Tag Archives: why

The Truth About Addiction Triggers

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Earlier I read an article in Psychology Today outlining the so-called ‘truth’ about addiction triggers. The author, Lance Dodes M.D— after bashing current methods of treatment— begins to claim there is a simple recipe to cure the addicts darkest thoughts about using. He gives an example, a scenario of a triggered mind that applies the typical means of coping: distraction. This is something we are taught in most treatment centers and even in the rooms. Busying our heads with thoughts of consequences, positives of sobriety or just ‘surfing the wave’ (that is a common term used to describe a moment of craving that is observed as it passes) are all means of distraction. However, what Dodes suggests is not to look forward. Instead, he wants us to look back.

Reviewing what caused the trigger in the first place can better prepare us for future cravings. Basically, predicting the trigger before it happens. It sounds simple enough! So today I put it to the test. I thought back to every moment within this day and even this entire week where I felt a craving coming on. What had started it? What was I thinking, feeling or doing before my brain let out an intense sense of despair, longing for me to seek out a drug. I came up with this list:

  • I asked someone what drugs were prominent in the area I just moved to… Meth was the answer. I thought, “I have never tried meth before, I should find someone who has meth… Where can I find someone who has meth? I heard it like cocaine x2, I love cocaine!”
  • “I’m completely bored. I have some pills I can take. I’ve been avoiding those pills. No one will know. I’m so bored.”
  • “M.I.A is so amazing. Live fast die young, bad girls do it well! YOLO! Her new album is killer, I should listen to it soaring and take a walk down the highway.”
  • “Ooo. There is so much alcohol here. I bet they wouldn’t even notice if I took a bottle or two…”

As embarrassing as it was to see my thoughts so vulnerable to my feelings and surroundings, it certainly brought light to the facts that my cravings come in waves of curiosity, boredom, and grandiosity. I wasn’t surprised. I began to analyze myself even further, trying to connect these to the steps and the realization of your character defects.

An addicts curiosity stems from their first high. They like this feeling. They think, “what is this? Why do I feel this way? I wonder what other ways I can feel…” Personally, my curiosity goes all the way to questioning what reality is and if it even exists. I could go into all that, but I think you’d rather I didn’t.

Boredom is such an easy way to find a craving. It leads to so much more like isolation, negative thoughts and loss of motivation. When we find ourselves in this place, I find it best to have an escape route. Something that will surely keep you occupied and away from those triggers. Make a list of all the (sober) activities you can engage in while your alone. Heres a few off of mine:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Workout
  • Read (leisurely or texts from AA/NA/CA)
  • Journal
  • Call someone
  • Whatch netflix (put a damn timer on it though!)
  • Cook something complicated
  • Pamper yourself

As far as grandiosity, thats a tough one to break. When I first picked up smoking, I thought I was cool. Every time I snuck out of the house, I thought I was cool. When I stole drugs, I thought I was cool. All the times I did drugs by myself, I thought I was cool. It didn’t matter if no one knew or no one cared, in my mind… I was cool. Its hard to beat that feeling out of your brain! I managed to quite smoking cigarettes after just a short summer of doing it. I picked it up again to smoke cocaine in the most subtle way but I always hid it cause it smelled slightly and I didn’t want anyone to notice (because I hated to share). I dropped smoking cigarettes as my addiction traveled to something new but now that I’m sober, I’ve picked it back up. I have recognized the triggers to my smoking to be not only social but that need to feel cool. Whenever I watch a show or movie and someone is smoking, it seems so delicate yet subtly rebellious. I want to give that off. I want to be like them. Its a horrible way to go about things but I have to admit to my defects of character. I feel better than everyone (especially here in boo-foo Florida)! I think, “I’m from the Chicago, I’ve traveled halfway around the world, I’ve been crazy before, I’ve tripped and dipped in an assortment of illegal drugs, I break the law, I am cool…” Gosh, thats awful! Thats not the way to think! Thats not healthy! Thats grandiose (and a good sign of mania according to my psychologist)… but thats the way it goes.

Certain music or other forms of media can trigger these feelings. Even people that give off that badass aura can make me want to prove my own rebellious past. But its not about my ego is it? Its about my recovery and my sanity. Change the song or station and take pity on the addict that is still suffering. I try and think, it once was you, but you’ve moved on. You don’t have to be that person anymore and when I dig deep down, I really don’t want to. What did it bring me but shifty attitudes, false friendships and power hunger? Thats no good.

Dodes article does ring true to some extent. To another, we may end up seeing everything as a possible trigger and finding that that observation is, in and of itself, a trigger. I could go back and forth all day long, but I think its time for you to take these opinions and reflect upon them and yourself. Leave any comments below on what your triggers are, how their formed and what you do with them! Don’t forget to like our page on Facebook and invite your friends 🙂

– Love and Light, Robyn

Why We Smoke SO Much!

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” When I first started smoking, I thought I was cool. Then I stopped. When I picked up smoking several years later, it was a way to get high. Then I stopped.  It wasn’t until I found myself in recovery that I really started smoking like a chimney. My parents were concerned and frankly annoyed my this new habit. There was a sense of relief  however, when they discovered in their NAMI class (National Alliance on Mental Illness) that this was commonly seen in people who have mental disorders and addiction. So I went on their website and found the article that explains it all! So if your a smoker, you may relate to this bit of text! It does focus on mental illness but a lot of the information can be useful to all.” -Peace, Robyn

Smoking and Mental Illness

People living with mental illness have a very high rate of smoking. A study by The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 44.3 percent of all cigarettes in America are consumed by individuals who live with mental illness and/or substance abuse disorders. This means that people living with mental illness are about twice as likely to smoke as other persons.

A positive note is that people who live with mental illness had substantial quit-rates, which were almost as high as the group without mental illness. NAMI has led many changes in our mental health system─getting access to the tools to quit smoking is a way to improve the quality and quantity of life. Improving lives is a new advocacy pursuit.

The Connection between Mental Illness and Smoking

There is no one single, certain reason why so many people who live with mental illness smoke. It may be a combination of brain effects, psychological effects and the social world in which we live.

From a brain-based perspective, research is being done to determine if and how nicotine is involved in some of the brain’s memory functions. If nicotine is a factor, then this could explain why so many people living with an illness like schizophrenia or other illness involving cognitive deficits may smoke. Even though smoking is thought to enhance concentration and cognition, the effects are short in duration.

Researchers and the medical community have a great deal to learn about how smoking impacts the brains of those living with mental illness. It is known that people diagnosed with schizophrenia often smoke before the onset of symptoms and that they smoke more often and inhale more deeply than smokers without schizophrenia.

While we still have a lot to learn about why people smoke, there is plenty of information to support the serious health risks of smoking. So while there may be good reasons why you were attracted to smoking, the key is to figure out ways to increase rates of quitting. Nicotine isn’t a health problem on its own, but when smoked and combined with hundreds of other chemicals that are present in cigarettes the practice of smoking is toxic.

Psychologically, all addictions soothe cravings. People often find themselves relaxed and less tense when their addiction is fed. This is true of cigarette smoking. Smoking can also be part of a social norm, one where people in your social circle all hang out and smoke. Some people who live with mental illness learned to smoke in a hospital or in group-living settings. These examples help illustrate how the mental health culture needs to move forward to reduce the tie between socialization and smoking.

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Facts About Smoking

People die from smoking-related illnesses. Every year, smoking kills about 200,000 people who live with mental illness. Smoking harms nearly every organ of your body and diminishes your overall health. Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and of cancer-related death.

Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke and lung disease. With the increased risk of heart disease from second-generation atypical antipsychotic medications (SGAs), individuals living with mental illness must try to quit.

Inhaled cigarette smoke is made up of 4,000 chemicals, including cyanide, benzene, ammonia and carbon monoxide to name a few. There is no safe tobacco product, so switching to a smokeless or chew product will not eliminate your risk of smoking-related diseases.

People are finally waking up to the fact that smoking is a true health hazard, and people need to quit in order to live longer. More psychiatric facilities are going smoke-free, and NAMI is advocating for access to smoking cessation in outpatient settings.

State mental health commissioners and state medical directors are committed to changing the way the public mental health culture relates to smoking. Check out their toolkit (http://www.nasmhpd.org/general_files/publications/NASMHPD.toolkitfinalupdated90707.pdf) to see what policy changes and strategies they are using to create a healthier mental health system environment.

Smoking’s Effects on Symptoms and Medications

Research shows that people living with mental illness do not have worse symptoms after they quit. It is understandable that this is a concern with quitting smoking. Quitting is hard work, and it may take many efforts to be successful. Be sure to get support, talk with your doctor, set a quit date and explore the tools for success (Link to tools for success section) that are available to help you quit.

If you are a smoker and you quit, you can usually get the same treatment results from lower doses of psychiatric medications. Smoking increases the breakdown of medicines in your body, so smokers need to take higher doses to get the same results as someone who does not smoke. Without cigarettes you may need to take less medication. An additional benefit is that a dose reduction will likely reduce side effects of medicines, such as weight gain and other side effects.

P.T.S.D. And Childhood Trauma Linked to Addiction

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“This is a wonderful article that focus’ on P.T.S.D that can develop from childhood trauma and how it is linked to Addiction. I may not have experienced much trauma due to my up-bringing but I can fully understand the diagnosis of P.T.S.D after I was faced with the traumatic experience of an extreme manic outbreak while I was living abroad in India. Its hard not to think of something so dramatic everyday and live in extreme regret and torture from the memories. I hope your able to find as much appreciation for this problem and its connections to addiction recovery as much as I have.” -Love, Robyn

by Kevin VaLeu

We live in an addictive age. In the last five years of my life I have come across and counseled more people struggling with cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, anorexia, sex, and a whole host of other addictions then I did in the previous five years.

Are people becoming more immoral? Or is there something else causing people to turn to substances and sex. Perhaps these next statistics will shed light into what I believe is the underlying causation of our culture’s craziness.

1) The turn of our century (2000) marked the first time in American history that the majority of our children (over 50%) were raised without both biological mother and father in the same home.

2) Even if both mother and father are in the home it doesn’t mean they are in any better shape if they are being abused or neglected. 61% of all children experience some form of neglect.

3) Greater than 1 out of 3 girls will be sexually molested during their childhood or teenage years.

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What does this mean? We live in a day and age where children are experiencing trauma at unprecedented levels from molestations, abuse, abandonment, neglect, and dysfunctional or fragmented homes. When traumatized children slip under the radar of effective treatment they will find illegitimate, illicit and unhealthy coping mechanisms to medicate the long unforgotten pain.

Link Between Trauma and Addictions

Research shows that 50-60% of women and 20% of men in chemical dependency programs report a history of childhood sexual abuse. When you include people that have experienced P.T.S.D. (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or childhood trauma the number can climb as high as 99% of them having substance abuse problems.

How Trauma Affects the Brain

In order to understand how trauma makes one more susceptible to addictions, we need to understand two types of memories at work in the brain: 1) Explicit Memory–this is a memory that we can deliberately call up or put away at any time. We have a sense of control over it and we know it is just a memory; 2) Implicit Memory–these memories have coded in them not only a picture of a past event but the resulting feelings, sensations, and emotional response that went with it. These memories happen outside our control.

These memories are adaptive or automatic, which means they can “pop up” or shoot into our minds involuntarily upon some stimuli or current event that reminds us of a past trauma (called association). This is why a current event can trigger a flood of negative emotions that are identical to the emotions we felt at the time of the trauma. In fact, this is why people with PTSD are continually being tortured from their memories because when something “triggers” their past they are actually reliving the painful past trauma over again. Its no longer just a memory they recall, its all the emotions, feelings, and sensations engraved upon that memory card they recall and relive in the present.

This is why many Vietnam veterans with PTSD experience such painful flashbacks. They aren’t just remembering the past, they are actually reliving it. The bomb they see coming at them in their memory is a real bomb coming at them right now.

In addition, as we grew up, all of our basic assumptions about people (e.g. can they be trusted), ways of relating, and behaving towards people are formed on these implicit memory cards. This explains why you get tense or tighten up at the bank whenever you run into a particular man that reminds you of your cruel step-father.

In order to successfully treat a person with PTSD they have to be guided to convert their implicit memories into explicit ones.

Trauma is Recorded in the Limbic System which sits on the Vegus Nerve.

An interesting physiological discovery is that our traumatic memories are housed in our limbic system. This might not mean much if it weren’t for that fact our limbic system is on top of our Vegus Nerve. When the vagus nerve is stimulated by pain, fear, other distresses, and at an extreme, fainting may occur since such stimulation of the nerve affects the pace of the heart. Such stimulation also causes nausea and cool, clammy skin.

Its now easy to see how memories not only affect our emotions but also our physical bodies.

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Emotional Disregulation & Tension-Reduction Behaviors (Addiction):

When an implicit memory is jarred the body automatically releases the hormones of cortisol and adrenaline to give it power or enable it to go into the “flight” or “fight” (emergency) mode. However, for a person that has experienced emotional trauma, there response mechanism is a bit different. When a person with PTSD has their “flight” or “fight” system alerted they experience the current stress at a visceral or guttural level (soul depth) and have to shut down the hippocampus. Similar to a computer that is slowed down by too many programs running in the background, the mind shuts down certain parts (in this case the hippocampus) because it is too difficult to run it while in emergency mode. Implicit memories can cause one to live in a constant state of being overwhelmed. Past traumas that induce implicit memories also damage mood regulation. It is easy to see how the extra strain on a brain from trauma would affect our ability to stay an even keel.

When the mind tries to remember what has happened during a traumatic moment a person experiences emotional disregulation. There are three coping strategies a person may employ in dealing with emotional disregulation:

1) Avoidance: A person doesn’t want to talk about the trauma, think about the trauma, or be around anybody or anything that reminds them of the trauma.

2) Dissociate: They disconnect from reality which, without realizing, turns off the integrative links connecting the pre-frontal cortex to the limbic system. This means one disconnects from their experiences, which on the one hand helps them escape from the painful anxiety that would normally come, but on the other hand is detrimental from an emotional stand point. You lose the ability to feel anything through this numbing process; even the ability to empathize for others. This is damaging to the psyche.

3) Tension-Reduction Behaviors (leads to Addictions): When trauma occurs the brain fires up, becomes overactive and makes a person feel they cannot deal with it without the aid of some type of pleasure to “settle things down.” This is the point where a person may turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc. It is here, at this stage of the process, that lends itself toward addictions.

Why Do Recovering Addicts Crave Sugar?

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Maybe recovering addicts, like the rest of us, reach for sugary foods and drinks because they make us feel good. Think about it: it’s 2:00 in the afternoon and you’re at work and tired so you reach for a soda, candy bar, donut, or something else loaded with sugar.

Why do we crave sugar? What can we do to avoid it?

Blood sugar levels have an effect on our mood, energy level, and cravings for sugary foods. Sugar gives us energy and releases the chemical dopamine which is also called the “feel good” neurotransmitter. Recovering addicts increased dopamine with their drug of choice. But now that they no longer have the drug they are substituting sugar to get that high. If, for example, alcohol was your drug of choice, it is very high in sugar. Therefore, turning to sugar is an easy and cheap way for a recovering alcoholic to increase their blood sugar level and dopamine, and to chase that high. You will even see someone who is trying to cut down on their drinking substitute it with sugar, often starting in the morning with sugary drinks and using sugar in a similar way that they used alcohol.

The high that is produced from sugar is very short lived and usually followed by, what some people call, a “sugar crash”. The person physically feels worse, continues to crave sugar, and eat sugary foods. This is very similar to how someone craves their drug of choice.  Over time, just like with their drug of choice, the person will need more sugar to get the same “high”.

The most important part of recovery is to stay sober, but maintaining a healthy diet can also help you be more successful in your recovery as well as your work and life.  If you eat sugary foods or drink sugary drinks your blood sugar will rise and fall more rapidly than if you eat protein. Think about how you feel after you eat a couple of cookies compared to how you feel after you eat a turkey sandwich. If you eat a lot of sugar you may feel more agitated, depressed, or anxious, which can lead to relapse. When you feel good it is easier to overcome cravings, especially in early recovery.  Keeping your blood sugar level as consistent as possible by eating a healthy, balanced diet will minimize mood swings and can help you be successful in your recovery.

The Chemistry of Addiction

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This is a great informative video by one of my favourite Youtube geeks, Hank on the SciShow channel. If your looking for more answers than just the description in the big book, Hank will let you know how exactly we react chemically to drugs. This is why we are addicts, KNOW YOUR BRAIN!!

“Published on Nov 18, 2012
Hank describes how our brains respond biochemically to various addictive substances and behaviors and where those responses have come from, evolutionarily speaking.

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