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More than a Weakness: Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs

Until recently, we have understood little about how addiction really works. Before, addiction has been thought of as a weakness or a moral flaw within a person. However, current studies suggest that addiction is much more than “a weakness.” Addiction is now considered to be a brain disease, and is generally considered a chronic condition. Much like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, it can be controlled, but it rarely goes away. Once a person becomes addicted to a substance, it becomes a lifelong battle to fight against it. .

Families and friends who are non-users often do not understand how someone could become addicted to something that is such a hazard to their well being. Addiction starts small. The user simply thinks that the substance makes them feel good and believes that they can keep the usage under control. But addiction changes how the brain works and functions. Chemical states within the brain are altered, causing a chemical dependency on the substance. An addictive substance feels good because it stimulates the pleasure center of the brain through neurotransmitters such as Dopamine and GABA, which are some of the “feel good” chemicals in the brain. Once you become addicted, the brain stops correctly producing these chemicals on it’s own, forcing a person to turn to more drug use.

Eventually, it takes more and more of a substance for it have an effect on the user. This is when an addiction is created. The physical and chemical need of the substance overrides all logic that says, “This isn’t good for me.” It is no longer about a person’s well-being, it is about satisfying the craving in that moment.

Addictive substances feel different to an addict versus a non-user. Non-users generally only feel mild highs, while addicts tend to feel much stronger effects of the drug. This further widens the gap of understanding between users and non-users. Non-users don’t get how addicts feel so good when they are on a drug that is doing so much physical harm.

Addiction can happen to anybody at any time. Currently, approximately 10% of the population struggles with addiction. Even though addictions tend to start when someone is young, it can still happen if a person begins abusing a substance at any point in their life. Addiction is common among all levels of socioeconomic status. The very poor and the very wealthy are equally as likely to become addicted to a substance.

Some studies have shown that there are people that have a genetic predisposition to addiction. This means that addictive substances feel way better to them than to most other people. Those with history of addiction in their family are potentially more at risk for also developing an addiction. Many people who are aware of this, choose to abstain from addictive substances in an attempt to avoid developing an addiction.

Education about addiction, and how addiction affects people, can aide addicts and family members in understanding this heartbreaking disease. Remember, recovery from addiction is difficult, because it is a fight against a physical need within the brain’s chemistry that never really ends. Addiction affects not just one individual, but everyone around them. If families better understand why their loved one is addicted to a substance, perhaps they can create a better line of communication with their loved one, thus helping the recovery process for everyone.

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Intervention: How to Help Your Loved Ones

Many individuals engage in self-destructive behaviors. These can include addictions, gambling, eating disorders and other problems. Often, the person is not aware of how serious the situation is, since the mental health problem that they have is clouding their judgment. For example, a person with anorexia is quite literally unable to see just how thin they are – they see themselves as fat despite all evidence to the contrary. People with addictions, be it to substances or to certain behaviors, also fool themselves into thinking that they can quit at any time, that they have full control or that they are just having fun. These types of issues severely affect the person’s ability to think critically in relation to the problematic situation.

The loved ones of the person who is engaging in this behavior often feel powerless to stop them. An addiction or an eating disorder doesn’t only hurt the person who is engaging in these behaviors, but also the people around them. Sometimes, an honest face-to-face conversation can help the person realize there is a problem, but often a more serious tactic is needed. These are the cases in which an intervention can be used.

What is an intervention?

It is a planned meeting where several people who care about the individual involved in self-destructive behaviors confront him or her about it, speak up about their concerns, propose a solution and discuss alternatives. An intervention is a process that needs to be addressed carefully.

An intervention team usually involves friends and family, although it can also include a clergy member, a teacher or a colleague, depending on the situation. These are people who care about the person and who want to help, although people who are very confrontational or very angry at the person may be left out of the team for the moment. The idea is to address the person calmly and rationally, expressing one’s emotions without attacking.

It’s a good idea to work with a professional interventionist to develop the most effective intervention. They can help each person figure out what to say and propose treatment options, as well as suggest what can be done if the person rejects the intervention. If there is a risk of violence or self-harm, it’s especially important that a mental health professional is involved in the intervention process.

The first stage involved planning. The team is formed, and each person needs to decide and write down what they will say and rehearse it, consulting with each other and with the intervention professional. The intervention team will need to gather or prepare information about the person’s behaviors to have clear examples of why they are self-destructive. The planning process needs to be thorough and not done in the spur of the moment. The team needs to be well-prepared. It’s also important to keep the intervention a secret from the person it’s directed at, since they can seek ways to sabotage it or prepare to ignore it or confront it.

The actual intervention meeting needs to be prepared at a comfortable time and place. The person should be invited there without being warned beforehand.

During the intervention, it’s important that the team follows the plan they have, up to what they say and how they sit, to avoid confusion. Each person will need to express their concerns, show examples of the self-destructive or harmful behaviors, talk about their feelings in a non-aggressive manner and address the issue directly. The team should propose a treatment plan, including hospitalization in some cases, anonymous help groups or other options, depending on the situation. It’s also important that the team presents an alternative, stating clearly the consequences that will happen if the person does not accept the treatment. These consequences can be asking the person to move out or cutting financial support. It’s important to state that all the members of the team will support the person if they choose the treatment, but stay firm in relation to the consequences.

Attacks, insults and similar tactics should be avoided. The process needs to be done in a calm manner without losing track of the plan. However, honesty needs to be present – the team members need to state what they are feeling and how it is affecting them. A good idea is to use “I-statements” (“I feel that…”) and focus on the consequences of the behaviors rather than blaming the person directly. Any objections the person has should also be addressed calmly. In general, it’s a good idea to brainstorm possible objections and come up with rational and calm responses.

It’s important to ask the person to make a decision right away. They can try to stall in order to deny the situation, for example, or otherwise try to avoid making a decision.

An intervention can be helpful, but in the end the decision to acknowledge the problem and to change is up to the person. If they choose to deny the situation, react violently or refuse treatment, that is their choice.

If there is violence or danger, if the person accuses the intervention team of betrayal or reacts in a similar way, it might be necessary to leave the situation, something that is especially true for the spouse and children. If the person refuses treatment, it is important to go through with the consequences. This has the chance of being good for the person, since it can make it very hard for them to deny the situation any longer. Not going through with the consequences encourages the self-destructive behaviors, since it comes off as an empty threat and shows the person that the situation can continue on as before.

An intervention gives the individual a plan for action and shows the support of their loved ones, but in the end it is up to them whether they decide to take it or not. However, removing oneself from the situation or enforcing the consequences can help the person realize that they do have a problem.

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Hugs Not Drugs: Showing Love and Support as a Preventative Measure

While this cheesy motto is often seen in the halls of elementary school drug awareness weeks, there is truth within it. Hugs mean more than you think.

Perhaps one of the most common reasons people turn to drugs are feelings of loneliness. Perhaps they have been an outcast much of their life, perhaps they lost a loved one, perhaps none of their family is around to support them. People turn to drugs to fill the gap that other people should fill. When a person is using a substance, they tend to isolate themselves, further alienating them from the rest of the world. This begins a cyclical progression of using drugs because you feel alone, your drug use pushes others away, and then you need more drugs to cope.

Even drug users with families that are trying to help them still see themselves as being alone. They don’t believe that their family understands what they are going through. It is important for families to stick with addicts to show that they support them and are there for them through the recovery process.

Young people with weak family ties tend to be more at risk for developing addiction. People need strong, loving parental support to provide a positive example. People without strong family ties are more at risk for succumbing to peer pressure. One of the best ways you can help youth from developing addictions, is by simply being there and being involved in their lives.

Stress is another common factor in substance abuse cases. People want to feel good, so they turn to drugs to give them this high. Having someone in your life that you can talk  to, or turn to, when things get rough can create a physical release of happy chemicals in your brain, similar to the ones that are released when experiencing a drug high.

Here’s the simple truth: hugs boost our happiness levels. And scientific research is there to show this. Basically, a good hug is the fastest way for you to get oxytocin flowing in your body. Oxytocin, also known as the “love drug”, calms your nervous system and boosts positive emotions. Here’s how a good hug (at least 20 seconds) resulting in oxytocin flow affects you:

  • It lowers your blood pressure, especially helpful if you’re feeling anxious.
  • It lowers your cortisol (the stress hormone), enabling a higher quality of sleep.
  • It can increase your social connections and a sense of belonging.

So hug more and judge less. Be there for someone. Give them a hug just because. Love is the most powerful drug.

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Helping You To Heal: Different Therapies and Treatments for Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a complex disease that needs to be addressed on a case by case basis. Things such as personally and the substance being abused can dictate how effective a particular therapy might be. One therapy might not affect a client at all, while another therapy can do wonders. Sometimes clients try several different therapy options before they find one that works best for them. The best way to quickly and efficiently find treatment is by being educated and informed about your options.

Below you will find facts about treatment options:

Medication

Medications might be necessary to help with withdrawal symptoms during detox. These drugs act as chemical substitutes while the brain begins to adjust to the absence of the addictive substance. Medications might also help address other underlying issues such as anxiety or depression. A medical professional will help you figure out what medications will be most effective.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy allows the patient to be involved in their own recovery. In behavioral therapy the patient is counseled on how to change their attitude and behaviors regarding their addictions. But they are also counseled on how to alter their overall outlook on life. When behavioral therapies are combined with medication, patients have an increased chance of a successful recovery.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy- which seeks to help patients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are most likely to abuse drugs. A central element of CBT is anticipating likely problems and enhancing patients’ self-control by helping them develop effective coping strategies. Specific techniques include exploring the positive and negative consequences of continued drug use, self-monitoring to recognize cravings early and identify situations that might put one at risk for use, and developing strategies for coping with cravings and avoiding those high-risk situations.

Multidimensional Family Therapy, which was developed for adolescents with drug abuse problems—as well as their families—addresses a range of influences on their drug abuse patterns and is designed to improve overall family functioning. Even though that it was initially designed for adolescents, it is still considered beneficial for any families dealing with addition to partake in family therapy.

Dialectical behavioral Therapy- DBT differs from CBT, that it focus on a more comprehensive assessment of the self, and addresses issues beyond drug use. In its standard form, there are four components of DBT: skills training group, individual treatment, DBT phone coaching, and consultation team. In DBT, the team focuses on addressing Mindfulness, Distress tolerance, Interpersonal effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation. There are 4 target areas of behavior that DBT addresses. Life-threatening behaviors, Therapy-interfering behaviors, Quality of life behaviors, Skills acquisition.

 Residential treatment programs

Therapeutic communities (TCs) are highly structured programs in which patients remain at a residence, typically for 6 to 12 months. A sober living home is one example of a TC. TCs differ from other treatment approaches principally in their use of the community—treatment staff and those in recovery—as a key agent of change to influence patient attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors associated with drug use. Patients in TCs may include those with relatively long histories of drug addiction, involvement in serious criminal activities, and seriously impaired social functioning. The focus of the TC is on the resocialization of the patient to a drug-free, crime–free lifestyle.

In the end, No single treatment is appropriate for everyone, but treatment needs to be readily available in whatever form that is chosen. Effective treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not just his or her drug abuse. Addiction is often co-morbid with other mental disorders such as depression or anxiety. For any treatment to be effective, the client must remain in treatment for an adequate period of time. Addiction and recovery is ever changing. Be sure to continually assess and modify therapy as needed so that it may remain as effective as possible.

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What makes a good sober living house?

A good sober living home is essential to rebuilding a life after addiction. While detox centers provide medical care, and outpatient centers provide therapies, sober living homes help the individual rediscover how to live a normal, addiction free, life. Sober living homes create a social safe haven for individuals to learn about, discuss, and work on their addiction recovery. Individuals that are involved in sober living homes are more likely to maintain an addiction free life style than those that go back into the world straight from detox or inpatient centers.

So if you are looking for a good sober living house, these are the characteristics you should be looking for.

  • An alcohol and drug free living environment for individuals attempting to abstain from alcohol and drugs
  • A requirement to attend 12-step self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or an IOP. Many sober living homes don’t offer formal treatment, they just provide a social support for recovering addicts. Requirements to attend meetings or treatment help ensure that the individual is taking charge of their recovery.
  • A requirement to comply with house rules such as maintaining abstinence, paying rent and other fees, participating in house chores and attending house meetings. These responsibilities help the individual regain responsibility and autonomy before reentering the community. House meetings also help build a sense of community and provide social support.
  • Group meetings and skills building within the sober living house. Many homes will provide activities for the residents that work on developing skills. Some homes offer cooking classes, budgeting help, or resume help.
  • An invitation for residents to stay in the house as long as they wish provided they comply with house rules.
  • A resident council of some sort. Some sober livings allow their residents to have a say in house matters. This also helps give the individual a sense of responsibility and fosters a community of support and collaboration.
  • Involvement in volunteer or work opportunities. Some sober living home encourage or require individuals to volunteer within the community. This helps with resume building, and it helps the individual learn how to be involved in the community.

Not all sober livings will have all of these characteristics, but that does not make them bad sober living homes. Ultimately, the best sober living home is the one you feel most comfortable in. Other factors, such as location and cost, are also important in determining which home is best. And most importantly, you should make sure that you get along with the staff. The staff will be the backbone of support for you or your loved one as they go through one of the most difficult transitional periods in their life.