Drug and Alcohol Addiction


Thanksgiving tableIn the early stages of recovery, you’re learning new ways to cope with everyday situations. Developing healthy habits is a big task, especially during the holiday season. If this will be your first sober Thanksgiving, stay on the path to recovery with these 8 helpful tips.

1. Be Grateful.

Thanksgiving is all about counting your blessings and there’s no greater blessing than being in recovery. Writing down your blessings in a journal is an excellent way to remind yourself of your commitment to your sobriety while getting into the spirit of the Thanksgiving celebration. Sending personal notes to those who’ve helped with your recovery is another great way to show your gratitude. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be a natural born writer, you can’t go wrong with a heartfelt note of appreciation.

2. Start a New Tradition.

If drinking is normally a big part of your Thanksgiving celebration, consider this year an opportunity to start a new alcohol-free tradition. You could organize a team trivia contest, play a friendly game of flag football, create a silly photo booth complete with assorted costumes and props, or give back to your community by volunteering at a local homeless shelter. There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate Thanksgiving, as long as you’re making memories with the people who mean the most to you.

3. Make Plans for Self-Care.

If you’re struggling with depression or social anxiety, crowded holiday gatherings can be overwhelming. Even if you’re genuinely excited to see everyone, a packed room might be hard to handle.

Taking the time to meditate or engage in some relaxing yoga poses before the event begins is an excellent way to keep stress levels in check. Bringing items to help you calm down, such as headphones and relaxing music, calming essential oil spray, or a fun mini adult coloring book, can also be helpful.

4. Don’t Throw Good Nutrition Out the Window.

While Thanksgiving is a time to indulge, keep in mind that healthy eating habits help support your recovery. Start your meal with a salad packed with fiber rich veggies, choose moderate portions of your favorite entrees and side dishes, then finish with a special dessert. Make a point to eat slowly and give your full attention to your food so you can savor every last bite.

One common mistake that people make when planning their Thanksgiving holiday is coming to the feast on an empty stomach. If you let yourself get too hungry, you’ll be more likely to eat to excess. Being hungry can also make it harder to regulate your emotions and control your cravings for drugs or alcohol.

5. Bring Your Own Beverage.

Ideally, your host should provide a non-alcoholic beverage choice for guests who don’t drink. Unfortunately, this is a detail that not everyone remembers. Avoid a sticky situation by simply bringing your own non-alcoholic beverage option.

Sparkling cider, herbal tea, flavored water, or a fruity non-alcoholic punch are excellent beverage choices for a Thanksgiving meal. Bring enough to share and you may find yourself surprised by how many guests decide to spend the day sober with you.

6. Stay Busy.

Keeping yourself busy throughout the event will help calm your nerves and reduce the intensity of any cravings you might have. Volunteer to help set the table, put the finishing touches on a few side dishes, or entertain any impatient young children. Your helpfulness will be appreciated and you’ll make new memories in the process.

7. Go to a Meeting.

It’s common for 12 step programs to host multiple meetings throughout the holidays, so there’s probably one near wherever you are traveling. Connecting with others in recovery can help you stay on the right path. If desired, you could use this opportunity to invite a supportive friend or family member to attend an open meeting with you.

8. Plan an Escape Route.

Hopefully you won’t need to use it, but it’s always a good idea to come up with a graceful way to exit a situation that starts to feel like it’s just too much. Consider having a friend on standby who can send a text or call with an “emergency” that lets you leave the party early if needed.

Another easy way to exit a situation is to simply inform everyone ahead of time that you have another appointment later in the day and will need to leave early. This strategy works well for situations where you know that you won’t be feeling up to socializing for the entire event.

By Dana Hinders

If you or someone you love needs addiction treatment, please call St. Joseph Institute at 888-352-3297.

 

Staying Sober During the Holidays


The relationship between binge drinking and alcoholism is often misunderstood. The majority of binge drinkers are not physically dependent on alcohol, but binge drinking is considered a significant risk factor for developing an alcohol use disorder.

What Is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking refers to consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period of time. There is some disagreement as to what constitutes binge drinking, but many addiction professionals use the guidelines established by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For men, binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once in the last 30 days. Since women process alcohol differently due to their smaller size and different biological makeup, binge drinking for women is defined as drinking four or more drinks at least once in the last 30 days.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), this level of alcohol consumption in a 2-hour span of time is enough to place an average sized person’s blood alcohol content (BAC) at .08. This is the level at which drunk driving penalties apply if you get behind the wheel.

Motivations for binge drinking vary. Binge drinking is most common in social settings, with many people viewing alcohol consumption as a way to have fun and temporarily forget their problems. Teens and young adults may view binge drinking as a way to test their tolerance and rebel against authority.

Moderate drinking is generally considered safe for people with no underlying medical conditions, but binge drinking offers no health benefits. Some of the negative effects associated with binge drinking include:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Blackouts
  • Falls
  • Increased risk of motor vehicle accidents
  • Risky sexual behavior with an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and/or STDs
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Potential for dangerous interactions with prescription medication

How Common Is Binge Drinking?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), binge drinking is very common. About 1 in 6 adults in the United States engages in binge drinking 4 or more times per month, consuming an average of 8 drinks in each binge.

Binge drinking behavior strongly varies by age and gender. Men are twice as likely to binge drink as women. People ages 18 to 34 are more likely to engage in binge drinking than older adults.

Surprisingly, binge drinking is more common among upper income adults. People with household incomes of $75,000 or more likely to engage in binge drinking than lower income individuals. However, lower income individuals consume more drinks on average when they do engage in binge drinking.

How Is Binge Drinking Related to Alcoholism?

Binge drinking does not necessarily mean that a person suffers from an alcohol use disorder, although many people who enter treatment for alcoholism have a history of binge drinking.

A formal diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder is made based on the specific problems that drinking causes in a person’s life. This can include:

  • Drinking more alcohol than you originally intended
  • Feeling powerless to stop drinking
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you are unable to drink
  • Craving alcohol
  • Requiring larger quantities of alcohol to feel impaired
  • Continuing to drink despite experiencing alcohol-related health problems
  • Failing to meet your responsibilities at home or work due to your drinking
  • Lying to friends and family about your alcohol consumption
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed to spend more time drinking
  • Feeling as though drinking is the only way to cope with stress, sadness, anger, anxiety, or other uncomfortable emotions.

The relationship between binge drinking and addiction is strongest in adolescents, with teens who report frequent binge drinking having nearly triple the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder as adults.

What Type of Help Is Available?

If you believe that your binge drinking may be a sign of an alcohol problem, help is available. Alcoholism is a treatable disease, but you can’t beat it alone.

Treatment for an alcohol use disorder typically includes individual and group therapy to focus on learning coping strategies for handling cravings and managing emotions without drinking. Experiential therapies such as equine therapy, art therapy, or music therapy can also be used to encourage people who have trouble talking about their feelings to process the issues that are contributing to their substance abuse.

It is common for people who suffer from an alcohol use disorder to also meet the criteria for mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. When someone has a dual disease or co-occurring disorder, treating both conditions simultaneously is vital to providing a solid foundation for a sustained recovery.

By Dana Hinders

Understanding the relationship between alcohol and depressionThe relationship between alcohol and depression is deceptive. Since drinking is often a part of social gatherings, it may seem like a few beers would be a great way to take your mind off your troubles. However, alcohol can actually worsen depression symptoms. In some cases, it may even induce depression in someone with no previous signs of a mental health disorder.

Signs of Depression

Despite being one of the most common mental illnesses, depression is often misunderstood. Clinical depression is more than just having a bad day once in a while. Someone suffering from depression experiences noticeable changes in mood and behavior that significantly affect their overall quality of life.

Signs of depression can include:

  • Anger
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of intense sadness
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or socialization
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feeling like you’re a failure or that you’ve let friends and family down
  • Having thoughts of self-harm or suicide

Symptoms that occur on all or most days for two weeks or more indicate a need to consult a medical professional.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

Studies indicate that nearly 1/3 of people suffering from depression also have a drinking problem. The link between depression and alcohol addiction is strongest in women and teenagers.

Signs of alcohol abuse include:

  • Believing you need alcohol to relax or feel better
  • Continuing to drink despite negative consequences in your personal or professional life
  • Drinking until you black out
  • Developing an increased tolerance for alcohol, so you require more drinks to feel impaired
  • Feeling powerless to stop drinking
  • Lying about your drinking to friends and family
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, nausea, shakiness, and trembling when you’re not able to drink

Understanding the Relationship Between Alcohol and Depression

Chemically speaking, alcohol is a depressant. A depressant is a substance that lowers neurotransmitter levels, reducing stimulation and arousal in the body.

The majority of people who suffer from both depression and alcohol addiction began drinking as a way to self-medicate their symptoms. However, since the genetic risk factors for both drinking and depression significantly overlap, alcohol abuse can sometimes trigger symptoms in people who weren’t previously depressed.

Other ways in which alcohol can affect depression include:

Fatigue. Drinking regularly can negatively affect your sleep patterns. Fatigue can worsen existing depression symptoms or trigger symptoms in people who are not clinically depressed.

Malnutrition. Alcohol satisfies the body’s calorie requirements, but contains no essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, or carbohydrates. It can also irritate the lining of the intestine, making it more difficult for the body to absorb needed nutrients. Someone who is malnourished lacks the energy needed to complete daily activities

Difficulty regulating blood sugar. When the liver’s resources are devoted to processing alcohol, it becomes more difficult to maintain stable blood sugar levels. This can lead to mood swings, including feelings of anger and irritability.

Folic acid deficiency. Folate deficiency is common in people suffering from depression, but regular alcohol use lowers levels of folic acid in the body.

Lower serotonin and norepinephrine levels. Alcohol can lower levels of these important mood regulating chemicals in the body, which can make a depressed person feel more depressed.

Impaired judgement. Alcohol decreases inhibition and impairs judgement. This can lead to risky behaviors, including self-harm or suicide attempts.

Decreasing effectiveness of medication. Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of prescription antidepressants while increasing the risk of side effects such as drowsiness and dangerously high blood pressure

Getting the Help You Need

Someone who is suffering from both depression and alcoholism is said to have a dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. In this case, both illnesses must be treated simultaneously. This is typically done with a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, and medication to focus on relieving specific symptoms and addressing the underlying factors contributing to both problems.

According to research published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, seeking treatment for alcohol addiction can quickly result in an improvement in depression symptoms. “Although it has been suggested that alcoholism and depression are manifestations of the same underlying illness, the results of family, twin, and adoption studies suggest that alcoholism and mood disorder are probably distinct illnesses with different prognoses and treatments. However, symptoms of depression are likely to develop during the course of alcoholism, and some patients with mood disorders may increase their drinking when undergoing a mood change, fulfilling criteria for secondary alcoholism. When depressive symptoms are secondary to alcoholism, they are likely to disappear within a few days or weeks of abstinence, as withdrawal symptoms subside.”

By Dana Hinders

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