Many suffering from the disease of addiction, whether they’re in recovery or still out there, have formed their own ideas about recovery. These ideas about recovery are formed from cherry picking the experiences of others in recovery they have met or heard about. They hear a fellow addict in a meeting describe how recovery has led to their career taking off, how their relationships are better than ever, and all the fun outings they were part of. Impressionable addicts in early recovery may latch onto these positive experiences but not hear the less attractive aspects of the stories, regarding the difficult work needed to achieve the attractive aspects of recovery. This can lead to those early in recovery forming somewhat unrealistic expectations about what recovery will, or should, be like. They begin to expect the “pink cloud” in their lives.
Having high expectations about recovery isn’t a bad thing, as long as they are properly managed. Recovery can certainly lead to achieving nearly any goal you want, as long as the work is put in. These expectations can become harmful if all the good aspects of other’s recovery experiences are highlighted, while the work needed to achieve these things is not. This can lead to someone in early recovery thinking that everything should improve by default. It can leave them wondering why aspects of their life haven’t improved as much as others.
Those in early recovery have a tendency to romanticize their addictions. This, coupled with thinking their personal recovery isn’t as “fun” as others, may lead them to think about going back to their drug of choice. They feel the fun aspects of life they are not achieving in recovery were achieved when they were under the influence of their drug of choice. This is a dangerous thought process, which can lead to relapse. If an individual does relapse, they typically find that addiction wasn’t as they remembered it. Many times, things are much worse the second time around.
Managing expectations for recovery is very important for those new to sobriety. It is crucial for the newcomer to understand that recovery can offer many things, but all these things require work to achieve them. Harmony Foundation’s addiction treatment programs incorporate teachings that help our clients understand the work needed to achieve their individual goals in recovery. If you have recently relapsed, Harmony offers a program to help you in your recommitment to recovery. We help you incorporate the tools and mindset necessary to achieve all of your life goals in recovery.
It is well known that relapse is common for those in early recovery from addiction. Also well known is that those with a history of child abuse are more likely to abuse substances in adulthood. A recent study now links the two – showing that those with history of substance abuse who are in early recovery have a higher propensity for relapse.
New York University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine researchers published their recent findings in the American Medical Association journal, JAMA Psychiatry, showing the link between the two and highlighting the potential difficulty of treating adult addicts with a history of abuse. The researchers used MRI scans to look at the brains of 79 people in substance abuse treatment, some with a history of child abuse and others without. The researchers looked for changes in the brain previously associated with an increased risk for substance abuse relapse. They found these changes to be more prevalent among those who had a history of child abuse. The research showed that the increased risk of relapse pertained to all addictive substances. The study also noted that as many as 5 out of 10 people who experience neglect or childhood abuse will develop substance abuse problems and will have a high rate of relapse.
The findings also discussed the challenge of having effective treatment for those with child abuse in their history because the relapse potential is so high. However, addiction treatment centers like Harmony Foundation already consider abuse history when crafting treatment plans for new clients and programs for those who had relapsed. Because the rate of relapse is high for those in early recovery in general let alone those with a history of abuse, offering relapse prevention groups and therapeutic opportunities to recognize and face triggers is essential in addiction treatment.
For many recovering addicts, the tragedy of Philip Seymour Hoffman was a humbling reminder that no matter how many years someone has sober, the disease is still there – doing proverbial “pushups” and that relapse is never off the table.
The disease of addiction progresses even when addicts are not using, which is hard for addicts and others to wrap their minds around until they hear real life tales of how this happens. Hoffman’s story is a very real life example of this: police reported to several news agencies they found 5 empty bags and 65 additional bags full of heroin in his apartment the night he died. He got sober in his early 20s, remained sober for 23 years and just a few years later overdosed with heroin in extreme excess. This is a classic case of the disease doing push ups and progressing even after laying dormant for over 20 years.
Sentiments of sadness spread through sober communities across the US after his death along with those of frustration over the varying public opinions on what addiction is, many of which were expressed in a way that suggested addicts purposefully choose their demise. It makes those in recovery want to tell the world how it really is – but then they harness the principals of the program and let the opinions of others live and let live.
Aaron Sorkin who is in recovery from addiction wrote a poetic piece yesterday for Time that shed some light on addiction and relapse in response to varying opinions. He said Hoffman wasn’t acting on choice; “He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed — he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it” – suggesting that when the disease of addiction is active, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is or what sentiments surround substance abuse, it just takes over everything, including lives, because it is real.
Because we understand the disease of addiction, its progression and the reality of relapse, Harmony Foundation specializes in relapse prevention and treatment. We help addicts identify the triggers that can lead to a relapse and welcome those who have relapsed back into our care. We try to intervene before tragedy strikes and lay our hearts heavy when it does. Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Philip Seymour Hoffman and his friends and family and all others who have lost their lives to this terrible disease.
Recently the Denver City Council has been in the spotlight over deciding whether or not people can smoke pot on their property such as in their backyards or front porches in public view.
This past Monday they gave a 10-3 final vote in favor of eliminating the front yard marijuana smoking ban that was introduced to them in November.
With more marijuana retail shops slated to open January 1st, 2014, eliminating the ban was timely for marijuana supporters and retailers. Proponents of the ban shared the sentiment of Mason Tvert, communications director of Marijuana Policy Project, who told the Huffington Post, “If adults are able to consume alcohol — and even smoke cigarettes — outside on their private property, there’s no logical reason why they should be prohibited from using a less harmful substance.”
Those who supported the ban included Denver Mayor Michael Hancock who told the the Denver Post, “Marijuana is one of those elements that can be quite pervasive and invasive. I shouldn’t have to smell your activities from your backyard.” Others shared his sentiment, saying it could be a bad influence on youth who can see people smoking on their porches or backyards or those close enough to inhale the secondhand smoke.
From an addiction treatment perspective, the pervasive smell of marijuana can be triggering to those in recovery from marijuana dependence, which may be on the rise with greater access to the drug. Additionally, in Colorado towns like Dillon, the police chief, Brian Brady, worries that with greater access to marijuana, the high may not be enough; “Come January 1, buying marijuana is going to be as easy as buying a carton of milk. Are people going to be satisfied with the high or should we expect drugs like Krokodil to become the next long-term problem?” Since the legalization of marijuana, Brady has seen an increase in arrests for LSD, heroin and Krokodil, which he says is because “when people want a bigger high they tend to mix it with something.” It is for this same reason that addiction treatment programs push for complete abstinence from all drugs and mood altering substances. Those with addictive disorders tend to crave a greater high once they ingest substances like marijuana, which may explain the increase in arrests that Brady has seen.
Regardless, the vote has passed, and hundreds of marijuana retailers are opening in a just a few weeks. Therefore, Colorado addiction treatment facilities like Harmony Foundation can only take proactive steps to do their best with relapse prevention, mitigating triggers and helping clients stay clean and sober despite the potential of pot smoke coming from a neighbor’s back yard or marijuana storefront opening on their street.
A recent study published in the Scientific American showed that alcoholic men and women relapse for different reasons.
It is common knowledge that relapse rates are high for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. That is why addiction treatment programs work with clients on relapse prevention before they leave treatment.
John Kelly and Bettina Hoeppner with Massachusetts General Hospital collected and assessed data that revealed new insights for relapse prevention. For 15 months they looked at the social networks and drinking habits of 1,726 members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). They presented them with hypotheticals and asked them how confident they were in their ability to stay sober if those situations happened.
They found that male alcoholics are at greatest risk of relapse when they are in social situations where others are drinking. AA helps them stay sober by being around non-drinking friends. After some time in recovery with fellow members of AA, they learn coping skills to handle situations where friends or colleagues are drinking around them socially. The classic depiction of men bonding in business or personal life over a glass of whiskey seems to be all too triggering for men.
Kelly and Hoeppner found that women alcoholics are at greatest risk for relapse when they feel strong emotions. When they are feeling depressed or anxious, fellow female AA members can help them recognize that they can have emotions, but they don’t have to react to them by picking up a drink.
While in alcoholism treatment, clients often identify their own relapse triggers – be it business dinners, breakups or celebrations. Those in early recovery are cautioned to avoid those situations because the integrity of their recovery should come first. Clients also have opportunities to play out the triggering situations in an individual or group therapeutic setting while in treatment. They can role-play how they would react to identified triggers by utilizing the new tools they learned in recovery. Over time when they are strong in their recovery they can handle triggering situations with grace.
“I may have a relapse but may not have another recovery”
The Importance of Relapse Prevention
It has been a week since it was announced that Cory Monteith passed away from a fatal combination of alcohol and heroin. The devastating news has made us reflect on the importance of addiction treatment for younger adults and relapse prevention.
Monteith was best known for his role in Glee, portraying Finn Hudson, a young football star turned singer for the high school’s singing squad. He was found dead in a hotel in Vancouver last Saturday and reports indicated that alcohol and other substances were found in his hotel room.
Monteith was open about his substance abuse – saying in interviews that he first got sober when he was 19 and remained clean for almost 10 years. In one interview he told Parade Magazine that was “lucky to be alive” because he was “doing anything and everything, as much as possible” by the age of 16. Then last April his publicist announced that he entered rehab for substance abuse.
His relapse is a reminder that sobriety is something those in recovery have to consistently work at, through various means of support – and that a relapse can happen no matter how many years of sobriety someone has under their belt. There is no one size fits all approach to maintain sobriety, but many find that going to 12 step meetings, having a sponsor, incorporating spiritual principals such as honesty and discipline in their lives, maintaining connection with others in recovery and aftercare services or staying connected to their former treatment centers can help.
That is why Harmony’s addiction rehab in Colorado has a unique alumni support system whereby former clients connect with Alumni Services through events and even an iPhone and Android app that allows them to track their recovery progress. We also have a relapse program for those that need to recommit to their recovery. We have created these safety nets because we believe the saying that “I may have a relapse but may not have another recovery” unfortunately rings true. You never know when a relapse or what combination of substances can take a life. Our hearts and prayers go out to Monteith and his friends and family.
Relapse prevention is an essential component of recovery and there are endless tools that help addicts avoid a relapse. One such tool is picking up the phone, often referred to as the “50 pound phone” because it is hard to make a phone call when we are feeling our worst.
Even those who are in their double digits – 10 years or more – of sobriety occasionally struggle, as expressed recently by Russell Brand in a blog post he wrote about relapse. “The last time I thought about taking heroin was yesterday,” he wrote on his website, russellbrand.tv. But, recognizing his thought was fleeting and that the promises of recovery outweigh the ill fated reality of active abuse of drugs and alcohol, Brand says he picked up the phone: “Even as I spin this beautifully dreaded web I am reaching for my phone. I call someone not a doctor or a sage not a mystic or a physician, just a bloke like me, another alcoholic, who I know knows how I feel.”
Just picking up the phone and calling someone to talk about triggers (in Brand’s case it was bad news from a woman) can help immeasurably because fellows in recovery have been through similar situations and sentiments. That is why in 12 step meetings people often say, “I have a sponsor and my sponsor has a sponsor” because somewhere, someone has had the same experience and can share how they got through it – sans alcohol or drugs.
Often in active addiction people struggle with what is coined “terminal uniqueness,” thinking that no one has walked in their shoes and experienced what they have. When they get sober and share what they thought of as unique experiences, they realize they are far from being alone, and that their sponsor – or their sponsor’s sponsor – has experienced the same thing and can shed light on how they overcame it.
Making a phone call a fellow in recovery is one of the most powerful tools to avoid relapse because, as Brand says, “the price of this [recovery from addiction] is constant vigilance because the disease of addiction is not rational.” Therefore, staying in one’s own head, filled with triggers and temptations may not serve up a rational answer – but someone on the other end of the phone line can provide some rationality to help us stay sober.