How Addiction Affects Mental Health

How Addiction Affects Mental Health

By all accounts, addiction can be characterized as a brain disease. We largely understand that it has something to do with the dopaminergic reward circuit/pathway, but the exact mechanism of addiction remains largely unknown. What is known is that addiction is chronic in nature, causing recurring bouts of cravings and severe wanting, and sometimes recurring withdrawal symptoms, weeks after sobriety begins.

The way addiction attacks the brain and changes how people process their priorities and pleasures suggests that it also has an effect on an individual’s susceptibility to certain mental disorders, triggering or exacerbating them if the right risk factors were already there.

The statistics are damning, when considering the other angle. People who have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point of their lives are responsible for nearly 70 percent of alcohol consumption, 84 percent of cocaine consumption, and 68 percent of cigarette consumption. People who are sick are prone to self-medicate, especially if they don’t seek answers from a mental health professional, or if their first professional of choice couldn’t treat them right. This often leaves them vulnerable to the effects of addiction.

But what about the other way around? It seems that research also supports that getting addicted puts you at greater risk for developing different mental health issues, for a variety of reasons. Let’s go over how addiction affects a person’s mental health – and why it’s important to treat a person not only for the physical and mental symptoms of drug misuse, but for all the additional emotional trauma they may be suffering as a result of their addiction.


Addiction and Depression

Certain drugs are more prone to triggering a depression than others. Alcohol, a widely-available drug sometimes used to suppress fears and anxieties actually increases the risk of depression. Alcohol is a depressant. This does not mean the drug actively causes depression, but it does cause your brain and body to “slow down”, giving you the effect of lethargy, low mood, and decreased mental arousal. The days slur together, as does your speech, and long-term alcohol use can begin to actively eat away at your memory and cognitive ability, increasing stress and strife while sober, eventually triggering a potential depressive episode.

Other drugs can also trigger a depression by way of their effect on your life. Many try to hide their drug use, for their parents or partners or coworkers, but someone trapped in an addiction is bound to slip and struggle with their behavior as time goes on, leading to significant consequences including breakups, job loss, and more. This can send a person into a depression as they find their lives falling apart, scared of looking for help out of fear that it would confirm that they have a problem they cannot fix alone.


Addiction and Anxiety

Drug use can also send a person’s anxieties spiraling through the roof. Alcohol, for example, explicitly calms the nerves – but it also causes anxiety to spike upon sobriety. Long-term alcohol use is known as a maladaptive coping mechanism for a condition like anxiety – while it does introduce a short-term calming effect and thus qualifies as way to cope with anxiety, this manner of coping is inherently flawed because it ultimately introduces even more problems, making your anxiety worse while leaving you to struggle with other problems.

There are healthier ways to cope with anxiety, and better ways to calm down. Other drugs actively make anxiety worse or trigger an anxiety disorder in individuals who do not have one, from relatively harmless and nonaddictive drugs like caffeine, to harmful and addictive drugs like cocaine and amphetamine.


Addiction and Trauma, Trauma and Mental Health

A more tragic fact is that people who struggle with substance abuse are more likely to experience traumatic events, including violence, sexual violence, and emotional abuse. There is a high correlation between trauma and mental health issues – trauma is any event the brain fails to process normally, leaving behind a form of mental scar tissue that causes various different symptoms.

Trauma early on in a person’s development can even trigger certain personality disorders, requiring very rigorous treatment. Later on in life, trauma is prone to triggering post-traumatic stress disorder, various forms of depression, and more.

Like other mental health issues, trauma and addiction must be treated concurrently. One is bound to feed in to the other, and only by addressing the full spectrum of symptoms can a person effectively find peace and be emotionally healthy again.


A Downward Spiral

The defining characteristic of addiction is the cascading spiral racing towards rock bottom. But that doesn’t have to be the case, for anybody. The idea that an addict has to hit a particular point in their addiction to “see the light” is false. It does take time and a dedicated group of friends or family, but a proper plan towards intervening in an addict’s life and helping them accept the idea of seeking treatment together is possible far before they come to the point where they can sink no further.

Don’t wait for yourself or your loved one to hit a rock bottom before you get help. In the worst case, the rock bottom is one you or your loved one will never recover from.

That being said, an addiction paired with a significant mental illness may progress faster that you might expect. Someone who is depressed would likely struggle with drug use very quickly, especially as they discover the euphoric effects of any given drug. The feeling of being depressed off the drug would only be further accentuated, causing the need for the next high to grow. This form of emotional dependence can kick in long before an actual physical dependence is established, providing an example for the clear distinction between a psychological need for a drug, and the neurological dependence on a substance after a certain point.

If you or your loved one has never been diagnosed with a mental health issue but has exhibited symptoms of potential depression, anxiety, or strange personality traits that make it more likely for them to fall victim to severe self-esteem issues, toxic relationships and traumatic interpersonal experiences, then it’s likely that these factors will compound with drug use and accelerate the development of a mental health issue.


Avoiding Depression During Recovery

Staying Positive

Early recovery is often seen as the hardest part in getting sober. After the initial hurdles of detoxification and withdrawal, it’s time to face the emotional and psychological effects of long-term addiction. For many, going sober is not just a matter of foregoing drugs, but it’s a matter of giving up the comfort and coping power that drugs have.

There is a reason depression and addiction are so powerfully intertwined, and it has a lot to do with the brain, how it reacts to drug use, and how addiction promotes and feeds on a painful cycle of negative thinking.


Why Depression and Addiction Go Hand in Hand

Depression and addiction are often intertwined, either because depression led someone to become addicted, or the addiction led them down the path to depression. The reason both go hand-in-hand is because they revolve around negative thinking. While addiction is technically all about feeling good, the reality is that when drug use goes out of hand, it very quickly turns into an abusive relationship.

There are two forms of dependence in addiction – one is physical, and the other is emotional. An emotional dependence is marked by a reliance on drug use as a coping mechanism for emotional pain. Take for example a teen who is completely hooked to the smartphone. In one way, there is a natural incentive to pay attention to the phone, as it is integral for modern social behavior. But teens can become completely lost in technology, barely interacting with the real world and instead retreating to online conversations, social networks, and video games.

When this begins to affect their concentration, their responsibilities, and their behavior towards others, it’s clear that there is a negative impact at play. Yet trying to pull this teen away from their phone could result in verbal and physical backlash, and an emotional breakdown. They have developed an emotional dependence on the device as a way to cope with some form of stress, from trouble at school to a lack of connection with others.

This is a crude and simple example, and most examples are far more complex and require a greater understanding of the situation and all the facts, but emotional dependence can lead to extreme outbursts of negative emotion, including anger and depression.

If a person relies on drugs to feel better, then getting off drugs can rob them of an efficient, albeit harmful coping mechanism. This is where PAWS often develops.


What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a disorder where withdrawal symptoms persist long after the drug has left the body. They can be seen as aftershocks of the since-gone physical dependence, and come in the form of mood swings, cravings, and a rollercoaster of emotions – including depression.

Although these effects are similar to what patients go through during initial withdrawal symptoms at a clinic, they are in fact most likely psychological adaptations – at a certain point of long-term drug use, the brain gets used to the cycle of withdrawal and relapse, and addiction has become a “normal state”. These mental reverberations are the brain basically sorting itself out, and they can often include symptoms of depression or psychosis.

If you present with signs of PAWS, then it’s best to contact a professional and get a proper diagnosis, as well as a plan moving forward.


It Is Important to Seek Help

The danger of developing depressive symptoms during recovery is high, and for various reasons. From aftereffects of the addiction, to an emotional dependence on drugs to deal with other problems, to the addiction itself being caused by an underlying depression, many people who go through recovery struggle with negative thoughts, including thoughts of suicide.

This is not something you should be facing alone. Get help and get the support you need to tackle this in a healthy way. Enter into a sober living home. Tackling addiction alone can end in relapse, or worse.

You’re not powerless, of course. There are steps you can take to minimize the danger of developing a depression or another condition while in recovery. For one, you could focus on having fun.


Have Fun Being Sober

There is no telling how long recovery takes – just like addiction itself, it depends highly on each individual’s story and circumstances. Your ability to recover from addiction and move onto a new chapter in your life may differ completely from someone else’s ability to do the same, and that is nothing to be ashamed of, or sad about. Do not compare your progress to others – when it comes to getting sober, the only goal is to get sober and stay sober.

It does not matter how long it takes to get comfortable with your new sober life – what matters is that you get comfortable in the first place. From day one, that might seem like an impossible challenge. For many stepping out of a long term addiction, sobriety can be a painful smack in the face. Accompanying the usual withdrawal symptoms are often long and hard pangs of guilt, as well as painful memories that had been bottled up and avoided through months and years of drug use. The first instinct for many is to try and get away from all those feelings – but as with many things, the only way past it all is straight through it.

It takes a lot of strength and determination to power through the early phase of recovery and come out the other side somehow still hopeful that there is a future for you where you stay clean and happy.

The first step to embracing sobriety is finding out how to become comfortable with it. Here are a few ways to approach that idea:

  • Try out old hobbies and see if you still have a knack for them.
  • Approach new tasks and experiences, book tickets for events you have never been to, be open to new things.
  • Utilize the internet to meet new people, visit workshops, take classes, and join clubs.
  • Engage in something physical, anything as long as it’s your definition of fun.
  • Take up a creative hobby like playing music, writing, or digital art.
  • Try your hand at a long-term project, like wood working, amateur carpentry, or oil painting.

To keep things short – find as many ways as possible to keep yourself busy, and do not be afraid to try out new things. You may just surprise yourself with what truly makes you happy and interests you and finding out exactly what best tickles your fancy is the most effective way to sealing the deal on your sobriety.

Mental Health Month: A Critical Eye on How Drugs Affect the Mind

Drug addiction is a scourge – but we must rationally separate the disease from the person. For decades, this country has operated under the guise that addiction corrupts people and marks them as worthless to society due to their inability to provide economically. It gives up on many who become addicted, and in general, society looks towards people struggling with addiction as flawed or dangerous, or both. Despite advances in human rights, there is still a powerful stigma against not just addiction itself, but those whose mental health suffers under it.

Rectifying this is paramount to a society where addiction is less of a problem, and potentially eliminated. Often, addiction is identified as a chronic brain disease and can affect mental health. While food and sex addiction exist, it is very rare and separated from drug addiction through the distinction of addictiveness. Things like sugar, sex and gambling can turn into an emotional dependency, but physical dependency to drugs like alcohol and heroin is caused by how your brain interprets and reacts to these substances.

Understanding how the brain reacts to drugs – and understanding the mental health of people struggling with addiction – can help people distinguish the disease from the person, and set aside moralistic ideas for a better, more scientific approach.


Drugs And Your Mental Health

Drugs affect the your mental health because they bind to specific receptors in your brain’s cells. Basically, the structure of a cell is as such that it has certain ports for the entry and exit of different intracellular elements. In the brain, brain cells have ports that receive neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters affect the way you feel and think and play a role in many other physical and autonomous functions.

What drugs do is they bind to the cells in the guise of natural neurotransmitters, thus making you feel a certain way.

Taking alcohol as an example, once alcohol enters the bloodstream, some of it passes through the blood-brain barrier – a special membrane to keep most foreign elements out of the brain – and it attaches itself to the neurons’ GABA, serotonin, NMDA (memory) and acetylcholine receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that affects the way you move – as an agonist, alcohol’s effects on the brain through the GABA receptor lead to slurred speech and trouble walking.

As it also binds to serotonin, on top of releasing your inhibitions and slowing you down, it also makes you feel good – being tipsy is the combination of alcohol’s effect on your chemical happiness, combined with the way it alters your brain’s ability to control movement.

A separate effect happens with each drug commonly used today. Opioids slow the body’s respiratory system and numb pain, while inducing euphoria. Stimulants like cocaine give you a massive jolt in both happiness and motivation, while taxing the heart muscle and reducing appetite.

These drugs are all highly addictive, and completely different from hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms, but all impact your mental health in a negative way.


How Addiction Starts

Psychoactive drugs include anything that manipulates or changes the way you think drastically. Sugar isn’t psychoactive, even though the consumption of sugar naturally releases endorphins. Caffeine, however, is psychoactive, even though its effects while consumed as a beverage like coffee or tea are negligible and cannot be classified as clinically addictive.

LSD is also psychoactive, but not addictive – while it also binds to the serotonin receptors in the brain, LSD has not reportedly been the cause of any overdose or addiction, and its main attraction is its ability to induce vivid visual hallucination.

What sets drugs like alcohol and heroin aside from the rest is the sheer overwhelming power with which it attacks your brain. Caffeine can make you feel a bit more productive and increase anxiety slightly at high dosages, but alcohol will change the way your brain functions and alter your brain’s structure through repeated excessive use. The same goes for heroin, cocaine, nicotine, and other addictive drugs. Their effects cause the brain much stress, and as a coping mechanism, it tries hard to develop a tolerance against said mental health effects.

This tolerance backfires, however, as it also deadens your brain towards many other sensations. In short, as an addiction progresses, it becomes the only thing in life that still satisfies you, and this produces an emotional and psychological obsession that affects your mental health. Addiction is born.


Why Addiction Is Hard To Beat

Addiction is a matter of both emotional and physical dependence. As an addiction progresses, the brain and the body have a harder and harder time to let go of the drug and live without it. Attempting to do so without waning off first might lead to symptoms of withdrawal, which range from flu-like with drugs like heroin, to possibly fatal for drugs like alcohol.

Emotionally, addiction either causes or is caused by a need to escape from reality, making the prospect of completely committing to reality through sobriety both very daunting, and not very attractive.

Getting high keeps you happy and staves off the shakes and the pain. Going sober only makes your body crave the drug more, to the point where you feel like a thirsty man in a hot desert, with no sign of water or civilization in view anywhere, on any horizon.

The mental health and motivation necessary to overcome that feeling must be immense, which is where addiction treatment jumps in.


Getting The Help You Need

Addiction treatment has come a very long way from the days of old, and we’ve developed countless psychiatric and medical tools to help combat the effects of addiction, in some cases lessen the power a drug has over a person and utilize therapeutic tools – from alternative medicine to talk therapy – to develop a patient’s mindfulness and get them through the early days of recovery.

A unique mix of factors surrounds each case of addiction: causes, circumstances, possibilities, and more. Reputable professionals evaluate these factors and develop a treatment plan concurrent to each case, without opting for a cookie-cutter approach. To combat addiction effectively, the medical and mental health community recognizes that specificity matters.

All roads lead to Rome – choosing the one right for you may take time, but if you don’t stop moving forward, you will get to your destination. In the case of addiction, that destination is the point at which you’ve become completely comfortable with your sobriety, and no longer fear relapse. It can take months, years, or decades – but each step of the way is worth the effort it took to make that step.

The Best Support Systems To Encourage Your Sobriety

Support Systems For Recovery | Transcend Texas

They say it takes a village to raise a child – but once we are adults, we do not magically go our own way and live our lives out alone. We all need mentors, friends, pupils, and partners as our support systems. Life is filled with relationships and people we care about, and not only do these interactions make our lives that much richer, but they can give us meaning and purpose.

When healing from addiction, it is important to realize how much addiction pulls a person’s needs and priorities into themselves. The need to be selfish kicks in as a natural consequence of how addiction rewires your brain – but as that fades away, our ability to exist for others and be dependable matters more than ever.

In come support systems. To understand why it’s important to be surrounded by the right people when fighting addiction, it’s important to understand what a support system is, and why addiction is not something fought on your own.


What Is A Support System?

A support system is a collection of people providing emotional or otherwise tangible support. Support systems sometimes exist for a specific purpose – to help an athlete stay at the top of his game – or exist in general to help you in life.

Support systems do not necessarily have to be formed – many people naturally surround themselves with supportive individuals and build their own support system with the help of their friends and family. A support system is defined not by unmitigated support or lack of healthy criticism, but by having a healthy relationship with those closest to you, one built on trust and reliance.


Your Support Systems In Sobriety

A support system is, if you care to define it that way, the complete network of everyone you interact with for emotional support during your journey through sobriety. But you can also consider yourself as being a part of several support systems. Most commonly, a person’s support system will be composed of:

Family: First and foremost, our family is central to recovery and sobriety. Some of us are on bad terms with our family due to misunderstandings or seemingly irreconcilable differences. Often enough, it’s due to addiction. It is up to you and your judgment as a sober person to decide whether making up with your family is worth it, and conducive to your emotional wellbeing and theirs. If yes, then family can be an incredible source of support.

Friends: For some, friends are their second family. For others, their friends are their family. Everyone needs friends, and luckily, we can choose them. One of the harder things to do in early recovery is cut out friendships that harm us and recognize toxic relationships where they can limit recovery or actively hinder it. By sticking only with the friends who truly matter to you – even if you end up with only one or two pals – you’re potentially saving yourself decades of grief and unnecessary drama, while gaining the benefits of having close friends to relate to, be open with, and share life with.

Sober Mentors: Sober mentors can be individuals you look up to as beacons of successful sobriety and personal mastership, or professionals with whom you have developed a personal bond as mentor and mentee. It is important to have people to look up to in recovery, both as an inspiration and as a guidance for when times are tough.

Sober Groups: Group therapy is about more than listening to other people’s experiences– it’s about making lasting connections with a few people, connections that can turn into friendships. It’s also about sharing your own struggles and triumphs, confirming the successes in your journey rather than dwelling on the mistakes, and helping others feel inspired or better able to take on their own difficulties with renewed confidence. This can be a tremendous source of emotional support as well.


Supplementing Your Support Systems

A support system can help you deal with the challenges of addiction and sobriety – but there’s more to a support system than the people you interact with. Actions, places, and hobbies can be part of your personal emotional support system. Each and every person needs to supplement their system according to their needs, passions, and interests.

Some find that the best way to help them cope with early recovery and find people to communicate with is through sports, or games, or art. Find a community that matches your personality and interests and turn to your hobbies when you feel stressed or bored.

Sobriety is not just about living life drug-free, but about having fun being alive. Find ways to support your sobriety by having fun and being yourself.


It Goes Both Ways

It’s best to think of support systems as a part of a larger organic social structure. It is not healthy to think of the individuals in a support system as functions to your recovery, or aids to your problems. Rather, they’re individuals. People, who love you or care for you, and are helping you from time to time. But it is never a one-sided relationship.

A support system exists as one definition of a collection of relationships from a certain point of view – your parents support you, but as their child, you provide them with a lot of emotional comfort as well. They care about other people, as well, and each lead their own lives, with their own thoughts, opinions, dreams, and experiences. Your friends are there for you when the going gets tough, but you’d do anything for them, too, respecting them and their time and not putting yourself over their own needs.

The people you met while going through treatment pitch in to help you stay sober, and tell tales of their struggles in addiction, their accomplishments, and regrets – just as you share your thoughts and experiences, helping others feel inspired, or gain much-needed insight into how addiction can unfold in other people’s lives. It’s never a one-to-one exchange, and it never has to be, but social support systems only function if everyone does their part in helping one another.

That’s a key difference between sobriety and addiction. In addiction, it’s about looking out for number one. But sobriety opens up the option of being part of a community.

Changing the Perception of Addiction as Failure

Perception of Addiction | Transcend Texas

Addiction is not a failure, yet many have the perception of addiction being failure. To many people, someone who is addicted is morally challenged, emotionally immature, and weak-willed. Addiction is a sign of weakness and failure to them, rather than a disease.

This shows a fundamental lack of understanding in the general population of what addiction is, how it occurs, what it feels like, and what it means to fight it.

Thankfully, addiction is not incredibly common. Only about 6% of the US adult population struggle with substance use. That is enough to make it a nationwide issue that affects most families, but not enough to make it something most people can intimately relate to. So, to truly and effectively fight addiction, at home and in the streets, we must understand it and change the perception of addiction.

The first step to that is dispelling any false notions, such as how addiction is formed, or what being addicted says about a person’s character.


Addiction Can Happen To Anyone

Addiction does not discriminate based on willpower, mental health, intelligence, or personality. Some people are more susceptible to addiction than others, but this depends on their emotional state and the drug itself as much as it depends on their genetic predisposition (family history), and more.

People with addiction cannot be described with a single stereotype – it is a disease that affects people from all backgrounds, all statuses, throughout all ages and races, and across both genders despite the perception of addiction commonly held by the public. Highly influential lawmakers and politicians, celebrities and business people, managers, and academics. From the poorest and least successful to the richest and most gifted, addiction rears its head and wreaks havoc.

Risk factors exist. However, so do protective factors. While eliminating risk factors can go a long way in preventing addiction in families, it is not a guarantee. However, identifying risk factors and protective factors can give very important context to some families who wonder why someone they know, and love is struggling with addiction. Risk factors include:

  • Emotional vulnerability and excessive stress.
  • A disharmonic/dysfunctional home environment.
  • Peer pressure/addicted peers.
  • Age & sex (teens and men are more likely to use drugs, while women are quicker to become addicted to them).
  • Risk-seeking behavior.
  • Mental illness & self-medication.
  • Drug use in the family/addiction history.
  • Lack of opportunity/widespread oppression.

However, protective factors play a role as well. These factors alleviate the risk of addiction in children and adults:

  • Supportive family members/parental involvement.
  • A satisfying job & manageable stress levels.
  • An interconnected community.
  • Upwards social mobility.
  • Better education on addiction.
  • Readily-available counseling and mental healthcare.

However, while these factors tie into why someone may or may not become addicted, they do not imply that addiction is a necessary result of the above risks, or that a protective environment will completely discourage drug use. Life is complicated, and we cannot control all its aspects. What we can do is understand why things might have happened through the right perception of addiction and help those in need find the road they need to better themselves.

Addiction does not begin out of nowhere, either. It is important to address the meaning of choice in addiction.


The Difference Between Choice And Addiction

The key point towards explaining what makes addiction so heinous and why its victims deserve compassion rather than judgment, is the concept of choice and motivation, and what the brain has to do with it all.

Science has addressed that addiction stems from a reaction in the brain’s reward pathways tied to the use of certain drugs. They change the way you think, coupling the motivational processes of the brain with drug-seeking habits. This creates a loop where, instead of thinking about your passions, your future, or even your relationships to others, you relentlessly crave the next high. Nothing makes you as happy as getting the next high does, and resisting that craving is unbelievably difficult.

Yes, addiction always begins with a choice. Multiple choices, in fact. You cannot trigger an addiction with one high – but you can activate the mechanism that leads to addiction, making you much more likely to use again after the first usage of an addictive drug. It is this perception of addiction that is often misunderstood, yet still dangerous.

Generally-speaking, people choose to use drugs before they become addicted – but that can always be considered a mistake, and no human goes through life without making them. Only unlike many other mistakes, the consequences for this mistake are life-changing, and can be often avoidable with proper treatment, support, and compassion.

Just because bad choices lead to addiction does not mean that recovery is as simple as “choosing to stop.” The conscious choice of getting better is an important part of the recovery process, but it is only the first step. This perception of addiction that simply “choosing” to get better is all it takes is what makes relapses so much more damning and painful than they should be.

Relapses, which occur when a sober individual loses their sobriety and goes back to using, are part of the recovery process. They can be wakeup calls, providing those in recovery with a much-needed reminder or lesson that can help them along the way. But if approached from the point of view of failure, they can end sobriety entirely and spell someone’s doom.

Addiction itself is the punishment for making “bad choices”, even when they were simply misguided attempts at escaping from some other pain, or to fit in. But once addiction begins, choice alone is not enough to do the trick. Treatment, on the other hand, can work wonders. If people choose to get help.


The Perception Of Addiction Starts At Home

Addiction is a widespread issue, touching people in all walks of life across the country. But individually, it is best if we put our focus on our families and communities, doing what we can to make things better and change the perception of addiction. If you have a family member in rehab, or in recovery in general, then be sure to communicate with treatment centers to determine how best to help them.

If you have been sober for a while, you might find it helpful to help others and support them on their journey out of addiction. By encouraging people to get help, and proving the efficacy of modern addiction treatment methods, everybody can do a little bit to help fight the issue.

Sex Addiction: Addiction Isn’t Limited to Just Drugs

Sex Addiction | Transcend Texas

Addiction comes in many shapes and forms. For some people, it’s drugs. For others, it’s gambling. Some people even consider obsessive behavior, like the obsession with falling in and out of love, to be a kind of addiction. Sometimes addiction also comes in the form of some of the things we all love – sex and food, for example. For some, it’s hard to imagine the line between loving sex and food and being addicted to it – but if you have ever seen someone struggling with the issue of food or sex addiction, you’ll know that there is absolutely no mistaking it.

To understand what sex addiction is, and how it is every bit as real as any other behavioral or substance addiction, we have to go back to the roots and examine addiction itself.


How Addiction Works

Addiction works similarly across the board, with differences here and there in terms of circumstances, triggers, and reasons. For example: while there is a myriad of risk factors that contribute to why someone might get addicted, their actual reasons may only include peer pressure, and genetics.

Drugs are commonly more addictive than habits because they’re designed to be addictive. Their effects on the brain create a powerful craving and make you more susceptible to addiction than anything else through the unnatural and high release of dopamine.

But behavior can be just as addictive under the right circumstances, given the right emotional and psychological condition, and the right genetic makeup. Gambling, video games, sex, food, thrills – there are a million enjoyable things in life, all of which give you a “natural high”, which can potentially become addictive under the right circumstances.

Addiction is affected by the addictiveness of the drug or activity (some habits, like food, are naturally enjoyable, while others like gambling and certain video games are purposefully designed to create addiction and “customer retention”), the genetic makeup of a person (people with family histories of addiction are more prone to it), their mental state (self-medicating after a trauma or during a depression is a gateway to a larger problem), environmental factors (high-stress work environment, getting fired, an abusive household), and peer pressure.

The mechanism for addiction takes place in the pleasure centers of the brain: pathways of nerves that activate and respond to behavior by rewarding or punishing you, in order to make you learn or adapt to certain situations. For example: your brain rewards you for high-calorie foods but punishes you with pain for doing something risky. Your natural instinct will make you crave the food and be reluctant about repeating the risky activity.

With addiction, that part of the brain is overstimulated by a massive release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that triggers joy, as well as a series of other reactions in the brain triggering the characteristics of the high. Alcohol and sedatives like barbiturates/benzodiazepine affect the GABA neurotransmitter, making you sluggish, sleepy, and lowering your inhibition. On the other hand, opioids slow your breathing and kill off pain.

For some people, activities can produce a similarly powerful effect, as well as a subsequent craving, and with time, an addiction.


What is Behavioral Addiction

Behavioral addictions do not involve the use of substances and revolve around an unnatural obsession with a specific activity, to the point that it becomes ruinous for you. An addiction is most reliably characterized by how much of your life it touches and threatens, and how far you’re willing to go to hide it, and deny its existence, while being unable or seemingly unwilling to give it up.

The final straw is when you do try to stop and find out that you can’t.

This happens often enough with activities like casino gambling and video gaming, but it can also occur with natural behavior, like sexual intercourse.

These addictions are not easier to break than substance abuse just because they lack a chemical component that ties them to the pleasure center of the brain. In some cases, people are simply extremely susceptible to an abnormal release of dopamine to certain activities, or their addiction might be driven by an outside factor, such as a comorbidity with depression, or a hormone imbalance causing hypersexuality and sex addiction.

A behavioral addiction can only reliably be diagnosed by a professional, like any other disease or condition, but it is safe to say that if your hobby or habit has grown from being a constructive part of your life to becoming a major source of stress and obsession, then you’re on the verge of a big problem. If you or your loved ones are exhibiting an inability to stop their destructive behavior, even after multiple warnings and consequences, professional help may be warranted.


What a Sex Addiction Looks Like

Sex addiction can be exceptionally brutal, because of how quickly it destroys relationships and ruins relations with people in general. Sex addicts will be heavily tempted to sacrifice everything they’ve worked for to get off, including cheating on multiple partners, jeopardizing important business with inappropriate behavior and sexual conduct, and engaging in incredibly risky sex despite the potential consequences.

Sex addiction and hypersexuality are two different things. There is nothing wrong with having a specific kink or sharing in a healthy sexual relationship. Two people with matching libidos who agree to an open relationship may be highly sexually active, but as long as they can operate within boundaries set by both parties and respect the concepts of consent and limitations, they are in control of their desires and ultimately have the ability to draw the line when they feel that their behavior is having severe consequences on the relationships they care about.

Someone suffering from sex addiction is unable to control their behavior, or their urges. Their libido is no longer high, it is driven by an obsession with getting off at all costs, no matter what the consequences might be. And, unlike many who feel the ability to be confident in their sexual choices, no matter how unorthodox, sex addicts often feel shame because of an inability to control how they feel or what they want.


Addiction Treatment for Behavioral Addiction

Addictive behavior is not inherently bad. Gambling can cause addiction, which is why it is regulated – but it isn’t illegal, and for a good reason. Video games can be addictive, but they have their share of benefits, and can be excellent devices of stress relief. And sex is arguably an important part of a successful relationship, and a natural thing to desire, to the point where a low libido can be a problem for many.

But sex addiction is more than desire – it’s an unmitigated problem. Thankfully, addiction treatment works for behavioral addictions as well, giving people the tools they need to tackle their obsessions and overcome them.


Addressing Trauma And Addiction Together

Trauma And Addiction | Transcend Texas

Trauma and Addiction are unfortunately common and linked at the hip. We live in a violent world, one where a majority of the population has at one point or another experienced personal grief and loss at the hands of domestic violence, child abuse, war, rape, accidents or natural disasters. Most people experience these things and go on with their lives, that memory living on with them forever. They are traumatized, but the trauma fades within months.

Some people, however, get stuck on the moment. They subsequently suffer a developmental lag wherein their brain and mind have trouble moving on from the experience, because of the sheer amount of pain associated with it.

A trauma is when the emotional and/or physical pain of an experience is so great that your brain has trouble processing it, and is stuck on the moment, incapable of completely digesting it. Instead of “skipping” over it so to speak, it embeds itself so deeply within you that it becomes a far more significant contributing factor to your instincts and thought processes than any other memory.

One way to look at it is as a sort of permanent activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Trauma victims have a heightened sense of danger and, at times, experience paranoia. Their mind refers back to the pain of that memory, and it causes them to perceive threats where there are none. Sometimes, trauma goes away on its own. Usually, it has to be treated. The treatment isn’t simple, and requires regular counseling. However, things get even more complicated when addiction enters the picture. And sadly, it enters the picture quite often.


The Long-Term Relationship Between Pain, Trauma And Addiction

Pain in general has a long history with addiction. Chronic pain, isolation, anxiety, depression, trauma and addiction are all linked.

It’s a simple relationship – we experience pain, we want the pain to end. Drugs provide short-term relief, and are most dangerous in moments of emotional vulnerability, when we’d like anything that could dull the moment. Opioids are designed analgesics, and easily relieve most forms of pain, both physical and emotional. Alcohol helps drown out the pain, and the emptiness, and the sadness. Amphetamines drive us up the wall, making us feel invulnerable, taking away the fear and inhibition. In one way or another, drugs provide immediate and powerful stress-relief.

But it comes at a high price. And only lasts a short amount of time. Some people learn to manage their dependence – countless people suffer from chronic pain and take only the bare minimum of their medication. Others abuse it. For those struggling with both trauma and addiction, the power of self-medication is all too real.


How PTSD Trauma And Addiction Can Be Treated

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress, develops when a victim of a traumatic incident leads to continuous feelings and symptoms of trauma long after the events of the incident themselves. Victims of child abuse commonly suffer PTSD, and it’s most common in terrible cases of captivity. For victims of sexual violence, for example, the rate of PTSD is between 30 and 50 percent. Among soldiers, the rate is about 11 percent as of Afghanistan, and 20 percent for the Iraqi war.

The difficulty with diagnosing and treating PTSD is that cases differ wildly. Some people experience minor symptoms of trauma, while others suffer from regular full-blown flashbacks.

However, PTSD trauma and addiction can be treated together. In particular by advocating safety. Safety in the form of social boundaries, anger management, exposure therapy, easing into triggers, and having regular one-on-one or group encounters with drug addiction counselors.


Cannot Treat One Without Treating The Other

Drug addiction and mental health issues are commonly correlated because one has an intrinsic relationship with the other. Regardless of how that relationship began or in which direction it goes, treating one requires the other to be treated. It’s not quite as simple as identifying a root cause in medicine and eliminating it to be rid of the symptoms. While addiction can be a symptom, it doesn’t go away quite like a rash does. Instead, you have to seek out a treatment option that aims squarely at every problem you have, rather than addressing them individually.

The goal here is to find treatment that works “together”, beating both trauma and addiction. And this goes for every single other comorbidity. Even an addiction treatment plan related to chronic pain has to consider both conditions – chronic pain fuels addiction, yet if you only work on providing a medication plan to treat the pain, you may fuel a new addiction. It’s important to provide therapy and non-addictive alternatives to help someone cope with their addiction, and learn how to stay away from potential triggers while reducing their overall pain and living with what remains.

One way of looking at it is to stop seeing certain mental issues as entirely separate from one another, and instead looking at each and every single case as an interconnected web of perfectly matching illnesses and problems, woven into each other and feeding off of each other in a twisted symbiosis. Instead of telling patients to tackle each challenge individually, devise a way to deal with all issues.

From the patient’s point of view, this means understanding that every diagnosed issue you have – from your trauma and addiction to your anxiety and depressive thoughts – is part of a system.

A sober living program can help you cope with that system. Aside from providing an environment where countless individuals with wildly different backgrounds can come together to find out how they each struggled with and overcame addiction; sober living homes often also include mandatory counseling and therapy sessions to help each person get the care and evaluation they need to progress in their own recovery journey.

Sober living homes also emphasize a group environment, one where sharing becomes an integral part of the recovery process. In time, vulnerable individuals can open themselves up to others as their confidence increases, and feel empowered by their ability to help and inspire others with the progress they’ve made not only in recovery, but with other issues as well.


The Four Things You Need For A Successful Recovery From Addiction

Successful Recovery From Addiction Begins Here | Westside Treatment

There are many reasons addictions are hard to break. For one, an addiction is a relationship between your brain – the very hardware of the mind – and a substance. The smell, the taste, and any other associated memory of that substance can trigger feelings of euphoria, of intense want and, in some cases, need. A small fraction of people is genetically inclined towards physical dependence to such drugs. They develop a fast relationship to the high and require medical assistance for a successful recovery from addiction.

Drugs – particularly those synthesized from nature and turned into concentrated stimulants and depressants – are incredibly hard to resist because they’re designed to create a powerful high and leave you with a deep longing.

Yet beyond the physical, there’s also the mental aspect of drug use. While drugs are incredibly dangerous due to nature of the black market and due to the relative ease with which someone can overdose, addiction is a smaller risk for drug users than most people realize. Only about a tenth of people who try a drug become long-term “problem users”, or addicted, as defined by the UN. Others give it a go, have their fun, and quit the habit without it ever becoming an issue.

Drugs are dangerous, and they’re deadly in the long-term. Most drug users eventually realize this. Yet it’s those who fall into the cycle of addiction who can’t simply “give up” the habit, and the reason is two-fold. But most people who go in and out of rehab seek drugs as a form of medication – as part of a deeper issue, a greater problem. In other words, ending with a successful recovery from addiction isn’t the hard part.

The hard part of recovery is figuring out why you were so drawn to drugs in the first place, and figuring out what the best way is to enrich your own life and cut out the need for that artificial high. Here are four things that are absolutely necessary for recovery – because without them, you’re less likely to be able to address the issues feeding the addiction.


1. Mended and New Relationships

Relationships are the bread and butter of being human. From our very first few days in this world, we rely on our relationships to other human beings for our safety, survival and sanity. We need parents, to connect with and call our own. While Freud’s concept of the three-person relationship between mother, father and child is somewhat outdated, it’s self-evident in modern-day psychology that parents are vital for the mind of an infant.

In time, socializing with other children is important as a way to keep developing and figuring out, slowly, what it means to be a person in society. We learn about roles, differences in gender and individuals alike, and we develop biases and opinions. We mold a self-image based on how others perceive us, and in turn, how that makes us feel about ourselves.

Fast forward in life, and past puberty the distinctions between people become clearer and more drastic. Preferences in social interaction become apparent and cement themselves – some people lean more towards introverted traits, others prefer to be more extroverted. Yet even the most introverted of individuals shares contact with a close few confidants, people whom they trust the most, through whom they can get the interactions they need in life in order to feel secure.

This concept plays an integral role in successful recovery from addiction. Without others, we grow insecure, restless, and worst of all: lonely. When addiction causes us to lose the people we love and care about, it only pushes us further down the depressive hole that drug abuse creates. For many, experiences like that feed notions of self-deprecation.

No matter how much some people insist that man is an island, the truth is that we’re but one small island in a global archipelago. Regardless of how many other islands you’d prefer to socialize with, having people that matter to us in our life is important for successful recovery from addiction. Create a support network of friends and loved ones, whether through meeting new people or by mending broken relationships. This is one of the reasons a sober living community is a good option for recovery; It gives a place for like minded individuals to support each other and build lasting friendships throughout the recovery process.


2. Mindfulness in Life

Mindfulness is the simple yet difficult act of purposefully focusing on something. Its usefulness in addiction – and life in general – is highlighted by the fact that it allows us to reign in our thoughts and perceptions of life. Controlling how you feel about things can help you cope with emotional devastation by helping you take on a different perspective, one that helps you move on and feel strong enough to keep on living.

Mindfulness also helps you keep bad habits in check by introducing newer ones, crafted and kept fresh in your life through constant discipline.

Most importantly, however, mindfulness lets you keep depression and anxiety in check. It lets you contradict your more negative thoughts and fight against that inner urge to overthink and overcomplicate. Mindfulness allows you to realize that some things are a lot easier and simpler than you may have first given them credit for – it helps you rationalize away unnecessary fears that can impede a successful recovery from addiction and embrace chance as something good, rather than something to fear.


3. Management for Stress

Stress is unavoidable in life. From career troubles to family issues and more, there are countless reasons to be worried about something. But we can’t let that stress drive us to despair, or paralyze us in life. Managing stress – creating an outlet for it, and learning how to function and live despite the many blows life deals – is integral to successful recovery from addiction. If you can’t deal with stress, then the potential for a relapse grows exponentially in the face of any challenge.

Don’t fear stress. Stress isn’t just a potential for problems – it’s a potential for growth. But overcoming stress is impossible if you’re buried in it – finding ways to let loose and recover every now and again from life’s challenges lets you keep your levels manageable.


4. Finding Meaning For A Successful Recovery From Addiction

We all need purpose – something to do, something to strive for, something to achieve. Some of us find our lifelong purpose early on and stick with it. Others haven’t found a singular purpose, but follow goal after goal, looking for meaning in life through accomplishments and achievements. Others yet spend their entire time looking for the meaning of their life, and get so caught up on the search that they never really have the chance to create any meaning for themselves.

Whichever way you prefer to phrase what keeps you going – whether it’s family, or love, or ambition – you need something to hold onto in your mind when things get dire, even if you can’t commit to it as the purpose of your life.

With these four things – stress management, mindfulness, connection and purpose – your journey to successful recovery from addiction will become more than just about staying clean. It’ll be a journey about finding contentment, and happy living.

Why (Good & Bad) Habits Matter

Why (Good & Bad) Habits Matter | Transcend Texas

The question of why people get addicted in general has been explored quite often – but the mechanism behind addiction is important as well. The risk factors aside, there is a distinct reason why addiction develops the way it does, and it’s important for us to explore how the brain gets hooked on drugs – or more clearly, the behavior surrounding drug use and the descent into withdrawal and dependence.

The reasoning here is very simple. By understanding the mechanism of addiction, individuals who struggle with it have a better chance at gaining the upper hand needed to overcome their addiction and maintain healthy, long-term sobriety. This is because when an addiction occurs, it becomes an extension of that person – it becomes a part of them. Understanding the way an addiction developed helps patients understand themselves, and helps give them a sense of direction when it comes to seeking help and pursuing treatment for their problems.

It’s like identifying an eating disorder through all the signs that point towards it as part of a case of morbid obesity, and then further identifying the root of the eating disorder as childhood trauma. Treating that, is the key to eventually resolving and unraveling the rest of a person’s struggles, and reaching the point where they know what’s wrong, can identify what troubles them the most, and can take the steps in life to cope with excess stresses and the extraordinary challenges that they face in day-to-day living.

Is Addiction a Habit or a Choice?

The best analogy to understanding addiction is that of a rat in a lab test. If you feed a rat a pellet of sugar in response to a specific action, then it’s very likely going to continue to do that action to receive its reward and subsequently associate the work with sugar.

Yet if you turn it around and make the association negative too early, the rat will stop pulling the lever, even if the decision to stop isn’t immediate. This is true for most animals, including humans: while our brain is wired to like sugar because it’s indicative of a high-calorie food source (and thus high energy), we’re not wired to jump off a cliff to chase after an apple.

Imagine if the rat were to continue to pull the lever to get its fix despite the negative consequences of continuously ingesting sugar – symptoms of withdrawal, or rejection among peers. This isn’t a sign of addiction. It’s a habit.

Habits develop differently from goal-oriented thinking. Goal oriented thinking is pulling the lever with the expectation of sugar – you’re doing it for the sugar, because you need it. A habit is pulling the lever because that’s what you’ve been doing for weeks and months now, and it’s just become this thing you do, even though the effects are adverse rather than encouraging.

Reversing Bad Habits

Let’s put the rat aside, because its relevance ends here, and let’s move on to human habits. We do things that aren’t in our best interest because there was a time when they were associated with our best interests and they’ve developed into things we simply just do now. Imagine waking up every day at the exact same time to follow the exact same strenuous morning routine molded around your work day. That doesn’t just disappear the minute you retire.

Habits take a while to break, and addiction is one such habit. We associate the pleasure of a high with the substance in question, and even when it proceeds to destroy our lives piece by piece, our brains have been wired a certain way to accept that this certain habit is useful. Rewiring the brain to understand that it’s the opposite of helpful is possible, but takes time and practice. Specifically, you need to initiate a new kind of behavior to replace addiction, and then practice that behavior diligently to eliminate addiction.

This is the key to brain plasticity, and in a way, part of why humans have the capacity to learn languages and develop technology. We can learn and relearn, think and rethink, and we can think critically, apply concepts across different disciplines of thought, and come up with innovations in design and application of knowledge. Even when we develop a deeply-ingrained habit, we can break that habit by out-practicing it regularly enough. This same brain plasticity lets us adopt new patterns and quickly adapt to environments where unusual behavior is necessary for survival.

This is different from choice, but it’s also different from treating addiction as an uncontrollable disease. While it shares some characteristics of a chronic disease, it’s healthier to see addiction as a protocol of actions the brain has encoded into your behavior, and that this malicious protocol, while resistant, can be deleted through your own efforts and hard work.

It’s Not Just About Habit

However, not every case is as simple as taking a drug for the hell of it and then having trouble getting off it due to the habitual behavior it has become. While recovery in and of itself is necessary even for these cases, many who struggle with addiction first turned to it not to break a taboo or because of social circumstances, but to eliminate a certain negative emotion or feeling. Mood disorders, feelings of anxiety and a history of trauma or other mental conditions are common in those who struggle with addiction because addiction is an excellent coping mechanism when the only goal is to forget and stop feeling a specific way.

Overcoming the habit of addiction in cases like this requires having an alternative way to cope with these issues. You can’t endeavor to destroy and give up your addiction if you don’t have any other means of dealing with depressive thoughts and panic attacks. In cases like this, the priority lies in tackling the mental condition first before figuring out how best to take on the addiction it caused through self-medication.

Habit vs. Habitual

For the sake of clarity, it’s not entirely accurate to consider addiction to be nothing more than a habit. It’s a much stronger association – we may develop habits like typing on a QWERTY keyboard instead of AZERTY or any other combination of keys, but changing those habits is simpler than challenging an addiction. However, addiction is habitual, rather than being an on or off switch in your brain that determines whether you’re trapped in an endless cycle of relapses.

You can do something about your addiction, but it requires understanding the details of your specific case. Why are you addicted? How did you become attracted to the feeling of a high? What can you do in life to feel happy and fulfilled without the longing for another hit, another cigarette, another drink? Understand your relationship to your drug or drugs of choice, and you’ll have a clearer understanding of what you need to do.

Yoga-ing & Recovering

Yoga-ing & Recovering | Transcend Texas

Addiction recovery is a complicated road, made ever more twisted and convoluted by the many paths it can be composed of. Two people struggling with sobriety from the same drug addiction could go through entirely different programs and come out the other end fulfilled and determined to stay clean. Yet there are many who feel skeptical about alternative approaches to addiction recovery, particularly in the fields of mindfulness, meditation and yoga.

However, a little research and a lot of examples go to show that the physical and mental aspects of a yogic lifestyle – or even just the casual adoption of yoga as a regular exercise program – influence those struggling with sobriety, and people in general.

Scientifically, that influence has been under scrutiny, particularly as researchers consider the validity of fitness and mindfulness therapy – therapeutic exercises that challenge patients to focus on something, and forego distraction. The proposed benefit of such a therapy is increased self-control, improved self-esteem and a lower likelihood of episodes of depression and anxiety.

In its simplest context, mindfulness is the ability to better focus on what you feel is most important. So how does that translate into recovery from addiction?

Mindfulness & Addiction

Addiction is a disease of the brain, yet exactly what that means matters. Some scientists argue that there is evidence of addiction being a neurological affliction – it changes the way the brain works and looks, affects your state of mind, and becomes a chronic illness highlighted by a high relapse rate and the challenges of staying sober, even after detox and rehab.

Others assert that addiction is a learning and development disorder, because it’s mostly (but not entirely) rampant among youth, and is otherwise tied to mental disorders such as depression and anxiety.

Either way, addiction is a condition wherein a person is compelled to use drugs to cope with something, from a certain type of behavior to a feeling of shame, or a past trauma. Even among those who developed addiction due to unfortunate genetic circumstances or to fit into a social circle, long-term addiction will have a largely negative impact on your life, and can send you down a spiral of self-loathing and depression.

Even at the root of every cause of addiction, there lies a dysfunction. No one turns to an addictive substance without having a compelling reason to, not with the existing common education on the danger of drugs. Kids today don’t turn to drugs because they love the health benefits, but because there’s a need for them, perhaps as a social lubricant, as a ticket to a feeling of belonging, to bolster their self-esteem and reduce their anxious inhibitions.

Adults do the same thing, covering up what they don’t like about themselves and their lives with a drug. People in fields of immense success are under pressure day and night. In every life, we all carry around a little bit of unhappiness, and some of us carry around much more than others.

When it comes to addiction, rehab is typically the first step out of this hole. Residential treatment facilities offer detoxification and tips for early recovery to teach someone how to cope with what they’re going through. After the initial shock of detox and the passing of withdrawal symptoms, people dealing with addiction will often feel a wave of fear, depression, anxiety or pessimism overcoming them. All issues that might have been brought up over their time as addicts were previously suppressed, and sobriety forces them all out.

When such issues see the light of day and the initial coping mechanism is forbidden, people can turn bitter and angry. They begin to regret, to feel guilty. Overcoming those emotions – realizing that it’s okay not to have something, or to let go, or to make amends and move on – is key to long-term sobriety. These emotions can’t be drowned out by partying, drugs, friends or spirituality – they’ll always return in full force, ready to knock you off your feet. And so, they must be resolved.

Yoga for Recovery

That is where mindfulness & yoga come into play. It’s relatively easy to lose yourself in a maelstrom of negativity when dealing with the emotional consequences of an addiction. Mindfulness exercises teach you to focus on a simple, inconsequential concept or point of reference to avoid overthinking, worrying, and panic. Mindfulness is expressed by making a conscious choice to reject a negative thought, and instead focus on the positive possibility. It’s useless to make a fuss over things that haven’t happened yet – such as fearing that your family will reject you despite your recovery because of what you’ve said and done in the past – instead, mindfulness allows you to calm your mind and take away the power that pessimistic thought and depressive thinking holds over you.

This concept – the ability to control how you think, to deny a line of thinking and instead convince yourself to turn it all around – is directly related to the usefulness and meaning of yoga as a tool for addiction recovery.

Understanding Yoga

Yoga as a school of thought is ancient, and its teachings refer to eight limbs – concepts that describe what yoga is meant to do. Each of the eight limbs gives you an overall idea of what you should aim for in a meditative session, and they help you understand why yoga is an excellent choice to calm the mind and introduce better focus and stability in recovery:

  • Yama: the essential moral values of yoga, including non-violence, honesty and non-avarice, or the absence of senseless greed.
  • Niyama: the goals of the mind, or certain virtues that should be strived for, such as contentment, a clear mind, contemplation of spirituality, self-reflection and persistence in life.
  • Asana: the actual movement of yoga, described as a series of poses and posture meant to be “steady” and “pleasant”, eliminating the shaking of the body through focus.
  • Pranayama: the focus of breath, both continuous and in a series of suspended inhalation and complete inhalation.
  • Pratyahara: the process of slowly cutting out the outside world to focus entirely on the yoga itself, and your thoughts.
  • Dharana: this is the point in practice where you concentrate on a single concept, subject, or thought in your mind, returning to it when you drift, and remaining in focus.
  • Dhyana: once you have a point of focus, Dhyana is meant to be the contemplation of that focus – thinking about a subject or concept and exploring every imaginable perspective, point-of-view, description and personal conclusion.
  • Samadhi: this is the last step, a point in your practice wherein every aspect of yoga flows together to leave you completely entranced and focused only on whatever it is you decided to commit yourself to in that session.

More than a form of exercise, yoga is an expression of mindfulness – and one that can steel your mind and help you develop immense focus and self-contentment. There is a bit of spirituality in there – contemplating the self may also mean contemplating the universe, and practicing a bit of personal philosophy and soul-searching – yet there is no need to believe in a higher power to practice yoga.

All you need is a posture or position that might challenge you, and the time to make that position comfortable, while focusing entirely on a single, relevant thought. Returning to this thought repeatedly, or coming up with new points of focus, allows you to quickly quiet your mind and think of something more constructive when negativity and depression strikes, and the urge to use grows.