Monthly archives: April, 2014

6 Ways to Achieve Success in Early Recovery

Before I get give you some tools for success in early recovery from addiction, it is important to point out that recovery is not just simply stopping certain addictive behaviors. It is a change in how life is approached and practicing those healthy behaviors until they become integrated and internalized in who you are. Early recovery is nothing like being 2, 4, or 8 years sober. It is so different that many people relapse because they never move past the initial phase of addiction recovery where they are just hanging on for dear life to stay sober. This no longer works after a few months in recovery and eventually you have to start growing as a person in order to maintain positive direction in your life, however, in order to move to later stages of recovery you will need to have a solid foundation in the early stages of your recovery. It is advisable, that you work with a Psychotherapist to help you stay on recovery, initially.

Short term success in recovery may be something you have achieve many times because you “white knuckled” your way through, meaning that you simply used your willpower to stay clean and sober but this process eventually leads you back to drinking and using.  Here are some of the tools that can be essential for success in early recovery:

1. GETTING RID OF PARAPHERNALIA- This seems like a no brainer, but addiction can have a powerful voice rationalizing the need for the paraphernalia to stay put. It is important to ask what is considered paraphernalia? Any equipment you needed to facilitate your addiction for drinking or drug use. So that old bong your grandmother gave you last Christmas that you are holding on to for sentimental reasons has to go.  Syringes, storage boxes, and for alcoholics even a display of shot glasses may be a huge trigger to get you back to using.  The fewer your trigger the easier early recovery will be. So start by cleaning out your surroundings.

2. SCHEDULE YOUR TIME- Having a daily planner and scheduling your time can make you be like a fortune teller.  By writing down your schedule, you can see slots where you have too much time on your hands that can lead to boredom and often relapse. You can also have time to think of the activities you have planned.  So if you see that you have scheduled a visit to your dealer’s house for a friendly chat you can rethink and revise, where as if you are flying by the seat of your pants and just going through your day it is much easier to miss the signs and relapse.

3. IDENTIFY YOUR TRIGGERS- How can you have a solution if you don’t know what the problem is? In recovery triggers are the problem so it is important to identify what they are so you can have a solution. Each person will have their own unique set of triggers, but in order to identify your triggers it is easiest if we break them in to three categories: External Triggers(people, place and situation), Internal Triggers(feelings) and Sensory Triggers(taste, smell and sound).

4. PLAN OF ACTION- Once you have identified your own unique set of triggers, you will need to have a plan of action in order to prevent relapse.  There are three ways you can deal with a trigger: Eliminate meaning get rid of it all together.  A good example for this would be getting rid of your drug dealer, unless you are the drug dealer yourself and then we would have to come up with something different. Avoid all the situations that could trigger you to drink or use. So don’t go to the bar you use to frequent to just have a cup of coffee with your buddies. Your last resort if you can not eliminate or avoid a trigger is to Plan. I want to make sure that it is clear that this is a last resort because often patients of mine will try to use planning for situations that could clearly be avoided. So just because you use the would plan in a sentence does not mean you have one. A great example of how addiction can rationalize almost anything was an old patient telling me that he was planning to go to his cocaine dealer’s home where people were usually snorting coke off the table and he was PLANNING on not using. So use planning if nothing else is possible, like if your drive to work is your trigger and clearly you can not eliminate or avoid going to work you may start thinking of a plan such as carpool.

5. THOUGHT STOPPING- What if you can not eliminate, avoid or plan for a trigger? Those trigger fall under the category of accidental.  This actually happened to one of my patients where he was driving and stopped at a red light, his drug dealers stopped right next to him rolled down the window and wanted to front him twenty. Fortunately he did not take it but as he was driving he kept running the scenario in his head.  “I should have just gotten it, lied to my therapist, and gotten my kid to do my urine so I would not show up positive.” If he would have continued running these thoughts in his head it would have been easy for him to relapse, but he was able to use the thought stopping tool to prevent use.  Basically what thought stopping is understanding how relapse usually happens and stopping it along the way.  The process of relapse looks something like this:

TRIGGER——-}THOUGHT———}CRAVING——-}USE.  The objective is to stop your thoughts from developing in to cravings because once the cravings come the chances of using are much higher.  It is important to replace the drug and alcohol thoughts with something meaningful or interesting to you which has nothing to do with using.

6. BEING SMART NOT STRONG-The idea here is to avoid relying on willpower as a means to maintain recovery and instead replacing willpower with sound decision making i.e. being smart. What that would look like in realistic terms would be for example being smart would be not attending a dinner with friends who are going to be ordering two bottles of wine for the table and strong would be going and using your willpower not to drink. You may not end up relapsing that night by using your willpower, but you will have just taken one step closer to relapsing.

Early recovery is very different from being sober long term. The initial part of recovery is mostly focused on gathering tools such as the above to solidify your recovery, however, long term recovery is really understanding and healing the wounds that starting the drinking and using in the first place.  Counseling with a Los Angeles therapist who has expertise in the area of addiction can be a great first step towards growing as a person to lead a healthier more gratifying life.

Can Mindfullness Meditation Help With Your Anxiety?

Mindfulness has been practiced as part of meditative exercises for thousands of years, becoming renowned for its calming function and its ability to improve mental and spiritual well-being. Modern psychological research is beginning to reveal that it is an effective form of therapy for anxiety. Mindfulness owes its origins to eastern religions, particularly Buddhism, and to the practice of meditation. Its more recent application in therapy owes much to those traditions, but alongside an increasing popularity, it has now gained a robust and more scientific evidence base.

Mindfulness is a therapeutic approach that focuses on ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. It values and teaches acceptance of the moment as it is experienced now – and by extension, an acceptance of feelings and responses that may have been with us for decades.

Scans on the brains of people who practice mindfulness demonstrate their greater ability to activate the sensory, sensitive, experiential or ‘being’ areas and to switch comfortably and easily from the ‘doing’ areas more concerned with thinking and which focuses on narratives and future plans and analysis of past experience…those areas which are likely to support anxieties.

There are different ‘varieties’ of mindfulness, which borrow concepts and techniques from other therapies to form ‘hybrids’, but all with the common thread aim of enabling us to react less to whatever is happening to us, and to relate to experience in a new way.

Practicing therapists see mindfulness as a skill, which gets better, and more effective, with practice. Mindfulness teaches us to pay close attention to our experience and to heighten awareness, to ignore distractions and just to ‘be’. In therapy, it aims to bring new insights and a deeper wisdom.

Neuroscientific research indicates that the positive effects of mindfulness on mental well-being may be at least partly as result of the changes it brings in the brain: the parts of the brain associated with sensory processing, together with those used in the regulation of emotions, become more developed and increase in size. The results of mindfulness meditation is improved well being and, crucially, reduced or even absent symptoms of a range of conditions and concerns, including anxiety.

Are You Truly In Recovery?

Challenge addictive behaviors

Have you worked hard on being in recovery from one addiction only to find yourself replacing it by another?

In the search to explain why some people become addicted while others don’t, one answer has been that some people have an addictive personality i.e. they are just more likely to become addicted. Support for this idea comes from the phenomenon of ‘addiction transfer’, described in a recent article by Samantha Murphy in the New Scientist (8 September 2012). Addiction transfer refers to the phenomenon that an addict may manage to overcome one addiction but then develops another as a kind of substitute. The addict appears to need to have an addiction. Accidental evidence for addiction transfer comes from studies of people who have undergone weight loss surgery. Overeating can be regarded as a kind of addiction and weight loss surgery cuts obese people off from their original addiction. Researchers estimate that about 15-30% of those who have undergone weight loss surgery transfer to a new addiction.

The explanation outlined in Murphy’s article, is that addiction activates the brain reward system and, when this activation stops, the person looks for something else to maintain activity within this reward system. The genetic link in the addiction transfer explanation is that some people are born with lower levels of D2 receptors, resulting in lower levels of dopamine in the reward system. Addiction behavior has the effect of increasing their dopamine levels, thus explaining why some people are more prone to becoming addicted. Critically this explains why some people, once they have experienced an addiction, need to continue some kind of addictive behavior if the original one stops.

This research confirms the need to seek out a knowledgeable psychotherapist in your area of addiction and recovery, to assist in you in challenging the addictive behaviors and learning new tools to maintain recovery and not switching to a new addiction.