continue using. But for those stuck in the cycle of addiction, simply stopping isn’t a realistic answer.

 

Tackling Addiction

To treat addiction, a holistic approach is required. Which is why so often, treatment begins in rehab – in a controlled environment where people can relearn how to live as sober individuals, develop their own unique interests and hobbies, and regain the tools necessary to tackle life’s basic challenges, from developing personal autonomy to finding work, interacting with others, avoiding drug use, dealing with stress and cravings, and more.

In all cases, mental health plays a great big role. Even without a formal diagnosis, many people who are addicted are miserable. Some have a harder time overcoming that misery than others. Some struggle not only with the circumstances they are in, but with inherent conditions that amplify their struggles.

Mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia are more common among people with substance use disorders than in the average population. A healthy mental state is critical for sobriety, and that can mean treating several issues concurrently.

 

Mental Health and Addiction Often Go Hand in Hand

Mental health disorders and addiction affect each other, one making the other worse.

In some examples, people with mental health disorders are more likely to misuse and overuse addictive drugs as a way to self-medicate and soften their symptoms.

In other cases, an addiction can cause mental health problems to flare, particularly issues with anxiety, suicidal ideation, low mood, and more.

Regardless of whether the addiction or the mental health problems came first, both feed the other.

An estimated half of Americans with severe mental health disorders also struggle with addiction, compared to just 1 in 25 American adults.

Similarly, 37 percent of people struggling with alcohol addiction and 53 percent of people struggling with drug addiction have at least one severe mental disorder. Some use several substances.

In short:

  • Drug use makes mental disorders worse.
  • Drug use can trigger mental disorders if the underlying risk factors exist.
  • Mental disorders increase the risk of using and getting addicted to drugs.

 

How Drug Use Makes Mental Disorders Worse

When the brain is exposed to an addictive drug, it triggers a very positive and euphoric response. This is the high, which differs from drug to drug.

This is because addictive drugs mimic chemicals that we already have in our bodies, yet addictive drugs are far more powerful than what we produce naturally. As such, they overpower our own pleasures and thoughts.

People who become addicted no longer feel satisfied by hobbies and activities they used to enjoy, and struggle to think or focus. Drug use also affects the brain negatively, diminishing a person’s ability to recognize and quantify risk, make decisions, and follow through or be motivated.

Incidentally, many of the portions of the brain affected by heavy drug use also play a significant role in the development of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, and other conditions. As drug use worsens, so do the symptoms for these conditions.

People with depression struggle with lower moods as a result of drug use. People with anxiety become more anxious and can develop paranoia. In some cases, drug use leads to the development of psychosis, wherein you start to perceive sounds and visuals as real when they are, in fact, imagined.

Social factors are at play here as well. Addicts who know they have a problem understand how society feels about addiction, and often feel shame for what they have done. That shame, and the guilt of being unable to quit, drives them deeper into despair.

 

Mental Health is Critical to Treat Addiction

Simply treating one is not enough – in cases where addiction has gone hand-in-hand with other mental disorders, it’s critical to address both.

This can be done through professional therapy, through extended periods of stay at sober living homes, and through careful and planned medication, or alternative treatments.

Other protective factors include better physical health, newfound hobbies, supportive friends and family, and strong relationships with other recovering addicts.

Are You Mentally Prepared for Sobriety?

Ready to Embrace Sobriety

For most people, there is a sizable gap of time between the moment you first decide you should probably start taking the idea of going clean seriously and taking the first step to going clean. The hours and days between those two moments are speckled with moments of anxiety, frustration, and fear.

And all of that is perfectly normal. It’s generally difficult to break an addiction, for a number of biopsychosocial reasons. From physical dependence to emotional problems, mood swings, and social perception, any number of reasons can halt a person from committing to that first step of recovery. In that sense, it is important to mentally prepare yourself for the journey ahead and get ready for sobriety. Thankfully, it’s a straightforward path. But there will be many challenges along the way.

 

Start Now

First things first, you’re ready to get started. Everybody who thinks about sobriety is. The moment you begin considering going sober should be the moment you commit to sobriety. When it comes to treating an addiction, the best time will always be before drug use even begins. The second-best time will always be right now.

It might take you some time to feel comfortable with your newfound sobriety, and mistakes will be made along the way, but consider at least making a personal commitment to beating your addiction the moment you realize you should quit using. That personal commitment can be very powerful with the right intentions. Instead of committing to definite success, commit to the journey.

The path to lasting recovery rarely goes the way we plan it, and many struggle with challenges they couldn’t have foreseen. Many relapse. Some relapse more than once. Understand that no matter what happens in the future, your commitment to sobriety on this day stands even if in the face of tremendous setbacks and serious hurdles. And with time, you will honor that commitment, and find your way to lifelong sobriety and freedom from addiction.

But you have to start somewhere. And that somewhere could be right this moment, or any moment before it.

 

Get Help

This is not something you should tackle on your own, mostly because it’s not something you need to tackle on your own. Addiction is a beast that has its claws deep inside a person’s brain and body, affecting us more deeply than we often care to admit. Overcoming an addiction isn’t quite as simple as locking yourself in a room and brute forcing your way through the cravings and the sweats. Addiction recovery comes with periods of potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms, emotional upheaval, constant mood shifts, overpowering cravings, and an inner voice that consistently and progressively urges you to cheat and lie your way to the next fix, in any way possible, the longer you stay sober.

With time, all that does come to pass. But for most people, simply deciding to get clean isn’t enough to actually get clean. That is where help comes in. Whether through professionals, loved ones, outpatient programs, rehab clinics, and sober living communities, addiction recovery depends not only on your will to improve and overcome addiction, but it relies on you being open to getting help from others. A friend or loved one along the way can help make life a lot better, even in the darkest days.

 

Temper Your Expectations

No, sobriety does not guarantee a better life. But it guarantees the chance at a better life. It provides recovering addicts with the much-needed freedom to make choices that ultimately benefit them and those they love. Sobriety in and of itself is not the end goal, but a major and necessary element of a much more important goal – to live a fulfilling life.

It might not feel that way at first, though. Early sobriety is often a mishmash of positive and negative emotions, with many consecutive challenges. The transition from drug use to consistent and long-term sobriety also involves several sudden and drastic lifestyle changes, as well as a series of responsibilities. This is compounded by recurring urges, thoughts of drug use, and a fragile mental state owed to the neurological effects of long-term drug use, and the difficulties of transitioning from using to being completely clean.

Recovering from addiction is never ‘too hard’, and it is certainly never impossible. However, there may be a propensity to believe that going sober is like flipping a switch, when it is more like growing and grooming a plant. On the other hand, you have nothing to fear about the recovery process. While difficult, there is no such thing as failure in recovery.

 

There Is No Fail State

There is a certain level of anxiety surrounding recovery and relapses, and the fear that despite the effort put into getting and staying clean, some series of events might still trigger an inner demon and set us on a wild bender of binging and indulging. Be that as it may, the best way to deal with the fear of a relapse is to stop fearing relapses, and instead embrace them for what they are: signs that something is still missing.

Every instance of recovery is unique and different in its own way, and we all have our own mistakes to make and learn from. Relapsing doesn’t mean that your efforts of sobriety have been for naught – instead, consider it an opportunity to reflect on the events and factors that led to your relapse, so you can further improve how you deal with your addiction to drugs, and continue to fortify yourself against future mistakes.

 

Perseverance Is Progress

As long as you don’t give up on your recovery, you will never ‘fail’ at fighting against addiction. While addiction feels like an unyielding foe, it really isn’t. Your perseverance can be much greater than that of an addiction, especially if you’re being supported by your friends and loved ones.

No matter how long it takes, no matter how many challenges or hurdles you face, no matter what setbacks might occur, if you resolve to get back up, learn from what happened, and persevere, you will eventually feel confident in your own sobriety, leaving your addiction behind.

To mentally prepare yourself for the journey ahead, all it takes is the will to start.

Ensuring Self-Care

I have been struggling with my depression and anxiety lately. Two feelings that have followed, and at times, plagued me for years. They’ve also taught me a lot about myself, my resilience, and what it means to truly take care of oneself.

Most of the time these feelings sit at a 4 or a 5 severity level, which is completely manageable. Other times they’re at an 8 or 9 and it seems impossible.

But, I have come to know and understand these feelings. And practice three specific strategies that keep me at a steady state. These practices have completely altered the way I approach depression and anxiety and reduced my symptoms dramatically.

1. Telling on myself. Sharing with people what’s really going on, thus relieving myself of the toxic burden of shame. The story I tell myself is, if I tell you what’s going on, you won’t respect me. You’ll write my value to zero. When the truth is, when I’m vulnerable with you, you can be vulnerable with me. And that’s when we truly connect as our authentic selves. The kind of connection that makes us feel heard, seen, and cared for.

2. I’ve been interviewing my depression and anxiety. Asking them, in a kind voice, what exactly it is they’ve come to teach me. My favorite poem is The Guesthouse by Rumi. He suggests that we meet all feelings at the door no matter what they are, as they are all guides from beyond. My God doesn’t give me these feelings to punish me, rather, to try and tell me something. I have gathered that my depression and anxiety are often here to teach me how to be gentle and compassionate towards others and myself. To slow down and listen with thoughtful, uninterrupted intention.

Ensuring Self-Care - Transcend Recovery Community 3. Meditation – this has been a true game changer. I meditate for 20 min in the morning and 20 min before bed. When I first started this practice, I couldn’t feel or see the results. It is difficult for me to quiet my mind and just slow down. But my body and mind were slowly at work each time I allowed myself the space, just 40 min a day, to try and be still. After about a week, I was able to start quieting my mind for the first 1-2 min. Today, I can get up to 4-5 min of quiet where I repeat a simple mantra and am able to redirect my thoughts when my mind wanders from my intention.

My mantra centers around abundance as my anxiety, and scarcity as my depression.

This week, take action when you start to struggle. Don’t trap yourself inside of your anxiety, depression, or shame. Give one or all three of these strategies a try. Or put your own self-care into motion. And last, but not least, do share a bit of yourself with others. Allow others to support and guide you through the hard times. You may just find they need the same. We are always stronger together.

Unconditional Love, Accountability, Community

-Asher Gottesman, CEO & Founder of Transcend Recovery Community

How a Stressful Lifestyle Can Devolve into Addiction

How A Stressful Lifestyle can devolve into addiction

It is generally understood that too much stress is bad for your health, but few people understand the complex relationship we have with stress, and how we need to account for subjectivity when talking about stress and health. Some people simply handle more than others, and that is not always something within their control. Stress is intrinsically linked to addiction, and it’s often too much pressure that pushes people to begin using. But what is too much, and why?

Some individuals are “workaholics”, and genuinely possess the drive and willpower to remain passionate about what they do. Their relationship with the stress of the job is mitigated by the enjoyment and feelings of personal satisfaction that they receive from doing their best. On the other hand, there are many who are deeply dissatisfied with the work they do but are left with little options but to do it. This burden reveals a series of consequences.

The same goes for many other aspects in life. How we perceive stress is highly subjective, and impossible to accurately convey. But regardless of the source of the stress, what matters most is how it impacts us, and how we deal with the ramifications of that impact. Take a traumatic event – no traumatic event will affect any group of people in the exact same way. Some will come out feeling much more affected than others, and among those most affected, some will cope much better than others. There are countless complex factors feeding into how we perceive and deal with stress.

 

Stress and Addiction

When discussing the effects of internal as well as external factors in the development of addiction, many seem to ignore the relationship that exists between the two. For example, our neurobiology – particularly our brain chemistry and even our brain structure – is severely affected by outside events, particularly ones that the brain perceives as traumatic or highly outside of the ordinary.

We’re yet to fully grasp the power of the human brain, and it is only in recent decades that better imaging tools and analytical software have helped us gain more insight into the brain’s abilities and functions, and the nature of things such as plasticity and the differences in brain composition and chemistry between individual subjects.

But what we do know is that stress, particularly chronic stress, has a profound effect on the brain, and often correlates with addiction. One feeds the other, so to speak.

To begin, we need to describe stress. Stress is any stimuli that is challenging. Stress forces us to change in order to adapt and achieve physical or emotional homeostasis. By literally bringing us outside of our comfort zone (balance), we achieve growth. Without stress, we stagnate. In that sense alone, stress is critical to life itself. Life must be stressful, to a degree. But that degree is different with every individual. And in excess, if not managed well, stress does not lead to growth but to deformation and injury. When faced with overwhelming stress, past our emotional and physical capabilities and with little hope for escape, we turn towards ways to relieve ourselves of this challenge. This is one of the ways in which a negative habit for drug use develops – as a coping mechanism.

Alternatively, stress is also enhanced and made a bigger problem through drug use. Regardless of how the drug use began, the presence of stress often calls for the need to overcome a challenge. It can be very stressful to be in a fight with a loved one, but until we resolve that fight, that stress is only going to mount and grow. Without resolution, it metastasizes and becomes worse over time. Much the same way, we grow weaker both physically and emotionally the longer we avoid challenge. And drug use provides the perfect and impenetrable escapism, making many turn away from any stress and causing addicts to develop a longer, much more severe list of problems as a result of their addiction. This turns into a vicious cycle. The more one uses, the harder it becomes to deal with a sober life. The harder being sober is, the more attractive the idea of using again becomes.

Within the right context, stress molds us into the best we can be. We derive a sense of personal satisfaction from overcoming challenges, and our inner natural reward system is wired to make us feel good when we do anything that we deemed very difficult. But consistently overwhelming stress can force us to back down. Sudden, traumatic stress can leave a painful scar on the mind and significantly changes the brain, and the way we react to similar stimuli (becoming anxious, frightened, and stuck in that fearful moment).

 

Why We Need Effective Coping Mechanisms

Drug use is a superbly potent coping mechanism. Nothing brings as much visceral pleasure as quickly and reliably as an addictive drug. But despite its potency, it is virtually useless when it comes to long-term coping. In fact, it is actively harmful when it comes to long-term coping. Coping mechanisms are meant to help us overcome, not run away. A coping mechanism allows us to conquer our anxieties and manage our stress levels so we can face a challenge effectively and come up with an appropriate solution.

For recovering addicts, finding appropriate and effective coping mechanisms to stress is crucial. Without a good coping mechanism, an addict is left with only one effective concept of stress management: using again. But when given the opportunity to develop a healthier and better way to cope, recovering addicts may also need the guidance and environment to push them in the right direction, and encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, try new hobbies, explore new places, and grow.

Sober living is one such way, by promoting the continued commitment to sobriety through personal growth and overcoming challenges through effective coping mechanisms, from group activities to finding a satisfying form of employment, to exploring one’s own inner passions and creative abilities.

Practicing Mindfulness in Recovery

Practicing Mindfulness in Recovery

Mindfulness is a lot harder than it sounds. A mindful state is, in essence, a state of calm wherein we can be reflective and consider our own thoughts and experiences within any given moment from a non-judgmental and purely observational perspective.

The best analogy to think of when trying to understand mindfulness is the contrast in perspectives between the spectator and participator in a frustrating traffic jam. A driver within the middle of the traffic jam is likely to be irritated, agitated, and preoccupied with thoughts of frustration. A spectator can observe the situation, without any strong feelings. They might even be able to spot a solution to the problem lying ahead, but that is not the primary point of being mindful.

 

What Is Mindfulness?

By considering your own mind and the frustrations and feelings you struggle with from a distanced perspective, you can gain a unique insight into your own self. It takes a little practice to really understand why you should bother with this at all, but the ultimate goal is simple: to be comfortable in a mindful state.

Many people are not comfortable with their own mind. Without even realizing it, many people obsessively seek out things to keep them preoccupied. They want to be busy, they want to leave behind the thoughts that lurk beneath the surface and focus on whatever can get them through the day and into bed.

But it’s that sort of behavior that causes thoughts and problems to fester and grow into unmanageable anxieties and unseen, unfelt, yet powerful stressors. While unknown at first, mindfulness makes these issues known to the person. They take a moment to stop, slow down, and think about themselves. For some, this experience is painful. This is why mindfulness is something to be taken seriously – in a therapeutic setting, it can help people in recovery get to the bottom of what they are really struggling with. If done outside of therapy, without prior experience, it can be more distressing than helpful.

 

Potential Dangers of Mindfulness

Mindfulness, in a word, is controlled dissociation. You work to take yourself out of the frustration and angst, and you learn to pause. Mindfulness is coupled with other training tools, including controlled and slow breathing, and a healthy exercise regimen. Exercise couples well with mindfulness because it gives you an extra outlet to work off strong emotional stresses, before going into mindfulness. Exercise releases endorphins that make us feel good, and exhausts the body, putting us in a better state of calm afterwards. The routine of regular exercise when slotted into the end of a day gives us an effective daily timer to ‘wind down’, going from an agitated and focused state into a relaxed and more reflective mindset.

When applied properly, at the right time, for the right purpose, mindfulness is an excellent therapeutic tool for identifying stressors and negative feelings and addressing them properly with a professional through psychotherapy.

But misused or improperly applied, mindfulness is completely ineffective at best, and distressing at worst. As mentioned before, some people have a very hard time being calm. It brings to mind emotions, thoughts, and feelings that might have taken root during an extremely traumatizing time, including addiction. Some people get addicted because they turn to drugs as a way to soothe themselves after experiencing great pain. Others get addicted, and eventually go through trauma during their addiction period.

Mindfulness is still a very good tool for people who want to work through strong negative emotions and trauma, but it takes the right approach and the right environment to make it work. Other similar techniques that show great promise include hypnotherapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

 

A Tool, Not A Cure

Practicing mindfulness without therapy may not be as effective as combining the two, as mindfulness is useful for learning to maintain a mindful state – and thus exploring thoughts and feelings that you may not have noticed otherwise – but it does not allow you effectively address these thoughts. We are not our own therapists. As much as we try to be self-sustaining, a hurt mind cannot heal itself. Instead, the end result is a constant loop.

With assistance, and the right help, you can make progress in whatever direction you need. Some people need help maintaining their sobriety and working on the cravings that still take control of them from time to time. Others need help dealing with traumatic thoughts and memories. Others yet struggle with depressive thinking, suicidal ideation, and anxious thoughts, including paranoid ideas and constant worries. Mindfulness can help you calm down and get a better perspective of what you’re going through. But it isn’t a solution. It’s simply an effective diagnostic tool.

 

Making Use of Mindfulness with Treatment

Drug addiction treatment differs in shape and form based on the circumstances of the patient, their addiction history, and the effectiveness of the different treatments they’ve already tried. It’s not easy to tell where mindfulness training is going to fit into your treatment without having a better understanding of what your treatment entails.

From the perspective of a multimodal approach, mindfulness is a good tool in the repertoire of anyone working with a trained psychiatrist for their recovery. Some people feel they don’t need one-on-one therapy and respond better to group therapy or rely on some other form of reflection (including spiritual reflection, or prayer) to overcome anxieties and feelings of guilt associated with past actions and consequences.

Addiction is not a moral disease, but a combination of stigma and the increased likelihood of developing symptoms of anxiety during and after addiction means that many people struggle with their sense of self during recovery. Mindfulness in conjunction with other forms of therapy can essentially help you be okay with yourself.

 

Support Is Important

Many factors go into developing an addiction. While the drugs themselves play a massive role, there are various social as well as psychological factors that typically affect a person before they fully depend on drugs. All that has to be ‘fixed’ before a person can truly separate themselves from the past and be confident in their sobriety.

But that doesn’t happen on its own. It takes the love and support of others around you to get you through the hardest days and nights, and keep you convinced that there’s a chance you will get better. Even with mindfulness-based psychotherapy, the support of your friends and family is important to keep you going, sticking to the program, and making headway in the long-term.

Mental Health Month: Why Drinking While Depressed Leads Downhill

Depression & Drinking - Transcend Recovery Community

The great English poet G. K. Chesterton wrote: “drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” More than just a saying, there is a profound and applicable truth to this, even in the modern day. Depression and drinking go hand in hand, and one makes the other worse. It’s a terrible relationship, one you would never want to entertain – and just as abusing alcohol can make you miserable, abusing alcohol because you’re miserable will only make both worse.

Alcohol is a common coping mechanism for the simple reason that it does, to a degree, make us happier. To be more precise, it makes people worry less. As an anti-anxiety drug of sorts, alcohol soothes the mind and calms the spirit – but at a cost. Not only is alcohol addictive, but it is poisonous. Too much at once, or over one’s life, will kill you.

And despite alcohol’s ability to make you forget for just a moment, nothing will have changed once you wake up. The way out of misery – the way out of depression – is by fighting through the pain and pushing against the problems. Therapy and treatment are in preparation of these two things – and drugs like alcohol will present you with setbacks in your depression, and other problems. Here’s why.

 

Alcohol And The Brain

Anyone who’s had more than a few drinks knows that alcohol clearly has a perceivable effect on the brain – one that does not take long at all to kick in. From slurred speech to difficulty thinking and slower reaction, the consensus between all drinkers is that it makes you slow – regardless of whether you are a happy drunk, a sad drunk, or an angry drunk. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions and reduces anxiety, with the specifics differing from person to person based on their history with alcohol, and their genetics.

Outside of the effects of a single binge drinking session, alcohol also leaves lasting effects on the brain – negative ones. Alcohol slowly eats away at the brain and at several of your organs, primarily your heart, liver, and kidneys. But in the brain, rapid and severe drinking will lead to memory loss, slowed cognition, and increased risk-taking – followed by problems with decision making, caused by a combination of nerve damage and grey matter damage.

 

Why Does Alcohol Worsen Depression?

This all goes hand in hand with mental health issues, as alcohol not only induces brain damage, but worsens the effects of depression by increasing feelings of guild and helplessness and presenting a risk of addiction.

The damage is long-lasting, but not permanent. Abstinence can give your body enough time to heal, but the process takes years. Just like the battle against alcoholism, improving your brain and organ health after excessive drinking takes time.

 

Finding The Motivation To Do Anything

Depression is more than occasional sadness. Sometimes, it is defined as the inability to feel joy or pleasure. To paint a picture, people struggling with depression are fighting an existential battle that, from an outsider’s perspective, is completely invisible. They struggle with thoughts of suicide, and some days, getting out of the bed can seem like an impossible task – let alone getting a change of clothes, taking a shower, or cleaning up.

There are ups and downs for everyone, but for people with clinical depression, the downs slip far below the limits of the chart, off the board, into unseen realms.

Telling someone with depression to simply feel better is asinine, but the ultimate goal of treatment and therapy is to make this very task possible. Fortunately there are treatments for depression available, including new depression treatment methods like TMS, that can help without feeling the need to drink due to depression. People with depression sometimes lack the motivation to do what most would consider the most basic things – and they feel all the worse for it. Friends or family may tell someone with depression to just do it – regardless of whether it means getting dressed, walking the dog, doing the dishes, or making coffee – and finding themselves unable to, the feeling of worthlessness grows, and the disease becomes crushingly difficult to shake off.

There are days when things are better, and the depression is not as dominating. Days when a person might wake up and have just enough energy to start the day.

These are the most important days, especially if your depression is coupled with a dangerous habit like drinking. When you wake up, make it a goal to immediately jump up and out of bed. Summon as much visceral vigor as possible to complete the most basic and fundamental task of the day – before your mind can find a way to talk you out of it. In most cases, depression manifests as a long list of self-defeating thoughts and voices – by starting the day quickly before the voices can take hold, you can get dressed as hurriedly as possible and get to the first task of the day.

That task should always be something therapeutic. Exercising, walking in sunshine, listening to music, or starting your day with a comedy podcast are all quick and easy ways to achieve an initial mental boost, right out of the gate. Choose something depending on how you feel that day and make it a morning ritual to infuse your day with a spark of joy.

With time, you can set up a more complex schedule, and draft some goals. It can start with something like completing two chores in one day, or folding laundry faster. It may be something like increasing the time you spend walking, finishing a project for one of your hobbies, completely reading a book, or progressing to a harder exercise. Accomplishing things – no matter how small they might seem – can feel like adding notches to your belt, as well as improving both your physical and mental health. There may be times when motivation is harder to come by – but in the long-term things will get better if you work at it, and get help for addition and mental help.

 

Dealing With The Mental Effects Of Prolonged Addiction

Mental Effects Of Addiction | Transcend Recovery Community

It’s much more than a choice. Addiction can best be described as a mental illness or a brain disease, a powerful compulsion that pushes patients to seek out drugs even if they know it’s detrimental and carries heavy mental effects and consequences. Drug users will go out of their way for the next high, to the point of risking something like prison again – repeat offenders prove that even a correctional system as harsh as America’s isn’t an effective deterrent for many.

What does help, however, is treatment. But to understand why treatment helps, it’s important to understand what addiction does to you – and how mental illness and the mental effects of long-term addiction play into why it’s so hard to stay clean for many.

There’s more to addiction than the fact that you feel the urge to get high. Prolonged drug use can physically harm you and cause mental damage, and the financial consequences of addiction can be ruinous.

 

What Mental Effects Drugs Have On The Brain

Drugs interact with the brain in many ways, but most of them work on the same basic principle. The best way to simplify how drugs work is to think of them as impostors of existing crucial neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals. They hijack the receptors in your brain’s cells and act as certain neurotransmitters, transmitting specific signals throughout the brain to elicit feelings of joy and happiness, but also other reactions, such as weakened coordination and slowed movement, as with alcohol, or a numbing effect that reduces the body’s ability to feel pain, like opioids. Whichever one is used, the mental effects are always negative.

All drugs have something in common, and that is their addictiveness. From nicotine to heroin, drugs elicit a response in the brain that is unnatural – this effect causes the brain to adjust. Most drugs invoke mental effects that condition the brain towards further usage, to the point where you begin to crave a drug. But as you take it more often, its effects are also severely diminished, causing you to need to take more. The two effects go hand in hand, making addiction particularly dangerous as the risk of overdosing is built into the nature of the disease.

Over time, it becomes harder to quit. Not only do most drugs cause physical damage to the brain and other organs, making it harder to think rationally and fight against the addiction, but as the brain normalizes drug use, it becomes reliant on it. Suddenly quitting can elicit painful withdrawal symptoms – sometimes, these mental effects can be fatal.

Aside from these complications, perhaps the biggest deterrent to recovery is the fact that drug use actively diminishes a person’s ability to think clearly, make informed decisions, and be critical. Drug use is also seen as a very effective short-term coping mechanism, drawing in people with high levels of stress caused by work or mental illness. At other times, due to its very poor performance as a long-term coping mechanism, and the fact that it can be mentally and socially ruinous to get addicted, addiction also leads to mental health problems including depression due to the consequences of getting addicted. A person who experienced years of loss due to their alcoholism may find it harder to quit because of the emotional (and physical) pain they endure while sober because of their drinking.

The only way out is through. One of the harder truths about recovery is that the mental effects and emotional pain are something everyone must process and overcome if they want to stay sober and successfully abstain for the rest of their lives.

 

Addiction, Anxiety, And Depression

Research shows that people with mental health issues – particularly forms of anxiety and mood disorders like depression – struggle with addiction more often than the general population. This is because people with mental health issues often try to self-medicate to deal with their issues without seeking out help or treatment, either to avoid stigma or for other reasons.

In other cases, excessive drug use may lead to the development of depressive symptoms and a diagnosis of major depression, because of the mental effects of addiction and the events that followed.

 

Seeking Comprehensive Treatment

Addiction treatment and mental healthcare have come a long way. Even though we’re not the best in the world at tending to our mental health, we do have a great understanding of the detrimental effects of stress and emotional pain, and the correlation between addiction and mental illness.

That is why many addiction treatment facilities utilize the knowledge of in-house experts to recognize the mental effects of addiction and formulate a comprehensive treatment. There is no one-size-fits-all in addiction treatment or in mental healthcare. But a treatment plan that addresses both issues as one – and even tackles physical issues through proper diet and exercise – can achieve wonders.

 

The Importance Of Strong Support

Ultimately, a person’s sobriety is as strong as they are – but when your strength falters, it’s important to have people in your corner backing you up, ready to help you get back on your feet and back into the ring. Some wrestle with addiction much longer and much harder than others, but regardless of your story or your circumstances, having people who love you and want you to stay clean and healthy can make a world of difference. A solid support system will give you a shoulder to lean on, an ear to speak to, and a fresh perspective whenever you feel the negativity catching up with you.

It’s one thing to have people around you ready to help you stay clean, but it’s another to be willing to ask them for help at the right moment. It’s important to recognize when you’re slipping and get the help you need to stay on the straight and narrow.

Beyond your support system and immediate circle of friends and family, consider sanitizing your relationships and removing yourself from relationships that you feel hurt you, or pull you down. Sometimes we retain friendships from the old days before the treatment, hoping to help them as well, but some people won’t accept help and have to find their own way to recovery. Knowing when it’s time to move on is important both for staying sane, and for staying clean.

In the end, it is possible that you will be struggling with the aftermath of addiction for the rest of your life. But that doesn’t have to impede on your ability to lead a colorful, exciting, and awe-inspiring life. Once you’re clean and the reigns are in your hands, it’s all up to you.

 

How Can Mentorship Help After Sober Living?

Sober Mentorship | Transcend Recovery Community

The point of mentorship is to define a path for someone, and to give them a light to shine through the darkness. They exist to cut through the fog, bring clarity to uncertainty, and provide the kind of guidance that lets a person grow without robbing them of the pain and challenge needed for growth.

In addiction treatment, sober mentoring provides that same function, in a professional setting. For millennia, humans have existed and co-existed, passing knowledge on through tutelage, training, and mentorship. Overcoming addiction is as much a matter of willpower as it is a matter of knowledge – and who better to train someone to overcome their own addiction than someone who has done it before.

But to understand the good a sober mentor can do for someone in the early and middle stages of recovery, it’s important to understand what sober living is, and why it plays a role in a crucial part of the recovery timeline.

 

Explaining Sober Living

Sober living is a treatment philosophy that emphasizes recreating an honest and realistic setting for tenants to live out the every day responsibilities of life without the temptation of drugs. Tenants are asked to pay rent, have a steady job/go to school, and engage in community activities and events, while having individual and group therapy and regular drug testing. Drugs and other illicit substances are strictly forbidden in sober living facilities, and tenants can stay if they like.

The point of a sober living community is to replicate the challenges and difficulties of real life, letting tenants explore the stressors and confront their responsibilities without the temptation of falling back into old habits. For many, this is invaluable – it teaches them self-sustainability and gives them the tools they need to fight their cravings and focus on the task at hand.

Sober living facilities are traditionally a perfect fit for people looking for an intensive treatment program after their initial treatment from addiction. Many have trouble transitioning back into the real world after residential treatment. Adjusting to the world after rehab can be difficult, and sober living is meant to ease people into that world without the risk of relapse.

It’s not perfect, of course. A sober living community is still an addiction treatment center, and the outside world brings with it many old memories and more powerful triggers for cravings and the like. The solution is to continue your treatment, but in a way that remains minimally invasive and allows you to face the struggles of sobriety in the real world head-on – by having a sober mentor.

 

Professional Mentorship vs. Sponsorship

Support in recovery can come in many forms, and one of the more classic forms is the sponsor from a group meeting. Twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have been around for decades, espousing the importance of keeping away loneliness by facing addiction in pairs and groups.

Yet there is a marked difference between having an assigned sponsor and a sober mentor. Sober mentors are professional therapists with a background in addiction and sobriety, a passion for treatment, and a long repertoire of treatment methods. They act as your mentors to living life in sobriety, equipped with a greater understanding of addiction than most people, and an emphasis on how every individual can experience recovery in their own way.

 

The Mentor-Mentee Relationship

The mentor-mentee relationship is a professional one, but that does not mean that it cannot result in friendship. It’s critical to be in therapy with someone you like and can trust – and this is even more crucial when picking a sober mentor. Sober mentors are not just people you call when you have a problem, or therapists you check in on once a week to get some peace of mind. Their job is to help you on every step of the way throughout early and middle recovery, giving you advice, watching your progress, and telling you off when you’re about to do something regrettable.

Life can become drastically difficult out of nowhere. No one in the world has perfect control, and anything could happen to plunge us into misery and make our old habits look extremely attractive. Fighting against temptation when motivation is extremely sparse is just one of the many things sober mentors tackle with fervor. At the end of the day, they’re not just a potential friend. A sober mentor is a coach, someone with the energy and the insight you need to look yourself in the mirror and understand where you want to go, even when life is at its dimmest and grimmest.

 

Becoming A Mentor

Research shows that giving is better than receiving, not only from moral viewpoint, but from a psychological one. Giving to others can have a profound impact on you, especially when what you give is a meaningful service. This is an important lesson for people in recovery, because it helps support the idea that if you’ve gone through addiction and survived recovery, then the personal insight you have, as well as the general knowledge you have accumulated, can be invaluable for people struggling with addiction and looking for help in early recovery.

Treatment is hard for everyone, and everyone struggles in their own way – but one person’s struggles can be inspiring, insightful, or helpful to another person, if only to provide a fresh perspective and to motivate.

The first step to becoming a sober mentor for others is to be confident and happy with your own sobriety. The second step is to develop a passion for helping others in the community achieve their sobriety and maintain it. And finally, there are programs and certifications for achieving professional mentorship status that help you further your knowledge on treatment applications, family dynamics, crisis prevention and intervention, motivational techniques, psychology, and addiction science.

 

Recovery Is An Ongoing Process

Sober mentorship proves that the recovery process is an ongoing one. Even after treatment, there are many obstacles that make staying sober incredibly difficult, from triggers to unexpected circumstances and unforeseen challenges. Life is full of curveballs, and regardless of whether you catch them or dodge them, dealing with them straight out of treatment can be difficult.

Sober mentors and other professionals work to help guide you through the first few months and years after treatment, setting you and your friends and family on a path to keep the addiction in check forever.

 

6 Tips To Resist Temptation

Resist Temptation

When all traces of a drug leave the body, a certain legacy is left behind. That legacy is the physical effect drugs can have on the brain, and the psychological scarring left behind by addiction and its consequences. To many, a marked and powerful aspect of that legacy is the craving and extreme difficulty to resist temptation.

Cravings remain long after rehab, and the only thing that helps them wane is time. But until they do, trying to resist temptation and fighting the urge to use again is central to any one person’s addiction recovery – and everyone has a different approach to ignoring the temptation.

Regardless of what your drug of choice was, cravings are a natural part of the recovery process. They come to you when you least expect it, and when you’re at your weakest. Anyone entering recovery must be prepared to resist temptation of these cravings, and you’ll need both short-term and long-term strategies to resist temptation and fighting off an urge when it appears. Here are a few applicable tips.

 

Find Something Else To Do

Addiction is tied intimately to the reward center of the brain, affecting what motivates us and makes us happy. Reclaiming that is an active process – finding new hobbies and spending time engaging in them can help people in recovery resist temptation and avoid struggling with cravings by instead focusing on other passions, such as painting, music, or sports.

From creative endeavors to intellectual pursuits or workplace ambitions, it’s important to find something that satisfies you, makes you feel accomplished, and keeps you busy and motivated.

 

Understand Your Triggers

Relapses rarely come out of nowhere, especially after early recovery. If you have been clean for a while, then the urge to use comes mostly during times of great stress, or when you are somehow reminded of your drug use. Positive memories of previous highs, places and things that remind you of the past – everyone carries different emotional triggers, based on memories or feelings.

It is important to recognize these triggers when they appear, resist temptation, and find a way to avoid them in the future. For example: even if you move to a new neighborhood, you might still take a similar route to work. That route might bring back memories, making it hard to focus and giving you a craving. Avoid that route and try to get to work through a different path.

Not all triggers can be avoided, and no one wants to live their life running away from places and people out of fear of certain memories. Understand that this is a temporary measure, and that with time, you can desensitize yourself to certain triggers and, with the help of therapy, eliminate their effect on you completely. However, this takes a lot of time and effort, and it is best to minimize the work you have to do by first taking the steps to resist temptation and avoid triggers wherever you can.

 

Talk It Out

Over the course of time, it is normal for events, feelings, and thoughts to weigh heavily on us. What might just be a passing casual thought in a fleeting moment could turn into a major issue in retrospect, an instance you feel ashamed or worried about.

Talking it out with others going through addiction recovery and hearing their perspective on it can help you better understand and accept your cravings, and learn to overcome them with time, rather than live in fear of them.

Sharing such moments with others also creates the opportunity to hear from them how they deal with their urges, learning new things that you might be able to apply in your own life.

It’s okay not to be entirely open to others at first. It is difficult to talk about addiction to others, especially early on. But something as simple as getting your worries and negative thoughts off your chest in a group can help you feel better, and even round up a few ideas on how to dispel and debunk those thoughts.

 

Try Therapy To Help Resist Temptation

Cognitive behavioral therapy allows patients to learn how to better control their thoughts, defeating negative thinking and replacing it with more positive, logical thinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy is not based on hearing what you want, but it is based on helping you create mental bridges to come to logical conclusions to eliminate negative bias.

Addiction can often bring with it shame and self-doubt, and cravings can make you further feel bad about yourself. But through cognitive behavioral therapy, you learn to resist the temptation of a craving by living out the consequences in your mind, being mindful of what you risk and what you care about, and helping you make a calm and sound decision to resist temptation and ignore the craving rather than give into it.

 

Overcome Your Past

Early addiction treatment relies on avoiding certain triggers to prevent recurring urges, but that does not mean that facilities or treatments advocate avoidance in the long-term. The only thing you need to avoid is drug use – but it is critical to confront your past, your actions, and their consequences.

Making peace with past events and coming to terms with everything that has happened over the course of the addiction is important. It gives people peace of mind and allows them to ultimately forgive themselves after asking others for a little forgiveness.

The urges and cravings are not just tied to events and places, but to mindsets as well. Being in a certain state of mind not only due to external stressors but due to an internal argument can cause a relapse. Coming to terms with your past and overcoming it – growing past it – is an important step in long-term recovery.

 

Learn How To Surf The Urge

Urge surfing is a therapeutic technique based on mindfulness, developed by the late Dr. Alan Marlatt. When urges begin, they can last up to half an hour depending on the intensity of the urge. Feeling an urge is accompanied by certain physical reactions, including sweat, jitters, shallow breathing, and an increased heart rate.

Urge surfing recommends taking an outsider’s perspective on these physical reactions, focusing on your breath, and taking note of every sensation and change that occurs as your urge begins. If you find yourself getting angry or otherwise emotional over the urge, stop and refocus on your breath. In, and out.

With time, the urge will subside – your controlled breath will help normalize your heartbeat, and by staying calm rather than reacting cholerically, you do not let the urge linger.

The reason surfing applies so well to this technique is because urges and cravings come in waves. They crash over you, steadily and powerfully. But by taking a deep breath and by riding it out on top of the wave rather than under its wrath, you can observe it from a safe distance and wait for it to subside. The key is not to do battle against the urge.

Research suggests that the longer someone stays sober, the lower their chances of relapse. This rests on the idea that as you continue to stay away from drugs, you develop ways to keep yourself sober and happy, limiting and even eliminating the need for drugs in your life, and resisting any urge to go back. To get to that point will take time, but with support and proper treatment, it can be done.

The Science Behind How Drugs Affect the Brain

How Drugs Affect The Brain | Transcend Recovery Community

While human beings are generally complex in nature, there is a refreshing simplicity to the way we perceive things as pleasurable and uncomfortable. Food, sex, and exercise = good. Boredom, pain, and social exile = bad. Drugs affect the brain by taking that system, and exploiting it, cutting down the full list of what we enjoy doing and replacing it with one powerful high: the drug itself.

 

A Crash Course In Pleasure

By observing the biology of the brain, we can see exactly how our brains react to certain stimuli, thus determining how we derive pleasure. Foods rich in sugar and fat (thus, high-calorie meals) trigger the release of neurotransmitters, which seek out their respective receptors, triggering a specific kind of emotion. Dopamine and serotonin, two common neurotransmitters related to pleasure and enjoyment, are released when we’re in the middle of enjoying a particularly tasty donut, for example.

Of course, there’s more to it than that. Our brains not only crave calories and reproduction, but they also crave music, cuddling, bright skies, positive social interaction and praise. These are just a few of the ways to get a “natural high”.

The idea here is simple: as a species, our goal is to develop and grow both individually and collectively. We derive pleasure from doing things that ensure our survival, tribal unity, and reproduction. However, this mechanism is also central to why drugs affect the brain, and are so addictive, playing a significant role in how they affect us and change our entire brain chemistry.

 

How Drugs Affect The Brain

Through the previously-explained reward system, a drug can become immensely addictive. Our brain has developed an affinity towards certain substances and behaviors and has associated them strongly with positive things, such as survivability and genetic reproduction – thus, these things trigger a massive release of pleasure neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Sex, food, music and entertainment – when we are enjoying ourselves, eating or reproducing, we’re typically at our happiest.

However, there are limits to how much dopamine our body produces and utilizes when we’re indulging in these natural rewards.

Those limits are entirely broken when drugs are involved. Substances such as cocaine and heroin drugs affect the brain with a potency of 200% to over 1000%. They do this by being structurally like dopamine and other neurotransmitters, hijacking them by making it through the blood-brain barrier and attaching to their respective target receptors.

Different drugs affect the brain in their own way. Alcohol, for example, triggers the sedative effect of the GABA synapses. However, it also releases dopamine. Heroin and other opiates bind to the same receptors as the body’s own natural pain-inhibitors, creating both a euphoric effect and numbing discomfort. Cocaine blocks the reuptake of neurotransmitters associated with happiness and excitability, thus increasing and amplifying your energy, confidence and pleasure. Amphetamine cuts the body’s natural breaks on dopaminergic activity, effectively eliminating fatigue.

Drugs affect the brain in their own way, but have two things in common: the ability to hijack and modify an existing process in the brain, and their role in manipulating or releasing dopamine.

Imagine the brain’s receptors as being of a specific size. The stimulation of pleasure comes from having dopamine match the size of the receptor, fitting perfectly. However, drugs flood the receptors, changing the way they work. The dopamine released by natural rewards then no longer cuts it, and the brain no longer responds to certain rewards as it previously might have. Your threshold for pleasure, so to speak, has been blown through the roof. The result is that instead of feeling content with tasty food, great experiences and sexual gratification, your brain begins to crave the drug as a means of experiencing pleasure. That is how a physical addiction begins – by quite literally teaching your brain to rethink what it means to feel good when drugs affect the brain.

Drugs affect the brain in a physical way as well. Methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin all can deal considerable damage to the brain’s tissues, even going so far as to make near-permanent changes to the way your brain processes glucose, its main fuel source. These changes can be reverted more quickly with a healthy lifestyle, but the process can still take years, and in some cases, some damage is inevitably unhealable.

Some people are genetically more prone to this change in brain chemistry than others. Some people experience the full euphoria of a dose of heroin, but don’t develop the change in brain chemistry as rapidly as others. Yet with prolonged drug use, addiction becomes an inevitability.

 

Explaining Physical Dependency

Drugs hijack the brain’s natural reward system by introducing massive amounts of artificial pleasure, sometimes forcing the brain to rewire itself to accommodate this sudden change. This effectively cuts into natural rewards and their ability to help us manage stress, emotions, and live a normal life, putting our drug of choice on the top spot for stress management and problem coping.

This change is also the beginning of a physical dependency. Once the brain begins to accommodate a drug’s intensity as the new “normal”, it will fight to decrease the effects felt through that drug to further return to a normal level of pleasure. This, called tolerance, often drives addicts to seek out larger and larger dosages to maintain the same feeling of intense pleasure.

Tolerance is followed by withdrawal. After a while, the brain simply ceases to perform certain functions properly without drugs in the system. Withdrawal from alcohol, opiates and stimulants all manifest differently, but share a few symptoms: feverishness, shivers, mood swings and heavy nausea. Withdrawal can be overcome after a period – in some cases, it can take up a month, although this heavily depends on how addicted a person is, how strong their constitution is, and what kind of substance they are addicted to.

 

How Physical Dependency Can Be Broken

Both withdrawal and tolerance begin to diminish after a certain period of abstinence, although the exact timeframe changes from person to person. Rehab clinics and other treatment centers begin their program with detoxification, a medically-supervised process by which a patient undergoes a natural transition into a drug-free state. After withdrawal has ended, it can take several months to several years for brain damage when drugs affect the brain to revert.

However, drug addiction itself is also behavioral – this means that, after the effects of tolerance and withdrawal have ended, breaking free from an addiction requires an additional psychological approach to treatment. CBT and related therapies, group/community efforts, and a healthy lifestyle consisting of quality food, regular exercise and at least one passionate hobby are all a part of a solid recovery plan. These are all meant to help you normalize pleasure again, and return to a life where you can enjoy living without addictive substances.

Like a steep slope, addiction is a path that is easily stumbled upon, and difficult to escape. But the pain and effort needed to scale it is worth every single step and sober living programs are there to help you do it.