Entries tagged with “Overcoming addiction”.


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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! 

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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


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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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Opioid abuse remains a serious public health issue throughout the United States. This is, however, an often misunderstood type of addiction, since many people who use opioid pain medication have a valid reason for doing so and abusers often begin due to an appropriately diagnosed medical condition.

About Opioids

Opioids are a type of narcotic pain medication. They’re designed to interact with the opioid receptors on nerve cells in the brainstem, spinal cord, and limbic system to relieve pain.

Commonly prescribed types of opioids and their associated brand names include:

  • Fentanyl: Actiq, Duragesic, and Fentora
  • Hydrocodone: Hysingla ER and Zohydro ER
  • Hydrocodone and Acetaminophen: Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, and Vicodin
  • Hydromorphone: Dilaudid and Exalgo
  • Meperidine: Demerol
  • Morphine: Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS Contin, and Oramorph SR
  • Oxycodone: OxyContin, Oxecta, and Roxicodone
  • Oxycodone and Acetaminophen: Percocet, Endocet, and Roxicet
  • Oxycodone and Naloxone: Targiniq ER

Heroin is also a type of opioid. Many people who begin abusing prescription pain medications eventually turn to heroin to get the high associated with opioid pain relievers at a lower cost. In fact, studies have indicated that as many as four out of five new heroin users started using after developing an addiction to prescription opioids.

Opioid Dangers

When used in a supervised medical setting, opioids are generally considered safe. However, the medication has a potential for tolerance, dependence, and abuse. The negative health effects of long term opioid abuse include a depressed immune system, lowered libido, respiratory difficulties, osteoporosis, abnormal heartbeat, hallucinations, delirium, and increased fatigue. Overdoses can lead to fatal oxygen deprivation.

Responsible Opioid Use vs. Signs of Addiction

Recognizing the signs of opioid abuse presents unique challenges because the medication serves an important purpose. Short term use after an injury or surgery helps patients recover with minimal discomfort.  People who suffer from chronic pain can also use opioids in cooperation with other techniques, such as physical therapy to help keep their pain levels in check so they can go about their daily routine. Some of the many conditions treated with opioids include:

  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Migraines
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Scoliosis
  • Fibromyalgia

Appropriate opioid use includes the following:

  • Taking medication in the prescribed dose at the correct time
  • Avoiding alcohol or other drugs that could interfere with the effectiveness of the medication
  • Being cautious about driving or operating heavy machinery until you understand how the medication affects your body
  • Keeping medication in a secure location where it’s not accessible by others
  • Refraining from sharing or selling pills
  • Keeping all recommended follow-up appointments with your doctor

Unfortunately, due to the addictive nature of these opioid pain medications, it’s easy to slide from appropriate use into a more serious problem. Signs of potential abuse include:

  • Making excuses to get refills ahead of schedule, such as falsely claiming you lost your medication or had it stolen
  • Seeing multiple doctors to obtain prescriptions for several different types of opioid medications
  • Mixing medications with alcohol or other drugs
  • Buying or stealing pills
  • Requiring an increased dosage over time to get the same effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you’re unable to use
  • Lying to friends and family about your use of opioid medication
  • Avoiding hobbies and other activities you previously enjoyed in favor of using
  • Continuing to use despite experiencing negative consequences in your personal or professional relationships

People of all ages, races, and economic classes can develop an opioid addiction. However, women appear to have the highest risk. Research shows that prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to a 237% increase among men during the same time period. In addition to being more likely to seek out prescription pain relievers from a doctor, women are more likely to become physically dependent on the medication due to their smaller size and hormonal makeup.

Treatment for Opioid Addiction

Naloxone, sold under the brand names Narcan and Evzio, has received extensive media attention for its role in treating opioid overdoses. Paramedics, firefighters, police officers, and public safety workers are being trained to administer the drug in hopes of combating the opioid epidemic. However, the best way to fight opioid addiction is to seek treatment as soon as a pattern of abuse is identified.

Treatment programs for opioid addiction provide medically assisted detox and cognitive behavioral therapy to help substance abusers learn different ways to cope with the underlying issues at the root of their addiction. To learn more about treatment options for yourself or someone you love, contact the experienced staff at St. Joseph Institute today.

By: Dana Hinders


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