Family Therapy is Important in Recovery

Family Therapy is Important in Recovery

Recovery from addiction often begins on an individual level but is most often improved when families get involved in strengthening and supporting the person in recovery. Addiction is referred to as a “family disease” because it impacts every member of the family in some way. Further, addiction can be triggered or perpetuated by family issues or contention as well. Thus, successful addiction recovery often involves family therapy to strengthen the individual in recovery.

Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, in the article Family Therapy: A Vital Part of Addiction Treatment, indicates that “Family therapy refers to a group of treatment styles that target the group rather than the individual within the group. All of the styles are based on the notion that families share a connection, and by modifying one component of the system, you can affect the other components. This means the health of a family can play a major role in the success of recovery” (Eric Patterson,

Family therapy can be combined with other types of therapy. In other words, if an individual is in recovery and is participating in individual therapy, they need not stop that to join in family therapy sessions as well. Just as group therapy is often used in addiction recovery (where individuals who are in recovery go to therapy together), family therapy can be participated in simultaneously with individual therapy. Further, sometimes the issues that a family struggles with can be resolved or worked on in family therapy which can prevent further members from struggling with addiction and can strengthen the family into a more cohesive unit to support and lift. Often, it is also healing for family members to discuss how an addict’s behaviors have impacted them as well— even though they may not have struggled with addiction.

As far as the benefits of family therapy are concerned, Patterson offers the following key points about benefits of family therapy in recovery:

  • Assists the substance user to gain awareness of their needs and behaviors.
  • Improves the mental and physical state of the entire family unit.
  • Permits family members to gain self-care interventions to improve their own well-being.
  • Improves communication styles and relationship quality.
  • Helps families understand and avoid enabling behaviors.
  • Addresses codependent behavior that may be preventing recovery.
  • Helps to learn and understanding the systems in place that support and deter substance use.
  • Prevents the substance use from spreading throughout the family or down through future generations.

Overall, family therapy in recovery is often a vital part of an individual’s success in

overcoming addiction.

Addiction Habits Similar to Individuals with Obesity

Addiction Habits Similar to Individuals with Obesity

A recent Ted talk given by NIDA director Nora Volkow, M.D., about brains of people with obesity indicated some interesting findings. Volkow found that just as with addiction, similar changes happen in the brains of obese individuals when obesity sets in. This seems fairly straightforward: both addiction and obesity involve the way the brain responds to rewarding things, our pleasure centers.

The Ted talk discussed how over the years the world has evolved from a place where there were many dangers and few pleasurable rewards. Individuals would do anything to brave the dangers and receive the rare reward. Today’s society is very different for the most part. Most individuals have little danger in their lives and a lot of pleasurable rewards. Many of those pleasurable rewards come in the form of tasty treats, high calorie foods, and sodas. There are no roadblocks or obstacles to eating this rewarding pleasurable food and so obesity has become more and more common.

However, Volkow discusses that the brain hasn’t evolved to the point where it sees high calorie foods as a threat or a danger. Individuals, for the most part, still perceive treats as a reward and the results for our physical well being on society are harmful.

Quoting from the Ted talk, Volkow indicated that, “The sensory assault by very appealing-looking food triggers a fight within my brain, to just give in and eat the pleasurable food NOW, even though I know I will feel guilty LATER, versus resisting the urge NOW so I can have a healthy meal LATER. It’s like having a war within my brain that is pulling me in two opposite directions.”

Just like with drug addiction, the tasty foods that are so easily accessible to us trigger a dopamine reaction which becomes less sensitive over time. In other words, the reward center gets used to this trigger of dopamine and in turn requires more and more of the tasty food to produce the same effect over time. When Volkow performed brain scans on the individuals with obesity she found that their reward centers were similar to individuals addicted to cocaine.

Also similar is the actions of obese people that Volkow discusses. She indicates that people don’t choose to be addicted just like they don’t choose to be obese. No one wants to be addicted or to be obese. But it is so hard not to give in to the desire of having something to give you the dopamine pleasure release that individuals who struggle with this eventually cave and give in. And most often, these individuals resent themselves for it.

This informative Ted talk by Nora Volkow really connected the diseases of addiction and obesity and shows how they are so similar in how they affect our brains.

What is Serotonin?

Neurotransmitters, like serotonin, allow us to experience different emotions all throughout the day. Sometimes we feel elated and other times we feel in the dumps. The reason for this has a lot to do with these neurotransmitters.

Specifically, dopamine makes you feel happy, it is often referred to as the pleasure neurotransmitter. Lots of abused drugs increase dopamine in individuals brain’s. Another neurotransmitter, called serotonin impacts our brains in a different way. Serotonin lifts our moods, helping us to feel more peaceful and less stressed out. It can even help us sleep better and feel less anxiety, and can help with appetite, and memory.

Wikipedia defines serotonin as, “a monoamine neurotransmitter. Biochemically derived from tryptophan, serotonin is primarily found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), blood platelets, and the central nervous system (CNS) of animals, including humans. It is popularly thought to be a contributor to feelings of well-being and happiness.” (

Serotonin helps people solve their worries before they become too overwhelming. It’s a neurotransmitter that is essential to prevent depression and anxiety. In fact, serotonin balances out dopamine. When dopamine is creating too much pleasure, serotonin is often the calming influence to counteract the dopamine. Drug use can inhibit the balance between the neurotransmitters and can lead to lower production of serotonin and or dopamine or even increased production of it.

Addiction is a Disease

Sometimes people get frustrated and wonder why their loved ones can’t just stop using drugs? Why is addiction so powerful? Why would people not stop using substances that are hurting them physically and ruining so many aspects of their lives? It can be really difficult for friends and family to understand why these individuals continue to use drugs knowing the harmful effects.

The simple reason it is so difficult for individuals struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol to stop using is that drug addiction is an actual disease. When people are addicted to drugs and alcohol and take them for a long period of time changes in their brain circuits occur. These changes make it really hard for users to stop their addictions to drugs and alcohol. Recently, researchers have termed this the “brain disease model of addiction” that views drug and alcohol addiction. This view categorizes addiction not as a lack of willpower but as an actual illness that needs treatment.

Addiction can harm the brain in the following three ways:

1- the brains reward circuits become less sensitive. Drugs that are addicting can cause ether brain to release dopamine which creates feelings of pleasure. After time, the brain circuit becomes imbalanced and individuals need more and more of the drug to create the same pleasurable response. This can cause individuals to lose interest in things they use to enjoy like friends, or other natural rewarding situations.

2-The brain’s reaction to stress increases with addiction. In an addicted individual’s brain, the circuits become overactive and people feel stressed whether they are using drugs or not.

3-Decision making skills are compromised. Drug addiction affects the prefrontal cortex which is the center of the brain that controls decision making. Even when addicted individuals try to stop using drugs, they can’t make the decision and stick with it to do so.

Many factors impact the disease of drug addiction and research is constantly uncovering and learning more about how to help those individuals struggling.


Employment after Rehab

Employment after Rehab

After rehab, many individuals are concerned about finding employment. They worry about the time they’ve been out of the work force due to inpatient rehab. They may feel concerned about whether or not to disclose past substance abuse and stress about future employers discriminating due to substance abuse.

Rest assured, however. Studies show that more than 23 million adults – 10 percent of the U.S. population – consider themselves to be in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse. Noting this fact, consider that many individuals go on to lead successful lives and work in careers they enjoy and find success in following rehab. Further, many companies are open minded about hiring candidates with previous drug or alcohol issues.

As long as one can stay in healthy recovery and sobriety, they don’t need to worry about reaching professional goals and becoming a loyal strong employee. Continuing self care in recovery will ensure that the job or career thats desired will be well within reach.

Developing a strong resume and developing a plan for an ideal, desired job is key. Asking questions of oneself about the things they liked and didn’t like about previous employment and employers can help give direction. Also, being aware of one’s strengths and weaknesses and skills can provide insight to future employers as well.

It’s also crucial to picking jobs that don’t have triggers to avoid relapse. After rehab, many find that structures jobs, similar to rehab are better fulfilled than laid back structureless jobs. Further, starting small and not taking on to much is a good idea after rehab.

Remembering the positive growth from rehab along with the bright future ahead can help individuals find employment after rehab.

National Recovery Month

National Recovery Month

The month of September is National Recovery Month. This is a time when individuals in recovery and individuals who haven’t experienced recovery are made more aware of the struggles, challenges, and successes of individuals who are in or have been through addiction recovery. The month encourages facilities to highlight the courage and strength of individuals who have worked through addiction recovery and encourages individuals to share their success stories about prevention, treatment, and recovery with those who may be struggling with addiction.

The National Recovery Month was started 28 years ago by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help to normalize the disease of addiction ( Similar to the way success stories have been celebrated with health conditions like cancer, heart disease or diabetes, each September, tens of thousands of prevention, treatment and recovery programs and facilities from around the country celebrate the strides made in the recovery community. These celebrations may include walks, get-togethers, classes, movie screenings, entertainment, or sponsored runs.

SAMHSA chose the theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities” for 2017. They indicate that the theme was chosen to, “highlight the value of family and community support throughout recovery and invite individuals in recovery and their family members to share their personal stories and successes with their neighbors, friends and colleagues” (

Joining in this celebration and awareness month can strengthen those around you in their recovery or can help prevention of addiction in your life. The SAMHSA website,, has lots of great information and ideas for being a part of National Recovery Month this year.

Loneliness: A Public Health Crisis

Loneliness: A Public Health Crisis

A recent study published in Fox News authored by Julia Naftulin indicates that loneliness is now thought to be more of a danger to society than obesity in terms of health. The article discusses how although each of us feels lonely from time to time, a new study shows that feeling lonely is on the rise and the dangers of feeling lonely are a major health threat.

A new study conducted by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University was discussed at length in Natfulin’s article. The study showed feeling lonely and/or isolated can lead to premature death—in fact, those with social connections decreased their risk of an early death by 50%. Still, a number of things can affect how often or deeply a person experiences loneliness. People who suffer from depression or anxiety are likely to feel isolated on a grander scale, since loneliness is a state of mind, says Dr. Galynker, adding that a happy person with five social interactions a day may feel connected, while a depressed person with the same five social interactions may feel isolated and disconnected from others.

Although our culture in the US accepts and normalizes living alone and being independent, most other cultures do not. That is to say, many live with extended family their entire life. Further, the role of social media in this loneliness crisis is huge. Not only do we tend to feel left out or not “as good as” due to social media, many individuals are triggered into feelings of isolation and loneliness that are not healthy at all due to the influx of the Internet and online communication.

Determining if you are feeling excessively lonely in such a way that warrants help may seem difficult. But research suggests that if you turn to others to alleviate your loneliness than most likely you’re ding ok. But if you isolate further or don’t feel like confiding your feelings of looniness to others than it might be good to seek professional help.  Many people feel insecure and nervous about reaching out to others for fear of rejection. Awareness of those around us is key in solving this problem. Including those in our life in real time interactions and, making time for those who we now to be more isolated can help break the cycle of loneliness in our society and alleviate this oncoming public health crisis.

Natural Disasters Can Trigger Relapse

Natural Disasters Can Trigger Relapse

Natural disasters, such as the recent flooding in Houston, Texas, can be devastating and can lead individuals in recovery to relapse. Many people may experience serious stress during a natural disaster as well as in the aftermath which can evolve into an anxiety disorder known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When individuals have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, the combination of PTSD and stress is one of the most common causes for relapse. Further, experiencing PTSD due to natural disasters or otherwise, can often trigger first time drug or alcohol use or an increase in drug and alcohol use in current users.

Due to the fact that individuals who have struggled with addiction in the past may be extra sensitive to stress, they are more prone to cope with the stress of a natural disaster with drugs and/or alcohol as a coping method. Drug cravings are shown to increase with stress as well. Further, stress due to a natural disaster can cause depression, anxiety, insomnia, and even nightmares. Thus, those battling drug addiction have a much higher potential to relapse in an attempt to suppress stress or other emotional troubles associate with natural disasters.

Fear and depression have also been shown to increase when natural disasters strike. For former drug addicts, drugs and alcohol are often used to numb the feeling associated with or to cope with the loss of control, overwhelming stress, or despair associated with fear and depression.

Awareness of the possibility of relapse and the factors of fear, depression, and PTSD that can lead to a possible relapse are key in staying in healthy recovery during a natural disaster. Also, reaching out for support from loved ones who were not affected by the natural disaster can also sustain individuals dealing with recovery from drug/alcohol addiction.

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

The Effects of Alcohol on the Body

Most of us tend to think of alcohol use affecting mainly the liver and the brain. However, recent research points to evidence that alcohol impacts and effects almost every organ and system in the body. Further, the effects can be temporary or permanent depending on the amount consumed and the frequency of consumption.

According to, “Alcohol is ingested orally and travels through the esophagus to the stomach. Alcohol requires no digestion before it enters the bloodstream. If the stomach is empty, twenty percent of the alcohol is absorbed through the stomach walls into the bloodstream and begins to affect the brain within a minute. For this reason, many alcoholics prefer to drink on an empty stomach. Although the esophagus is only the tube through which an alcoholic drink passes on its way to the stomach, half of oral, esophageal cancers and laryngeal cancers are related to regular drinking. The remaining alcohol makes its way to the small intestine where it is also readily absorbed” (

Those who drink on a regular basis are doing even more damage to their bodies. Gastritis, a condition that irritates the stomach lining tissues, can occur as well as reflux, ulcers, and erosion of the stomach wall. Malnutrition can present due to damage to the small intestine absorption mechanisms from regular alcohol intake. If individuals drink regularly over long periods of time, other conditions such as hepatitis, inflammation of the liver, and/or development of a fatty liver can occur. Ultimately, cirrhosis, defined as irreversible damage to the liver manifested in permanent scaring and decreased function, occurs from long-term regular drinking. Blood cells are also damaged making alcoholics more infection prone due to white blood cell abnormalities.

Mental function is also impaired with alcohol intake. First, drinkers may feel euphoric and calm. Then, judgement may become impaired which often leads to drinking more than intended. Memories can be lost, vision blurred, and coordination impaired with more alcohol. Last, even more alcohol intake can lead to confusion, stupor, coma, and even death from intoxication.

Although some damage from alcohol intake may never be repaired, abstinence can definitely heal many affected parts of the body. Generally, when alcoholism is present, medically supervised rehab is recommend. Getting enough vitamins and rest is necessary to repair the damage that has occurred. Sobriety can be achieved through this type of supervision, along with counseling and other support systems. Mental functioning can also be improved and regained with sobriety assuming that permanent brain damage hasn’t occurred. Outpatient therapy can help with lasting mental or cognitive impairment and is generally necessary to combat the effects of alcohol, on the body.

Watch for Relapse

Watch for Relapse


Addiction recovery generally doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, recovery us often a very long process which includes both successes and set backs. Relapse is very common, with around 40-60% of individuals that struggle with addiction sliding back into drug use ( However, there are 40-60% who also don’t relapse. This number is encouraging and focusing on the things one can do to identify and prevent relapse is key. Learning the signs of an impending relapse can help to steer individuals clear of it at the first sign of trouble.


SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has recommended that individuals in recovery make note of behaviors, triggers, or thoughts that have led to relapse or desire to relapse in the past. For instance, they recommend that individuals ask themselves questions similar to: How did you feel just before you had a hard time in the past or when you noticed that your habits or routines changed? or How do you feel when you know you are not feeling quite right?


Common signs of relapse include: anxiety, nervousness, forgetfulness, inability to experience pleasure, feeling slowed down or speeded up, avoiding others or isolating, being obsessed with something that doesn’t really matter, lack of motivation, displaying of irrational thought patterns, being uncaring, increased irritability and negativity, feeling disconnected from one’s body, missing appointments or being late to appointments, restlessness, more or less appetite. Obviously, not all of these things need be experienced to be at risk for a relapse. Even a single experience or thought can trigger a relapse. Others may not experience relapse until they have experienced several of the above mentioned experiences. However, if any of the early warning signs have been experienced, it’s important not to ignore them. Often, in rehab, individuals have a “tool kit” that they can go to or an individual they’ve been assigned to talk to if they are experiencing these symptoms these tools should be used! Relaxation exercises, journaling, reaching out to a counselor or trusted friend, or participating in an enjoyed activity for at least an hour a day, can also help in avoiding relapse. If you have any of these early warning signs, it’s important that you don’t ignore them.