Entries tagged with “Overcoming addiction”.


person taking pillsWith the opioid epidemic making headlines every week, it’s understandable to be worried about the risk of addiction if you or someone you love has been prescribed opioids. However, you must remember that opioid medication does play a vital role in the management of chronic pain for certain individuals. It does these patients a disservice when a misunderstanding of addiction results in unnecessary withholding of opioid medications.

Chronic Opioid Use as a Last Resort

Although opioids are often used to control short term pain from surgery or injuries that are expected to fully heal within a specific period, this type of use is considered low risk. The primary concern in terms of addiction is the chronic use of opioids over an extended period of time.

According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, chronic opioid therapy (COT) is only appropriate for use if the patient suffers from moderate to severe pain and more conservative measures have not been able to provide sufficient relief. This might include:

  • Non-opioid pain relievers
  • Physical therapy
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Ultrasound
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Chiropractic care
  • Mind-body techniques such as mindfulness meditation

Although the perception of pain can be subjective, there is no doubt that living with chronic pain greatly affects one’s quality of life. Pain limits the ability to engage the activities of daily living and increases a person’s risk for developing anxiety and depression. For this reason, healthcare professionals must struggle to find a middle ground between limiting access to addictive opioids and providing relief to sufferers of chronic pain.

Dependence Isn’t Necessarily Addiction

The term dependence means that the body has physically adapted to having a steady supply of a substance in the system. When the substance is no longer being used, withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and restlessness can occur.

Dependence and addiction are often used interchangeably in reference to opioid painkillers, but it’s important to note that the two are not always the same. Although someone with an addiction is likely to also be dependent upon the opioid medication, it’s possible to be dependent without being addicted.

Dependence can occur whenever a medication is being taken for a long period of time, even if it is used precisely as prescribed and isn’t considered addictive. For example, patients can develop a dependence when they take antidepressants to treat chronic depression even though these medications aren’t thought of as addictive. If they wish to stop or switch to a different drug, tapering the dose helps to minimize the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Distinguishing Between Tolerance and Disease Progression

Tolerance refers to the need to increase a dosage of a substance to experience the same effects due to prolonged use. Tolerance is often thought to be a warning sign of a substance use disorder, but chronic pain patients may confuse tolerance with disease progression. For example, someone taking opioids to cope with cancer pain may require higher doses due to the progression of the cancer even if he or she takes the medication as prescribed. Osteoarthritis is another of a condition where pain levels can be expected to increase over time as the disease progresses.

It can be difficult for the layperson to determine the difference between a patient developing tolerance and someone who is experiencing more pain due to disease progression. This is why careful monitoring of opioid use is necessary.

Seeking a Substance Abuse Evaluation

The fact that someone has been using opioids for a long period of time doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has developed an addiction, but a substance abuse evaluation is in order if any of the following apply:

  • Lying about the severity of symptoms to obtain more medication
  • Seeing multiple doctors to increase availability of opioids
  • Borrowing, stealing, or illegally purchasing medication
  • Becoming defensive or angry when asked about opioid use
  • Mixing opioids with alcohol or other addictive drugs
  • Decreased performance at work or school due to opioid use
  • Withdrawing from family and friends to spend more time using opioids
  • Feeling powerless to control opioid use

It is important to remember that addiction can affect people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s not a weakness or a character flaw. In fact, this form of a substance use disorder is considered unintended addiction because sufferers often originally took their medication exactly as prescribed.

If you or someone you love needs help treating opioid addiction, St. Joseph Institute for Addiction provides a peaceful and serene environment in which to take the first steps towards recovery. Detox, counseling, holistic treatments, and access to aftercare resources provides clients with the tools they need to set a foundation for lasting sobriety.  

By Dana Hinders

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

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What To ExpectWhen you’ve made the decision to seek addiction treatment, it’s hard to imagine what your life will be like without drugs or alcohol. Although no two people are exactly alike, this article outlines some of the issues you can expect to deal with during your first year in recovery.

Withdrawal

The term withdrawal refers to the physical symptoms you experience after drugs or alcohol leave your system.

Withdrawal symptoms depend upon the substance being abused and your length of use, but often include stomach upset, sweating, headache, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and mood swings. A medical detox helps you avoid dangerous side effects and keeps you as comfortable as possible.

Acute withdrawal symptoms start to taper off as your brain chemistry adjusts to a normal level. However, post-acute withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from six months to two years. Common post-acute withdrawal symptoms include difficulty with memory and concentration, decreased physical coordination, and trouble managing emotions.

Counseling

Once detox has been completed, counseling is vital part of setting the foundation for long term sobriety. Counseling typically involves a mixture of individual, group, and family sessions. Your counselor may also recommend experiential therapies such as art, music, or equine therapy.

If you suffer from a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression or PTSD, your treatment plan will need to address both issues simultaneously. Often, people with mental health disorders turn to substance abuse to self-medicate the symptoms of their condition. If their mental health needs aren’t addressed, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain sobriety.

Celebrating 30 Days of Sobriety

Having 30 days of sobriety under your belt is considered a huge milestone. At this time, your withdrawal symptoms have become more manageable and your counseling sessions have provided you with the tools you need to begin a life free from the burdens of substance abuse.

Near the 30-day mark, you’ll likely be transitioning from an inpatient treatment facility to outpatient care. Your counselor will provide you with a detailed aftercare plan to make the adjustment process easier.

Creating a Strong Support System

After leaving an inpatient treatment facility, you’ll want to keep up the recovery momentum by creating a strong support system for yourself. Your facility’s aftercare resources are a good place to start, but you can also turn to support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous to connect you with people who understand the challenges you’re facing.

People in the early stages of recovery often find that turning to their faith provides comfort. The new friends you meet in worship services and church activities can play a vital role in your recovery by providing encouragement and accountability, even if they have no personal experience with substance abuse.

Building Routines

During the first year of recovery, much of your time will be spent creating a routine for yourself. You’ll need to figure out how to balance work, family, social, and treatment obligations. Using a traditional day planner or a scheduling app on your phone may make it easier to keep track of appointments.

As you’re building a routine for yourself, remember to be realistic about what you can accomplish. Not giving yourself enough time to relax can create stress, which places you at risk of relapse.

Repairing Relationships

When you’re struggling with addiction, it’s easy to inadvertently hurt the ones you love. Restoring trust with friends and family will take time, so be patient with this part of the process.

A sincere apology is always a good place to start, but most people in recovery find that their loved ones respond well to seeing how hard they are working to stay sober. Keep your loved ones informed of your recovery milestones while making an effort to communicate honestly and openly.

Discovering Sober Hobbies

One of the most exciting parts of embracing a sober lifestyle is developing new hobbies. During your first year in recovery, give yourself permission to explore areas of interest—even if they put you outside of your comfort zone.

As you’re thinking about what activities appeal to you, consider aiming for a mix of solo and group hobbies. Solo hobbies such as reading, creative writing, gardening, or painting provide a way to distract yourself when cravings hit. Group activities such as joining a bowling league, volunteering at a local nonprofit, or trying out for a community theater production let you expand your social circle.

Avoiding the Dangers of Overconfidence

As you get closer to the one-year mark, it’s natural to become more confident in your sobriety. Feeling comfortable living clean and sober is an excellent sign, but overconfidence can be a risk factor for relapse.

It’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic illness. Just as someone with diabetes needs to continually monitor their blood sugar, eat right, and exercise, you’ll need to stay on top of your treatment plan to manage your sobriety.

By Dana Hinders

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

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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