Category Archives: Recovery

Getting and Staying Sober in College

sober living dorms

The Rise of Collegiate Recovery Programs

There is no easy time in life to start your recovery journey. When you’re struggling with any sort of Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD), whether the substance is alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medication, you have a tough, life-changing, and possibly life-saving decision to make. Once the decision is made and you commit to taking positive action to address your SUD, you realize getting sober is only the first step on a long road. You quickly understand that in the grand scheme of things, the detoxification period – a.k.a. quitting your substance of choice and surviving withdrawal – is relatively short, whereas recovery is forever. There’s no real debate about this. If you don’t come to this conclusion on your own, it’s one of the first things you hear from addiction counselors, therapists, and people in support groups: recovery is a lifelong process.

Any new beginning is delicate, and can set the tone for whatever phase of life you’re entering. That’s why getting and staying sober is especially challenging if you’re a college student. The deck is stacked against you both socially and culturally. The college years are widely accepted as the period of life when you can experiment with alcohol and drugs without experiencing major consequences. It’s almost expected that a typical college student, living away from home for the first time, with easy access to alcohol and drugs – possibly for the first time – will dabble with drinking and smoking marijuana. College students who get caught drinking under age or with small amounts of marijuana are often let off with little more than a slap on the wrist, often delivered with a knowing smile, a friendly wink, and an understanding nod. Even extreme behavior, such as binge drinking and forays into harder drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and hallucinogens, tends to be overlooked or readily forgiven.

For many, this de facto acceptance does not present much of a problem. You go to college, you get a little wild, then something happens to pull you back to earth. You have some sort of near-miss – maybe a scrape with the law, maybe an automobile accident, or maybe a sub-par academic semester – and you see it as a wake-up call. You get your act together, cut back on the risky behavior, and get on with your life.

For others – meaning anyone prone to substance addiction and abuse – the permissive status quo is a recipe for disaster, particularly where alcohol is concerned. The NIAA College Fact Sheet reveals that the drinking habits of college students make them particularly vulnerable to developing an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The facts speak for themselves:

  • Close to 67% of college students who reported drinking at least once a month also engage in binge drinking
  • Binge drinkers who consume alcohol at least three times a week are six times more likely to perform poorly on a test due to drinking, and five times more likely to miss a class due to drinking
  • Roughly 25% of college students report alcohol negatively impacts their academic performance
  • About 20% of college students meet the established criteria for an AUD.

In an environment where the majority of your peers drink regularly and the overwhelming preponderance of social activities revolve around alcohol, getting sober is tough- but staying sober is even tougher. The prospect is so daunting you might feel like you’re in a no-win situation, and you think your only options are to drop out or suffer through four years of self-destructive behavior. If we’ve just described you, then don’t despair. There’s real help out there for you. It’s closer than you think, and it’s gaining momentum with each passing semester: The Collegiate Recovery Movement.

Collegiate Recovery Programs and Collegiate Recovery Communities

What began as a small program at Brown University forty years ago is now a bona fide, evidence-based, time-tested approach to achieving and maintaining sobriety for college students. Today, over 150 institutes of higher learning across the country provide alcohol and substance abuse recovery services for students. These programs revolve around four core elements:

  1. Academic Support. Tutors and guidance counselors assist with the transition from treatment programs back to the rigors of daily class work and studying.
  2. Recovery Support. Collegiate programs help connect students with on-campus support groups such as AA, NA, or SMART Recovery, when available, or local support groups if none exist on campus.
  3. Crisis Management. Many programs connect students with mental and behavioral health support through on-campus clinics or hospitals. The presence of qualified health professionals is particularly helpful for students with co-occurring disorders, those who overdose, or those who haven’t yet entered recovery seeking information or advice on the best steps to take.
  4. Relapse Prevention. Successful collegiate recovery programs provide resources for sober social activities, offer workshops on how to manage peer pressure, and advice on navigating tricky social situations.

These four components are critical in helping college students get and stay sober, but there’s another piece of the puzzle that can make all the difference: your living environment. If you’re doing everything right, recovery-wise, i.e. abstaining from alcohol or drugs, going to support group meetings, seeing a therapist or counselor, and avoiding alcohol-centric social functions, your recovery may be more difficult if you live in a college dorm. When you’re surrounded by peers actively engaged in the party-hangover-class-party-hangover-class cycle, you probably feel like you’re swimming upstream, because you are.

Thankfully, there’s an additional option to explore: recovery housing.

Sober Dorms: The Missing Link in Collegiate Recovery

A study on social support for recovering alcoholics published in 2009 reveals a key data point:

“Those who added at least one non-drinking member to their social network showed twenty-seven percent increase at twelve months post-treatment in the likelihood of treatment success, and sustaining abstinence.”

This insight is critical: it proves that a sober social network can drastically increase your chances of maintaining sobriety. If adding just one non-drinking member to your social circle can increase your chances of staying sober by twenty-seven percent, then imagine what it would be like to live in a dorm surrounded by dozens of sober peers.

It could be a game-changer.

The best example of a sober dorm is the Recovery House at Rutgers University, located on their main campus in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Established in 1988, Recovery House was the first recovery residence hall in the country, and it’s set the standard for sober dorms ever since.

Here’s how it works:

  • Students must be sober for at least 90 days to be eligible
  • Students must attend at least two support group meetings per week
  • Students must attend a monthly house meeting
  • Students have access to a dedicated substance abuse counselor employed by the university
  • Students have access to 140 sober social activities over the course of the school year, organized by the house staff

And it does work. The statistics on residents of Recovery House are compelling:

  • The average GPA is a solid 3.23
  • Students living in the house for more than one semester have an average GPA of 3.4
  • Students living in the house for more than ten semesters have an average abstinence rate of 95%
  • Each semester, 98% of house residents either return or graduate – 13% higher than the university average
  • Over its thirty years, roughly 600 students have passed through the house

College Students: Find Your Community, Find Your Recovery Peers, Find Your House 

If you’re a college student working a sobriety program but feel your recovery is in jeopardy because you’re surrounded by non-stop alcohol, drugs, and partying, please don’t give up. You may be right: your recovery may be threatened by your current environment, and your best option may be to look for a different place to finish school. As mentioned above, over 150 colleges and universities across the country offer recovery services for students, and of those, 50 offer sober residence facilities. You might not find your recovery community right away, and it might be necessary to take a semester off while you get everything in place. While it might be hard to leave your school and your friends, consider this: making the move sooner rather than later might just prevent you from relapse. Which, if you’ve been listening to your counselors and recovery partners, might just save your life – not to mention graduate with that degree you’ve worked so hard to earn.

Social Recovery: The Role of Support Groups in Relapse Prevention

people meeting to share experiences

Recovery from substance abuse is all about change. A person trapped in the cycles of addiction must take action in order to free themselves from those cycles. The hard bottom line in recovery is a change in behavior: addictive behaviors must be identified and replaced with non-addictive behaviors. This basic fact implies changes in thoughts, changes in beliefs, and changes in values. These changes, in turn, imply a fundamental restructuring of an individual’s perspective on themselves, the world, and their role in the world. If behavior is understood as the end result of a series of decisions based on thoughts, beliefs, and values informed by personal perspective, it follows that – as difficult a prospect as this may be – a person seeking to recover from addiction must change everything leading to the behavior in question. In short, a person in recovery needs to do more than simply modify behavior: they need to create a new identity.

But there’s a rub. No person exists in isolation. Individuals function as the central node in a network of relationships within which they carve out their place and establish their role. This role and place determines their social identity, which is reinforced through a mutual feedback loop created by the individual, their behavior, and the responsive behaviors of the people around them. This complicates the process of recovery, because it requires the recovering individual to change not only their internal sense of self – the sum total of their thoughts, beliefs, and values – but also their external manifestation of self, i.e. their role and place in their social network. A recent vein of empirical research in substance abuse treatment takes this concept one step further, concluding that sustainable, life-long recovery requires restructuring the social milieu of the recovering addict to fully support and ensure their success.

The research indicates it’s not enough to change only oneself; full recovery requires participating in groups that reinforce the new self, created during the process of recovery. Without this essential element, the chance of relapse increases, driven by external pressure: the power of the old social group associated with addictive behavior eclipses the nascent, vulnerable self of recovery, and the hard work of recovery is lost.  Whether you join an outpatient treatment program or go to a community support meeting, social connection is critical to long-term success.

This article will discuss the ideas presented in the paper “The Social Identity Model of Cessation Maintenance: Formulation and initial evidence” by Daniel Frings and Ian P. Alvery, published in the peer-review journal Addictive Behaviors in October, 2014. It will address the traditional role of social groups in addiction recovery, the way those groups impact social identity, and the positive effect the intentional restructuring of social groups and social identity have on long-term recovery from substance abuse and addiction.

Something Old, Something New

The idea that social support facilitates recovery is nothing new. In fact, social support groups are almost synonymous with recovery: ask a random person on the street what they know about quitting alcohol or drugs, and the likely response will be something like,

“Well, most people go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, and if that doesn’t work, they go into rehab.”

And that random person would be right. Support groups have long been an accepted component in the recovery process. They function in many ways: they may be an individual’s first exposure to recovery, they may be part of a residential rehab or intensive outpatient program, or they may be a key element of transition from rehab back to day-today life. While AA meetings and the Twelve-Step approach to recovery are widely recognized as the dominant support group paradigm, non-Twelve-Step programs such as SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery are now widespread and offer equally viable social support options for recovering addicts.

The intriguing aspect of “The Social Identity Model of Cessation Maintenance” study is not that social support plays a big part in recovery, but the detailed discussion of the how and why social support groups work, combined with data to support the assertion that in the absence of a social system to support the newly formed sober identity, the chances of cessation maintenance – a fancy way of saying staying sober and avoiding relapse – decrease dramatically.

Why Support Groups Work for People in Recovery

A person with a serious addiction or substance abuse disorder creates a social identity that’s inextricably intertwined with their addiction. They self-identify with their substance of choice: smokers readily say “I’m a smoker,” and drinkers readily say, “I’m a drinker.” When it won’t get them in legal trouble, people who smoke marijuana readily say, “I’m a pot smoker.” The social groups associated with these behaviors reinforce these identities. People who drink hang around other people who drink. Smokers take smoke breaks at work with other smokers, and people who smoke marijuana tend to spend time with other people who smoke marijuana. The person with the addiction may be many other things in life, as well. They may establish aspects of their identity in terms of family, work, or other activities. They may be a mom or dad, a lawyer, teacher, a cyclist, or a musician. When they decide to stop drinking, smoking, or using drugs, however, they’ve usually reached a point where their addict-identity has achieved primacy, interrupted their other identities, taken control of most of their behavior, and made their life as moms, dads, lawyers, or teachers unmanageable.

The addict-identity, supported by social groups that validate and reinforce the addictive behavior, does not simply disappear when the addict decides to enter recovery. Nor do the social groups magically blink out of existence. The drinkers are there, drinking. The smokers are there, smoking. And the drug users are still there, using drugs. A person in the early stages of recovery who tries to maintain old social habits and networks fights an uphill battle: the strength of habituated social reinforcement can easily overwhelm the sober-identity they’re trying to create. The social groups may not be consciously or maliciously hostile to the sober identity, but by definition and in practice, they do not help its formation or foster its growth, either: these social groups and the behaviors that signify membership are self-perpetuating. They – meaning the collective will of the individual members – help maintain the status quo. Through sheer inertia, they have the ability to crush dissent and non-conformity without even noticing its happening.

That’s where support groups come in: they offer a social system that reinforces both sober behavior and the formation of a new sober identity. They offer shared norms, values, and life-strategies that encourage the sober-identity to flourish. They create a set of standards that protect the newly sober individual in their efforts to escape addiction. Their members offer advice, encouragement, and a sense of belonging. They form a protective shield behind which an individual new to recovery can gather themselves and lay the foundation for a new approach to life. In the words of Frings and Alvery,

“Much of group [support] revolves around strengthening the salience of a new social identity of ‘recovery’ and demonstrating its applicability to situations beyond the treatment setting. This involves a transition between an addict identity and a recovery addict identity. Social identity re-search suggests that the transition between identities often leads to a reevaluation of values and behaviors and is potentially a period of stress. Moderators of this stress include social support, continuity (over time) with other identities and a perception that relevant identities are compatible. Relative to addicts quitting on their own, group therapy [or a support group environment] provides these protective factors.”

Support groups work because humans are social animals and individual human identity never develops in a vacuum. Human identity is the result of practice, and recovering addicts need a place to practice their new recovery identity until they’ve got a firm grip on what it takes to maintain sobriety. They also need concrete, specific examples to guide them through the tenuous, initial stages of recovery. Experienced members of support groups provide all that, and more. It’s one thing for an addiction counselor to dispense advice on how to handle trigger situations; it’s quite another to sit in a meeting a hear fellow group member say, “I was triggered this morning, and here’s how I successfully handled the situation.”

Social Support and Recovery: Key Points

A revised, retooled, and restructured social network is a crucial component of recovery, but there’s a very interesting point to be made regarding the size and scope of social restructuring necessary to stay sober. First, it’s important to define exactly what recovery means. According to the Betty Ford Consensus Panel on Recovery, recovery is defined as “…voluntary maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” The Ford Panel further identifies three aspects of recovery:

  • Functional Recovery: Remission of symptoms.
  • Personal Recovery: Getting a job and coping with daily life demands.
  • Social Recovery: Developing strong and supportive social networks.

The first two aspects are obvious: recovery requires the addict to cease the addictive behavior and handle the typical demands of life. It’s also obvious that elements of the previous social network must be eliminated: if you’re a recovering alcoholic, hanging out in bars is not a good idea: eliminate that aspect of your social life. If you’re a pot smoker, hanging around the smoke shop is not a good idea: eliminate that aspect of your social life. The interesting point to be made involves “strong and supportive social networks.” When rebuilding a social world, one may think the new social networks need to be as large – by number – as the old social networks. While it’s true that the bigger and more robust the new social network is, the more support it can offer, a study on social support for recovering alcoholics published in 2009 reveals that size does not matter:

“Those who added at least one non-drinking member to their social network showed 27 percent increase at 12 months post-treatment in the likelihood of treatment success, and sustaining abstinence.”

This insight is critical: it proves that social interactions are a small hinge capable of swinging an enormous door. The addition of only one abstinent member to a recovering addict’s social network can drastically increase their chances of maintaining sobriety. This is important because individuals in recovery can get overwhelmed by the apparent difficulties of the path they’ve chosen, and reading an article like this, which seems to say “I have to get a whole new social life or I’m never going to make it” might add a layer of difficulty they’re not ready to tackle. But adding one non-drinking, non-drug taking person is not scary. On the contrary, of all the challenges of recovery, it may be the most do-able.

The Path to Change

The role of social identity in addiction is impossible to ignore. We grow, develop, and become experts at particular types of behavior because they serve us well at some point in our lives – even the behaviors of addiction originally developed as survival mechanisms. The addict-identities we create to support these behaviors also served us well at some point in our lives, as did the social networks we participated in that reinforced and perpetuated these identities. If they hadn’t, we never would have developed them, and we would never have sought out the associated social groups that reinforced them. When an individual chooses recovery over addiction, it’s like hitting a reset button on all of the above. Negative, addictive behaviors must be identified and replaced, but that’s not all: the addict-identity behind the behaviors must be identified and replaced, as well. The new identity – the sober-identity, the recovery-identity, former-addict-identity – needs a safe place to grow and thrive. That safe space is a community of sober, social interactions, filled with people united by common purpose working toward a shared goal. Support groups and group therapy are effective spaces for just that: they give the recovering addict a forum in which to practice their new identity and work out the kinks before they take it out for a drive. And you don’t have to be a social butterfly, flitting from one support group to the next: one person can make all the difference.

Mindfulness and Recovery: Theory and Mechanisms

woman practicing mindfulness by the seaThe practice of mindfulness is no longer considered an experimental approach in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorders. Once a novelty without much data or evidence to verify its benefits, research into the mechanisms and efficacy of mindfulness practices on health and wellness began in the 1970s, gained momentum in the 1980s and 1990s, and surged in the 2000s. Between 2000 and 2010, the sheer volume of mindfulness studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals piqued the attention of the traditional medical establishment and forced a shift in the way doctors, therapists, and health scientists view techniques once considered interesting but unverified fluff. Since 2010, wide-ranging surveys and meta-analyses have addressed and verified the scientific basis for mindfulness. The current consensus is that practices such as meditation, yoga, taiji, and basic breathing exercises are practical and effective components in the treatment of mental health disorders of all sorts, and substance abuse disorders in particular.

This article offers a brief history of mindfulness in the U.S., a discussion of the neural mechanisms mindfulness training targets, and a general theory to explain why mindfulness plays an important role in any treatment and recovery plan for individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction disorders.

Mindfulness in the U.S.

While a majority of the population may view mindfulness as a relatively new phenomenon, history tells a different story. Mindfulness arrived in the U.S. over a century ago, when renowned Indian guru Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893. Vivekananda represented India, Hinduism, and yoga, but his speech triggered national interest in spiritual and physical practices from Tibet, China, and Japan. In the decades that followed, the secular aspects of Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism – yoga, taiji/qigong, and meditation, respectively – slowly worked their way into American culture. The 1960s saw an explosion of interest in yoga with the publication of a popular series of books by Richard Hittleman, and in 1970 yoga made it to television: the show Yoga for Health proved yoga, and by extension, mindfulness practices in general, were here to stay.

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts, conducted the first scientific studies on the mental health benefits of mindfulness. He began by examining the effect of mindfulness on chronic pain management, then widened the scope of his research to include stress, anxiety, and depression. He synthesized his work into a system known as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). MBSR is now a default therapeutic technique in use by therapists, treatment centers, and addiction experts worldwide. It’s been combined successfully with a variety of traditional psychotherapeutic modes, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Relapse Prevention (RP). Evidence for the complete integration of MBSR with these techniques – and its acceptance by the scientific community – is reflected in a new family of acronyms: MBCBT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), MBDBT (Mindfulness-Based Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), MBACT (Mindfulness-Based Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), and MBRP (Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention). Thankfully, a simpler way of labeling mindfulness-related therapies has supplanted the acronym avalanche: they’re now collectively known as Mindfulness Training, or MT.

Mindfulness Training: Neurochemical Mechanisms

For generations, both the neuroscience community and the general public lived with the belief that after a certain point early in life, neurogenesis, or the formation of new brain cells, stopped. This misconception was debunked in the late 1990s, first by identifying the formation of new brain cells in songbirds and finally by identifying the formation of new brain cells in adult humans in the early 2000s. A growing body of research proves definitively that mature humans can not only produce new brain cells, but the new brain cells can be produced in a relatively short amount of time – as little as eight weeks – by the practice of mindfulness techniques.

Mindfulness training results in an increase in brain matter density (neurogenesis) in the following brain regions:

Hippocampus: The hippocampus is an essential structure in the limbic network, the part of the brain primarily responsible for emotional regulation. The hippocampus also contributes to the formation of memory and cognitive functions like self-awareness, compassion, and reflection.

Amygdala: Part of the limbic network, the amygdala is known to be associated with sensations of stress and anxiety.

Posterior Cingulate Cortex (PCC): The PCC is involved in the process of assessing the relevance of external stimuli to oneself, and contributes to placing these self-referential stimuli in an individual’s emotional and autobiographical context.

Cerebellum: The cerebellum is primarily known for its function with regards to sensory perception and motor control, but it also contributes significantly to the regulation of cognitive and emotional processes.

Temp-parietal Junction (TPJ): The TPJ facilitates the integration of internal and external sensory information, social cognition, and the ability to interpret the desires, intentions, and goals of others. Activation of the TPJ is linked to feelings of empathy and compassion.

The brain structures stimulated and strengthened by mindfulness training combine to form a functional group uniquely relevant to the treatment substance abuse and addiction. Substance abuse disorders compromise and lead to deficits in emotional regulation, stress response, anxiety, self-awareness, social intelligence, and empathy. While these deficits manifest in different ways for different people, their cumulative effect leads to dysfunctional behavior in the form of counter-productive coping skills. Self-medication suppresses powerful emotions, disproportionate stress-response and exaggerated anxiety increase desire for self-medication, distorted perception of the self-in-context normalizes the denial of the self-destructive consequences of substance abuse, and diminished social intelligence and empathy contribute to the tendency of addicts to lose sight of the consequences of their actions on the people around them. Mindfulness training reinforces the neural mechanisms necessary to bolster the perceptive skills required to bring these deficits back into balance, enabling individuals to see and understand their behavior, which in turn allows them to build the healthy and life-affirming coping skills that lead to sustainable recovery.

A Mindful Model of Addiction

A deep dive into the scientific literature available on the effects of mindfulness training on mental health disorders, including addiction treatment and recovery, leads the diligent reader to mountains of data describing positive benefits related to well-being, mood, self-efficacy, stress tolerance, the ability to gain non-judgmental perspective on behavior. However, only one study elucidates the connection between Buddhist philosophy – the theoretical basis of most practical mindfulness techniques – and contemporary theories of addiction. In “Craving to Quit: psychological models and neurobiological mechanisms of mindfulness as treatment for addictions”, a 2012 paper published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, researchers apply the Buddhist theory of human suffering to substance abuse disorders, calling it “an early model of addiction.”

The Buddhist Model

The Buddhist theory of suffering is relatively simple. It states that desire causes all human suffering, and therefore, the path to enlightenment – or in the case of regular people living 21st century lives, the path to health and wellness – lies in releasing attachment to objects of desire. Buddhist philosophy also asserts that personal identity is formed, in part, by associations created by habitual behavior. An individual desires an object or subjective sensation and connects fulfillment of that desire to a concept of identity, which reinforces both the habitual fulfillment-seeking behavior and concept of self to the sensations and attendant emotional states achieved by fulfilling the desire. In the case of an individual struggling with substance abuse, pleasurable sensations that follow substance use are the objects of desire. Those sensations become an aspect of identity. When those sensations fade, so fades the habituated sense of identity. The fulfillment of desire, therefore, becomes the search to maintain identity, and identity becomes inextricably intertwined with substance use. 

Mindfulness Training: Interrupting the Craving Cycle

The way to break this cycle is to separate the habituated sense of identity from the cycle of desire. Substitute the idea of craving for the phrase cycle of desire, and addictive behavior can be understood by recognizing that what addicts do is logical: they crave reinforcement of their sense of identity. More simply put, they crave being themselves. In the case of an individual struggling with addiction, the created self is counter-productive and damaging to long term health, function, and survival. When the cycle continues in unchecked, iterative repetition, the self of addiction undermines the true self by distorting emotion, perception, memory, and cognitive function. It supplants and ultimately destroys the original self and becomes the default state of identity.

Buddhist scholars call this cycle “the chain of dependent origination.” Craving is what connects identity to the chain; therefore, breaking the cycle of craving may enable an individual to escape the cycles of addiction. Mindfulness training teaches the skills required to see the cycle as it is – a self-destructive one – and replace it with constructive patterns of behavior. Dr. Lawrence Peltz, author of “The Mindful Path to Addiction Recovery: A Practical Guide to Regaining Control over Your Life”, describes mindfulness training as

“… a powerful accompaniment to the recovery, psychotherapy, and medicine an alcoholic or addict needs. In essence, mindfulness is the quality of awareness that sees without judgment, shining a light on each moment just as it is. This includes physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and the nature of our experience continually shifting and changing. With practice, it is a skill that can be developed by anyone.”

The first step in developing this important recovery skill is learning to slow the mind down, relax, focus, and “shine a light on each moment just as it is.” There are many paths to this mind-state, such as seated meditation, walking meditation, breathing exercises, and the practice of yoga postures. What all these techniques have in common is their ability to grant the practitioner the ability to clearly see what drives their actions, and the perspective to decide whether those actions help them or hurt them.

Mindfulness allows an individual to observe, for instance, that stress triggers a cascade of emotion that leads to a particular behavior, i.e. substance use. Mindfulness further allows the individual to understand that though substance use temporarily alleviates the symptoms of stress, that same stress, anxiety, and tangle of uncomfortable emotions returns when the substance of abuse clears their system. The clarity of mindful perception can lead to the insight that substance use does nothing whatsoever to mitigate the underlying cause of the stress. This insight may lead to greater and greater levels of understanding. The authors of “Craving to Quit” summarize the benefits of mindful perception in this way:

“By decoupling pleasant and unpleasant experience from habitual reactions of craving and aversion, careful attention to the present moment can function to bring a broadening or spaciousness of awareness that allows new appraisals of life situation. A possible result of this…is the ability of mindfulness to facilitate positive reappraisal.”

Mindfulness in Action

In the context of treatment and recovery, the power of mindfulness lies in its ability to support, complement, and functionalize more traditional modes of therapy. While methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Relapse Prevention (RP) help individuals identify patterns of behavior which undermine health and well-being, they do not offer specific techniques with the strength to arrest craving cycles during the critical moments in which cravings occur. When craving hits, habituated patterns of addiction drive behavior towards that which reaffirms the distorted sense of self and identity caused by addiction. Traditional therapies based on talking and thinking often fail to interrupt these patterns, whereas mindfulness training – through breathing exercises, somatic practices, and the cultivation of non-judgmental detachment – teaches skills to stop the cycle of craving in its tracks, allow the moment of craving to pass without acting upon it, and create the internal space to replace the negative patterns of addiction with the positive patterns of recovery.

For decades, mindfulness training has helped individuals struggling with substance abuse and addiction disorders achieve balance and harmony in their lives. In the early days of the mindfulness movement, these techniques were regularly devalued, ignored, or ridiculed by the scientific establishment. Those days, thankfully, are over. Advances in neuroimaging have allowed researchers to identify discrete changes in brain structure following mindfulness training, offering clear data on the mechanisms by which mindfulness supports recovery. Coupled with a compelling, logical theory to elucidate the role of mindfulness vis a vis identity, choice, action, and behavior, mindfulness training has shed the baggage of unverified novelty and assumed its proper place in the mental health community as an effective, practical, and evidence-based mode of treatment for substance abuse and addiction disorders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drug Overdose Kills More Americans Than Car Accidents

Drug and opioid addiction recovery at Summit Estate Recovery CenterMore than 40,000 Americans die each year from drug overdoses and more than half of those overdose deaths involve opioids. Drug overdoses account for more deaths in the US than car accidents or gun violence.

In the most recent data available, 52,404 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2015 as compared to 35,092 people died (according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) from motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. in the same period.

With all these deaths, what are opioids specifically and how to they work?

Opioids are compounds that bind to receptors in a person’s brain, which blocks pain and slows breathing. Opioid causes the brain to release the natural chemical dopamine and people typically feel a calm “happy” high. Addiction causes people to take opioids regularly, and as a result, they develop a tolerance to the drugs. This forces people to take more and more of the drugs to achieve the same effect. Therefore, if enough of the drug is taken it causes a person to stop breathing altogether, making overdoses often fatal.

Some opioids – heroin – are illegal. While others, hydrocodone or oxycodone are prescribed for pain relief – the two most common brand names are Vicodin and OxyContin. Prescriptions for the drugs have skyrocketed over the years, from 76 million in 1991 to over 260 million last year. To compound the issue the influx of fentanyl, a painkiller prescribed for acute pain that is up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, is leading to higher rates of overdose nationwide.

Opioid usage is high across the United States with many of the states hit hardest by the epidemic — West Virginia, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Ohio. The epidemic affects both rural and urban areas equally.

Where Does Someone Get Their Drugs from?

Most often is it is believed that overprescribing is fueling the epidemic. A person gets injured and is prescribed painkillers, which quietly leads to addiction. However, according to federal data, most people start out by taking the painkillers of a friend or family member and become addicted quickly.

Experimentation typically starts during adolescence or young adulthood, but opioid addiction affects people of all ages equally and leads to devastating consequences. Those attempting to recovery by practicing abstinence alone when it comes to opioid addiction fail at a high rate, with roughly 90 percent of people relapsing.

That is why at Summit Estate, we understand that every addiction is unique. We are committed to helping our clients have a brighter future free from addiction. So, we have developed a personalized addiction treatment program to address our clients’ specific needs. Our exclusive rehab centers offer truly personalized care for total healing from poly-substance addiction and co-occuring disorders like depression and anxiety.

The luxurious facilities and beautiful grounds provide all of the important amenities individuals need to feel comfortable while undergoing drug and alcohol detox. Our innovative recovery programs are offered by highly credentialed treatment professionals who aim to provide each client with the highest level of care possible. With a small client population, each individual receives the one-on-one attention needed to overcome addiction and go on to live a happy, balanced life.

Grey’s Story – A Road of Hope and Recovery at Summit Estate

Grey’s Story – A Road to Hope and Recovery
“Alcohol was my primary demon,” says Grey. At 59 years old, Grey looks back on his long struggle with alcoholism and is able to reflect back on a life that was almost cut short because of his addiction.

For decades, Grey’s life was unmanageable and was causing his family pain as they bear witness to his slow path of self-destruction. Over the years he had unsuccessfully tried several times to quit. “I tried different things to quit, I tried Alcoholic Anonymous meetings, harm reduction programs – it just wasn’t enough,” he says. His addiction affected his self-esteem and his business as well. He also had to confront underlying issues of anger, which made it difficult for Grey to seek or receive help.

His wife and two teenage daughters experienced the agony and pain of Grey’s blackouts and hospital visits. Grey’s addiction was tearing his family apart as he continued down the path of self-destruction. At one point, Greys wife threaten to leave and file for divorce. It was one of the lowest points in Grey’s life. “I felt ‘broken,” he says. “My addiction made me lose sight of everything around me,” says Grey.

His therapist suggested he go to rehab. “It was obvious and clear, but denial was in the room,” says Grey. The breakthrough and willingness to get the help he needed was the change of attitude that saved Grey’s life. “I looked at recovery facilities state wide,” Grey says. “When I walked through Summit Estate’s doors, the atmosphere was excellent, very open and informal, well-staffed,” he says. Grey took the first step and entered Summit Estate’s 5-week residential treatment program. “It was nerve racking to take time off of work to take care of myself – it was either that or go down the drain, but I was stepping away from danger and into helpful hands,” says Grey.

“My father was an alcoholic and I didn’t have a concept of modern recovery,” he says. This compounded the issue of starting recovery difficult.

The road to recovery is seldom an upward trajectory, as in life it can be filled with the occasional setbacks and disappointments. “Looking back it was the best decision I made, although reluctantly at first. My experience at Summit Estate was very positive and I couldn’t have imagined doing what I do now – living life sober and happy” says Grey.

Grey is on a solid road to recovery and is facing the daily challenges of staying sober with a new mindset and recovery tools learned at Summit Estate. “The road to recovery has been rocky at times, but Summit Estate is one of the healthiest places to get your head together – they have their client’s best interest in mind,” says Grey.

“Summit Estate is a safe place, where I was taken care of, given a chance to relax, to think, to reflect. Sacrifice a little to gain recovery, it’s only a few weeks,” says Grey.

Joyful Gen: A Story of Recovery

Joyful Gen A Story of Recovery

Genevieve now looks back at her years of drug addiction with a sense of “I couldn’t have imagined a life without addiction.” Her addiction started in her late teens when a family member first introduced Genevieve to marijuana. She continued getting high for nearly a decade, sometimes smoking up to 5-6 times a day.

By the time Genevieve left for college she was fully ingrained in the “smoking culture.” She was a good student and never got into trouble, but at night she would sneak out to get high. “I lived a second life, where no one judged me,” says Genevieve. As a result of the continued smoking, she dealt with depression, panic attacks and paranoia. Genevieve entered a college sponsored outpatient program to help her to quit using marijuana, but her sobriety didn’t last long and she relapsed.

Genevieve tried to quit off and on for the next six years, but she kept relapsing. She would go as far as flushing the weed down the toilet, yell at herself to stop getting high, entertaining thoughts of getting into a car accident or even experience a stroke all to stop smoking. “I wondered how I would ever get out of this addiction,” she says.

In her late 20s, Genevieve finally had reached a point where she knew she needed help. One day on a whim she Googled drug recovery centers and came across Summit Estate’s website. Genevieve picked up the telephone and began dialing the toll-free hotline. On the other end of the phone was Mike, one of Summit Estate’s staff members. Genevieve shared that she needed help and “Mike said come in right now and had he said come in tomorrow or another day, I wouldn’t come in at all,” she says.

“Summit Estate’s counselor Dee made it easy to make it, by just focusing on one thing at a time,” says Genevieve. Dee sat down with Genevieve and created a personalized recovery plan. “It was Dee’s simple tools and positive affirmation that helped me overcome my addiction. When those negative ‘voices came out of my head’ – it felt like lead weights that were holding down my soul were lifted and I started healing,” she explains.

Genevieve learned to express herself through art, music, poetry, and other activities at Summit Estate. “it made my soul sing,” she says. The nurturing atmosphere and caring staff created an environment where Genevieve felt safe to keep working on her recovery. “I wasn’t critical and didn’t judge myself anymore, I felt free to be who I am,” says Genevieve.

Joyful Gen, as she affectionately became to be known at Summit Estate, was experiencing true joy and happiness for the first time in her life – Genevieve began to see a life free from addiction. “My word of advice is to continually work on your recovery, be open and willing to break through,” she says.

How To Kick An Addiction While Building
A Career

Ways To Kick Addiction While Building A CareerDrugs, alcohol and work don’t mix. At one time, hiding a bottle of Scotch or a handful of pills in a desk drawer for an afternoon high was conveniently overlooked by employers. Today, addictions are surefire career killers.

If you find yourself experiencing the torment of addiction while trying to hold down a serious fulltime job, you know you’re walking a treacherous tightrope. How many times can you call in sick or show up late for work before you get called into the boss’s office or the human resources department? How many excuses can you invent for your lengthy lunches or extended coffee breaks? As the work piles up and your performance dips down, you try to bluff your way through another miserable week at work hoping no one will notice you’re drowning with no hope in sight.

Addiction On The Job

Many hardworking career professionals suffer from the disease of addiction. Trying to navigate recovery and maintain your career path can be very tricky indeed. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 90 percent of alcoholics are functional. These include many high-paid professionals such as executives, physicians, entrepreneurs and even pilots. What all of these individuals have in common besides addiction is the ability to hide their struggles from coworkers, friends and loved ones.

“…more than 90 percent of alcoholics are functional.”

Overcoming The Denial Of Addiction

Many functioning addicts tell themselves that they’re ok because they pay their bills on time and are employed. Some drink only the finest wines or choose to use opioid painkillers prescribed from top-rated physicians. It’s easy to be in denial when you’re not on the streets struggling to find the cash for your next fix.

It’s also a fact that high-functioning addicts often spend years or even decades in denial. The problem is often made worse by family or friends who either fail to recognize or choose not to confront the problem.

Ways To Maintain Your Career While Overcoming Addiction

The good news is that many individuals manage to sustain their career and even achieve greater heights of success when they embrace recovery. In fact, there are many treatment options for professionals who need help with drug abuse or alcoholism.

Outpatient Programs: One option that is particularly beneficial for busy professionals is outpatient treatment that is scheduled around work and other responsibilities. An outpatient program offers personalized, on-going support as an individual continues in their career. Outpatient programs typically have a variety of treatment options that fit into a busy work schedule, including group and family counseling and 12-step meetings.

Internet Recovery Forums: Another flexible option that can help you kick an addiction are internet-based recovery forums such as Recovery.org/forums and SoberRecovery.com/forums. Although these types of forums can help you stay positively focused and offer supplemental support, they are no substitute for tangible, professional addiction treatment.

Are You A Busy Professional Struggling With Addiction?

The first step in overcoming addiction is breaking through the denial and asking for help. There are plenty of other professionals just like you who have already asked for help and are now enjoying a more productive, balanced life free from addiction. You’re not alone.

It’s time to take control of your life so that you can stay focused on your career, your family and the many other things that are truly important in life. If you’re ready to finally get control of your addiction, call Summit Estate now to speak with an addiction specialist.

We focus on each individual’s personal needs and goals and create a customized treatment plan that will work.

Learn more about our San Jose outpatient drug and alcohol programs below.

Outpatient Program

Why Spirituality Is Key To Effective Addiction Recovery

SummitEstate-SoulMind-banner-4-28-16According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard, spirituality and brain activity are inextricably linked. The study found that mindfulness meditation could do far more than simply redirecting certain thought patterns. It actually changed the brain’s gray matter. Specifically, meditation resulted in “a major increase in gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.” Because addiction impacts the brain in profound ways, this new knowledge holds enormous implications for the effectiveness of certain spiritual techniques used in addiction recovery.

An Unlikely Antidote

In 2002, international social work professors and researchers, Kris Kissman and Lynn Maurer, published an article in the Journal of International Social Work entitled East meets West: Therapeutic aspects of spirituality in health, mental health and addiction recovery. In it, they share that spirituality – the moral framework for giving meaning to life – can be a sort of “antidote to depression and despair.” They go further to say that “spiritual healing promotes wholeness and well-being, lacking when life circumstances create dejection that can result in self-medication, or the use of psychoactive substances to combat dispirited feelings.”

For anyone who has ever felt the unyielding grip of depression or addiction and is ready to encounter change, hope of such an antidote is worth exploring further.Women In The Field

From scholars to clinicians, experts are taking a closer look at practices that have been commonly used in Eastern cultures, and finding ways to incorporate them into the addiction recovery tactics used in the West. In a 2014 New York Times article, Dr. Lisa Miller, Director of Clinical Psychology and of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University’s Teachers College, wrote that “a personal relationship with a higher power is the most powerful form of protection against the ‘mystic consciousness’ of substance abuse.” Addiction recovery programs offer a space in which one can explore this personal relationship alongside professionals who are familiar with the multifaceted nature of addiction.

One by one, the most highly respected authorities in the field of medicine are getting on the spiritual bandwagon because of the unquestionable evidence that brain and spirit are connected. In 2008, Pew Research Center published the transcript of a discussion held among a panel of neuroscientists. They spoke about how brain-imaging technology is telling us more and more about how we are affected by matters of the soul – “In observing Buddhist monks as they meditate, Franciscan nuns as they pray and Pentecostals as they speak in tongues, Dr. Andrew Newberg, a radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that measurable brain activity matches up with the religious experiences described by worshippers.”

Addiction recovery experts are utilizing this knowledge, and it is proving to be quite effective.

Spirituality vs. Religion

Reaching Towards the Sky-Spirituality vs. ReligionThere’s a difference between spirituality and religion, so it’s important to distinguish between the two. Lance Dodes, M.D., Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, clarifies this difference – “…up to about 70 years ago, the terms spirituality and religion were almost synonymous.  But since then, ‘spirituality’ has also been used to refer to a feeling or belief in the oneness between an individual and the universe, being in touch with one’s soul or inner self, and even simply a sense of personal well-being.  None of these newer meanings has a specific reference to a deity or to religion.” Others who have attempted to define the terms have said religion relies more heavily on a collective agreement to adhere to certain rules, while spirituality is more focused on individual experiences and the unique meaning that s/he derives from those experiences.

Spirituality – A Lasting Road To Transcendence

Across disciplines, spirituality is being utilized as a dynamic tool that guides individuals toward an inner connectedness, awareness of oneself in relation to the universe, and a state of health and well-being.

What we now know is that addiction is often the result of a person’s desire to have a sense of pleasure and well-being. One’s substance of choice offers a temporary and false sense of euphoria, or as Dr. Miller puts it, “a shortcut to transcendence.” A deeper understanding of this human need for transcendence is informing the development of mental and behavioral alternatives to patients. These alternatives hold hope for those who use substances to satisfy their craving for feelings of bliss and relief.

Spiritual Recovery – What To Expect

Meditating-Spiritual Recovery, What To ExpectFor those who choose to venture into the world of spiritual healing, some of the angst may be due to not knowing what to expect. Many of the methods involve what Kissman and Maurer refer to as “present-moment awareness.” By focusing on breathing, listening, and sharing stories, this “present-moment awareness” has the potential to correct distortions that exist in the thoughts of addicts, quieting the mind and opening the door to another way of coping with stress and worries.

Here are some important things to remember:

  • Spirituality and Power – Addiction recovery is often about giving up reliance on personal will power, and surrendering to the power of the collective. This is why group processes are so effective. Spirituality takes this concept to another level by teaching patients how to not only relinquish power to control, but also how to “[join] with a higher power in order to increase personal power,” according to Kissman and Maurer.
  • Spirituality and Transformation – Successful and lasting addiction recovery involves personal transformation. Addicts who once identified themselves as weak or powerless learn how to reframe their identity. This change comes as a result of the metaphors and stories that are characteristic of many spiritual practices. The stories give voice to individual struggles, and provide the spiritual component of “interconnectedness between individuals” by “[breaking] the emotional isolation” that often fuels addiction.
  • Spirituality and Cognition – Our brains are fascinating, and have the incredible ability to focus on the past, the present, the future, or realms of thought that aren’t even real. Kissman and Maurer’s research reveals that “present-moment awareness… facilitates a cognitive focus on positive aspects of everyday life” which “clears the mind for self-nurturing and coping.” In a world where suffering and despair may threaten to take over, self-nurturing is a skill that can improve cognitive function. Spirituality can clarify the “cognitive distortions” that can trigger substance abuse.

Addressing The Skeptics

AA MeetingAlcoholics Anonymous (AA) has now been around for over 80 years. Since the program’s inception in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, scientists and AA enthusiasts have gone back and forth about the credibility and success rate of the program’s spiritually-based 12-step method. To be fair, collecting data and publishing the findings of AA groups in peer-reviewed medical journals has been quite difficult because of the expectation of anonymity that is the very basis of the groups’ operation.

Even with this challenge, scientists have found ways to measure the success of the program. The numbers cannot be denied.  When discussing the skepticism that academicians have directed toward the spiritual components of AA, Thomas McClellan, Ph.D., Director of the Treatment Research Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, says that because of the data, “professionals with such attitudes owe AA an apology.” Robert Fiorentine, Ph.D., Director of Research Training at the UCLA Drug Abuse Research Center, agrees, saying that “recent evidence [indicates] the effectiveness of the Twelve Steps in assisting in recovery.”

In 1998, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published a study called Project MATCH, which looked at 21 personal characteristics that could serve as reliable predictors of how well people would do when engaged in specific types of treatment. The findings of the Project MATCH study were fascinating. A total of 806 clients were randomly assigned to one of three different treatments. When total abstinence – fully giving up alcohol – was the desired outcome, the spiritually-based 12-step method held a “statistically significant advantage” over the other 2 treatments – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy.

Learn More

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, exploring spiritual treatment options might be worth a try. If your interest is piqued, give us a call today to find out more about how we can support you through your own transformation.

5 Things To Be Thankful For When Recovering From Addiction

5 Things To Be Thankful For When Recovering From AddictionThe emotionally demanding process of recovery is not easy by anyone’s standards. The initial phases of sobriety are particularly difficult, and even physically and emotionally exhausting. Yet, in the early phase of recovery, individuals who are battling drug or alcohol addiction are often surprised that they quickly begin to rediscover hope and a renewed appreciation for life.

In rehab, you will often hear people say that you can start your day over at any time. In recovery, you have the opportunity to start your life over. Whether you’ve lived with addiction for months, years or decades, today is truly the first day of the rest of your life – your sober life! This is why many addicts will tell you that their worst day sober is better than their best day using.

Things To Be Thankful For When Recovering From Addiction

While every individual in recovery will have their own particular reasons to be thankful, the following are some of the most typical that you’ll hear from those who are on their journey of recovery.

1. Better Health

Drugs and alcohol can wreak havoc on your physical health. From causing sleep disturbances and digestion problems to damaging your skin and eventually your internal organs, addiction is a one way ticket to health problems. By eliminating the substance from your system, you’ll begin to heal yourself. In fact, feeling and looking better are some of the earliest benefits of sobriety.

2. Clarity

Drugs and alcohol put your brain in a fog that can make it hard to concentrate, connect with others and experience feelings. Many people who enter recovery are amazed to experience a renewed ability to comprehend ideas and feel the gamut of emotions that are part of a healthy, fully-functioning life.

3. New Friends

While it’s important to stay connected with existing friends who support you in your recovery, you’ll most likely meet new individuals in meetings and support groups. Often, these will be the friends who you celebrate milestones and victories with as you achieve long-term sobriety.

4. Better Family Relationships

Addiction can be devastating on a family. Relationship can be damaged, and trust is lost. With each day of sobriety, you’ll be able to regain trust and participate fully in the lives of those who mean the most to you.

5. Greater Productivity

Work, school, relationships, exercise, hobbies and more will improve when you’re free from addition. It can feel like you have more hours in the day, and, in a sense, you do! Make the most of your reclaimed time, and relish in the pleasure of making the most of your life!

Get On The Road To Gratitude

Starting on the journey of recovery can seem overwhelming. Yet, it begins with taking that first step of asking for help. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, call now to speak with one of our team members. We will treat you with the respect and compassion that you deserve.

The Beginning Of Recovery Starts Today…With One Call

How Much Time Is Enough For Long-term Rehab?

There are a lot of unknowns when you are considering entering rehab for drug or alcohol addiction. One of the most common questions asked is, “How long will I need to stay in rehab?”

This is a fair question. An inpatient rehab program takes you away from everyday activities including work, school, and social activities. However, there is no clear cut answer to how long rehab takes. The length of stay is based on your individual needs (including your substance abuse, relapse and mental health history).

Who Long-term, Inpatient Rehab Is Best For

How Much Time Is Enough For Long-term Rehab-Summit EstateLong-term rehab is the right choice for those with severe addiction, particularly for men and women who have attempted rehab in the past and have relapsed. It’s also extremely beneficial for individuals who are dealing with co-occurring disorders of both addiction and conditions like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder.

At Summit Estate, we ask that every person who is entering inpatient rehab commit to a stay of at least 30 days. Substantial evidence has shown that 28 to 30 days are necessary for changing a person’s behaviors.

For many clients, the stay is longer than 30 days. Often, the stay for inpatient substance abuse treatment is between 45 and 120 days. Interestingly, research has shown that inpatient care of 90 days or more is most likely to lead to lifelong sobriety.

What Happens In Inpatient Treatment?

Ninety or 120 days can seem like a long time to recover from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. Yet, recovery is actually a life-long process with significant work accomplished during this pivotal inpatient phase in the recovery process.

Upon completing the initial detox, inpatient rehab is focused on healing the mind, body, and spirit. This means acquiring new ways of living and being able to manage the triggers that led to the addiction in the first place. This is accomplished at Summit Estate’s long-term inpatient drug rehab in the Malibu area with a personalized treatment program that can include one-on-one therapy, group therapy, a 12-step program, and holistic treatment like meditation, yoga, and nutritional counseling.

Find out more about getting the help that you need today! With a single call, you can take the first step in overcoming addiction and reclaiming a life free from addiction and pain.

Call Us Now To Learn More Or To Begin A Life Free From Bondage – You Are Worth It & Always Have Been!