Archive for September, 2017

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Meet St. Joseph Institute’s Alumni/Aftercare Coordinator and PRN Counselor, Emily Benjamin. An alumna of St. Joseph Institute (SJI) and a self-professed nerd, Emily brings joy and enthusiasm to her work. Her passion comes in large part from her own experience as a recovering addict and the thrill she finds in being able to live life fully, both at work and at home.

When I asked Emily if I could interview her for the SJI blog, she readily agreed. Read on to discover the LONG list of things Emily does for St. Joseph, her vision for the future of alumni relations at SJI, and what exactly makes her a nerd.

How long have you worked at St. Joseph Institute, and what brought you here?

I have been at SJI as an employee since August 2017. However, my journey takes me back to 2011. In 2011, I came to SJI seeking treatment for my own addiction to heroin and opiate pain killers, via injection. I came here against my will (my parents basically dropped me off and said, “Cya later!”); to say I held on to anger for my first few days of treatment is an understatement. It took me about 3 days until I realized I was grateful to be at SJI. I spent 30 days here and have been clean ever since (May 24, 2011).

At three years clean, I entered my Master’s Program for counseling at Mount Aloysius College.  It was the owner of SJI that advocated on my behalf to get into graduate school even though I had a felony on my record. To my surprise, I was accepted. By my senior year, it was time for an internship. SJI had recently come under new ownership and I did not know if I would be able to obtain an internship there. I tried, anyway. To my surprise, Summit Behavioral Health was happy to take me on for my practicum and internship.

I began on May 26, 2017 (5 years and 2 days to the date of me entering as resident). I interned for 14 months, and then was hired as a PRN counselor. In August, I became the alumni/aftercare coordinator/PRN counselor. Today, I have 6 years and 3 months clean and sober, and have a job at the same facility that gave me my life back! I am beyond grateful.

Give us a brief description of what you do as alumni coordinator.

As the aftercare/alumni coordinator, I set up all aftercare for clients. This includes all counseling services (IOP, PHP), sober living, case management, probation appointments, and all things necessary for a client to leave with a solid aftercare option. I also coordinate events for campus. For example, I recently coordinated a full day of events for National Recovery Month, including the coloring of a banner for overdose victims as well as a balloon release and candlelight vigil; a few days later, we had a campfire featuring the Penn State CRC (Collegiate Recovery Community) alcoholics and addicts, who shared their own addiction stories with our clients while we all enjoyed music and s’mores.

I am also the speaker-seeker and invite speakers, both alumni and outside speakers, to come every Thursday night for our in-house NA/AA meeting. I place phone calls to residents who have discharged, beginning at 7 days post-treatment, followed by 30 days, and then 6 months. I create a database of alumni clients so that I can then invite them to the reunions that we schedule yearly. I also facilitate all orientations for the new residents on campus.

What do you love about your work?

I love working with addicts and alcoholics, because I was in their same shoes. I can speak their language and I can empathize with what they are going through when they get here. Not only that, but I love to help. I just received a phone call yesterday from a mom of a current client, and she said, “My son told me that you give him hope every day.” That’s why I do what I do. To let my clients know there is hope. WE DO RECOVER! 

EmilyBenjamin_2

The fact that I am able to help these clients understand that their disease does not have to stop them from living a life beyond their wildest dreams gives me a feeling that I cannot describe. I was given a second chance at life through SJI. I could not have gotten clean if I had not started in treatment here just as they are doing. What makes SJI unique is that EACH individual staff member cares about the clients. From the counselors to the cleaning ladies, we all take our time to make sure our clients are comfortable, because we love what we do! 

What do you want to see happen for the alumni in the future?

I would like to see the alumni group increase and empower current residents. I would like to bring in more of an alumni presence into our in-house meetings as well as host events on campus, regularly, where clients are able to see that recovery works and that recovery is awesome. I want the alumni to have a network with each other where they can motivate each other and reach out, all having the common bond of SJI. I want a resident from 2010, when SJI first opened as a treatment center, to be able to encourage a resident in 2017, and vice versa. I want to see SJI hosting events that bring in alumni on a monthly basis, at least.

Why are alumni connections important in recovery?

Evidence. Alumni connections show evidence that treatment WORKS. Alumni connections show that someone else has been in one’s seat and is living a life beyond their wildest dreams, in just a few month’s/year’s time. Alumni connections give clients the ability to see that they are not alone or unique, and that addiction does not discriminate—but neither does recovery!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not coordinating alumni?

I am a nerd. If I am not reading up on counseling techniques and finding new fun activities to host at SJI, then I am typically hanging out with the ones I love. I have five nieces, one nephew, and one niece/nephew on the way. I like to spend my time with my family, because I remember a time where they were the last people I wanted to see.

My active addiction took me away from enjoying little things, like a walk in a park, or a drive back the mountain. I enjoy alone time so I can read and even catch up on my favorite reality TV shows! I love attending NA meetings and giving back to my sponsees, guiding them through the 12 steps. I love carrying the message of hope in my free time, because any day is a good day to give back!

If you are seeking treatment for yourself or a loved one and would like to know more about the treatment services at St. Joseph Institute, please contact us today. We find great joy in helping our clients find their path to an exciting, sustainable recovery.

By Cindy Spiegel

Personality traits related to addiction Although there is no one set addictive personality type, researchers who study the causes of addiction have found a number of traits that are closely linked to an increased risk of drug or alcohol abuse.

1. Impulsivity

Impulsive people are often viewed as fun to be around due to their spontaneous nature, but this personality trait has a serious dark side. People who are impulsive often don’t stop to think about the potential risk associated with a decision. They will go with whatever course of action seems like a good idea at the moment, which can often place them in risky situations involving drugs and alcohol.

The link between impulsivity and substance abuse can be seen in the high number of people with an ADHD diagnosis who also struggle with drug or alcohol addiction. Impulsivity is one of the defining personality traits associated with ADHD. Researchers have found that about 25% of adults in treatment for alcohol and substance abuse have been diagnosed with ADHD. This makes addiction five to 10 times more common in people with ADHD.

2. Nonconformity

People who are seeking addiction treatment often describe themselves as nonconformists. They consider themselves as fundamentally different from their peers due to their interests, values, and goals.

While the desire to embrace your individuality should be celebrated, feeling like you’re an outsider can lead to social isolation. This lack of perceived support from friends and/or family can increase the desire to turn to drugs and alcohol when faced with challenging situations.

3. Anxiety

People who suffer from anxiety can find themselves plagued with worries about personal relationships, fitting in, and managing everyday situations. They can suffer from physical complaints such as insomnia, panic attacks, stomach problems, dizziness, shortness of breath, and muscle tension that make it hard to focus on their daily activities. To calm the constant chatter in their minds, they may turn to drugs and alcohol.

People with high levels of anxiety often begin their journey to substance abuse by using cigarettes to calm their nerves. After they develop tolerance to nicotine, they start to add alcohol or benzodiazepines into the mix. The problem with this approach is that they eventually end up needing extremely high levels of all of these substances to approach the state of mental calm they crave.

4. Low Tolerance for Stress

Stress is a natural part of life. However, some people find it significantly more difficult to handle stressful situations, such as an argument with a romantic partner, a high stakes project at work, or an unexpected health crisis. People who don’t learn to develop positive coping mechanisms to handle their stress may turn to drugs and alcohol for temporary relief.

A low tolerance for stress is often associated with high anxiety levels. However, people can learn to increase their tolerance to stress with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

5. Sensation Seeking

Sensation seeking refers to the desire to constantly seek out new experiences when placed in situations without a lot of sensory input. Everyone engages in sensation seeking behavior to some extent, but people who report high rates of this activity are most prone to addiction.

Sensation seekers are risk takers who enjoy pursuits such as engaging in adventure sports, attending loud concerts or parties, and traveling to meet new people. They are also more likely to drive recklessly and prefer having multiple sexual partners over stable relationships. In general, men and young adults have the highest rates of sensation seeking behavior—which can help explain why these groups also suffer from substance abuse issues at the highest rates.

6. Blame Shifting

Blame shifting refers to finding it difficult to take responsibility for your own mistakes. Substance abusers tend to exhibit this personality trait in higher than average numbers, often arguing that their drug or alcohol use isn’t a big deal or that they could quit using if they really wanted to.

Extreme blame shifting accompanied by a lack of empathy for others is associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). One recent study suggests that about 12% of people with substance abuse problems also meet the criteria for NPD.

What It Means

Most personality type research suggests that basic personality traits are inborn and can’t be changed. However, this doesn’t mean that someone with traits that are linked to addiction is destined to develop a drug or alcohol problem. It simply means that he or she is at a higher risk for addiction and needs to learn ways to channel the negative aspects of certain personality traits into a more positive direction.

By Dana Hinders

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What is withdrawal?Withdrawal is the first step towards addiction recovery, but it’s an often misunderstood part of the process.

Why Withdrawal Occurs

The term withdrawal refers to the symptoms someone with a substance abuse problem experiences after suddenly stopping the use of drugs or alcohol. Withdrawal typically begins within a few hours of when the abused substance leaves the bloodstream.

Withdrawal occurs because drugs and alcohol make changes to how your brain processes emotions and regulates mood. These changes flood the body with neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin, to create an artificial high. When the body doesn’t get its fix of the addictive substance, it takes time for the brain, nervous system, and vital organs to return to functioning normally. Since addiction is a disease, willpower alone can’t stave off the symptoms of withdrawal.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

In addition to an intense craving for the abused substance, common symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscle aches or cramps
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

The mood changes associated with withdrawal depend on the type of substance being abused. Generally speaking, someone who has been using depressants such as alcohol or opiates will experience a period of overstimulation during the withdrawal process. At the opposite end of the addiction spectrum, someone who has been abusing stimulants such as methamphetamine or cocaine will experience depressive symptoms. In rare cases, the depressive symptoms associated with withdrawal from stimulants can lead to attempts at self-harm.

Delirium Tremens

Although most withdrawal symptoms are merely uncomfortable and not physically dangerous, severe alcohol abuse can result in a potentially deadly condition called Delirium Tremens (DTs). Approximately 3-5% of alcohol abusers are at risk for DTs during the withdrawal process, with the highest risk being among those who have been struggling with alcoholism for 10 years or more.

The symptoms of DTs are similar to other types of withdrawal, with added hand tremors, irregular heart rate, dehydration, and fever. Without treatment, loss of consciousness and potentially fatal seizures can result.

It’s important to keep in mind that the serious symptoms of DTs don’t begin immediately. Sufferers experience mild withdrawal symptoms first, with the risk for seizures peaking 12 to 48 hours after the last drink.

Someone who is suffered from DTs can be treated with intravenous fluids, vitamins, correction of salt and water imbalances in the bloodstream, and sedative medications.

Severe cases of withdrawal from benzodiazepines can also produce a condition similar to DTs.

Length of Withdrawal

The length of time someone will experience withdrawal varies depending upon the length of substance abuse and the type of substance being abused. Common timelines include:

  • Alcohol: 3 days to several weeks
  • Benzodiazepines: several weeks to several months
  • Cocaine: 7 to 10 days
  • Heroin or prescription painkillers: 24 to 48 hours

The intensity of withdrawal symptoms tends to peak in the first 24 to 48 hours, which is when a substance abuser is most at risk of relapse. After this point, discomfort is reduced to a milder level and more easily managed with exercise, rest, and proper nutrition.

Post-acute withdrawal is a term used to refer to the ongoing symptoms someone experiences while in recovery. These symptoms are primarily emotional in nature and can include cravings, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and trouble concentrating. Episodes of mood disturbances will come and go, but can appear as long as two years after the initial withdrawal experience. In people who don’t seek professional addiction treatment, post-acute withdrawal episodes are well known as a risk factor for relapse.

Effect of Co-Occurring Conditions

People who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety can have more intense mood changes during the withdrawal process. Physical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes can also affect the severity of the withdrawal process. For treatment to be effective, co-occurring disorders must be addressed simultaneously.

The Benefits of Medical Detox

It can be extremely uncomfortable and potentially dangerous for someone with a substance abuse problem to attempt to go through withdrawal alone. During withdrawal, substance abusers aren’t thinking clearly and can’t properly monitor their symptoms. For this reason, medically supervised detox is the first step of treatment in an inpatient residential rehab center.

In medical detox, a substance abuser’s symptoms and vital signs are closely monitored and managed with appropriate pharmaceutical interventions. Holistic therapies such as massage and acupuncture can also be used to provide the safest and most comfortable beginning to the recovery process.

By Dana Hinders

To learn more about our programs, please visit our website.

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