Navigating the Winter Blues in Addiction Recovery

Around 14% of the adult population in the US experience the winter blues every year. According to experts at the National Institute of Mental Health, the condition is fairly common and is often marked by irritability, lethargy, overeating, feeling down and unsociable and sleep problems. A small percentage of people also experience a more severe medical disorder called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during the winter months.

Winter blues can be tough on anyone, but they are particularly difficult for those in addiction recovery. The cold weather, coupled with shorter days and lack of sunlight can exacerbate feelings of isolation, depression, and cravings, as well as negative thoughts. Luckily, there are many strategies to help you stay strong and navigate this challenging season. We’ll discuss these in the article, but first, let’s explore the unique challenges that winter poses to individuals in recovery.

Unique Challenges of Winter for Individuals in Recovery

Scientists believe that shorter days and less sunlight can trigger chemical changes in the brain. This explains, in part, why people have winter blues or feel down when days get shorter in winter and fall and feel better in the spring when longer daylight hours return. In some cases, these changes in mood are serious and affect how one thinks, acts or feels.

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With that said, here are some challenges that those in recovery face during winter:

Disrupted Circadian Rhythm

The shorter days and reduced sunlight of winter disrupt the body's natural sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. This throws off the production of hormones like melatonin and cortisol, which regulate sleep, mood, and energy levels. As a result, you may experience difficulty falling or staying asleep, mood disorders, and difficulty concentrating and staying motivated.

Increased Social Isolation

Winter weather often keeps people indoors and discourages outdoor activities, leading to increased social isolation. This can exacerbate feelings of depression and loneliness, which are common triggers for relapse. Limited access to support groups and activities also means difficulty connecting with others and may lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms like substance abuse.

Social Challenges

The holiday season, while festive, can be a double-edged sword for those in recovery. On the one hand, it provides opportunities for connection and joy, but on the other, the social aspect that involves drinking alcohol or using drugs can trigger cravings and relapse risks. The holidays can also bring stress due to increased social obligations, financial pressures, and expectations.

Family Dynamics and Holiday Pressures

For some, the holiday season may bring back memories of past family conflicts or unresolved issues. Such situations are emotionally challenging and can impact one’s mental state. Besides, there are the expectations and pressures surrounding family dynamics. The weight of maintaining certain traditions or meeting perceived standards may cause stress and anxiety, potentially becoming triggers for relapse.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is a more severe form of winter-related mood disturbance. It starts and ends at about the same time each year, with symptoms peaking in the fall and continuing all the way into the winter months. SAD saps energy, triggers seasonal depression and leaves one feeling moody and tired – all which can pose additional challenges in recovery.

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Strategies for Coping With the Winter Blues

Light therapy can be a great solution for SAD. However, there are several other strategies you can consider for coping with winter challenge:

Regular Exercise

Exercise is the easiest way to deal with winter challenges. Many studies have linked it to improved mood, energy and, most importantly, SAD symptoms. And it doesn’t have to be intense or structured – just find something you enjoy doing, whether it's walking, jogging or even winter sports like ice skating, skiing, or snowboarding. 

Connect With Your Support Group

Regular meetings or calls with your recovery group can help you weather the storm. Group members understand what you're going through and can encourage and support you through it. It’s also great to surround yourself with loved ones who understand your journey and offer encouragement.  

Seek Out Sunlight

Maximize your exposure to natural light, even if it's just for a short period. Open curtains, spend time outdoors when possible, or use a light therapy box to help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve mood.

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Engage in Enjoyable Activities

Make time for hobbies and activities you find relaxing and fulfilling. Listening to music, reading, spending time in nature, or pursuing creative endeavors can boost your mood and overall well-being.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness exercises help you stay present in the moment and avoid dwelling on negative thoughts or worries. Focusing on your breath, bodily sensations, or surrounding environment can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Additional Tips

Reach Out to Your Therapist

Consider seeking professional guidance from your therapist. They can provide personalized support, teach coping mechanisms, and adjust your addiction treatment plan as needed to address winter-specific challenges.

If you’re still having a hard time staying off substances or are dealing with mental health issues like bipolar disorder, stress, anxiety, etc., experts at More Than Rehab can help. We know how tough a dual diagnosis can be, so we are ready to provide integrated treatment to address the substance use disorder and the underlying behavioral health conditions together at the same time.

With the right support, winter blues can become a fleeting chill, a mere blip in your journey towards lasting recovery. Embrace the light within you, and know that spring is just around the corner, ready to bathe you in its warmth once again. Together, we can navigate the winter blues and step into a brighter future.

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A Fresh Start: Decluttering Your Life in Addiction Recovery

There’s nothing wrong with holding on to sentimental items or memories. If anything, these can offer a sense of comfort and familiarity. But in addiction recovery, sometimes that very comfort can become a barrier to progress. That’s why it’s necessary to release things that no longer serve you. Decluttering your life is not about erasing your history or discarding cherished memories. It's about creating space for what truly matters now – your present and future in recovery.

What is Clutter?

Clutter is a collection of disorganized, scattered, or unnecessary items that create disorder and chaos in a physical or mental space. It can manifest in various forms, including:

Clutter has been shown to cause stress, anxiety, and depression. There’s also a strong connection between clutter and sleep problems, constant low-grade fight or flight response, memory issues, weight gain, lack of focus, etc.

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How to Remove Clutter from Your Life

Clutter is bad for your mind and body and, therefore, bad for your recovery. Decluttering your home is a significant step towards creating a healthier, more positive environment. Here is how to remove clutter:

Physical Clutter

Physical clutter is the most obvious type of clutter and the first thing that comes to mind when discussing decluttering. Here’s how to get rid of physical clutter from your home, office or personal areas:

Assessment

Take a thorough look at your space. Identify areas that contribute to stress or disorganization. Then, sort your possessions into categories. These can include essentials, sentimental items, and non-essential or triggering things.  

Start Small

Get four boxes, and label each one: one "Keep," one "Donate/Sell," one "Trash," and one "Undecided." Using these boxes makes it easy to break down the task. Once you’re done marking, pick a manageable area, like a single room or even a specific area within a room, then gather and pile all the items in the area on the floor, picking up each item and deciding which box to put it into.

Repeat this process until all items are in their respective boxes, and move on to the next area in your home. Be careful not to overdo it. In fact, you can set a time limit for the decluttering session, and only start work that you can finish within that time. This will make the process seem a lot less overwhelming.

Organizing

Create designated spaces for essential items. This helps maintain order and prevents future clutter. If possible, invest in shelves, bins, or organizers to keep belongings in their designated places. The goal is to try as much as possible to keep only what truly adds value to your life.

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Substance Removal

If you have any unused substances dispose of them safely. You can return them to a pharmacy or to a drug take back program. But if the process is emotionally challenging, reach out to a sponsor, counselor, or support group for guidance. It’s equally important to get rid any paraphernalia as this can be a strong trigger for further drug abuse.

Digital Clutter

Digital clutter can be just as impactful as physical clutter, if not more so, given the increasing reliance on digital devices in our daily lives. Here’s how to declutter your digital space:

Emotional Clutter

Emotional clutter pulls the mind in too many directions, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or tired. Here’s how to refresh, refocus, and get back on track toward your long-term recovery.

Practice Mindfulness

Engage in mindfulness techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. Mindfulness helps you stay present and reduces the impact of overwhelming emotions.

Let Go of Perfectionism

Understand that recovery is a journey, and perfection is not the goal. Accept that setbacks may occur, and learn from them rather than dwelling on feelings of failure.

Emotional Detox

Consider activities that serve as emotional detox, such as art, music, journaling, sleep, or physical exercise. These activities can help release built-up emotions.

Seek Support

Share your feelings with a family member, trusted friend, or therapist. Opening up to others can provide valuable perspectives and emotional support.

Healthy Boundaries

Set and maintain healthy boundaries in your relationships. Communicate your needs and prioritize self-care to prevent emotional clutter from external sources.

Emotional Inventory

Regularly check in with your emotions. Take time to reflect on how you're feeling and why. This self-awareness can prevent emotions from building up and becoming overwhelming.

Seek Professional Help

Engage in therapy or counseling to address deep-seated emotional clutter. A mental health care professional can provide guidance and support in navigating complex emotional issues. They can also help you learn how to set goals, forgive, and challenge negative self-talk.

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Why Decluttering Can Help Life in Recovery

Decluttering your life can significantly benefit life in recovery for several reasons:

Removing physical clutter and emotional baggage allows you to create a supportive environment that aligns with your commitment to positive change. But if you’re having a hard time, it might be a good idea to get some help.

If clutter is triggering you to go back to using, don’t hesitate to seek mental health services or substance abuse treatment. Mental health and addiction treatment can help you regain control of your life. Contact us today to find out more:

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New Year, New Beginnings: Tips for Sobriety in 2024

The dawn of a new year symbolizes a fresh start. A chance to redefine your path and embrace positive changes. It is a good time to prioritize your physical and mental health. This could mean making a choice to get help for alcohol abuse or reaffirming your commitment to a life of sobriety. As the calendar turns, it allows you to adopt new habits and routines that will make you feel great about yourself.

While New Year’s resolutions and recovery goals aren’t always easy to stick to, they are definitely worth the effort. Breaking free from the crutches of addiction offers a renewed sense of purpose and empowerment. It sets the stage for a healthier, happier life.

Here are Some Tips to Promote Your Sobriety in 2024:

Set SMART Goals

SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This goal-setting framework ensures your goals are actionable and set you up for success. SMART goals are:

  1. Specific: What you want to achieve. So, instead of "be sober," or “stop bad habit,” try "attend three support group meetings per week."
  2. Measurable: The goal should be quantifiable – like “stay in sober living for ten days” or “track my physical health for a month.”
  3. Agreeable: Set goals that resonate with your desires, values, and commitments to recovery.
  4. Realistic: The goals should be attainable considering your commitments, circumstances, and resources.
  5. Time-bound: Set deadlines for each goal. "Go for an hour-long walk every day in January" is more effective than "exercise more."

Some good examples of SMART goals are:

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Avoid Triggers

Identify situations, people, or places that tempt you to drink or use. Once you have, develop a coping mechanism to avoid them proactively. For example, if certain friends or family members trigger cravings, limit contact or reschedule outings. Or if bars, parties, and other high-risk environments make you crave substances, opt for sober-friendly activities like attending concerts, going to the movies, or joining a club centered around your favorite hobby.

The same principle applies to your emotions. Cravings often arise during times of stress, anger, or sadness, so you want to learn healthy coping mechanisms like talking to a trusted friend, journaling, mindfulness meditation or deep breathing. 

Action Plan

Exercise

Exercise has many health benefits even in addiction recovery. Experts believe regular exercise can serve as a healthy stand-in for substance abuse. That’s because substances and physical activity work on the same brain parts. They both activate the reward center, which triggers the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin.

As a result, exercise can help curb cravings, ease withdrawal, improve sleep, and replace triggers. It also strengthens your mind and body, helps with weight loss, and facilitates stress relief, which is essential in maintaining long-term sobriety.

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Examples of exercises that can help include cardio or aerobic exercises like running, swimming, light gardening, hiking, and dancing. You can also try strength or resistance workouts like weightlifting, lunges, push-ups, and some types of yoga.

Action Plan

Set Boundaries

Boundaries help protect your well-being and maintain healthy relationships. And it doesn’t need to be complicated; it can be as simple as saying "no" to parties, potentially risky behaviors, or even things you hadn’t planned for.

For example, if you're having difficulty striking a work-life balance and a colleague asks you to take on an additional task, it's okay to say, "I appreciate the opportunity, but my plate is full right now. I won't be able to take on any more projects." Or, in the case of a romantic relationship, you could say "I value our time together, but I also need some time alone to recharge. I hope you understand".

You can also allocate specific time for self-care activities, whether reading a book, taking a long bath, cleaning your house, or going for a walk. Communicate to others that this time is non-negotiable for you.

Action Plan

Connect with Others

Joining a support group connects you with people who understand your struggles and celebrate your victories. Look for support groups specific to your needs, whether a general sobriety group, one focused on a particular substance or even one tailored to your age or background. Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and online forums and communities dedicated to recovery. Building relationships with loved ones is equally essential for a robust support system.

Action Plan

Find New Hobbies

Doing activities you enjoy can distract you from cravings, boost your mood, and build a fulfilling life beyond alcohol or drugs. Consider exploring new hobbies that align with your interests and provide alternative sources of enjoyment and fulfillment. This could include making art, cooking, playing a musical instrument, or joining a recreational sports league.

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Start a Recovery Journal

Maintaining a recovery journal can be a powerful tool for self-reflection and progress tracking. It allows you to document your journey, celebrate achievements, and identify areas for improvement.

Action Plan

Keep a Positive Mindset

A positive outlook arms you with the mental strength you need to recover from relapses, setbacks and unavoidable obstacles that arise in your recovery journey.

Action Plan

Get Help at More Than Rehab

If you're finding it challenging to overcome addiction or if the strategies and tips mentioned earlier aren't providing the support you need, it may be time to seek additional professional help. More Than Rehab has a team on call, ready to provide the assistance and support you require on your journey to recovery. Contact us today to learn more about addiction treatment at More Than Rehab.

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Venturing into the Modern Dating Scene With Sobriety as a Game-Changer

Venturing into the modern dating scene with a newly-found sobriety can really be a game-changer. Dating is an important part of any romantic relationship. It allows you to learn more about your potential partner and also lets you discover who you are.

But the dating world can be a double-edged sword for those in addiction recovery. On the one hand, it offers the promise of new beginnings, the potential for genuine connections, and the thrill of getting to know someone on a deeper level. On the other hand, it can be a minefield of triggers, pressures, and societal norms that revolve around alcohol and other substances.

But the good news is that dating is not only possible while maintaining your sobriety; it can also lead to supportive and fulfilling relationships. This article will explore strategies and tips to help you navigate the dating scene while safeguarding your sobriety. We’ll also discuss sober empowerment and the challenges and benefits of being upfront about your journey. 

Dating in Early Recovery and the Initial Apprehensions

Re-entering the modern dating scene while in recovery can trigger a wave of initial dating apprehensions, and it's perfectly natural to feel this way. You may experience: 

Fear of Relapse

One of the most significant concerns you may face is the fear of relapse. You've worked hard to achieve and maintain your sobriety, and the thought of entering a dating scene filled with opportunities for triggers can be anxiety-inducing. You worry that the emotional rollercoaster of dating might compromise the stability you've fought so hard to establish.

Echoes of Past Relationships

For many, past relationships may have been entangled with addiction, pain, and unhealthy patterns. The echoes of these past experiences can cast doubt on your ability to engage in healthy, meaningful relationships. You may wonder if it's possible to break free from the shackles of your history and forge a different, healthier path.

Pressure to Conform

The modern dating scene often seems to revolve around alcohol and casual drug use. Social norms may encourage you to participate in activities that you're trying to avoid. This pressure to conform to conventional dating rituals can be overwhelming, making you question whether it's feasible to date while staying true to your sobriety.

Uncertainty about Disclosure

You might wrestle with the decision of when and how to disclose your sobriety to a potential partner. The fear of being judged or rejected once you reveal your journey can create a sense of vulnerability that's hard to ignore.

Remember that these concerns don't diminish your worth or your potential for fulfilling relationships. Instead, they highlight the importance of approaching the dating scene with a sense of self-awareness, caution, and a commitment to your well-being. 

Being Upfront About Sobriety

Honesty is the foundation of any healthy and meaningful relationship. So unless you’ve found a match on one of the sober dating apps (where someone might already have an idea about your addiction and recovery) you’ll need to disclose your recovery journey upfront.

Being open about your sobriety from the beginning demonstrates your commitment to transparency. It sets the stage for open communication and trust with potential partners. It also prevents conflicts and misunderstandings down the road. It’s better to address potential issues at the beginning of a relationship rather than later when emotions may be more deeply involved.

Sharing your story is not easy. It requires a level of vulnerability and can make you feel exposed and susceptible to rejection or criticism. You may also encounter judgment or misunderstanding from potential partners. Not everyone has a clear understanding of addiction and recovery, and this lack of knowledge can lead to misconceptions or misconstrued judgments about your journey.

But the best part about sharing is that it helps you filter out those who aren’t compatible with your lifestyle and values. If someone cannot accept or respect your commitment to sobriety, it's a clear indication that they may not be the right match for you. The same applies to those who are judgmental or skeptical. 

Again, when you're honest about your sobriety, you're more likely to attract like-minded partners who share your values and respect your journey. This increases the likelihood of building meaningful and supportive relationships with those who appreciate and support your commitment. Upfront communication also helps you avoid situations that could potentially trigger cravings or temptations. It sets clear boundaries and expectations with your partner, reducing the likelihood of uncomfortable or risky situations arising. 

Empowerment through Prioritizing Personal Well-Being over Societal Pressures

When you prioritize your personal well-being over societal pressures, you’re able to express your true self, build resilience, and affirm your self-worth. In doing so, you not only enhance your dating experiences but also strengthen your commitment to a fulfilling and sober life. Prioritizing your personal well-being over societal pressures:

Tips to Ensure That New Relationships Support and Honor Your Recovery Journey

If you find a perfect match and wish to take the relationship to a whole new level, there are a few things you’ll need to set in place to ensure the relationship supports and honors your recovery journey. Here are some tips to get you started:

If the relationship becomes overwhelmingly challenging or jeopardizes your sobriety, consider seeking professional guidance from a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction and relationships. You can also consider getting help if you’re struggling to stay sober or make healthy relationships

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The Rise of Online Support Groups

Online recovery support groups are virtual communities or platforms where people struggling with mental and substance use disorders come together to seek help, share experiences, and provide mutual support in their journey toward recovery. These groups use various online tools and platforms, like websites, social media, mobile apps, and video conferencing software, to connect people who may be geographically separated but share common goals of sobriety and healing.

Overview of the Rise of Online Support Groups

Online support groups have been a part of the digital landscape for years. This is thanks to the widespread availability of the internet and the proliferation of smartphones. However, it was COVID-19 that truly changed the dynamics and importance of these recovery forums. The pandemic, which made physical gatherings and in-person support meetings risky, prompted a widespread shift towards virtual interactions. People who previously relied on face-to-face support found themselves turning to online platforms as a safe and convenient alternative. 

Digital support groups became the lifeline for those grappling with mental health and substance use disorders. These virtual communities offered a safe and accessible space for people to meet and interact.

Why Are Online Support Groups Popular?

Woman engaged in online support groups discussing substance abuse emphasizing the ease of access while brainstorming on a video call with diverse colleagues

Virtual therapy and support have become so popular in recent years thanks to several key factors, including the following:

They Eliminate Geographical Barriers

One of the most significant advantages of online sobriety support groups is their ability to transcend geographical limitations. Traditional face-to-face support groups often require individuals to travel to specific locations, which can be particularly challenging for those living in rural or remote areas. 

Online support groups eliminate this barrier, ensuring that people from all corners of the world can access the support they need from the comfort of their own homes. This inclusivity not only broadens the reach of recovery resources but also fosters a sense of belonging in a global community of individuals facing similar challenges.

24/7 Availability

Online recovery support groups are available around the clock, making them a lifeline for individuals in crisis or those who require support during non-traditional hours. This ease of access is crucial because addiction does not adhere to a strict schedule; cravings, triggers, and emotional distress can strike at any time. The 24/7 availability of online groups means that help and encouragement are never more than a few clicks away, offering a safety net for those navigating the unpredictable terrain of recovery.

Female employee engaging in online support groups for substance abuse highlighting the ease of access through digital virtual meetings with diverse colleagues

Reduce Stigma

The stigma surrounding substance abuse remains a significant barrier to seeking help for many individuals. Traditional in-person support groups may necessitate revealing one's identity and addiction history to others in the community, which can be intimidating and discouraging. Online recovery support groups offer a level of anonymity in recovery that reduces this stigma. Participants can choose to share as much or as little personal information as they feel comfortable with, enabling them to open up and seek support without the fear of judgment or discrimination.

Offer Privacy and Discretion

Privacy is a crucial concern for individuals in recovery, as they often grapple with feelings of shame and vulnerability. Online support groups provide a private and discreet platform where individuals can discuss their challenges and progress without the risk of their personal information becoming public knowledge. This level of discretion is especially valuable for those who wish to keep their recovery journey confidential from family, friends, or employers while still benefiting from peer support.

Reduced Travel Time and Costs

Attending physical support group meetings often involves significant travel time and associated costs, such as transportation expenses and childcare arrangements. Online support groups alleviate these burdens, allowing individuals to participate from the comfort of their homes. This not only saves time and money but also removes potential barriers that might deter someone from seeking help, making recovery more feasible for a broader range of people.

Normalization of Virtual Interactions

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected through technology, virtual interactions have become a standard part of daily life. The normalization of video calls, online communities, and digital relationships has extended to the field of addiction recovery. Many individuals now view online support groups as legitimate and effective means of seeking help and support, further contributing to their popularity and acceptance.

Integration with Traditional Recovery Methods

Online recovery support groups are not seen as replacements for traditional methods of addiction recovery but as complementary tools that can enhance the overall treatment experience. Many addiction treatment centers and therapists now incorporate online support groups into their treatment plans, recognizing the value of this additional layer of support. This integration demonstrates the growing acceptance and acknowledgment of the positive impact of online recovery communities in the broader context of addiction treatment.

Online Support Group Formats

Male employee engaged in online support groups for substance abuse utilizing the ease of access to have a digital conference with diverse colleagues

Online support groups come in a variety of formats, each catering to different preferences and needs of individuals seeking support and connection. Here are some of the most common formats:

Text-Based Forums (like Reddit's r/StopDrinking and r/redditorsinrecovery)

Text-based forums allow members to post messages, questions, and share their experiences in text form. They’re usually organized into specific topics or categories related to addiction and recovery, allowing users to navigate discussions that align with their interests.

 Video Meetings (like Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous)

Video meeting groups replicate the traditional group meeting experience but in a virtual setting. Participants use video conferencing software like webchat, Google Meets, Zoom, etc., to interact in real-time, enabling face-to-face communication. These meetings often have scheduled times and may follow structured formats, such as 12-step programs or therapy sessions.

Chat Groups (like LifeRing, Hello Sunday Morning, Women for Sobriety (WFS))

Chat groups, sometimes referred to as chat rooms or instant messaging platforms, provide real-time text-based communication among members. Users can join specific recovery chat rooms dedicated to various topics related to recovery, providing a dynamic and immediate way to connect and share experiences.

Social Media Support

Social media platforms, like Reddit, Facebook, or Twitter, host dedicated groups and communities focused on recovery. Members can engage in discussions, share resources, and offer support within the context of these platforms, leveraging the reach and familiarity of social media.

Dedicated Recovery Apps  (like Loosid)

Recovery apps are mobile applications specifically designed to support individuals in their journey to sobriety. These apps often include features like progress tracking, goal setting, peer support, and access to recovery-related content. Users can connect with others in the app's community.

These varied formats cater to the diverse preferences, comfort levels, and schedules of individuals seeking recovery support. Whether someone prefers the anonymity of a text-based forum, the face-to-face interaction of video meetings, or the convenience of a mobile app, there are online recovery support options available to meet their specific needs.

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The Dual Diagnosis Dilemma in Addiction Recovery

It's not uncommon for people with addiction to experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, or others. In fact, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 9 million people have dual diagnosis. Despite this, only 7% of these people get treatment for both conditions, and 60% receive no treatment.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis, also known as co-comorbidity or co-occurring disorders, refers to the simultaneous presence of a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder in an individual. In other words, it's when someone simultaneously deals with addiction and a mental health condition.

This can involve various combinations of diseases, such as depression and alcoholism, anxiety and cocaine addiction, bipolar disorder and opioid dependence, and many others. It's essential to understand dual diagnosis because the presence of one condition can often complicate the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of the other.

Signs and Symptoms of Co-Occurring Disorders

Mental and substance use disorders often overlap, making it hard to know if you're dealing with a dual diagnosis. But there are some common signs to watch out for, including:

Why Addiction and Mental Illness Co-Occur

Young girl experiencing hallucinations due to addiction illustrating the co-occurrence of mental health issues and dual diagnosis

SUD and mental health disorders interact in complex ways; each condition can influence and worsen the symptoms of the other. But this does not mean that one necessarily leads to the other, even when one condition appears first. Here are some factors that contribute to the co-occurrence of addiction and mental illness:

Shared Risk Factors

Both addiction and mental health disorders can arise from shared risk factors, such as genetics, family history, childhood trauma, and environmental factors. Evidence shows that about 40-60% of someone's vulnerability can be attributed to genetics. So, a person with a genetic predisposition to depression might also have a genetic susceptibility to addiction. Besides, some drugs trigger symptoms of certain mental illnesses – like how marijuana increases the risk of psychosis.

Self-Medication

Some individuals with mental health disorders may turn to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication. They might use substances to alleviate distressing symptoms or emotional pain temporarily. For example, someone struggling with social anxiety might use alcohol to feel more comfortable in social situations. They may also use substances to escape from their distressing symptoms.

Neurobiological Interplay

The brain's reward system and neurotransmitter pathways affect addiction and mental health. Changes in brain chemistry due to substance abuse can contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health symptoms and vice versa.

Cycle of Reinforcement

Addiction and mental health disorders can create a cycle of reinforcement. For instance, someone with depression who finds relief in alcohol might continue using alcohol to manage their mood. However, over time, alcohol dependence can worsen depression, creating a harmful feedback loop.

Impaired Decision-Making

Both addiction and certain mental health disorders can impair decision-making abilities. This can lead to increased risk-taking behavior and difficulty seeking or adhering to treatment.

Challenges and Complexities in Treating Dual Diagnosis

African psychologist supports male in rehab highlighting the complexities of treating addiction and mental health through dual diagnosis

Treating dual diagnosis presents numerous challenges and complexities. The intertwined nature of these conditions can make diagnosis, treatment planning, and recovery more intricate.

Diagnostic Difficulties

One of the biggest treatment challenges is determining which condition came first – whether it's a substance use disorder or the mental health disorder. Substance abuse can sometimes mask or mimic symptoms of mental health disorders, making accurate diagnosis complicated.

Shared Symptoms

Many symptoms of substance abuse and mental health disorders overlap, such as changes in sleep patterns, appetite, energy levels, and mood. This can lead to misdiagnosis or underdiagnosis if clinicians are not well-trained in recognizing co-occurring conditions.

Bidirectional Influence

One condition can exacerbate the other in a bidirectional manner. For example, substance abuse can worsen the symptoms of a mental health disorder, and a mental health disorder can lead to increased substance use as a coping mechanism.

Treatment Resistance

Individuals with dual diagnosis might not respond well to traditional treatment methods due to the interaction between the two conditions. For instance, a mental health disorder might impede an individual's ability to engage fully in addiction treatment and vice versa.

Our Dual Diagnosis Treatment Plans

Dual-diagnosis treatments must be comprehensive, integrated, and tailored to the individual's needs. These plans should address both conditions simultaneously to promote lasting recovery. Here's an overview of the components that are typically included in dual-diagnosis treatment plans:

Comprehensive Assessment

A thorough assessment is conducted by mental health and addiction professionals to accurately diagnose both the mental health disorder and the substance use disorder. The evaluation considers the individual's medical history, substance use patterns, mental health symptoms, and any co-occurring medical conditions.

Integrated Treatment Team

Professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, addiction counselors, and medical doctors, collaborate to create a cohesive treatment plan that addresses mental health and substance use components. These may include:

These medical and therapeutic strategies can be done in an inpatient or outpatient rehab setting, depending on the extent of addiction and patient preference.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at More Than Rehab

Addressing co-occurring disorders requires a comprehensive and integrated approach to treatment. At More Than Rehab, we understand the intricate relationship between substance use and mental health disorders. That's why we provide an integrated care plan that thoroughly addresses both aspects, providing individuals with the best possible chance for lasting recovery and improved well-being.

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Exploring Art Therapy in Substance Abuse Recovery

Recovery comes with its fair share of challenges. Obstacles like difficult emotions, cravings, relationship issues, money problems, loneliness, boredom, mental health issues, relapse, etc., can take a toll on even the strongest person. That's why people in addiction recovery go through therapy, among other supportive measures, to help them overcome these challenges.

But not everyone in recovery can or wants to express their experiences and emotions verbally. Some prefer to use other means, like art. They want to paint, draw, sculpt, or dance to externalize and process their emotions, anxieties, and trauma. The creative process becomes a language that transcends words, allowing them to communicate and dive into their innermost thoughts and feelings. It allows them to:

What is Art Therapy?

Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses the creative art-making process to promote healing, personal growth, and well-being. It combines psychological principles with artistic techniques to support individuals in exploring their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Art therapy is facilitated by trained professional art therapists with expertise in art and psychology.

Art therapy can be used with traditional therapies like Dialectical Behavior therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), offering a more creative outlet for experiences and emotions. It can also be used in group therapy sessions to foster trust and bonding, as it offers a non-threatening way for members to share their feelings openly.

How Art Therapy Works

During art therapy sessions, you will be encouraged to engage in various creative outlets like collage making, painting, drawing and sketching, movement, or dance. But the focus won't be on creating artistic or aesthetically pleasing works. Instead, it will be on the creation process and the emerging emotional expression.

You do not need any skills to participate in art therapy. For example, you don't have to know painting to practice painting therapy. However, it's important to note that some approaches, like drama and dance, for instance, can be more overwhelming than journaling when you're new to therapy. But that shouldn't worry you, as your therapist will determine the most appropriate form of expression based on their understanding of your needs, tolerance level, sensitivity, and general readiness.

Creative Arts Therapy Vs. Expressive Arts Therapy

Both creative and expressive arts therapy are umbrella terms encompassing various therapeutic approaches that use the arts as a means of expression and healing. However, there are slight differences in their focus and scope:

Creative arts therapy is a broader term encompassing different therapy modalities, including art therapy, music therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and poetry therapy. Each modality focuses on a specific art form and uses it as a therapeutic medium. Creative arts therapy recognizes and uses the unique qualities of each art form to support healing and personal growth.

In contrast, expressive art therapy is a more integrative approach that blends multiple art forms within a single therapeutic session or process. It encourages those in recovery to engage in various creative expressions, such as visual art, music, movement, drama, and writing, often in a spontaneous and fluid manner. Expressive arts therapy emphasizes the integration and interplay between different art forms to facilitate exploration, expression, active participation, and mind-body connection.

How Art Therapy Helps in Addiction Substance Abuse Recovery

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Art therapy can provide valuable support and healing benefits to individuals in addiction recovery. Here's how art therapy can help you in your recovery journey:

Emotional Expression and Release

Art therapy allows you to express and release intense emotions that are often difficult to put into words. You can visually represent your emotions, experiences, and struggles through the creative process. This provides a safe outlet for pent-up feelings and allows you to release and process them healthily and constructively.

Self-Exploration and Insight

Art therapy encourages you to explore your inner world and gain deeper insights into yourself. It lets you tap into your subconscious thoughts, emotions, and memories and uncover underlying issues and patterns that may have contributed to your addiction. Art therapy provides an opportunity for self-reflection, understanding, and personal growth.

Coping Skills Development

Art therapy helps you develop new coping skills and strategies for managing triggers and cravings. The creative process allows you to experiment with different approaches, problem-solving techniques, and alternative ways of expressing yourself. As you engage in art therapy, you can discover healthy outlets for stress, anxiety, and negative emotions, empowering you to navigate challenging situations in recovery.

Self-Esteem and Empowerment

Art therapy can boost your self-esteem and empower you in your recovery journey. As you create art and witness your progress, you gain a sense of achievement and confidence in your abilities. Artistic expression provides tangible evidence of your growth, reminding you of your strengths, resilience, and capacity for change.

Building a Positive Identity

Art therapy helps you explore and develop a positive and authentic identity beyond addiction. You can discover or reconnect with your interests, passions, and values and redefine yourself to focus on aspects of your life that bring joy, purpose, and fulfillment. Art therapy supports you in building a new and meaningful identity rooted in your strengths and aspirations.

Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

Engaging in art therapy promotes mindfulness and helps you stay present in the moment. As you immerse yourself in mindfulness practices, you become more attuned to your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Art-making can serve as a meditative practice, reducing stress, anxiety, and cravings. It allows you to find moments of calm, focus, and inner peace amidst recovery challenges.

Connection and Support

Participating in art therapy groups or workshops offers you a sense of connection and support. Sharing your artwork and experiences with others who have gone through similar struggles creates a supportive community. Art therapy sessions provide a safe space for empathy, understanding, and validation, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of belonging.

Art therapy can help you navigate recovery. If you've been going through a rough patch, contact More Than Rehab today. We can help you explore the benefits of art therapy in your addiction recovery journey. Our dedicated team of professionals is experienced in utilizing art therapy as a powerful tool for self-expression, healing, and personal growth.

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Incorporating Mindfulness Practices into Addiction Recovery

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool to enhance your recovery journey from substance abuse. Recently, the transformative power of mindfulness practices in supporting individuals on their path to recovery is being recognized. In fact, a study made public by the National Institutes of Health revealed that mindfulness training is a promising intervention option for SUDs and relapse prevention. 

Understanding Mindfulness Practices

The practice of mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment with open-mindedness and without judgment. So basically, you:

At its core, mindfulness invites you to direct your focus to the present moment without judgment or attachment to the past or future. Through meditation, yoga, mindful eating, and other therapeutic strategies, you can cultivate a deep connection with your internal experiences—the sensations in the body, the flow of thoughts and emotions, and the subtleties of the surrounding environment.

The American Psychological Association, finds mindfulness reduces stress, rumination, and emotional reactivity and boosts focus, cognitive flexibility, and working memory. You can effectively self-regulate when you train yourself to be more aware and attentive. 

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In the context of addiction recovery, mindfulness plays a vital role in several key areas: 

Managing Cravings and Urges

Mindfulness allows you to observe cravings and urges without immediately acting upon them. The non-reactive awareness of these sensations and emotions allows you to create space for conscious decision-making and choose a response that aligns with your recovery goals.

Stress Reduction

Addiction recovery can come with high levels of stress and anxiety. Mindfulness like meditation and deep breathing exercises help activate the relaxation response, promoting a sense of calm and reducing the physiological and psychological impact of stress.

Emotional Regulation

Addiction often involves difficulties in managing and regulating emotions. Mindfulness cultivates emotional intelligence by fostering an awareness of your emotions in the present moment. This heightened awareness allows you to respond to emotions more skillfully and make choices that align with your long-term well-being.

Increase Self-Awareness

Mindfulness practices encourage you to observe your thoughts, beliefs, and behavior patterns. This increased self-awareness helps identify triggers, underlying emotional issues, and negative thought patterns contributing to addictive behaviors, paving the way for effective coping strategies and personal growth.

Examples of Mindfulness Exercises

Here are detailed descriptions of various mindfulness exercises that can be beneficial for individuals battling addiction:

Meditation

Meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing on something specific, such as your breath, a mantra, or a visual image. Meditation cultivates a calm and centered mind, reduces stress, and develops greater self-awareness. This heightened awareness can help you observe your cravings, emotions, and thought patterns without immediate reactivity, allowing you to make conscious choices in your recovery journey. Here's how to meditate:

Yoga

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Yoga combines physical postures, breath control, and meditation to promote physical and mental well-being. The gentle movements and focus on the breath in yoga can help you reconnect with your body, release tension, and promote a sense of inner balance. Yoga can also enhance body awareness, which is particularly helpful in recovery as you develop a healthier relationship with your body and physical sensations. Here's how to practice yoga:

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating focuses on your eating experiences, body-related sensations, and feelings and thoughts about food, with heightened awareness and without judgment. When you savor each bite and pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, you can develop a healthier relationship with food. Mindful eating helps cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards eating, promotes self-control, and supports you in making conscious choices about your nutrition and overall well-being. Here's how to practice mindful eating:

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a simple yet powerful practice that involves focusing your attention on the sensations of your breath as it flows in and out of your body. This practice helps anchor you to the present moment, promoting relaxation and reducing stress. You can practice mindful breathing anywhere and anytime to manage cravings, reduce anxiety, and bring a sense of calmness to the mind and body.

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Body Scan

The body scan systematically brings awareness to each body part, from the feet to the head. It helps you develop a deeper connection with your body and tune in to physical sensations, such as tension, discomfort, or relaxation. Body scan promotes body awareness and relaxation and can be particularly useful when you've suppressed or disconnected from your bodily experiences. Here's how to do a body scan:

Incorporating these mindfulness exercises into addiction recovery programs can arm you with practical tools for managing cravings, reducing stress, enhancing emotional regulation, and cultivating self-awareness. Remember that consistency and practice are key to reaping the full benefits of these mindfulness practices.

If you need help navigating your recovery, you might benefit from More Than Rehab. We recognize the importance of holistic care in recovery. Our programs go beyond just addressing the physical aspects of addiction and integrate mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and mindful breathing, to support individuals on a deeper level. With our personalized treatment approach, we tailor our programs to meet your unique needs and goals, providing you with the tools and support necessary for a successful recovery journey.

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High on Drugs, High on Risk: The Impulsive Gambler

Gambling is common in the US and worldwide. People gamble on everything from card games to sports and even casino games. For some, gambling is a harmless pastime; for others, it's quick cash. In moderation, gambling can be a fun activity. However, some people lose control of their gambling and end up being an impulsive gambler (or participating in problem gambling). And the thrill of gambling can be a much greater issue when substances are involved.

What is Impulsive Gambling?

Gambling involves risking something of value to get something of even greater value. As mentioned, people participate in sports betting, card games, etc., for entertainment. However, if a person cannot control their gambling to the level that it negatively affects their lives, they're said to have a gambling problem or impulsive gambling.

Impulsive gambling is a condition where a person cannot control their gambling behavior, despite its negative consequences. As Mayo Clinic puts it, this impulse control disorder is characterized by a persistent and uncontrollable urge to gamble and a preoccupation with gambling even when it interferes with daily life activities.

Gambling, like drugs or alcohol, stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter often associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. This can create a cycle where the brain seeks out more of that reward, leading to a desire to gamble more frequently or at higher stakes. When one has a problem gambling, they may continually chase bets that lead to losses. Eventually, they'll use up all their savings and go into debt, trying to pursue a win. They will make the extra effort to conceal their actions and even turn to fraud or theft to support their addiction.

Gambling Addiction and Substance Abuse

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Gambling and mental health issues can reinforce each other. This means that a person with a mental health issue may gamble to escape or cope with the signs and symptoms. At the same time, a person with a gambling problem might develop mental health issues due to loss, feelings of shame, etc.

Similarly, gambling addiction and substance abuse have a high co-existence rate. In fact, those addicted to substances or gambling are already predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors. 

According to one study, people diagnosed with impulsive gambling also end up having substance use disorder. This could be due to:

Besides, most casinos in the US offer free drinks for those who spend their money at slots or tables. This is a much bigger problem because, like drug abuse, problem gambling is considered a compulsive behavior.

The Effects of Being High While Gambling

Being high while gambling can have significant effects on a person's behavior and decision-making in the following ways:

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Drugs that Exacerbate Gambling Addiction

While no specific drug causes gambling addiction, certain substances may increase the risk of developing a gambling addiction. Research shows that individuals with gambling addiction commonly abuse substances like alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and stimulants.

Alcohol and other substances can lower inhibitions and impair judgment, making it more likely for a person to engage in behavioral addictions like gambling. Data from a large study in the US found alcohol addiction to be the most common co-occurring disorder among those with pathological gambling. More than 73% of participants diagnosed with problem gambling had an alcohol use disorder.

Stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, tend to increase feelings of excitement and pleasure, which may make gambling more appealing.

How to Help Cure a Gambling Addict

It can be tough to see a loved one struggle with gambling addiction. But the good news is that with help and treatment, they can go back to leading a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tips to consider:

Remember that many people who develop problem gambling also develop substance use disorders. Neither addiction is easy to manage without professional help, so it's essential to encourage the person to seek help for both issues. At More Than Rehab, we offer treatment for gambling addiction and dual diagnosis, which means addressing both gambling addiction and any co-occurring substance use disorders. We utilize evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help individuals understand the underlying reasons for their addiction and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

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Are Psychiatric Medications Overused in Addiction Treatment?

Addiction treatment can be complex and challenging, mainly when underlying mental disorders exist. As a result, psychiatric drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics, and mood stabilizers are often prescribed to individuals with addiction to help manage these conditions and improve their chances of recovery. However, the use of psychiatric medications in addiction treatment is a controversial topic.

Some argue that these drugs are often used as a substitute for other treatments or to control behavior. There are also cases of overuse, especially when patients receive drugs for conditions they aren't suffering from.

Psychiatric medications can be effective in managing symptoms of mental disorders. But there's a growing concern about their potential for misuse or abuse and their side effects. With that said, the decision to use psychiatric drugs in addiction treatment should be made on a case-by-case basis. Treatment providers should carefully weigh the potential benefits and risks of these drugs and use them in conjunction with other evidence-based treatments, such as behavioral and group therapy. 

What Are Psychiatric Medications?

Psychiatric medications are prescription drugs used to treat various mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. They work by altering the chemicals in the brain that are associated with these conditions.

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In addiction treatment, psychiatric medications help manage the symptoms of underlying mental health conditions that may be contributing to the addiction. According to SAMSHA, mental health and substance use disorders often co-occur, with each condition leading to the other about 50% of the time. Someone with depression or anxiety may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with their symptoms, and vice versa. A comprehensive approach to dual diagnosis can help ensure both conditions are addressed, helping patients manage their addiction more effectively.

Use of Psychiatric Drugs in Addiction Treatment

Psychiatric drugs can be effective in helping individuals manage the underlying mental health conditions that contribute to their addiction. They can:

Overuse of psychiatric drugs in addiction treatment

While these medications can effectively treat symptoms and improve the quality of life for some patients, there are concerns about overprescribing and potential side effects. Studies show that many Americans take prescribed medication that may be inappropriate or not work for their mental health problems.

Prescription medications are not always the safest or most effective route for patients. Atypical antipsychotic drugs like Chlorpromazine, Fluphenazine, Haloperidol, etc., have been shown to cause deviations in blood pressure and Tardive Dyskinesia, a movement disorder characterized by abnormal, uncontrollable, and repetitive movements of the torso, face, and other body parts.

They also cause common side effects like blurred vision, confusion and agitation, erectile dysfunction, hallucinations, and drowsiness. Yet, many Americans go to their primary health care providers and leave with a prescription drug without knowledge of other evidence-based treatments that might be more effective and without the side effects.

According to the CDC, many patients are now receiving psychotropic medications without proper evaluation by mental health professionals. This is concerning as proper evaluation and diagnosis by a mental health professional is essential to determine the appropriate course of treatment for a patient's specific condition. Additionally, overreliance on medication as the sole treatment option can overlook other critical interventions, such as therapy or lifestyle changes, that can improve a patient's mental health and well-being.

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In addition, some medications used to treat mental health conditions, such as benzodiazepines or stimulants, can have the potential for dependence and withdrawal symptoms if not properly managed. And to worsen the situation, some withdrawal symptoms can mask mental health conditions, leading to misdiagnosis and overprescription of medication. Such cases can cause life-threatening consequences, exacerbate underlying conditions, increase the risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts, and compound mental health issues.

Overusing psychiatric medicines may create neurobiological changes that affect long-term mental health recovery. According to research, these permanent changes can turn transient symptoms into chronic and lifelong mental disorders.

Alternative Treatment Options to Psychiatric Drugs

While psychiatric medications can effectively manage certain mental health conditions, they should not be the only treatment option offered to patients. Instead, a comprehensive approach to treatment that includes therapy, counseling, and lifestyle changes should be considered alongside medication use.

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Psychotropic drugs can be beneficial in addiction treatment and can be life-saving for some patients. However, it is essential for a mental health professional to prescribe psychiatric medications after proper evaluations that include a patient's family history of mental health conditions and any past experiences with medication.

At More Than Rehab, we take a holistic approach to addiction treatment, utilizing evidence-based therapies and medications as appropriate and prioritizing individualized care that addresses the root causes of addiction. Our team of mental health professionals is dedicated to ensuring that medications are used responsibly and appropriately as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

We recognize that psychotropic drugs can have significant side effects and potential for dependence and therefore prioritize careful evaluation and monitoring of each patient's medication use. Ultimately, our goal is to help patients achieve lasting recovery and improved quality of life through a personalized approach to addiction treatment.

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