How to Best Support Someone in Recovery

How To Best Support Someone In Recovery

Supporting a loved one or friend going through drug recovery can be a heavy burden, but it can also be an incredibly rewarding experience. We all want to save those we love, but the knowledge that some of what we do might be in vain can be just as crushing as thinking we contributed to a loved one’s downfall. With that in mind, it’s also important to recognize the responsibility we have to those we care about to do our best in endeavoring to help them. But for support to be effective, we must draw a distinction between help and ‘help’.

The best support a person can offer someone in recovery is the kind that helps them rise to the occasion and become a better person. Support that involves taking away harm and hardship from those we love can help, but given certain context, may not always be best.

Perhaps you shouldn’t shield them from the consequences of their actions, but neither should you place pitfalls in their path. You don’t have to let them struggle to pay the bills for their recovery, but they should contribute somehow, especially given the therapeutic importance of maintaining employment during the recovery process. You can help in every way you choose to but need to create boundaries and list consequences should your trust be betrayed. Addiction is an illness, and your friend may be sick, but it’s often with good intentions that we enable the very behavior we’re trying to eliminate.

The best path forward is one wherein you help your loved one grow stronger, without enabling their bad habits. Walking that fine line between warding off unnecessary pain and watching someone work through the challenges they face as a result of their actions can be difficult, but important. But where does one start?


Talk to Them About Helping

The first step is arguably the simplest, and just involves talking. Ask your loved one what they might need. It’s not easy to ask for help, and some might feel that it’s a sign of weakness. It’s different to accept help from a friend, however, when they offer it. If you’ve wondered why your friend or loved one has never said a word saying that they needed someone around, consider that perhaps they’re ashamed or worried, or even scared of the repercussions. Addiction is not an easy beast to beat, and one of the ways in which it makes itself felt is through recurring negative thoughts and feelings of guilt and shame.

A good way to subvert that problem is to make the first move. Just talk to your loved one and make it clear to them that you’re available and ready to help. Be careful about saying ‘need’ or ‘want’. It’s best to leave out any allusion to only being available should your friend really ‘need’ you, as they’ll do their best to avoid asking you for help in that case. The same goes for ‘wanting’ your help, as they may worry about inconveniencing you, or falsely believe that a recovery journey is something they must do alone. Instead, just make it clear that you’re there to help in any capacity you can, without a ‘need’ or ‘want’ from your friend.


Keep in Touch

When you say you’re available, you have to mean it. Be available, even if only in some small capacity during certain times throughout the day. If you have a job that requires you to be completely focused and off any communication devices, then be sure to mention that to your friend. If you made a promise to be available around the clock (which isn’t recommended), follow through on that promise.

The best way to help your friend and still live your own life is to not help out alone. It’s best to get together with a group of other friends or relatives and work out a response plan, so when your recovering friend gets in touch with someone who is unavailable, they can try to contact the next person for help instead.

A person in recovery sometimes needs an emergency button to press. It’s important to have someone to talk to when the weight of it all becomes unbearable, or when the cravings feel overwhelming. Simply being around for a conversation over the phone or a few text messages and a quick call can make a difference.


Read About Addiction and Recovery

Addiction and addiction treatment are complex topics, and your help would be much more effective if you’ve done your homework. While basic topics and a general breadth of knowledge regarding mental health and addiction can be a great start, it makes a tremendous difference to know what your friend is struggling with specifically and learning more about them and their issues. If your loved one has a dual diagnosis of both addiction and depression, for example, understanding how these two illnesses co-exist and affect one another is important.

There are countless resources out there to help you better understand various topics of mental health, as well as resources aimed specifically at preparing relatives and friends of recovering addicts for the potential challenges and issues that may lie ahead.


Encourage Seeking Therapy and Other Options

Knowing a friend is going (or has gone) through rehab isn’t enough to ensure that you’re doing the most you can for their recovery. Recovery doesn’t end after the residential treatment program has ended, but often rather begins once all programs are through and sober living truly begins.

Encouraging a loved one to seek out post-program recovery options is important in order to keep them away from a potential relapse. A therapist can be crucial in this, guiding a patient to other recovery resources (from groups and events to books and seminars), and helping them process the emotional turmoil of early recovery.

In the same way, it makes a tremendous difference to encourage your friend to engage in healthier and more responsible habits – together. Avoid old hangouts and bars when heading out to have fun. Eat healthier and exercise together, either at the gym or through other sports and activities.


Take Care of Your Own Needs

It’s important not to forget that if you make the mistake of sacrificing your wellbeing to help your friend, you’ll only be placing more guilt and pain on their shoulders. This isn’t a game of equivalent exchange – you don’t have to give your life up to help your friend get theirs back. Take care of your own needs and happiness, manage your stress levels, and share the responsibility of helping a recovering addict with other friends and relatives you know.

You and your loved one can both lead happy and fulfilling lives, provided you both learn to manage your own mental and physical wellbeing over time.

The Link Between Addiction and Depression

Addiction and Depression Intertwined

Addiction and depression are, unfortunately, commonly intertwined. One may often lead to the other, and while the relationship between the two may seem straightforward at first, there are several unexpected and interlinking factors. To understand why the two are common, it’s important to understand what depression is, what addiction is, and how one relates to the other.


What Is a Depression?

Depression is characterized by a period of a consistently low mood and melancholy. If a person is sad or down every day for at least two weeks, they may be diagnosed with a depressive issue. This does not make someone ‘crazy’, and it does not necessarily mean their depression is caused by hereditary problems or neurobiology.

A long depressive period following the loss of a loved one is known as complex or complicated grief, and is an issue tackled separately from depression. Depression usually comes out of nowhere, and periods or episodes of sadness often do not have to be ‘triggered’ to occur.

Ethnic minorities, adults between the ages of 45 and 64, women, members of the LGBTQ community and people who are chronically unemployed and/or unable to afford medical insurance are more likely to be depressed, and share some of the highest risk of depression, according to current data. The truth is that only a fraction of people who are diagnosed with a depression go on to get the help they need, and among them only a percentage ever finish a treatment course – and there are many more who may be struggling with a depressive episode or a set of depressive symptoms without ever speaking out about these issues. As such, depression is likely more common than a lot of data may suggest.


What Is an Addiction?

While an addiction can colloquially mean several different things, the American Psychiatric Association refers to addiction as a complex brain disease characterized by compulsive drug use despite certain harmful consequences. While using drugs is not a form of addiction, using them excessively without the ability to stop, and continuing to use them even after you’ve tried to stop, is addiction.

An addiction may be physical, in the sense that the person is unable to stop due to the onset of strong cravings and physical symptoms of withdrawal, but it can also manifest emotionally, in the sense that the primary reason drug use is continued is because the person is relying on drugs as a way to cope with external and internal stressors, including abuse, feelings of anxiety, poverty, and more.


One Then the Other

There are different reasons why an addict may find themselves struggling with depression, and different reasons why someone with depression may turn to drugs. Drug use, especially drugs that are easier to access and generally cheaper than others such as alcohol, are a highly effective way to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety in the short term because these drugs offer a powerful jolt of positive emotions and chemically-induced happiness.

However, they also cause a crash afterwards, and generally lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression, further fueling a destructive and vicious cycle of drug use as a way to stave off unapproachable pain and negativity.

On the other hand, drug use can also heavily contribute to the development of a depression to begin with. While there are more drug users with mental health issues than in the general public, only a portion of these turned to drugs as a way to cope with existing issues. Others developed mental health problems due to their drug use. While drugs like heroin and methamphetamine release a powerful high, they also desensitize you to many other forms of joy. Methamphetamine in particular can potentially damage the serotonergic pathways and can cause anhedonia, or the inability to feel pleasure. This can lead to the development of depression and other issues as well.

In many cases, a depression is more likely to fuel relapses because it becomes harder to maintain sobriety and continue working on your recovery while still depressed. This is why it becomes critical to approach both depression and addiction simultaneously – treatment has to consider both together and the ways they interact.


Treatment Must Be Holistic

A holistic treatment is one that examines the whole, rather than the parts. Addiction treatment should, ideally, consider each individual’s unique challenges and circumstances. Someone from a specific background with a challenging upbringing and a history of traumatic experiences is going to require a different approach in treatment than someone who found themselves living a more sheltered life, as a general example.

To be more specific, certain conditions and disorders can heavily complicate the treatment process, requiring an approach that sees a person as more than a collection of symptoms.

To treat depression and anxiety, both have to be addressed concurrently. A psychiatric professional with experience in addiction medicine can help someone with a dual diagnosis through a better understanding of how two diagnoses can play into each other, and the common complications that arise when trying to treat addiction with depression. For example, it’s harder to prevent relapses and help someone remain consistently sober when the additional pressure of depression weighs down on the already challenging aspects of recovery. Therapy must be guided to consider all symptoms, and medication – such as antidepressants – may come into strong consideration.

Patience is key, as is preparing a patient’s expectations. Addiction recovery can be frustrating, and an additional diagnosis does not make things any easier. Rather than place great importance on perfect behavior, it’s more important to accept that mishaps and speed bumps are a part of the recovery journey. The person undergoing treatment and their friends and family must understand the possible challenges that may lay ahead, depending on the circumstances at hand.

Treating a dual diagnosis is tough, but by no means impossible. People have been known to overcome addiction and depression – but there is no one set treatment. Some people recover and improve faster than others, and it’s important to seek support to help maintain a hopeful outlook. No matter how dark things may get, having friends and family around can save your life.

How Anxiety Intertwines with Recovery

Anxiety and Addiction

Addiction and mental illness often coexist for various reasons. Sometimes, the symptoms of undiagnosed mental illness can push someone to the point where they seek out ways of feeling better, until they reach addiction. Sometimes, the circumstances surrounding the addiction paved the way for symptoms to develop that ultimately led to a diagnosis.

Either way, people who suffer from alcohol use disorder or a form of drug abuse are likely to have a mental illness as well – a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse discovered that people who are diagnosed with what is considered a ‘severe mental illness’ were 4 times more likely to be a heavy drinker (daily consumption beyond the recommended maximum of three drinks), 4.6 times more likely to consume other drugs at least ten times in their lifetime, and at least 5.1 times more likely to be daily smokers than the rest of the population.

Among the many mental disorders this study identified, mood and anxiety disorders were the most common. There is a link between addiction and anxiety, potentially due to similar issues with neurotransmission, or due to similar risk factors. To identify the link and understand why anxiety continues to play a major role in addiction recovery, it’s important to examine the relationship between anxiety and addiction.


Nothing but Fear Itself

Fear is normal, and a part of our natural response to certain stimuli. Fear is not cowardice or a matter of morality, it’s an instinct. How we choose to act on our fears is usually within our power – those who overcome their fears or act against them for some greater good are lauded and called brave.

But there are times when fear is too pervasive and insipid to simply overcome through willpower alone. In other cases, it doesn’t have to be especially powerful, but begins to wear someone down through its constancy.

Anxieties manifest as phobias and as other anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each of these issues is drive by fear – phobias are fears so powerful that they are debilitating and leaves someone preoccupied with their fears despite no present trigger, and OCD is a condition characterized by compulsive behavior driven by an obsession triggered through irrational fears, such as a fear of germs, fear of a personal conspiracy, or fear of unknown and unseen retribution.

Addiction feeds on anxiety. Many who struggle with fear also fear getting treated. Anxieties are very difficult to deal with, and any form of mental illness comes with a strong stigma attached to it. Thus, some are damned if they do, damned if they don’t – without the right help, they spend a lifetime struggling to fit into a world that doesn’t understand their anxiety, and with the right help, they feel they will be ostracized, or perceived weak.This produces even more worries, more anxieties, more fears. All this fear causes stress, peaking through panic attacks and episodes of extreme hyperventilation, when the body reacts violently to the perceived stress it’s under on a consistent basis. Drug use can mellow out the fears, but without addressing the root cause. Like a band aid on a faucet, addicts are compelled continue self-medicating with addictive drugs to stem the fears, only for them to come back stronger after each high, left unaddressed and bottled up inside. Eventually, what started out as a mild anxiety gets worse, and what was already severe can become unbearable.


Addiction and Anxiety

The vicious cycle of addiction involves fear and guilt, especially the fear of relapse and the guilt of being addicted. To many, despite evidence to the contrary, addiction is still something very personal defined by choice and responsibility. Some people continue to tell themselves that their behavior is entirely their fault, and that the fact that they can’t stop without help confirms that they’re weak.

This self-destructive thinking further feeds fears related to inadequacy, hopelessness, and powerlessness, coupled with the urge to use again as a way to deal with all this emotional stress.

At the root of all this is the fear of relapse. The crux of addiction treatment is to help addicts find ways to avoid using again. But if they are not at peace with themselves and confident in their abilities to stay sober, they’re much more likely to relapse. That relapse renews a slew of debilitating fears and pulls someone deeper down the cascading spiral of addiction.

Overcoming anxiety is crucial to overcoming relapses and moving forward in recovery. Recovery, when coupled with a diagnosable illness or emotional and behavioral issues that border on a diagnosis, must address both the addiction as well as these issues. Anxiety can be treated through medication, but the most important part of anxiety treatment is effective therapy. Through professional help, an addict can make progress towards overcoming fears and anxieties, with medication if needed.


Anxious About People

Recovery is not just about no longer using drugs, but it’s also about building a new life for yourself. This can be especially scary because it often involves a series of encompassing changes, from the way you live to where you live and who you live with. Part of slowly adjusting to regular life outside of rehab and other treatment facilities is learning to trust others again and learning to trust yourself.

This is much harder to do when you’re preoccupied with anxieties around being with other people. Fear that they will hurt you, talk smack about you behind your back, and hold low opinions of you are all common thoughts to have, especially when meeting new people. These thoughts can make recovery extremely difficult if left unchecked. You must speak with a professional if you’re constantly afraid, especially of opening up to others.


Do You Need Help?

There’s being anxious, and then there’s an anxiety disorder. It’s best not to try and diagnose yourself off the internet – if you think you need help, go and find a professional psychiatrist and/or doctor, and get the opinion of a medical expert. Be sure to mention that you’re a recovering addict, as that is important when making a diagnosis.

Based on what the doctor says, the path forward will be very different. Treating an addiction is one thing, but when coupled with a mental illness, treatment has to take both into consideration at the same time. Either way, anxiety and addiction are often treated together, and the key will be staying committed to the recovery process.


Focusing on Your Mental Health in Addiction Recovery

Focusing on Mental Health

If you or your loved ones are struggling with addiction, chances are your mental health has also suffered for it. Research shows that under certain stressors, we’re more prone to develop long-term negative side effects, both physically and mentally. Teens and adults faced with stigma and self-loathing can develop depressive symptoms, to the point of suicide. And addiction drives these thoughts to the foreground, as it nearly always puts people in a bad place socially, financially, and mentally. Addiction affects the brain in more ways than one, making it more susceptible to thoughts of anxiety and depression, as well as causing long-term damage.

Addiction is a matter of mental illness and having a mental illness can make you more prone to addiction. This dangerous relationship adds another layer to addiction treatment, making treatment not only a matter of sobriety, but a matter of psychiatry. Taking someone off the drugs isn’t enough. You have to help them deal with their own mind after the drugs wear off and help them find a way to never rely on them again.


Why Mental Health and Addiction Are Intertwined

Our ability to overcome life’s challenges is dependent on how we individually react to events in our lives, rather than the objective magnitude of the events themselves. That’s why it’s so hard to gauge what is challenging, what is painful, and what is traumatic. These are all subjective things, different for everyone. And it’s impossible to know how to live someone else’s life until you’ve lived it.

Sometimes, though, we can guess. This helps us empathize and feel compassion towards others around us, who are less fortunate, especially those who struggle with disability and loss of limb. But it’s harder to gauge how a person’s mental health makes life hard. At first glance, you can’t see depression, or general anxiety, or a case of OCD. But it surely plays a massive role in how life plays out, and how hard things feel. Things we take for granted – like the ability to make friends, wake up and get the day started at a normal hour, or fall asleep every night – may be almost impossible for someone with social anxiety, or depression, or insomnia.


Addiction, Mental Health, and Stigma

People with mental health issues don’t get better by ‘getting themselves together’. That kind of advice doesn’t help someone with a mental disorder. It only serves to make them feel worse about themselves. And that feeling feeds into what many people with mental illness already feel: shame.

People who struggle with mental health issues are also more likely to get addicted to drugs. And they’re more sensitive to the stigma attached to drug use. If you make someone feel like a failure for being an addict, they’ll add that to an ever-growing list of personal gripes, fears, and self-deprecating thoughts. It’s why it’s important, now more than ever, to recognize that mental health and addiction are issues that need to be addressed with compassion and empathy, rather than judgment. Because no matter how we might feel about how we’ve dealt with life’s challenges, there are others who don’t live and think like most people do.

Sometimes, these issues start early in life. Sometimes, however, they manifest and don’t develop fully until triggered. Drug use, for example, isn’t just potentially the result of mental health issues, but it can cause them to develop and metastasize. Mental health issues and addiction are intertwined because they’re both diseases of the brain, and because they’re both something that society struggles to identify and empathize with.

Of course, not everyone with mental health problems gets addicted to drugs. Most don’t, in fact. But far more addicts struggle with related mental health problems (such as depression and anxiety) than the general population. If you have a history of addiction, you need to consider your own mental health.


Professional Help Can Prevent Relapses

Mental disorders aren’t solved by prayer or willpower, although both of these things can help. The will to feel better and the readiness to ask for help both on a spiritual and social level is important. But so is professional help. Psychiatrists are trained to help patients in all walks and stages of life, including patients who have a mental disorder on top of an addiction. If you’ve been sober for a while but don’t quite feel right, it doesn’t hurt to visit a professional and talk about your feelings.

Most people don’t wake up and realize they’re ill. It’s a slow process, and you might not realize that the way you’re feeling is much out of the ordinary. Or, you might hope it passes. Getting help as soon as you feel that something is wrong can help potentially prevent a relapse, or other negative developments.


There’s More to Mental Health Than Medication

Some people fear that if they approach a mental health professional about a potential mental illness, they’re just going to be written off with a short, mindless diagnosis and a prescription. If you’re worried that your addiction won’t be taken into account, you can put your fears to rest by visiting an addiction specialist – one of many psychiatric professionals in the US who specialize in helping patients with addiction.

However, any reputable psychiatrist will think long and hard before prescribing anything. Mental health treatment is always more complicated than just a pill. Most doctors prescribe medication as well as therapy, as well as potential alternative treatments, from new imports like yoga and mindfulness, to more invasive treatments in cases of treatment-resistance, like neuromodulation.


What You Can Do at Home

If you’re working on your sobriety but are conscious of the fact that addiction can leave lasting emotional and psychological scarring, consider working on improving your mental health by taking up practices and hobbies that not only in certain cases help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, but also work to prevent them.

  • Mindfulness Training
  • Journaling
  • Art Therapy
  • Music Therapy
  • Group Meetings
  • Creative Writing
  • Exercise
  • Balanced Diet
  • Normal Sleeping Schedule (8 hours or more, before midnight)

Outside of a few basic principles like a healthy diet and a normal sleeping schedule, you don’t have to do these every day – doing one or two of these things regularly is enough.

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.