Category Archives: recovery

Go from Surviving to Thriving

Often times, the people who I support are attempting to fill a parent-sized void with addiction. They have unmet needs from childhood or they’re survivors of trauma. Regardless of the degree of severity, addiction becomes a tool for coping with stressors and unpleasant emotions. Over time, the person develops a relationship to their drug or compulsive behavior of choice and an attachment bond forms. More often than not, this attachment is seen as a source of stability, predictability, and comfort — much like the attachment one expects from healthy parenting.

This is not necessarily bad and, in fact, can be seen as an adaptive survival strategy when a person lacks other tools. Without emotional regulation skills or the bandwidth required for self-reflection, it’s very easy for anyone to turn to problematic coping strategies. However, recovery from addiction is only possible when one cultivates awareness around these attempts to fill a void and responds in an intentional way.

Here are some indications of maladaptive coping:

  • Feelings of shame following the attempt to cope
    • I used ketamine to escape overwhelming feelings of rage but I’ve been trying to abstain from using it.
  • Interruptions to work and relationships
    • A fear of being judged by my partner leads me to drink in secret to cope with trauma symptoms
  • Need for more coping due to the intervention
    • After drinking too much to cope with loneliness, I feel hungover and turn to compulsive sexual behaviors for comfort.

The need to manage feelings of rage, loneliness, and anxiety is real and healthy. Your need for coping is not the problem, it’s the maladaptive strategies being implemented. What’s one small thing you can do today to become more aware of your emotional and relational needs?

  • Meditate for 5 minutes
  • Jot down all your feelings at the end of the day
  • Journal for 5 minutes before bed
  • Take 5 minutes to reflect on feelings of anger, resentment, or betrayal

The difference between surviving and thriving lies in the choice to make intentional, thoughtful, and empowered choices to cope versus impulsive, desperate, and destructive ones. Thriving means living your best life, being your best self, and managing your mental health despite the challenges life throws your way. It doesn’t mean life is perfect or easy, but it does mean that you feel confident, competent, and willing to tackle stress, pain, and urges to engage in problematic drug use.

Let us know in the comments how you cultivate awareness around your needs. We’d also love to hear about the healthy coping strategies you implement for relapse prevention.

Researchers stop stress-related relapse in rats

stressWe all deal with stress and have to learn methods to reduce and manage the stressors that life throws at us. But for someone with an addiction, day to day stressors can have a disastrous impact. Stress can trigger relapse, especially early in the recovery phase of addiction when new coping skills are being introduced and a person experiments with various strategies to find those best suited to their lifestyle needs.

Past research has focused on the psychological and emotional mechanisms involved in stress-induced relapse and there has been some speculation about the brain structures and neurotransmitters involved, but now researchers from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania have found that by blocking kappa opioid receptors in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), rats under stress do not relapse on cocaine.

The VTA is the brain structure responsible for rewarding the fulfillment of basic needs, like hunger, sleep, and love. It contains dopamine releasing neurons that communicate with other brain structures, like the nucleus accumbens and the pre-frontal cortex when a basic need is met. It’s also involved in the rewarding release of dopamine when one uses a drug. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows down the release of dopamine in the VTA of a healthy brain.

Kappa opioid receptors are released in the VTA during stress and interrupt GABA’s process. By blocking those receptors in rats, researchers found they were able to resist relapsing on cocaine after five minutes of stressful exercise. “If we understand how kappa opioid receptor antagonists are interfering with the reinstatement of drug seeking we can target that process,” Kauer said. “We’re at the point of coming to understand the processes and possible therapeutic targets. Remarkably, this has worked.”

This is exciting news in the field of addiction as we are learning more and more about the neurobiological underpinnings of this devastating disorder. Researchers are especially excited about the potential to develop prescription drugs to help prevent relapse, and although this prospect may help people overcome their addiction, it is important to remember that addiction is more than just neurobiological processes. People overcoming addiction also need to learn emotional regulation and healthy alternatives to fulfill unmet needs in their lifestyles.

You can read more about this study here.

Photo credit: bottled_void