The First Step to Recovery Is Accepting Your Addiction

The First Step Of Recovery

We’ve all seen the quotes floating around motivational pages on Instagram and in other corners of the web, like “knowing is half the battle” or “believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Sure, it would be really nice and convenient if you could leap through half of your entire recovery journey in just one step. But recovery is a journey that is too long to be halved in a single step. That isn’t meant to intimidate you, but to help you understand that, yes, things are going to get rough, but the path forward will become clearer over time, and as each day goes by, recovery gets a little easier.

There are days when platitudes and snippets help and might even give you that last little kick to get out of bed and stick to your schedule. There are days when you do that all on your own, maybe even while humming a little tune. And then there are the days when you don’t get to sleep at all and try to find every way possible to keep yourself from making a decision you’ll regret. Over time, those harder nights become less and less frequent, and you find your life being about all the things other people usually live for – family, work, love, dreams, passions, struggles, responsibilities, legacies, and deep personal questions.

But none of that happens until you take the first step. Without that first step, life will never have the fullness and meaning it could have. While that first won’t be “half the battle”, it’ll be the start of something beautiful, difficult, defining, and completely unexpected in many ways. To heal, you have to first accept your addiction.

 

Why Acceptance Matters

Accepting and acknowledging an addiction might sound like two separate things at first, but it’s really the same. Many addicts in “denial” are already aware that they have a problem, but they choose to ignore that fact. This is especially true in cases where it is extremely self-evident.

They’ll work hard to tell themselves they don’t have a problem, and often that is because being addicted is still seen as a sign of weakness, moral failure, and lack of strength of character. Too many see the possibility of being addicted as a sign that they’re bad, or irrevocably broken. Some might even go so far as to come to the wrong conclusion, and think: oh, this is completely my fault, and I could stop at any time, but I don’t because something inside me is rotten.

The truth is that millions of Americans across all races, ages, sexes and classes struggle with addiction. They all have completely different stories of how they got there. Many started after or during a life of crime, but many others have lived normal or successful middle- and upper-class lives, simply succumbing to a bad habit after picking it up through friends, a stressful experience, or a stint of experimentation. No matter how an addiction begins, it always turns into something vicious and self-replicating. Like a chronic disease, it comes back without proper treatment and care. It’s a problem with biopsychosocial roots, factors that are physical, mental, and social.

But to begin care, you need to first realize you’re sick. And to do that, you need to accept that you’re addicted. That is why it is a crucial first step.

 

The Importance of Understanding That Addiction Is Treatable

Just as it’s important to realize that addiction is a sickness, it’s also important to understand that it’s a treatable one. You’re not struggling for nothing – you can get sober and stay sober, but it’s the staying sober part that’s particularly tricky. Over the long-term, staying sober gets easier and easier, especially as you age and build yourself a stable, purposeful life surrounded by friends and family – but while you’re young, and especially in the early stages of recovery, staying sober can be extremely difficult.

A lot of addiction treatment programs start off by putting you in a drug-free environment to help take your mind off temptations and cravings a little bit. Places like sober living homes forbid drugs and drug use, while helping tenants through therapy sessions, schedules, in-house rules, community events, group meetings, and more.

Others are designed to help in different ways, offering resources and scheduling regular therapy sessions while you continue to live your life.

There is no medication to treat addiction in most cases, and while some medication can be used to help with the symptoms of the disease, or to combat the effectiveness of certain drugs, addiction itself is only treatable through psychological means. More accurately, addiction is treated through time. However, how much time is completely subjective. It’s also difficult to substantiate what it might mean to be “treated”. It is accurate to describe recovery as a life-long pursuit – but that doesn’t mean you’ll spend your entire life struggling not to use drugs, constantly hounded by the thought of relapsing, in fear and in shame of your past.

Addiction is treatable, but every person’s journey through treatment is different, and based on their circumstances and actions.

 

Steps or No Steps

Some places use a set number of steps to help people visualize their journey. There are many who argue that this is very helpful, while others say that it is too restrictive and dogmatic, and not indicative of the experiences many have while going through recovery.

Ideally, a professional therapist and a doctor can help you find the right treatment plan. Often, this means finding therapeutic tools that help you cope with the stress of early recovery while exploring ways to tackle future struggles without resorting to drug use. However, you might also find the 12-step program useful. It doesn’t hurt to try different treatment methods and see what you personally think helps most.

In the end, it’s just important not to go through recovery alone. Loneliness often perpetuates addiction, by leaving you to struggle with your own cravings and anxieties. But through the help of professionals and with the support of family and friends, you can put your anxieties to rest and find ways to combat and ignore your cravings.

Supporting A Family Member Fighting Addiction

Supporting a Family Member Through Addiction

It can be very difficult to overcome an addiction. The first challenge is to quit using – the second it to stay clean. Cravings, temptations, mood swings and irrational thinking all soon follow, making it harder and harder to stave off a relapse. Some make it through in the first try, and others take several runs to get to a point where they can fully commit to sobriety.

Yet as difficult as addiction can be on individual, each case it about much more than a single person. For every addict, there’s a family, there are friends, there are members in the community. With every case of addiction, there is a higher potential for accidents, injuries, and casualties. Some addicts in denial may claim that it’s their right to do as they please – but their actions often have widespread consequences, especially for close loved ones and relatives.

If your loved one is struggling with their addiction and has taken it upon themselves to get better, they’ve made a huge step in the right direction. But now comes the tough part. Now comes the part where you have to do your best to support your family member in their fight against addiction. Here are a couple things you should know while helping your family member.

 

Keep Yourself Sane

Your first and foremost responsibility is to yourself. Even if you see yourself as someone who works hard to put others first, you have to recognize that your ability to function and help relies on your sanity and physical wellbeing. As an adult, you have to be able to set boundaries and requirements. If you’re not sane, you can’t help others. It’s a really simple equation, and not one you would have to dwell on for long. It does you no good to be perpetually sleepless or descend into depression over your family member’s addiction.

If you’re working to help your loved one with their addiction, know when to draw a line between helping and enabling. You can help your family member stick to making the right decisions, but if they’re actively sabotaging themselves, it’s not your responsibility to pick up the pieces. A person has to want to get better to get better. Struggling with sobriety and relapsing is normal – but intentionally skipping out on meetings, avoiding calls, and attending rehab out of spite are not signs of cooperation.

You also have to know what you need as a minimum in order to feel healthy and normal. Get your sleep, find time for yourself, and set aside time to take care of your own responsibilities. Offering support and helping family is important, but not if you neglect your own needs in the process.

There’s a distinct line between acting selfishly and taking care of yourself enough to be able to help others – find that line and stick to it.

 

Read Up on Addiction

Knowledge is critical when fighting an addiction. Many people harbor a long list of misconceptions on the nature of addiction, due to years of pop culture references, biased misinformation, or the beliefs of their parents.

Behavior that might make no sense to you or might seem inexcusable may be a little more understandable with the right context. What might seem like a good way to help may actually be enabling your family member’s addiction or making them feel worse in such a way that it leads them to relapse and quit treatment. Knowing what to say and what not to say goes a long way towards helping your family member in their struggle against addiction, and it can help you better empathize with their situation as well.

It also helps to better understand and be able to identify the warning signs of a relapse, or of addiction in general. Understanding how certain risk factors contribute to both addiction and relapse can also help you figure out how your family member might have gotten addicted in the first place, and how you can help them mold their environment in such a way that it won’t happen again.

Knowledge about addiction can also save a life. Learning to recognize an overdose and knowing what to do about it can be critical at some point in your life.

 

Create a Drug-Free Environment

This is potentially a no-brainer, but it helps to double-check. Make sure there are no drugs around the house and help your family member readjust to their life in such a way that avoids places and things that might remind them of their addiction. Convince them to cut off old friends and stay away from their old watering hole and take a different route to work.

It can be a difficult adjustment, and short of moving away completely, there are still risks that old memories can pop up and trigger cravings – but doing your best to create an environment free from temptation can help reduce the chances that your family member might spontaneously cave in to their inner voice.

 

Help Them Stick to the Program

It’s important to work with professionals to ensure that your family member gets the right type of treatment, and the long-term resources necessary to continue staying in recovery after treatment. Say your first step in treatment is to help your family member get into rehab. After rehab, consider looking for a sober living environment for your family member.

Once they’ve adjusted to normal work-life and having responsibilities once again, help them adjust to living at home while encouraging them to go to group meetings, do their daily rituals, or exercise more often. If your family member has a one-on-one therapist, it can help to speak with them to know what you should encourage or watch out for at home. Every case is a little bit different, and specificity matters when guiding a person through recovery.

 

Help Organize A Support System

You shouldn’t be doing this alone, if possible. Communicate with the rest of the family and with your loved one’s friends and get everyone on board to help out and contribute to the recovery process. This can drastically reduce your workload and help your family member considerably.

For most addicts, having a larger, more available, and more reliable support system with different people working together to help out is more effective than relying off a single person, feeling guilty about having such an impact on them, and watching them struggle to balance their life under the pressure and stress.

 

What’s the Difference Between Rehab and Sober Living?

Rehab vs Sober Living

Residential treatment, or rehab as it’s known colloquially, is perhaps the most well-known form of addiction treatment. You sign into a program at a treatment clinic, living there and partaking in a preordained schedule, going through different treatment modalities based on what you respond to the most.

In some cases of addiction, medication is involved to help you wean off the drugs and get sober safely. In some cases, certain therapies are used while others are avoided. Residential treatment addresses the addiction first, then works with the individual to help them figure out why they turned to drugs in the first place, offering alternatives so they can continue living outside the clinic.

Sober living homes are different. The biggest difference is that a sober living home or community is essentially just that – a home or community – whereas residential treatment takes place in a clinic or treatment facility. Sober living communities provide a place to live without the temptation of drug use, while otherwise continuing with life in a normal fashion: going to work or school, engaging in hobbies, socializing, and taking care of chores. Both effectively share the same goal but utilize different methods. Both are effective for different reasons. And it’s best to use both: but in what order, and why?

 

What’s a Sober Living Home?

A sober living home is a drug-free facility where sober people live together according to a set of rules, otherwise enjoying all the usual freedoms they would otherwise enjoy. However, it’s the rules that make sober living different from regular living. While rules differ from place to place, there are general rules that most sober living facilities agree upon. These include:

  • No drugs.
  • Strict curfews.
  • Mandatory chores or contributions.
  • No violence.
  • Tenants must apply for work/school.

The spirit of a sober living home is to create a community where a tenant can live drug-free as long as they need to. Unlike other treatment facilities, sober living facilities have no limit on how long a person can stay at the home. These facilities are meant to help people reintegrate into normal living, by helping them remember what it means to be a responsible and accountable human being, while relying on healthier ways to deal with stress.

 

What’s Rehab?

Residential treatment or residential rehabilitation takes place in a rehab center/treatment center. Rehab is abstinence-based, just like sober living. It also relies on keeping people away from their usual circumstances by bringing them into drug-free environments, just like sober living. But there are many things that make rehab unique. Here are a few key differences:

Rehab centers usually work in stages, or programs. These are fixed for a certain number of weeks, working through a set program with a group of individuals. These programs represent timelines rather than strict guidelines, and individuals are still treated in a unique fashion corresponding to their needs and circumstances.

Rehab centers follow a myriad of philosophies, some approaching treatment utilizing the 12-step program, others following a religious or faith-based approach. Many rely on psychotherapy as a key part of the treatment process. Others adopt group therapy and therapeutic community practices, much like the 12 steps, but without the framework of the steps themselves.

Another thing that sets rehab centers apart is the detox process. Most sober living homes do not offer detox facilities – and while not all rehab centers provide detox, some do. Medically-guided detox may be necessary depending on how severely a person is addicted.

 

Going from Rehab into Sober Living

In most cases, it’s best to go from a residential treatment program into a sober living community. Residential treatment programs are extremely effective for breaking people out of an addiction, but it can be difficult to make the jarring transition back into an old life without relapsing.

Sober living can act as a buffer in between. Sober living homes often have no rules on how long a tenant stays as long as they continue to pay for rent, meaning you have freedom over how long you choose to stay in a sober living home before you go back to your old life, or move forward into a brand new one.

Going to rehab first and sober living second gives you the best of both worlds. But it’s not the only option.

 

Straight to Sober Living

Some people don’t need rehab. Rehab is perfect for breaking a severe addiction, and it’s not a bad idea to seek medical attention when working through withdrawal symptoms, but a sober living home can be enough to break an addiction if caught early enough. The point of sober living is to emulate normal life but without drugs, and sometimes that’s just what people need in order to get better and move on with their lives.

Addiction treatment begins in the mind, but there are treatment facilities that specialize in helping people tackle addiction in a way that best suits their needs and circumstances. There is such a thing as an ideal way to tackle an addiction, but that ideal is individual, and there are realities that stand in the way of offering everyone the best treatment possible.

Alternatives exist to offer reliable yet affordable ways to help people with addiction who may lack the time or resources to fully devote themselves to recovery – for example, outpatient programs exist for people who struggle with addiction, but cannot sign into a residential treatment program that would pull them away from work and life.

Rehab and sober living homes are not the only way to treat addiction. It’s possible to treat an addiction through outpatient programs and community resources, through group meetings or 12 step programs. Everyone’s path is different, but most people have more than one path to lasting sobriety. Before you choose a treatment plan for yourself, be sure to go over all your options. Consult a professional for a recommendation and go with what you think is your best shot at getting better.

Coping with Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawl Symptoms

One of the more uncomfortable parts of the recovery process is withdrawal. During withdrawal, the body violently objects against abstinence to drug use, and essentially causes a plethora of painful symptoms in response to sobriety and staying clean. This process is more uncomfortable for some than for others, and different drugs produce varying withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms also have a significant mental impact and are part of the reason why breaking an addiction is difficult alone. Withdrawal symptoms can often leave a person discouraged from trying to break free from their addiction due to the combined effects of extreme physical discomfort – from flu-like symptoms to shivers, nausea, and severe headaches – and mental effects such as anxiety, confusion, and more.

In some cases, such as in rare cases of alcohol withdrawal, quitting drug use can bring about a series of other symptoms. Delirium tremens, for example, happens in about 5% of people with alcohol withdrawal, occurring separately roughly a day or two after the last drink.

A big portion of addiction treatment involves helping people through the withdrawal process. There is no easy or safe way to bypass it – the point of withdrawal is to remain drug-free long enough for the symptoms to pass – but in some cases and with certain drugs, rehab centers and recovery clinics utilize medication to help the withdrawal process. After withdrawal, it can take another few weeks or months for cravings to significantly subside, and years for them to grow insignificant. Every case is different – but most cases of drug addiction must endure the pain of withdrawal.

 

Surviving Withdrawal Symptoms

Thankfully, withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe – and they often end up mild. This does not mean that they’re ever pleasant – all withdrawals are uncomfortable at best. But with proper medical attention and in the care of a professional recovery facility or sober living home, chances are that you will get through the process completely unharmed.

The duration and assortment of possible symptoms depends heavily on a variety of factors, although the biggest are:

  • Drug of choice.
  • Age and physical health of the addict.
  • Genetic factors and medical history.
  • The duration and severity of the addiction.

The symptoms all vary, but these are most common in almost all cases of withdrawal:

  • Flu and cold symptoms, including nausea, runny nose, fever.
  • Muscle aching and insomnia.
  • Agitation and anxiety.
  • Heavy sweating and shivers.
  • Abdominal pain, bowel movement issues including diarrhea.
  • Tremors.
  • Elevated and slowed heart rate.

Duration of these symptoms varies wildly on the drug, while severity varies entirely based on a person’s health and genetic makeup, and the extent of their drug habit.

 

Seek Medical Help

If you stopped using drugs to get clean and stay clean, the first thing you must do is find a clinic or sober home and get help. Withdrawal symptoms are not always severe, but they can be – and even if you previously experienced mild withdrawal symptoms, that is no guarantee that this time will be the same.

The duration of a full withdrawal process depends on the type of drugs you use. Cocaine, for example, takes up to about two weeks to fully withdraw from. After that, mood swings, irritability, and depression due to cocaine use can take several weeks or months to subside.

Heroin and prescription opiates can cause strong cravings, but their withdrawal symptoms are often quite mild, although it takes several days for withdrawal to be finished. Alcohol and benzodiazepines carry the most risk for fatal symptoms and last the longest – withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine addiction can take weeks.

While the most effective course of action is to let a withdrawal process run its course, medical supervision is by far the safest way to tackle withdrawal, as some cases may require pharmacological intervention to ensure a patient’s survival.

 

Why Do Withdrawals Happen?

Withdrawal, just like tolerance, is not entirely unique to addictive drugs. While withdrawal symptoms are stronger in substances that are considered addictive and can elicit the necessary response in the brain to become addictive, most psychoactive drugs create a series of mild to severe withdrawal symptoms, including medication and substances that are considered generally non-addictive, such as anti-depressives and coffee.

First: drug dependence or physical dependence is necessary for withdrawal symptoms to exist. It is possible to have an entirely behavioral addiction, where drug use is only addictive insofar that it is used as an unhealthy coping mechanism, allowing therapy to effective treat someone by helping them work through their pain and utilizing different, much more healthy coping mechanisms. But in most cases of addiction, the addiction comes from a form of physical dependence on the drug, where the brain basically struggles to let go of the drug, making anything less than regular use intolerable and abjectly painful.

Drug dependence is separate from drug addiction. Where drug dependence describes a brain that has become used to a certain dosage of drugs and reacts negatively in response to abstinence/cessation of drug use, addiction focuses on the behavior that often results from either physical dependence, emotional dependence or, most commonly, a combination of both. This type of out-of-control compulsive drug use can be a result of physical dependence, but the two are separate.

The brain gets hooked on drugs because it’s not used to the effects drugs have on the brain. When you take something addictive, the brain first must adapt to the substance, to normalize it. This happens through the buildup of tolerance; wherein higher and higher doses of a drug are necessary to elicit the same high.

Over time, the brain adapts to drug use and makes it the normal state of being, leading to withdrawal symptoms if drug use is stopped. Our brain is a very adaptive organ, but that adaptiveness makes it susceptible to something like addiction. This can, in turn, be life-threatening, as addictive substances are often damaging to the brain and other organs, as well as causing life-changing or fatal accidents and other severe consequences.

 

Recovery is The Perfect Time To Make Other Positive Life Choices Too

walking

Recovery is a challenging time in life, especially early on when the experience of prolonged addiction is still fresh and tough on the mind. Aside from being physically addictive, drug use often creates a psychological or emotional dependence on the substance as a form of coping in times of hardship.

For most, fighting an addiction counts as a stressful life experience – old memories come flooding back, temptations and cravings make life a constant challenge, and you find yourself struggling to cope with emotions that you have spent a long time trying to drown out, perhaps without even knowing it.

Developing an addiction to a drug causes the brain to change and creates pathways that manipulate the way you think and feel. Yet despite this, drugs are an amazing short-term coping mechanism. They allow you to forget, drown out, and generally deal with nearly anything. At least, for a few hours.

After that, however, everything gets worse. As such, most illicit drugs (and some legal ones) count as maladaptive coping mechanisms, helping you escape trouble without doing anything to deal with the issue at hand. When you go into recovery, you cut this out of your life – for the better, in the long-term, but at the cost of feeling inexplicably terrible for quite some time in the beginning.

This seems like the absolute worst time in your life to start making other changes. After all, piling a challenge onto another challenge would just serve to burn you out, right? Well, in the case of recovery, making positive life changes – specific ones – could actually boost your chances of a successful recovery from addiction, and help you carve out a life free from drugs. A life you can be happy with, a life that prepares you to cope with any trouble without having to turn back to old habits. Here is how.

 

Making Changes in Life Can Improve Recovery

Many people struggle with recovery because of the fact that they often rely on addiction as a way to cope with problems in life. This leaves them unprepared for a large amount of stress, coupled with past regrets, self-doubt towards their own future, and the dread of facing a life filled with responsibility.

Making positive life changes can help shift a person’s perspective and, most importantly, equip them with the emotional tools they need to handle the challenges they are facing and are about to face.

Perspective is important. For some, sobriety is a new lease on life, the ability to make better choices and stay true to your promises. However, for many others, living a happy sober life might seem impossible. Instead, they see it as unavoidable, a life-long penance for their sins. This is arguably the worst way to approach your sober future.

Perspective helps – by approaching sobriety as an opportunity rather than a judgment, you can relieve yourself of a lot of sorrow and anger. There are many ways to enjoy life, and very few of them involve making your way to the bottom of a bottle. By embracing your recovery as the time to shift focus onto something better in life, you move away from a completely negative view of your life, and find hope where there was none before. This is a great first step.

From there, it is just a matter of figuring out what to change – and why.

 

Exercise, Diet, and Addiction

If you have never particularly liked the treadmill, or dreaded PE class, then the idea of exercising to help with recovery is more like throwing napalm into a forest fire. However, exercise does help – and it does not have to involve a lot of cardio or doing circuit training in the basketball court. Any form of active movement, from going hiking to doing rounds in an Olympic pool or playing water polo, counts as exercise. Even more unconventional forms of exercise, like dancing or combat sports, can work as amazing stress management techniques while doubling as a great help for recovery.

This is because, as mentioned previously, perspective is important to getting through the early stages of recovery and beyond. And the best way to help shift your perspective to a more positive note is by being more positive – getting a regular hit of dopamine through exercise can help tremendously, even if the first few weeks might feel a bit rough.

The key with making it all last is finding something you actually enjoy. Don’t write something off without at least trying it – from hitting the weight room to exploring the ins and outs of competitive rowing, try your way through different forms of exercise until you find something you legitimately enjoy.

Aside from bringing a better mood to the table through dopamine releases, exercise can work as a positive coping mechanism, and the fact that it keeps you feeling fit and looking great can be a great confidence boost, too. Just don’t overdo it – too much exercise is still a bad thing.

The same rules apply for eating. Addicts are not known for particularly good physical health, largely because addiction makes it difficult to keep track of what you’re supposed to be eating, and when you’re supposed to be eating. But don’t force yourself to gorge on salads or follow a fad diet to lose your extra pounds, or put on some more – instead, go for a healthy and balanced diet that you can afford, and enjoy. There are plenty of resources online to help you cook your way to a better you.

 

Finding New Hobbies in Early Sobriety

Exercise is one thing, but if you’re not totally crazy about how you get your weekly exercise in, then you need another hobby to focus on. Having more than one hobby does not hurt, either, and they’re a good way to fill time between work, sleep, and therapy sessions. You could try to pick up old hobbies and continue where you left off, or explore new alternatives.

Having hobbies might be difficult at first, especially when it feels like nothing quite sticks. Keep trying – early recovery is a weird time for the mind, and with a little bit of patience, you will find yourself in a better place.

 

A Chance At A Better Future

The road to recovery is quite long, and very bumpy. While being positive and hopeful about the future has its perks, there will be days when you’re not quite feeling good. There is no shame in that – optimism only goes so far. While making positive life changes can help make recovery easier, it won’t necessary be “easy” – thus, remember to take time and rely on other people from time to time, especially in the beginning.

Find groups to stick to, be with friends and family, and accept that it is okay to be vulnerable sometimes. It does get easier.

 

Recovery is a Choice

Recovery Is A Choice

When it comes to recovery, the only road towards real change for the better is the road you choose, and the road you walk.

Unlike many of life’s defining moments where the line between choice and circumstance blurs into the unknown, there is nothing clearer than choosing to get better. No one can force you into recovery. And only you can hold yourself accountable for it.

 

Recovery is a Choice, and It Can Be Yours

Sometimes, the debate between choice and circumstance is confusing, in relation to addiction. Yes, addiction begins with a choice. But the consequences that follow – and the actions many people find themselves guilty of – are not chosen freely. Just one hit from a drug like cocaine can tremendously affect the brain and predispose you towards another hit. And if you give in, it becomes a lightning-fast cascade down into addiction.

No one chooses addiction. People choose the high, to escape pain, or emptiness, or find a way to fit into a group. Then they realize the scope of their problem and find themselves trapped in a cycle. Without help, getting out is almost impossible. But with a little assistance, and the will to get better, you can break the cycle.

That is where choice comes back into play. If you’re stuck in denial, then you cannot break the addiction. If you’re sent into rehab for treatment but don’t choose to get better, then a relapse is imminent.

But if you choose to get better, today, and make that commitment towards a new chance at life, then you can claim a better life for yourself and those around you. But it’s not a single choice you make once, and then never look back. It’s a choice you have to make again and again, sometimes several times a day. That’s the commitment.

 

Recovery is a Daily Choice

Curing addiction is not quite like getting a tetanus shot. It takes time, depending on what you were taking, how long you were taking it, and other factors such as age and genetics. In most cases, the hardest part lasts a few weeks to a few months, where your newfound sobriety and recovery is coupled with mood swings. Over time, the cravings – which are very powerful to begin with – begin to subside. And within about a year, most of the changes made to the brain over the course of the addiction fade away.

Until then, the choice to stay sober will present itself again and again, adamant that you reiterate your commitment.

After a while, it can start to feel difficult to remember why you chose sobriety in the first place. Fond memories of old habits resurface, and the urge grows strong. That is why you’re not meant to walk this path completely alone. Having sober friends around to remind you why you’re doing this can help keep you on the straight and narrow – but even with help, you still have to choose to ignore the cravings.

 

Addiction is Not a Choice

When the brain is exposed to an addictive drug, it begins to change. The reward system in the brain, which releases dopamine based on certain actions and parameters, shifts to favor the next high over almost everything else.

You become a shadow of your former self, and the addiction grows stronger and stronger. In the meantime, it eats away at the brain, causing brain damage and affecting both memory and decision making.

As far as diseases go, addiction is terrifying. And it’s treatable. Recovery makes this possible.

 

Living with Your Choices

Sometimes it is hard to tell how much our actions are influenced by forces we do not usually control. Our brain is a very complex piece of biology, and certain parts of it heavily influence our decision making and our ability to make choices in life. So where does choice come into play if our choices are often affected by mood and base instinct?

There are many ways to approach this subject and discuss it in depth. Yet one simplistic way of looking at it is through the distinction between principle and desire. Principles help us shape who we are based on the virtues we value the most – by acting on our principles, we try and become better people, and aim to improve the world around us.

Principles are entirely a matter of choice. The ability to do something no matter how much we would rather do something else. In the case of addiction, many struggle to stick to their newfound principle of sobriety – and many relapse, at least for the first few times which is a set back for recovery.

Stumbling and making mistakes is part of becoming a better person. We do not change overnight. But we can change, and with time, your principles go from being lofty goals, to defining who you are and how you see yourself – and how others see you.

Choosing to stay sober is a choice. Maintaining that choice, however, is not always just a matter of sheer will. Will can only get you so far when it comes to addiction, especially early on. While your conviction is important, it is also important to spend the first few months in the company of people who can help you stay sober – or better yet, in a sober living community, where a drug-free environment is coupled with a community built around responsibilities, self-discipline, commitment and contribution.

Even after that, it is a good idea to surround yourself with friends and family who can help support you, while you support them. Interdependent relationships help foster trust between you and others and can help you become someone others can rely on once again, which makes recovery easier. If you ever have a day where making the right choice becomes hard, then having your friends and family around can make it a lot easier.

No one wakes up loving the sober life. But it gives you an opportunity to craft a life you can truly fall in love with. Getting there starts with getting help and choosing – every day – to stay sober and work on recovery.

 

Now is The Best Time to Begin Your Addiction Recovery

Addiction Recovery Starts Now

The best time to start your addiction recovery is now. If you’re wondering if you should do something about your drug use or dependent behavior, then it’s high time you start looking for help. The past is the past, whether it’s a year ago or a mere five minutes ago – and there’s no way to go back and do something in a time that’s already gone. But you can do something now, in this moment, a moment wherein you’re alive and have the means to live. The future is uncertain and not set in stone and putting the choice to get better into the future’s hands means not knowing whether that time will ever come.

If you are at the point where you’re asking yourself if you need help, you probably need help. Start your treatment today.

 

Define Life by the Now

Mindfulness techniques are an important part of mental healthcare. That is because a big part of struggling with mental illness – including addiction – is the fear of tomorrow, and the lingering regret from yesterday. Anxiety and depression are fed in part by twisted visions of what was and what could be. You get caught up on old mistakes and become anxious of repeating the past, filling your mind with what-ifs and what-abouts. These questions and scenarios worsen over time, and addiction amplifies them, making you crave release from the pain and confusion.

By letting go and focusing on the moment – on making things right, right now – you gain the incredible ability to pull your focus away from past and future and define your life by the present.

Mindfulness techniques, like breathing, focusing on a physical or mental task at hand, reflecting on your current feelings, and trying to meditate – more than just ways to pass the time, these techniques teach you to relax and stop worrying over what cannot be changed, or what could be, but does not have to be. Life is not predestined or set in stone – every moment is forged by the actions we take and choose to take, and once you start your journey into recovery and move away from addiction, you gain the ability to choose what you want to do, instead of spending every waking moment struggling for the next high, the next release.

 

The Importance of a Question

If you have asked yourself if you should get help, then it is likely that you need help. Addiction is not just a disease that attacks you from the inside, fighting against your brain, your personality, and your behavior – addiction often comes with the tragic side-effect of denial.

We live in a society where struggling with addiction is not very much like struggling with sickness. Instead, it is often seen as an incurable disease associated with violence and weak moral fiber. As a result, being addicted often means being judged, shunned, and looked down upon – for many, the stigma of addiction is too much to bear, and would jeopardize their positions in life, including their job, or their relationships to others.

To avoid the ostracizing that addiction often unfortunately causes, many people deny their symptoms, and even go so far as to involuntarily turn a blind eye to their own behavior. It is not until other people make it clear to them that they are being self-destructive and harmful to others than many people begin to realize how far they have come. Sometimes, that triggers the realization that they need to get help – at other times, it can trigger the realization that there is a discouragingly long road ahead to getting better. People fear that addiction cannot be cured, or that they are too far along. Or, possibly, that it just is not the right time.

The truth is very different. Addiction has nothing to do with a person’s morality. And there is no such thing as too late when it comes to treatment – if someone is alive, they can get better. While addiction is not a choice, addiction recovery is – you must choose to get better, and that starts by acknowledging that you need to get better. It starts today. It starts here.

Addiction is a scary nemesis to face for anyone. It can affect anyone, anywhere, and while it disproportionately affects people in high-stress and low-income situations, addiction can also be a problem for the affluent, the socially and financially successful, and other individuals we might see as fulfilled or otherwise happy and privileged.

Regardless of what your lot in life is, there are many resources to help you fight the disease and get support in your effort to stay clean. Some people think that part of addiction is the disciplined and strict effort of abstinence, and that a single failure spells the doom of your entire concerted effort. But addiction recovery is a process that takes years, bringing you from a dark place to a place of understanding, forgiveness, and self-love – often, over the course of several relapses and bitter lessons.

It begins with a question. Should I get help? The answer, if you are asking, is yes. More specifically, you need to get help now and start the road to addiction recovery.

 

Addiction Recovery Going Forward

As previously mentioned, addiction recovery takes time. During this time, there will be moments of weakness and doubt. Times when you want to desperately give in. Times when the stress of the outside world and everything in your life is so overwhelming that the need for release seems too much to resist.

Treatment, therapy, steps, and lessons will not do you much good when the craving becomes unbearable. But that is why we need friends and family – support to keep us on the straight and narrow, care for us and our sobriety when we feel our control slipping away and be there for us when we feel at our most alone, and at our most vulnerable. Surround yourself with trusted loved ones and keep them close in times of stress. Repay them with gratitude, and a commitment to your own accountability and growth as a person.

With time, it becomes easier to resist the relapses – you begin to tell when one is coming, and why it is coming, and you learn to live with the cravings, denying them, starving the addiction of every hope of returning, so you can completely focus on living a life worth living in sobriety.

Again: it begins with a question. The answer is simple. The best time to get clean is now – and no matter how long your journey takes, no matter how often you may circle back, as long as you start moving and never stop, there’s ultimately no where to go but forward.

 

Dealing with Chemical Dependency

Chemical Dependency

Drug addiction has claimed lives – much like many other diseases. Yet unlike many other diseases, we struggle to find a way to contextualize drug addiction in the same way. Instead of tackling it as a societal issue with clear risk factors that can be addressed and mitigated, many continue to endorse or vote for political policies that explicably cause more addiction and suffering, and needlessly harm or end the lives of thousands of Americans because of chemical dependency.

So, to better understand addiction in a way that allows us to tackle it both on an individual basis and as a society, it’s important to re frame what addiction is in a more concrete, biological manner. When a person is physically addicted to a drug, they develop a chemical dependency in their brain. This chemical dependency can be broken, just as it can be built up. Cost-effective treatment exists to help people who struggle with this dependence, and many other disorders related to it.

 

Addiction and  Chemical Dependency

Addiction, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, is described as a condition defined by compulsive substance use despite clear harmful and lasting consequences. When a person continues to use a drug even though it is putting them and their lives in jeopardy, they are struggling with an addiction.

Dependence is a bit more specific. Addiction implies dependence, but the two are not necessarily the same thing. It depends, of course, on the context of how the words are used – but where addiction describes the condition of compulsive substance use, dependence describes the enthrallment of the mind to the substance through the brain, specifically through withdrawal symptoms and extremely powerful cravings.

Chemical dependence is when a person’s brain chemistry has altered to be tied to the drug, inducing withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to stop using, or causing them to build an increasing tolerance to a drug, forcing a higher intake over time.

Not all cases of addiction need to be cases of chemical dependence. While addiction always implies that changes have been made to the brain due to consistent drug use, sometimes, it’s the emotional dependence that is the primary drive behind the addiction rather than the physical dependence.

 

Chemical vs. Emotional Dependency

A person who is struggling mostly with a chemical dependency may fully realize their addiction and may not even use drugs to cope with emotional issues – instead, they take drugs to keep the pain away, and because they cannot resist the craving. For others, addiction is a way to numb pain, forget memories, and distract the mind from deeper struggles. And for most, their case is somewhere in the middle, between both.

Addiction treatment is a highly individual thing but knowing how a person perceives their addiction and knowing why exactly they’re struggling to stay clean and get sober in the first place can shed a lot of light on how to best help them in the long-term. For someone with a chemical dependence, the goal is to break the conditioning placed on the brain by weeks, months, and years of drug use. This can take time, but it is possible to largely reverse the damage done to the brain by drug use, to the point where cravings begin to fade, and life can be lived normally.

 

Safely Overcoming Withdrawal

The first step to breaking chemical dependency is seeking professional help. Withdrawal symptoms are a mainstay for someone who is chemically/physically dependent, and these symptoms can range from extremely unpleasant to fatal, depending on the drug and the severity of the addiction. Alcohol withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal is very dangerous.

Seek out a safe, reputable clinic or sober living home, and get sober under medical supervision. If anything goes wrong, having professionals there to help you get through the first few hours and observe you over the next few days to come can make withdrawal much safer.

From there, the hard part is staying clean. A sober living community can help you take your mind off the cravings, by incorporating you into a living breathing community, with chores, group activities, and more.

 

Building Towards Long-Term Recovery

Many people struggle with the long-term part of getting sober. Sobriety itself just means not being high or drunk – and while for many that is an achievement in and of itself, it’s still one of the earliest obstacles. Right after comes the struggle to stay clean. And for the first few weeks, this can be excruciatingly difficult.

Rehab centers and sober living environments make this much easier. A good sober living facility can help you focus on building the emotional toolset you need to stay sober even in the face of stress and responsibility. But you’re not going to do it alone.

Arguably the biggest key to long-term recovery is surrounding yourself with friends and family, who can support you and help you stay sober even when times get tough.

It is undeniable that choice plays a role in the matter. But there is a reason addiction is much more common among young people and people with mental health disorders. Addiction is more likely to develop in people without stable lives and stable minds, in positions where they are most vulnerable and open to suggestion. Teens, by virtue of their youth, make mistakes and have problems. People who struggle with their self-esteem, social status or income are more likely to turn to drugs to cope than others.

But addiction is not wholly discriminatory, either. There are biological factors at play, genetics, and family history, and even the affluent and privileged can feel society’s pressures and find addiction as a form of coping.

Pushing blame, shame and the harsh “rule of law” onto people who struggle with addiction does not solve the issue, but turns addicts into an easy target for frustration, discrimination, and ostracizing. It considerably lowers the chance of people going out of their way to seek treatment, because revealing that you may have a substance problem lowers your value as a person in other people’s eyes.

Treatment is the individual’s way forward. By recognizing that addiction is not a terrible crime, but a health condition to be overcome and treated, and by surrounding yourself with understanding friends and family members who realize this, you can take your steps towards sobriety and commit yourself to recovery, no matter how long the road might be.

But to make treatment a viable option for all, we have to convince more than just a handful of families that addiction is not what it seems, and that being addicted is something deserving of a little sympathy, rather than fear or blame.

 

The Advantages of Living a Sober Life

Sober Life

To anyone with a long history with addiction, the first and most obvious advantage of a sober lifestyle is the fact that sobriety is your norm – and you don’t have to worry about the addiction coming back to haul you through a series of miserable events and regrets. But getting addicted and then committing to sobriety and abstinence from drugs does not mean you’re surrendering your life to a lack of fun for the sake of sanity. Living a sober life means enjoying it and still living a full life.

Instead, sober life can be much more enjoyable and far more exciting than any drug on the planet. One thing it most certainly is, is fulfilling. A good life spent sober is better than any high on the planet, and here are just a few of the things you’re going to love about being sober and embracing your new sober life.

More Time

The first few things you’ll notice when sober is that the day has 24 hours, and you’ll often be surprised by just how much a person can get done in that time frame. With adequate rest and some time devoted to chores and eating, there’s a solid 10-12 hours to spend on work, passions, and yourself. The time you might have previously spent on your addiction can now be turned into time for you to find a way to sustain yourself and your family, as well as put some time towards keeping your body and mind healthy and keeping the house clean.

Sleep can be a major change in a person’s mental health right after weeks, months or years of addiction. It’s not easy to get enough sleep or maintain a healthy sleeping cycle while struggling with drugs. But once you get your sleep in order, your health and concentration will drastically improve – and you’ll find that there’s a lot of time to get things done.

More Friends

One of the bigger changes is the ability to build new relationships, and salvage old ones. Addiction robs you of a lot of self-determination, time, money, and worst of all, it robs you of other people’s trust. Often, an addiction will cost someone not only years off their life, but it can break relationships, even with the people we are closest with. It’s difficult to be accountable and stay true to your word when you’re in the middle of struggling with an addiction – but going sober gives you the chance to regain that trust.

Friendships, family, intimate relationships and romantic interests – if you want to share in the fun of living with others, then you have to trust them, and they have to trust you – and most importantly, you have to trust yourself. Sobriety won’t automatically make you a paragon of integrity, but it’s a prerequisite if you want to start living an honest and fulfilling life.

Better Health

Drug use will take a toll on your body. A few hits won’t do much – but months and years of accumulated use produces signs of wear on the human form. Alcohol easily adds pounds to your frame, putting stress on your heart and liver. Stimulants like cocaine and meth can strain your cardiac muscle, deaden your appetite, and even lead to skin sores and rotting teeth. Nicotine’s primary delivery mechanism, tobacco, is carcinogenic.

Regardless of what your poison is, all drugs contribute to serious brain damage, diminishing your cognitive ability, leading to memory problems, difficulty with problem solving, increased risk-taking, and reckless self-destructive behavior.

It can take up to a few years of healthy eating and sobriety to help your body recover from addiction, but it’s possible – and necessary, if you want a good quality of life.

One reason addiction is difficult to overcome is because prolonged drug use can make it hard for your mind to listen to a voice of reason. And, all this can aggravate other mental health issues.

Sober Life: State of Mind

We’ve mentioned the copious social and physical benefits of staying sober. We’ve mentioned how it will help you maintain a memory, keep your brain and organs healthy, stave off a risk of cancer and heart disease, and even help you improve your physical appearance and physical performance. But perhaps the biggest part of getting sober is the mental battle you have to endure – and the benefits you reap from surviving it.

Regardless of why a person gets addicted to begin with, over the course of an addiction we are bound to experience feelings of guilt, shame, and negativity. Some people develop a serious depression, something they struggle with for years after. Others develop fears and anxieties, insecurities, and emotional pain.

When these feelings start to grow, the urge to drink or use grows stronger. Even if people didn’t start out using their addiction as a way to cope with themselves, most start seeing it as a way to hold off the growing pain and problems.

Once you finally take the first few bold steps towards sobriety and recovery, all those emotions can hit you like a freight train. They tend to accumulate, making this period incredibly difficult and mentally strenuous.

For a time, you’ll feel split moods, remembering your sorrows and celebrating your newfound sobriety. This can be a dangerous and strange time in your life – but with support, proper treatment, and a good guide, you can overcome the frustration and the shame, find a way to forgive yourself, take action however you can to make things right, and eventually come to terms with the old you and the new you, and see a clear path ahead for yourself.

Addiction, in a way, is temporary happiness. Our vices all represent ways to seek a reprieve from greater problems and bigger issues. But by staying sober, you gain the clarity of mind you need to address these problems in your life and find real happiness.

It won’t happen overnight or even over a week – but getting sober and staying on the sober life is the first key step to overcoming every terrible feeling you’ve ever had and clearing your conscience – not for some spiritual or religious purpose, but simply to create a new life for yourself in which you can be truly happy and content without being self-destructive.

 

What Makes Synthetic Drugs So Dangerous?

Synthetic Drugs are dangerous

The term “synthetic drug” has become more popular over the past few years, with growing awareness of the fact that new drugs are being developed in labs around the world, sometimes for illegal profit, and at other times for benign research, misused and sold on the black market. Synthetic drugs differ from the more common illicit substances that the public is commonly aware of, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. However, the distinction is neither immediately apparent, nor is it emphasized enough.

Understanding the dangers of synthetic drugs – and what they are – can help you identify them, report them, and warn your friends and family to stay away from them. While all drugs are dangerous in their own way, there are certain factors that specifically make synthetic drugs much more potent.

What is a Synthetic Drug?

Synthetic drugs, as opposed to other psychoactive and addictive drugs, are specifically designed to function like other drugs while evading the law. These so-called designer drugs are built in laboratories from an assortment of entirely legal and mundane chemicals available globally as research material. Because of their synthetic nature, they are often far more potent than their “natural” or original counterparts and come with a bevy of extremely dangerous side effects.

The biggest danger in synthetic drugs is the fact that they are often complete unknowns. These are drugs built to be chemically like popular illicit drugs whose side effects are known, sold under the guise of being a legal alternative. Legal, because due to the speed at which these drugs are developed and sold, it is difficult to catch up and regulate each iteration.

Instead, awareness is needed. Not only are these drugs dangerous in general, but their nature as knockoffs makes them dangerous to addicts with preexisting drug use, and an intimate knowledge of their own limits and tolerance. Because these drugs are often more potent than their counterparts, synthetic drugs have caused countless ER visits and several tragic overdose deaths – a figure that is unfortunately rising, in no small part due to these drugs.

Synthetic drugs have existed for decades, termed after the fact that they are completely synthesized in a laboratory without the use of “natural” ingredients. To process cocaine, you need to harvest the coca plant. To make heroin, you need poppy. To sell cannabis, you need a cannabis plant. Alcohol is made from fields of hops, barley, grapes and more. But drugs like fentanyl, LSD, MDMA, and synthetic cannabinoids can be made anywhere with the right equipment and the right chemical compounds, cutting out the logistics of growing and transporting plant matter for drug production – a fact that allows synthetic drugs to grow unhinged across the world, aided by faster delivery systems and online black markets.  

Commonly Known Synthetic Drugs and Their Effects

Synthetic drugs come in many forms, but the most popular have been around for years. These include:

Methamphetamine: Known also as meth or crystal meth, this drug mimics the euphoric and empowering effects of amphetamines, together with numerous side effects including tooth decay, skin irritation, open sores, and rapid cognitive decline.

Synthetic Cannabinoids: While these drugs bind to the same receptors as THC, a drug that is debatably harmful, synthetic cannabinoids are much more powerful than their natural counterparts and can cause severe side effects such as nausea, hallucinations, psychosis, and organ damage.

Synthetic Cathinones: Known also as “bath salts”, these drugs are powerful hallucinogens and highly addictive, mimicking the psychoactive compound present in the Middle Eastern khat plant. An amphetamine-like substance in these drugs gives the same feeling of euphoria as ecstasy and meth, furthering its addictiveness. It acts as a stimulant.

LSD: While not addictive and rarely the cause of an overdose, LSD is potentially dangerous due to its nature as a powerful hallucinogen, and it is a synthetic drug, accidentally conceived by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in the 30s. It is illegal due to its nature as a powerful mind-altering substance, rather than severe side-effects or addictive properties.

Krokodil: A notorious albeit rare drug used in Eastern Europe and more recently in the US, Krokodil is a mixture of several substances for the explicit purpose of a very powerful high, at the cost of poisoning, tissue necrosis (tissue death), and death. Known as desomorphine, it is made by mixing codeine with household items including paint thinner and petrol.

MDMA: Also known as Molly or Ecstasy, MDMA is a “euphoric stimulant” much like cathinones, popularized through rave culture and dance festivals for years – and in other circles, more recently. Abundantly available as colorful tabs and tablets, MDMA is a common party drug, known for altering perception, and causing long-term negative side effects such as depression and addiction. Like LSD, the medical and psychological potential for MDMA is under research, but recreational use of the drug is very dangerous.

One or two positive experiences with these drugs does not negate their dangers. Side effects are a possibility, rather than a guarantee, but they are often more severe and more common with synthetic drugs due to manufacturing mistakes, bad mixes, and other elements of human error. Synthetic cannabinoids, for example, are mixed and sprayed onto desiccated plant material. Sometimes, this spotty application can result in plant pieces with a much higher – and much more dangerous – concentration of the active drug.

Why Synthetic Drugs are a Growing Issue

Synthetic drugs like meth, LSD and ecstasy have been around for decades, but the recent explosion in their use and popularity has several factors. For one, they’re part of a growing trend among teens. MDMA, and to a lesser degree, synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, have become popular at parties and gatherings. Furthermore, meth production has increased as the number of meth users continues to grow. It’s a matter of supply and demand.

Beyond that, these drugs are relatively easy to produce from a logistical standpoint and by continuously changing their makeup, labs can keep them dubiously legal, marketing them as harmless household items like jewelry cleaners or potpourri, while catering to a clientele that knows where to find these drugs.

Over the last decade, synthetic drugs have left in their wake countless deaths, long-term injuries, hospitalizations, poisonings and even comas. Staying away from them is an important priority for parents and teens alike.

All Drugs Have Potential for Abuse

There is little doubt about the dangers of synthetic drugs – we’ve gone over their death tolls and injury statistics, the potential side effects and the growing popularity – but it’s important to remember that this does not make other illicit drugs any better, or substantially safer. A “clean” cocaine or heroin addiction is going to land you in the ER and kill you at a statistically slower pace, but regardless of what you’re addicted to, not seeking treatment means accepting the risk of death from every high.

That, and with the flooding of synthetic drugs in the market, many “plant-grown” drugs are being sold laced with synthetic drugs and cut with dangerous and cheap fillers to drive up profitability. Street-level heroin in particular has often been notably laced with fentanyl, a far more potent synthetic opioid. If mixed badly, one hit can cause an overdose.

Stories about new and powerful drugs don’t make the other ones any less dangerous, and it’s important to remember that all addictive drugs can easily lead a person to a life of struggle and possible overdose.

Addiction to Synthetic Drugs Can Be Treated

An addiction to these types of drugs is more dangerous because we don’t really know what it might entail. While unpredictable side effects, violent physical reactions, poisonings and even comas caused by badly mixed drugs are part of a growing list of worries, the long-term effects of many synthetic drugs are virtually unknowable, especially drugs like synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones, because studies were never organized to research just how the body reacts to long-term use. Speculation includes potential heavy metal poisoning due to the heavy metal content in drugs like K2/Spice, among other dangers.

Yet aside from these factors, an addiction to synthetic drugs is similar to an addiction to other illicit substances – which means it can be treated in much the same way. While the risk of death or overdose from a relapse is higher with synthetic drugs, treatment does exist – and an addiction to these new drugs can be overcome. Sober living homes can help individuals completely distance themselves from these substances and take the time they need for their bodies and minds to recover.

Outside of treatment, family involvement and a strong support system  of friends is important to maintain abstinence and stay strong in the face of stress. It may take months or years to cravings to completely subside, but as with other addictions, it does get easier with time and accumulated experience.