By Kevin McCauley, MD, Senior Fellow at The Meadows
I have this shocking statement I sometimes make in my lectures: “Heroin addicts are sweet people.”
I say this partly because I’m an addict myself and I tend to make hyperbolic statements for their emotional impact (not my best quality). But I also do it to push back against the tired trope that addiction can be reduced to a personality disorder. This is what I learned in medical school: put bluntly, addicts are sociopaths.
In 1999, the leading cause of death was car accidents. Nearly twice as many people died in a car accident as died from a fatal drug overdose. By 2014, those numbers were reversed. There were almost 40 percent more deaths from drug overdoses than from car crashes. Most of today’s overdoses stem from prescription opioids and heroin, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s release of Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health at yesterday’s Facing Addiction Summit was an unprecedented moment in our country’s fight against addiction and substance misuse. It is the first time in history that a U.S. surgeon general has issued a report focused on drug and alcohol addiction. The report comes at a time when more and more Americans are struggling with the effects of addiction to opioids and heroin. One person dies every 19 minutes from an opioid or heroin overdose. And, the statistics related to other addictions are no less grim. One in seven people in the United States will face a substance misuse disorder, and only 10 percent will get the treatment they need to overcome it.
You never hear of any dying from daily pot use. You certainly don’t hear about it in the same way you hear about deaths and other tragedies caused by alcohol and other “harder” drugs. And, there are some serious medical conditions for which marijuana is now believed to be an effective treatment. Additionally, the movement to legalize marijuana seems to be growing—25 states have legalized medical marijuana, while four states plus Washington, D.C. have gone even further and legalized recreational use of pot.
So, what’s the big deal?
Well…The big deal is that like any substance or activity that has the ability to alter your mood or neurological responses, marijuana can be addictive. And, like all other addictions, it can have a devastating impact on your life.
When people do start to feel that their marijuana use is interfering with their lives and relationships in a negative way, they often have trouble asking for and getting the support they need. Molly Hankins, in a personal essay for Nylon magazine, put it like this: “Being a junkie or an alcoholic who turns themselves over to a 12-step program, the sober lifestyle, God, whatever, registers at the David Bowie end of the addiction spectrum. Being addicted to weed barely registers as laughable and there’s no one in my life I feel comfortable talking to about it. As the era of marijuana prohibition in this country seems to finally be coming to an end, what is the popular discussion surrounding appropriate use? How much is too much? How do I stop if I want to but can’t?
Among the many excellent pointsMolly makes in her essay, her point about the need for a discussion around marijuana and addiction really hits home. The low rate of fatalities directly related to marijuana use, as opposed to heroin or alcohol use, for example, may have contributed to a general societal complacency around Marijuana addiction.
It’s important to note that even though weed may not be as fatal, statistically speaking, as heroin or alcohol, depression is often co-occurring condition that goes along with marijuana addiction. And, withdrawal from marijuana can exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Many people—like “Jake” who wrote a letter to Scientific American in 2012 describing his marijuana addiction—often end up having suicidal thoughts.
This means that the drug can, in a way, be indirectly tied to some fatalities. The drug may not be directly responsible for deaths related to suicide, but it certainly doesn’t help to prevent them. Here’s how Jake describes his experience:
“Over time, the proportion of high time to clean time became steadily more heavy on the high side. I went through several periods of suicidally. During my last six months of use the possible necessity to kill myself always seemed just a week or two away. My plan while I was at school was to jump off of a nearby parking garage. At home, I would use my dad's shotgun to shoot myself in the head. I didn't want to feel what I felt when I wasn't high. Luckily, I always got high before I was ready to actually kill myself.”
For those who become addicted to marijuana, "recreational use" of the drug slowly stops being fun or relaxing. The need to smoke in order to cope with life’s ups and downs and the need to hide how much you’re smoking (or ingesting) from others can have the same isolating and disruptive effects on a person’s life as any other addiction. Here are a few of the signs that someone may be dependent on the drug:
People who are addicted to pot often think that they aren’t "really addicted" if they don't smoke it every day. While it’s true that marijuana addicts can go a few days between smoking again before they suffer any symptoms, it’s important to note that that’s because the chemicals in marijuana can stay in a person’s system for days. Once all of those chemicals are out of their system, subtle but serious withdrawal symptoms can start to set in. The first sign is a craving powerful enough to drive the addict to use the drug again.
2. Irritability and Depression
People who are addicted to marijuana find themselves becoming increasingly irritable and depressed if they go many hours without another hit. Often they don’t recognize the connection between their mood changes and the drug. After several days without the drug addicts can begin to develop severe depression accompanied by frequent crying spells. Many in recovery from marijuana addiction say the experienced a rapid and immense drop in self-confidence and self-esteem along with intense feelings of worthless and anxiety. Some even developed suicidal thoughts.
3. Loss of Ambition
While some pot users may continue to function at their jobs and their personal lives, addicts may end up accomplishing a lot less than would if they were not addicted to the drug. People who were once active and ambitious may stop participating in work, school or social functions, and lower their ambitions or drop them altogether.
4. Physical Changes
Withdrawal from marijuana can also include physical symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite. People in withdrawal often also report having sleep disturbances and nightmares that can continue over a period of months.
Many people with addiction and substance use problems are afraid to ask for help because of the stigma associated with the disorder. This can especially be true for those struggling with marijuana addiction. Since many harbor the belief that marijuana is a completely harmless drug, many addicts might assume that their friends and or family members will dismiss their concerns, especially if they are marijuana users too who don’t feel that they have experienced any ill effects from the drug.
So, it’s especially important for those who fear that they may be dependent on pot to know that they are not alone - many people struggle with this particular drug in the same ways that they do. They are not imagining things—marijuana addiction is real and it can be treated. And, They are not weak - anyone can become addicted to marijuana.
If you think that you or a loved might have a problem with marijuana, reach out for help from a therapist and a local Marijuana Anonymous (MA) group.
If the addiction is severe and is accompanied by other disorders such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder—and it often is— inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment may be needed. If so, look for a program that provides treatments that can begin to heal both the emotional and neurological aspects of addiction through trauma work, experiential therapies like equine therapy and art therapy, and brain-based therapies like biofeedback and neurofeedback.
Our specialists at The Meadows would be happy to answer any questions you might have about addiction treatment. Please call us anytime at 800-244-4949 or chat with us through our website.
When Terri arrived at The Meadows, after struggling for some time with alcohol addiction, she realized that she would never get sober unless she dealt with the trauma she experienced during her very difficult childhood. She credits The Meadow’s Survivors Week and EMDR therapy with her helping her turn the corner into real recovery from alcoholism.
The Meadows treats all phases of alcohol addiction. From detox to our primary treatment program, we help people build the foundation for long-term sobriety.
If you are in the midst of a struggle with alcohol addiction, recovery may not seem possible, but it is.
Our program has helped many people give up alcohol for good while making key changes in the way they live, face problems, and relate to others, in order to decrease the likelihood of relapse.
For more information about how we can help call us at 800-244-4949 or send us a message through our website.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States. Some of the most commonly prescribed drugs are benzodiazepines (a.k.a. benzos).
As the number of these prescriptions has grown, so has the abuse. Some types of benzos are more commonly misused recreationally, often in combination with alcohol. Others are more likely to be abused as a result of an unnecessary prescription.
Unfortunately, many people who abuse these drugs assume that since their use is so common, they must also be “safe.” This is far from the truth.
Benzodiazepines can be useful for those with panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, insomnia, and even, in some cases, alcohol withdrawal. They are best prescribed by doctors when they believe that the patient’s need for them outweighs the possible risk of addiction, overdose, or abuse. Xanax is one of most popular and well-known of these types of benzos, but other varieties include Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, Restoril, Librium, ProSom, Halcion and Versed.
Doctors typically recommend that benzos either be used only occasionally, as in the case of patients who take Xanax when facing a panic attack, or for short-term courses, as when easing symptoms from alcohol withdrawal. The longer benzos are used, the greater the risk. Even prescribed doses, when taken for a year or longer can cause serious withdrawal problems.
Unfortunately, many people do end up using these drugs to the point of becoming addicted, either as a result of bad advice from their doctors or by choosing to continue to take the drug longer than necessary.
Doctors often prescribe medications in the benzodiazepine family to correct a chemical imbalance in the brain. So, patients who truly struggle with anxiety and panic disorders may not find the drugs to be especially “fun” or interesting. They serve to bring them to a baseline level of emotion and daily functioning.
But, when people who do not have anxiety or panic disorders take benzos, they often find that the drug can bring them a sense of deep relaxation and feelings of euphoria. Instead of taking them to correct an imbalance, they take them to boost the euphoria.
According to Addiction, people who are addicted to benzos often take 30 to 120 times more than experts recommend. Over time, they often develop a tolerance to the drug and have to find new ways to take the drugs—like snorting or injecting— in order to the get the same high. Taking extremely high doses of benzodiazepines can result in coma or death.
Some studies have shown that the number of annual benzodiazepine-related unintentional deaths have begun to outnumber those related to cocaine and heroin. Several celebrities have died in the past 10 years who had benzos in their systems that may have contributed to their deaths. Heath Ledger died in 2008 from a mix of opioid and benzo prescriptions. Amy Winehouse had Librium in her system when she died in 2011. And, Whitney Houston, when she died in 2012, had a combination of Xanax and alcohol in her system.
Benzodiazepine abuse rarely occurs alone. The majority of people who abuse benzos also use another substance (most commonly heroin, cocaine, methadone, prescription painkillers and alcohol) at the same time. Mixing benzos with any other drug that affects your nervous system—even antihistamines—can be dangerous.
For example, when a person combines Xanax and alcohol, they find themselves feeling unexpectedly sleepy and get into the shower to try to wake themselves up. Since they are so sedated, they can end up losing their ability to stay balanced and stay conscious which can lead to them falling and drowning from inhaling water into their lungs.
It is very common for those who abuse benzos to also struggle with other disorders like depression, anxiety, panic disorders, bipolar disorders, and PTSD. Sometimes they have been prescribed these drugs as a way to manage the symptoms of these disorders. They may eventually end up abusing them, as they build up a tolerance and find themselves needing larger doses to get the same effects as before.
This is why, at The Meadows, we believe it’s important to find and treat the underlying causes of behavioral disorders, and not just the symptoms. Benzos and other substances, when used to mask the symptoms of another addiction or disorder, can contribute to a sense of powerlessness people often have about their disease. By addressing underlying trauma, patients can take back the control of their day-to-day lives from the unhealthy coping mechanisms they’ve developed in the place of real healing.
Once someone has developed a dependency on benzos, avoiding withdrawal symptoms may start to be their biggest daily motivation. Some of the signs that someone you know may be addicted to benzos are…
It is critical that those addicted to benzodiazepines get proper medical and psychological treatment from qualified addiction professionals. A cold-turkey approach to quitting benzos can be deadly due to the likelihood of developing a withdrawal syndrome. Patients need a supervised, structured withdrawal program, where they are safe and can also learn techniques, like mindfulness and meditation, for relieving the increased feeling of anxiety that can come with withdrawal.
Since benzo addiction so often occurs with other mental health issues, they also need a program where they can address their addiction, their disorder, and any underlying emotional issues that are likely fueling both. At The Meadows’ programs, we specialize in providing intensive, highly-individualize treatment for complex and cascading disorders. Although the thought of spending 45 days or more in an inpatient facility, away from the life you’re familiar with, may be scary, it is sometimes the best way to finally free yourself of the dangerous trappings of addiction. If you or someone you know needs help, give us a call today at 800-244-4949 or contact us online.
We’re nearly halfway through NCAA® March Madness® tournament. The excitement is ramping up as the team in the Sweet Sixteen prepare for the next round. Those whose brackets aren’t already busted are anxiously waiting to see if their picks will help them reign supreme over their friends and co-workers, and maybe even allow them to take home a cash prize.
But some people—an estimated 6 million in fact— might instead be anxiously waiting for the tournament to be over. They are the people who struggle with pathological gambling addictions. For them, this time of year presents an overabundance of challenges and triggers. While many of us are cheering our teams on the road to the Final Four, they are fighting to stay on the road to recovery.
While participating in your friends’ or co-workers’ NCAA bracket pool doesn’t necessarily put you on the path to addiction, many problem gamblers did experience their first gambling-related rush from participating in a March Madness tournament bracket pool or purchasing a Super Bowl square. They are likely to have been introduced to these forms of gambling as teenagers by family members and middle school or high school classmates.
This may partially explain why the rate of gambling addiction is actually higher among young adults and adolescents. According to U.S. News and World Report, the rate of young adults addicted to gambling is up to four times as high as the adult rate, and 4 to 7 percent of college students meet the criteria for pathological gambling. However, it’s important to remember that gambling addiction can affect almost anyone, of any age, at any time—even if they are not entirely new to gambling.
Those who are addicted to gambling feel an uncontrollable urge to place bets, visit casinos, use Internet gambling sites, and/or buy lottery tickets in spite of the negative ways their behavior is affecting their lives and the lives of their loved ones. An untreated gambling disorder can lead to devastating personal debt and bankruptcies, and even prison time if the addicted person turns to stealing or fraud to support their gambling habits.
For those who are prone to addiction, gambling starts out as just another recreational activity but soon triggers strong, uncontrollable biological and psychological responses. Similarly to other forms of addiction, people who develop compulsive gambling behaviors tend to be those who feel disconnected in personal relationships, disconnected from a higher purpose, depressed, isolated and/or anxious. As a matter of fact, most pathological gamblers—68 percent, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology—also have more than one addiction, often to alcohol and drugs. Another study found that people who struggle with both problem gambling and substance abuse were also more likely to have issues with sexual compulsivity and to have attempted suicide.
This suggests that gambling addiction can be a sign of a very complex set of intermingling behavioral health issues. If you or someone you know seems to be struggling with a gambling addiction, it’s important to seek out a high-quality, comprehensive treatment program right away.
The DSM-5 lists nine criteria for determining whether someone has a gambling disorder:
Since gambling addiction so often coincides with one or more additional addictions—drugs, alcohol, sex, etc.—it’s important to seek a treatment program that can address multiple conditions at the same time. Our staff spends time with each patient to develop a highly-individualized treatment program based on a thorough assessment of his or her primary and secondary conditions, and on releasing the hidden trauma at the heart of them all. Call our intake coordinators today at 800-244-4949 or contact us online to find out if one of our Meadows Behavioral Healthcare programs is right for you.
Football plays an important role in the lives of many Americans. Friendships are forged through small talk about the strengths and weakness of prominent players. Families gather in their living rooms and bond while cheering on their favorite teams. Social connections are strengthened through tailgating, Super Bowl parties, and impromptu touch football games in the backyard. Unfortunately for some, just as football plays a prominent role in our lives, alcohol often plays a prominent role in football celebrations. Can you still enjoy football and its related activities as a recovering alcoholic?
Jim Corrington, Director of The Meadows Outpatient Center and devoted Arizona Cardinals fan, says that you can, as long as you have a solid game plan.
1. Hire a Good Coaching Team: Consult with your sponsor.
Your early recovery is about survival. If you’re in your first year of recovery, you likely have not completed all 12 steps, and are extremely vulnerable. You often are not even aware of how vulnerable you are. You may not be spiritually fit enough yet to attend events where alcohol is available and where you might be surrounded by people with whom you are likely to fall into old patterns of behavior.
Good sponsorship is so important in this stage. Consulting with a sponsor before attending any potentially risky events, and making a plan together is a must. If you like football, a good sponsor can help you find other people in recovery who throw alcohol-free football parties.
Things may be different after you have a year or more of sobriety under your belt, but not always. More information about choosing a sponsor can be found on the Alcoholic Anonymous website.
2. Build a Good Defense: Avoid alcohol-related stimuli.
In recovery, it is often said that you should be able to go anywhere and do anything if you are “spiritually fit.” But for those in the beginning stages of their recovery that is a big IF. Jim likes to say that “If the room you are in doesn’t have any alcohol or drugs in it, it is impossible for you to use or drink.”
It’s important for those just beginning the next phase of their recovery to try to avoid stimuli that may lead to thoughts about drinking. This may be especially difficult for football related parties and activities, given how intertwined they often are with alcohol and messages about alcohol. Alcohol-related stimuli can include stadium signs and displayed advertisements, music, commercials, sitting in an area of a stadium where others are drinking, parties that serve alcohol, tailgating, etc. There are some small steps you can take to try to avoid these, though. If you are watching a game on TV at home and a beer commercial comes on, change the channel. And, if you’re planning to attend a game in a stadium, ask about alcohol free seating sections. (The Arizona Cardinals stadium, for example, has two alcohol free sections.)
Also, use extreme caution if you are thinking about attending a “Normie” party, which can be dangerous in early recovery. Sometimes, once a person leaves rehab, they become overwhelmed with the desire to feel “normal” again. You have to remember that you are not “normal” in your relationship to alcohol. You have a chronic, progressive, and sometimes fatal disease that requires total abstinence from all addictive substances for life, one day at a time. This doesn’t mean that you can never have fun again. It just means that it may take some time for you to redefine what “fun” means.
3. Build a Good Offense: Find sober buddies.
One of the smartest things you can do to stay sober is to seek out others who are also in recovery and love doing the same things you do. There are many recovering alcoholics who still enjoy football with their friends, and love organizing sober football parties and sober tailgating events.
AA meetings are a great place to start building up your network of sober friends. There are also several recovery-focused social networks online. If you’re a Meadows Alumnus, you may have the option of attending Inspired Recovery meetings in your city.
The Meadows Outpatient Center in Scottsdale, Arizona also regularly hosts meetings and events that are free and open to those in recovery and their families. As a matter of fact, we’re excited to announce that on February 7, we’ll be hosting our first ever Sober Super Bowl party!
If you think you or someone you love may need help breaking free from alcohol or drug addiction, give us a call. The Meadows Outpatient Center is a safe and nurturing community where patients are guided on their journey of recovery by examining the underlying causes of addiction and co-occurring disorders. The goal is for these individuals to gain the courage to face difficult issues, including grief and loss; heal from emotional trauma; and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery. Contact us or call us at 800-244-4949.
By Dan Griffin, MA, Senior Fellow at The Meadows
Here we are again: One more tragic tale of a good man, with a good heart, being destroyed by addiction, trauma, and the effects of toxic masculinity. The world—including those closest to former NBA player Lamar Odom — were waiting for him to die just a couple of weeks ago. It is clear now that drugs played a critical role in Mr. Odom’s near-death experience. It is also clear, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the trauma this man has had to deal with has been eating away at his soul and affecting every facet of his life. Because that is exactly what trauma does.
But, of course, real men don’t have trauma. Star basketball players? They don’t have trauma, and if they do it has helped to make them who they are. It only destroys the weak ones. Those traumatic experiences are unfortunate parts of his life that have helped him become the [add superlative of choice here] athlete he is – or more appropriately, was. (The verb tense means everything to the context of the story and how the story is told.)
This is not a new story. It is playing out right now in the lives of thousands of men across the country. Thousands will die this week because we live in a culture with such warped ideas of masculinity that you can have an owner of a brothel—where a man’s reckless behavior was enabled and lead to serious, nearly life-ending consequences— shamelessly show up in the media and act as if he was just a guy having a good time.
The truth is that this was a man scraping a barrel for some morsel of happiness where there is none to be found. Yet, our society still tells men that it will not only make us happy, but affirm our masculinity and cure our pain.
Mr. Odom apparently has been saying for some time, “It seems death is following me.” He is right. The experiences of trauma that Mr. Odom has lived through would leave the strongest and most resilient men scarred.
This story is getting old. I am tired of the tragic stories where we all lament the men after they are gone. The same news outlets that were pillorying Mr. Odom for the past decade were the same ones oozing compassion and empathy as his life hung in the balance. You see, two weeks ago was the time for everyone to trot out the long list of traumas as part of the conclusion of Mr. Odom’s story.
Yes, he is talking now. It really is a miracle. Yet, any of us who have been immersed in the world of trauma, addiction and recovery for some number of years have known that even miracles such as this rarely provide the necessary wake-up call to give a man in the downward spiral a new life. I have buried men – including my own father – after sitting with them in the hospital room when their second, third, or fourth miracles had being given to them, only to watch them dance with the devil again. And lose.
As preposterous and insane as it seems, that is the logic of addiction. So it makes complete sense to those of us who understand the narrative. Events such as Mr. Odom experienced a couple of weeks ago offer such an obvious opportunity for a happy ending. Yet so many men haunted by trauma rarely find it. Mr. Odom seems to have been given a second chance. But there are contingencies. The most important condition is that at some point if he wants to find peace – let alone recovery from his addiction(s—he must hug the monsters.
Mr. Odom needs to find people and places safe enough for him to stand still in the storm and trust something bigger than himself. He has to trust that he can get through it without the drugs, prostitutes, or any other illusion of connection. And at some point our society, that is merely reflected in the absurdity of our media, will have to truly grapple with the fact that we wait for men to be dead before we finally create enough space for their pain and are willing to honor their real story.
As any parent will tell you, raising a confident, caring child in today’s world is incredibly difficult. But when drugs and alcohol are added to the equation, families can become the opposite of what we would hope them to be. It’s hard to overstate the corrosive effects that a family member’s addiction can have on a child. Instead of love, support and security, families afflicted by addiction often flood a child’s life with fear, guilt, sadness, anger and confusion.
Children of addiction feel a tremendous sense of isolation. When no one cares enough to talk to them honestly about what is happening, they believe it is their fault – that they’ve done something wrong, and their lives are not important.
It’s no wonder then that children of addiction are at the highest risk to 1) become addicts themselves, 2) form relationships as adults with other addicts, and 3) need help from mental health and family service agencies. They are more likely to be physically, sexually, verbally and emotionally abused. These children tend to lose hope; their sense of optimism dims, and they have a hard time learning how to love and trust another person, because they haven’t felt those emotions themselves.
Addiction is an epidemic on the rise in our country, yet children of addiction are left to their own devices to cope. The family is too impaired to help, and society typically doesn’t respond until a child ends up in the juvenile justice or mental health systems.
But in different areas of our country, community members are rising to the need of this staggering number of young people. On November 16th, The Meadows sponsored a table at a celebrity dinner and fundraising auction on behalf of Pitch4Kidz.org here in the Phoenix area. PITCH 4 KIDZ offers an educational and support program for children ages 6 – 12 who grow up in families struggling with addiction. Stacey Beck, wife of former Major League Baseball Pitcher Rod Beck, founded PITCH 4 KIDZ to help children affected by their parent’s substance abuse. After losing Rod to addiction in 2007, Stacey’s 12-year-old daughter, who had experienced a five-day children’s program at the age of 8, told her mother they needed to make meaning from her father’s life and death. Stacey then pursued a mental health degree becoming a family counselor and uniting with Bobby McGinley, another local Scottsdale therapist, creating this incredible organization. Jim Sharpe, a local, well-known radio host, co-hosted the event. Music laced the background and comedian Lawyer Johnson brought the audience to great laughter and then tears as he spoke eloquently about his own childhood struggles and the need to know what you stand for. Multiple current and retired professional baseball and football players and coaches were in attendance, with sports items being the most predominant items up for auction. Our Sr. Fellow Claudia Black offered a poignant thirty minute keynote discussing the impact of addiction on children and the underlying impact of trauma, reinforcing the need for resources for young children and how we can all individually and collectively make a difference in their lives. The Meadows is proud to support this organization and recognizes that together we can all make a difference in the lives of youngsters struggling with addiction and trauma.
Pictured are Dr. Claudia Black (center) and Stacy Beck (far left), founder of PITCH 4 KIDZ, along with The Meadows staff who attended the fundraiser.