Category Archives: Addiction Recovery

When Emotional Pain Fuels Relapse

grief-and-lossPeople in recovery from addiction face very substantial stresses. The stress of trying to cope with cravings & urges, the stress of facing life and trying to resolve problems, and the common pressure of trying to make ends meet when finances are not in good shape.

While many addicted individuals find that they are more resilient than perhaps they ever believed, loss can sometimes be a particularly crippling experience. People from all walks of life suffer and struggle with losses – divorce, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, income, security, or health.

A recent New York Times article briefly profiled a young woman released from prison who was trying to stay clean from heroin. She really missed her child who had been removed from her custody. While she loved her baby, she also recognized she was not yet ready to resume the pressures and responsibilities of parenting until she got herself on more solid, sober ground.

With the death of a loved one, the feelings run so deep that coping is sometimes beyond one’s inner resources. Grief has a way of overwhelming the senses and the heart such that making rational choices is much harder than would normally be the case. In extreme emotional situations, thoughts can become paralyzed and feelings intensified. Such a combination can make sobriety incredibly challenging.

Emotional pain is part of life. We have all felt it. Recovery teaches many principles that help to make life more manageable and which can help a person to hold on, to survive the lows of life. And for those that slip, life must go on. All is not lost. In 12 step meetings, they say “keep coming back”. In treatment, they say, “don’t give up”. While these may sound like annoying platitudes, they are generally true and correct sentiments that are there to remind us that pain subsides, and the human heart can find a way to survive and to be happy again.

How this happens varies greatly from one person to another. Support from others can make a huge difference. Prayer and connection with the proverbial higher power can make a difference. We are connected (or can be connected) to good people and good things if we try to open ourselves to them. It is not always easy when we are hurting. Therapy and counseling sometimes point us to answers that we didn’t know even existed. Spiritual support can achieve this as well. Whatever life brings us, good or bad, happy or sad, hopefully we can pause for a few moments to reflect on the small blessings that so often go overlooked and underappreciated.

The message for today is to remember that you are worth it! It can get better. Recovery is always here for you.

Benzodiazepines in the Methadone Program

factsBenzodiazepines are a classification of drugs primarily prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks. They have been in use for over thirty years and are typically utilized for short term periods from several days to three months maximum.

Benzodiazepines are sometimes administered just prior to medical procedures or surgery to help calm a patient. Common examples include valium, ativan, klonopin, librium, and xanax. These medications have also been used successfully on a short-term basis to help reduce alcohol withdrawal as patients undergo alcohol detoxification.

For opioid treatment programs, benzos present a particular risk due to the higher probability of abuse and overdose death when mixed with methadone, other opioids, or alcohol. Benzodiazepines depress the central nervous system and can shut down respiration when combined with other CNS depressants. This lethal drug combination has resulted in numerous accidental deaths – even among experienced drug users.

While limited and carefully monitored benzodiazepine use can be clinically justified in some cases, prescribing physicians (and methadone clinics) must be vigilant and cautious in their use of these medications due to their risk of abuse and overdose with opioid dependent patients.

Many opioid treatment programs around the country have adopted a no benzodiazepine policy and will not induct a patient with methadone until the patient has successfully detoxed off of any benz medications, and is able to test negative for the drug.

Some prospective patients have been on benzodiazepines for many years – long past any justifiable therapeutic or medical necessity. Several years ago, an OTP was approached by a client seeking admission who had been taking klonopin by prescription for 25 years. She had experienced several overdose episodes during that time period. The prospective patient voluntarily completed a successful detox off the klonopin, and she demonstrated incredible courage in pursuing this goal. She remained benz free and has tested negative for illicit substances for 3 years now. While she was afraid and doubtful that she could complete the benz detox, she surprised herself and the clinic staff in what can only be described as an incredible commitment to change and a new life.

For those patients diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder, benzodiazepines may be indicated in select cases. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also be effective in helping individuals learn to cope successfully with anxiety although it will require strong commitment to the therapy process and a considerable degree of work. With benzodiazepine treatment alone, the medication only manages the symptoms … but does not treat the underlying cause of the anxiety. For that reason, treating anxiety exclusively with benzodiazepines (at the exclusion of therapy) can be a disservice to a patient.

Physical dependency on benzodiazepines can be quite powerful and withdrawal from them dangerous. No one should ever try to self-detox from a benzodiazepine addiction due to the risk of seizure and possibly death.

Couples in Opioid Treatment Together

womens-recoveryIt is good news when an addicted couple find their way into treatment. Opioid addiction is a very lonely journey, and alienating friends and family comes with the territory when one is deep into a drug addiction.

With severe addiction, it is not uncommon for both members of a couple to be struggling with an opiate dependency. While this bond is certainly not a healthy one, it is one that makes sense for the couple, who often find themselves feeling like it’s “us against the world”. As they plow through addiction, sometimes one hour at a time for years, a bond is formed … like two friends going through a war together each watching the other’s back in a never ending fight to stay alive.

At some point, one member of the couple will have the good thought about entering treatment and may push their partner to seek treatment together. Sometimes this works out and sometimes not. When it does work, the couple will begin dosing with methadone or suboxone and hopefully attempt to re-orient themselves to a sober way of living. This is a beautiful experience to behold when two people are ready, and they encourage each other to make better choices.

In 12 Step recovery circles, recovering couples are strongly encouraged to seek their own individual recovery apart from their partner. Couples often resist this suggestion, but it is a very wise approach. It is so easy to relapse when one’s partner goes back to using. So, having one’s own circle of support outside of this relationship can be critical in helping a person to remain drug free when their partner has relapsed. It actually helps the relapsed partner too when he or she sees their spouse not compromising on recovery principles and continuing to make appropriate choices.

With stable couples who have methadone take homes or who receive the same psychotropic medication, there can be the occasional temptation to swap each other’s medications. When they were actively using, they shared works, pills, anything and everything. Now that they’re stable, it may not seem like a big deal to to take a partner’s medication if one has run out or misplaced their own. However, it is a big deal and should be always avoided. Successful recovery is not easy. It requires personal discipline and a strong commitment to do what is right, even when doing the right thing is challenging and difficult.

While couples in treatment can be a complicated affair, it can work and does work everyday around the country. It is important to note that a couple may not progress at the same rate. While one partner stabilizes quickly on methadone and discovers their cravings & withdrawal disappear, the other partner may have uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and struggle with urges to use illicit drugs for a period of time.

Good methadone programs will strive to support the couple’s mutual effort to be drug free together, but they will also work with each patient separately. This will include being in separate treatment groups and having separate individual counseling sessions.

With private self-pay programs, there are instances in which a couple may not have enough money for each person to dose on a particular day. This can pose a stressful dilemma for the couple and there is often no easy answer. One member of the couple may just go without. While there is typically an apprehension that missing a day of dosing will bring about immediate withdrawal sickness, this is often not the case. Since methadone has a long half life and is designed for extended duration, some people discover that they are comfortably maintained even through a missed day of dosing. This is not a recommended practice since missing doses is often correlated with illicit drug use, but it is an interesting and useful piece of information.

In the final analysis, a “couple” can suffer for years with simultaneous opioid addictions and a severely compromised quality of life. Choosing to enter drug treatment, either as a couple or as separate individuals, is a positive decision that should be supported wholeheartedly by family, friends, employers, recovery self-help programs, and the treatment community.

Opioid Addiction in the United States

methadone-counselingThe U.S. has experienced a steady rise in the number of people being prescribed opioids and in the number of individuals becoming physically addicted to these medications. In the 1970′s and 1980′s, the typical methadone program client was someone who had graduated to daily IV heroin use.

Fast forward to 2013 and the typical methadone program participant may well be someone who has never used heroin or any kind of injectable drug. With the rise of oxycontin over a decade ago and other popular painkillers, opioid addiction in America moved to unprecedented levels. With this new epidemic level of opiate addiction has come an increasing number of overdose deaths.

Within the last 10 years, Tennessee was for several of those years the nationwide leader in the number of prescribed opioids per resident and the number of opioid overdose deaths. Many of these fatalities were the resulting combination of mixing opioids with benzodiazepines like xanax, klonopin, and ativan. Today, many opioid treatment programs and independent physicians are using much greater caution in prescribing benzodiazepines in their practice, and some have opted out of this completely due to the significant medical risk involved.

As the resulting need for treatment options began to grow, the availability of local methadone programs increased as did the total number of U.S. physicians who were approved to prescribe suboxone. Both methadone and suboxone have been enormously beneficial in helping addicted people gain a new lease on life. These opioid replacement medications, combined with counseling, provided hope for a life after opioid addiction. Unless someone has experienced the ravages of a drug addiction, they may be unable to fully comprehend the benefit provided by opioid treatment using methadone or suboxone.

In the final analysis, we as a nation must guard against the overuse of prescription painkillers. And individuals must exercise due caution and care since there is no substitute for personal responsibility and good personal judgment. As America moves forward in the coming year, we must strive to prevent drug abuse where we can through education and prevention efforts. We must also recognize and support the concept that addiction is a treatable illness, and that methadone and suboxone are an essential element in the opioid addiction solution.

Choosing To Face Reality

woman-12To be curious is a basic part of human nature. We live each day naturally drawn to things which interest us, which feel good physically or emotionally, or which might incite some curious inclination down inside of us. It is literally wired into the human DNA to be inquisitive and to seek new experiences.

We live in an information age in which most anything one wants to know is available via the internet. We know that drugs are dangerous. Yet, we naturally assume substance problems are something that happens to someone else. We know that addiction is real and can wreck one’s life, but we look past the potential danger and conclude that these risks don’t really apply to us at this time, or in this particular situation.

There is an old saying in recovery circles that no addict started out with the intention to become addicted. This is, of course, true. No one starts out intending to become an addict. So what is it that we tell ourselves when we face the potential dangers of addiction? Do any of these sound familiar?

  • Well, just this one time. One time won’t hurt.
  • I’ll stop before things get out of control.
  • Well, she did it and she doesn’t have a problem.
  • I don’t have to have it. It’s just something I like doing from time to time.
  • I’ve had a terrible day. I deserve a break. It’s not like I’m addicted!

Addiction is a complex problem. Drug use alters brain chemistry. For some people, these neurological changes are rapid and dramatic leaving the individual with an addiction that builds quickly before they are even aware of it. And denial keeps people from facing the truth even longer.

The door to addiction is often wide open and one only needs to take a small step to pass through to that other side where addiction becomes a harsh reality. Facing the truth is always the first step. No one gets well until they admit they are sick. The journey of recovery does not begin until a first step is taken.

If you have an ongoing opioid addiction and have honestly tried to get well, then medication-assisted treatment may be the next step that you take. Addiction progresses. Inevitably, addiction will make your life worse if left untreated. This downhill slide only stops when you make the decision to get into treatment or obtain effective help through some other proven means.

The message is this: Choose to face your own reality! Whatever it is, it can likely be changed. It can likely be improved. But it can only happen with your cooperation and your good intentions. Move in the direction of a solution. Commit yourself to getting help.

Repairing Life After Opioid Addiction

methadone-recovery-1Addiction is an uphill battle. We have heard this said many times before. Many who found themselves in the midst of a personal opioid addiction were swept along on a nightmarish roller coaster ride with seemingly no brake pedal within reach.

Fortunately, addiction recovery is real, and people do get off of the roller coaster ride to hell. This is accomplished in a variety of ways with one method sometimes being the decision to try opioid replacement therapy such as methadone or suboxone.

Once off the roller coaster, individuals have an opportunity to survey their surroundings, to reflect on what has happened in their lives, and to begin moving along a better, safer path. Inevitably, facing the consequences of one's past becomes part of this gradual recovery process as does repairing the damage that occurred.

It is important to remember that change does not happen overnight, and repairing one's life happens step-by-step a little each day. There is a popular saying in recovery circles that is profound in its wisdom. It's "progress, not perfection". What this means is that no one is perfect, and that chasing perfection is perhaps an unrealistic goal. The goal should be "progress". This … is achievable. In repairing one's life and in living a new life of recovery, pursuing "progress" is enough.

Another insightful saying is this … "A journey of a 1000 miles begins with the first step". Once you have committed to sobriety and living your life in a better way, you have already taken several steps in the right direction on your new journey. You do not have to reach your destination in 24 hours. The journey itself is a huge part of your personal healing & personal growth.

Repairing one's life after opioid addiction will require several things of you. One is to cultivate patience with the world. The world often moves at a different speed than we do, and it is in our best interest to adjust to that rather than to try and control the speed of the world around us. This will require patience. Patience can grow. We can develop patience through mindfulness, prayer, therapy, and in other ways.

Also important to repairing one's life is trying to live with a sense of purpose. We must be committed to something, or someone, in order to live with a sense of purpose. In active addiction, the daily purpose was to get by without becoming sick, and that defined many addicts' focus day after day. Life loses its purpose when one is reduced to chasing drugs to avoid being dope sick.

Recovery offers so much more in terms having a new and improved life purpose. I can't tell you what that should be. But for some, it's being a good son or daughter, or a good spouse or parent. Or regaining a renewed sense of pride in their job, or "giving it away" and helping another addict or person in need, or volunteering to help a child learn to read, or mowing the yard of an elderly neighbor who can't do for themselves as well anymore.

Your purpose may not be known yet. But you can certainly discover what is really important to you once you get off the roller coaster ride of opioid addiction. As always, recovery is a choice. No one can force it on you. But it is there, available to you … when you are ready. Call your local clinic today. Ask a friend to help you find local resources. Choose to take your first step.