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Posted by on in Drug Addiction


While addiction may look similar across the board, from the very beginning there are differences that set men apart from women. When entering recovery, gender specific treatment can help address the issues at hand. One key area that should be examined carefully is common relapse triggers and how these triggers differ by gender.

Overview of Triggers

A trigger is an event or situation that causes an action or additional situation. When talking about recovery from addiction, there are going to be a number of triggers many people may encounter. A recovering addict may have been warned about some of these situations and taught how to best navigate them. Others may need to be avoided altogether.

While specific triggers may vary slightly from person to person, here are some general relapse triggers:


Posted by on in Alcoholism

It's been suggested that you can improve the quality of your life by cultivating compassion.  Compassion has been described as 1) a feeling of deep sympathy for another person, 2) to suffer together, or 3) concern for the misfortune of others.

Not only is compassion praised as a desired human quality, studies suggest that engaging compassion can increase the hormone DHEA and reduce cortisol, the hormone responsible for managing stress. It's also been suggested that people who live with a high degree of compassion tend to be happier and be actively engaged in service and volunteer work.

When people live a compassionate life they tend to be admired by friends and family.  This sense of compassion tends to spill over into their relationships.  

I'd like to suggest five ways to engage compassion:

  • Follow-through with service work.  Volunteering is helpful as you are engaged in an activity that's not about you.  Oftentimes when we have a desire to use or drink we're focused on us, our situation, or a problem that has to do with us.  Volunteering creates emotional space to give you a chance to make better decisions.
  • Random acts of kindness.  Doing something for someone without any expectation of something in return. 
  • One of the most powerful tools for developing compassion is loving kindness meditation.  This involves the practice of deliberately engaging kindness by focusing on internal images of different people and directing compassion towards those individuals. This also involves sending loving thoughts to people you care about. 
  • Develop a ritual which includes meditation time in the morning or before you retire for the night.  Focus on statements that allow you to engage ways that allow you to engage loving kindness towards others.
  •  Practice Commonalities.  One favorite exercise comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
    Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
    Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
    Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
    Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fulfill his/her needs.”
    Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”



Posted by on in Drug Addiction


“But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.”

― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

While addiction is viewed in most corners of the treatment and recovery communities (including the American Society of Addiction Medicine)  as a chronic and relapsing brain disease,  as I have pointed out in previous posts, this is usually a  difficult idea for families and friend of addicts to accept.  It is particularly hard when relapse occurs after a long period of sobriety.  Loved ones wonder how   a loss of control can  occur when life has been normal and predictable   for an extended period of time.  It seems as though the addict made a terrible choice, with no thought at all about the impact such an eventful decision would have on everyone else.  Is that the case?   Yet another complicated question, but it is important to understand that, even after extended periods of sobriety and stability,  brain structure and brain chemistry still matter. (Please continue reading)

Animal studies and imaging studies of the human brain have taught us that all natural reinforcerssuch as food and sex, and all psychoactive drugs  increase the production of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, which is a structure in the basal forebrain sometimes referred to as the brain’s“pleasure center”.  When this part of the brain receives  a massive  hit of dopamine from the ingestion of a drug, the user feels high, and the experience of this huge reward constitutes  a powerful learning experience. Repeated experiences of intense reward eventually make other parts of life far less interesting and important to the brain than the pursuit and use of addictive substances and activities. Moreover  and very importantly, the flow of dopamine to the nucleus accumbens  increases not only when the addict is using a drug, but when the addict’s brain anticipates receiving it because it is coming into contact with cues that are associated with use.  This is why 12-step programs remind people in recovery to avoid “slippery people places and things”. Those slippery entities are paving the way to relapse by priming the brain with a dopamine rush.


Posted by on in Alcoholism

One of the larger challenges in recovery is learning how to overcome a desire to use alcohol or drugs. In previous articles I've offered a host of tools to support recovery and encourage you to think about recovery in ways other than a conventional approach to sobriety. In this article I would like to offer a simple relapse prevention tool.

As a clinician with nearly 30 years of experience I've worked in a variety of agencies. Every agency would encourage you to develop a relapse prevention plan that attends to places in your life where you get stuck as well as high-risk situations that would encourage use. I think knowing what to do what you get stimulated is important, but I've never been a fan of the long-form relapse prevention plans. Having to look through 20 pages to see which intervention is best suited for a particular issue is a grind. My sense is that more isn't better, different is the key. I would invite you to get several 4x6 cards and create your entire plan on one side of the card.  Include the following:

Mission statement: one of my friend's is a pilot for a major airline. He let me know that 95% of the time a plane is off-course and that you need to make adjustments to keep the plane on course. Much like a plane, we can get off course in our recovery. I would invite you to create a statement at the top of the card which supports you to make corrections in your life when your recovery is in trouble. This is my mission statement: my sobriety is the single most important thing in my life - if anything jeopardizes my recovery, I eliminate it. As I believe that recovery is a choice, it is important to be mindful that every decision we make can support long term-recovery or allow us to engage in maladaptive behaviors that support relapse and are less than flattering to our ego. All I need to do is to simply think of my mission statement and compare it to anything I want to do. Will this action stimulate a desire to use or further support my recovery? While I do not broadcast my sobriety, it is the single most important thing in my life.

Phone numbers: I would invite you to include 6-7 phone numbers of people you know who are supportive of your recovery, likely to help you if you feel like you're falling down in your life, and are consistent in their own way. When I had about 12 years of sobriety I had a pretty strong desire to drink. I was fortunate in that I collected a list of 100 phone numbers. As my desire to drink came on the weekend during the time between Christmas and New Years most people were on vacation and out-of-touch. I needed to call over 95 people before I found someone I could talk to. Some people might consider a list of 100 people as extreme, but my sense is that I am absolutely committed to making sure I remain sober and I am willing to put in extreme effort to that end.

Alternatives: I invite you to list six to seven things you can do beyond drinking and using. I can always go to the judo hall, watch horrible sci fi, volunteer, support people online, read, play with my cat, go for a run, and remember the commitment I made to my grandmother when I got sober. It's important to be mindful that we tend to drink or use to change the way we feel, and it's imperative that we remember that relapse only offers temporary relief.


Posted by on in Drug Addiction

I'm sure that many of you can relate to coincidences like when you learn about a new word, you find that you hear it more, but when in reality it's just something new that has come into your awareness, it was really there all along.  This is of course something that happens to me often, but has certainly been my experience since I have been writing this blog, as it is now always in my awareness to look for opportunities for what to discuss next and they just keep popping into my life!

Working in the addiction field, and the job I have in particular, keeps me very focused but also very isolated.  Working in addiction also creates a sort of bubble, being that my clients are all trying to get out of their active addiction, my co-workers are all in recovery, and the doctors are addictionologists.  I had been in California for four or five years and didn’t realize that I was protecting myself in a way, by not branching out of my comfort zone.  So it wasn’t until about two years ago, that I started to go out to new places and interact with new people that have never struggled with an addiction.  (People that experience temporary stress instead of chronic anxiety are still a wonder to me!)

The benefit, however, of the bubble realization was that all of that prep work that I had been doing (working with a sponsor, doing the steps, going to multiple types of therapy to figure out the core issues as to why I was using inhalants, then working on those core issues) was in preparation for returning to the real world and all its challenges and this time having a more positive impact, on myself and on those around me, and it was time to use them!  The tools I have learned (especially emotional regulation, coping skills, and trigger identification) and the resources I have developed have been crucial in my relapse prevention, because life sure does throw me some curveballs and when I did come out of hiding, I found that some of my wreckage from my past was still there waiting for me.  I am definitely grateful that I was given the opportunity to have a second chance, to get to be the same person, but a better version.  By doing the footwork, it allows me to look at the same situations but have different reactions and therefore different outcomes than I would have in the past.

I feel that in order to be effective in communicating with people who are also struggling and/or looking for solutions or education, I need to write about things that truly affect me emotionally, because if what I'm writing doesn't induce some sort of feelings for me, how could it in someone else?  So full disclosure in the hopes that someone can relate and hopefully allowing me to be of service.

The reason that the ability to have different reactions that produce different and better outcomes is on my mind is due to some events that occurred in my week.  I felt discouraged this week for two reasons, and I feel like they have happened while I have volunteered to write this blog for a reason.  I am a person that falls victim to a certain type of mental trap, where your brain immediately jumps into negative thinking or disaster mode when you hear certain things that are not ideal.  In the treatment facilities I work with, we refer to it as addict brain.

Tagged in: 10th tradition 12 step 12 step recovery AA abstinence accurate self-appraisal action program action steps addict addiction addiction help addiction memoir addiction recovery Addiction Specialist addictive behavior addicts affected affirmations Alcoholics Anonymous answers anxiety anxiety and recovery ask for help Asking for help attitude of gratitude awareness balance being a loving mirror being a loving person being of service Big Book Caring for those who still suffer co-addiction co-occurring disorder compassion courage dealing with a using loved one depression discomfort drug abuse drug addiction emotional management emotional maturity emotional regulation emotional sobriety emotions faith family recovery fear first step goal setting goals gratitude gratitude journey Guest Blogger guilt healing HELPING OTHERS higher self inadequacy inner satisfaction intervention inventory letting go Life Challenges life on life's terms literature memoir mental health mindfulness mindfulness and recovery Motivation My Story openness positive energy program of recovery recovery recovery talk relapse prevention Resilience right action right intention self care Self Love self-compassion self-confidence self-esteem self-help self-honesty serenity shame sobriety sponsor stepwork struggle substance abuse suffering suffering addicts Support surrender tenth tradition thinking thinking errors Trying to save a Life turn it over twelve step recovery twelve steps Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions twelve steps of aa twelve traditions twelve traditions of aa why i used drugs

Posted by on in Drug Addiction

March 16th marks the beginning of the week for National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week!

I work in assisting the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition, a contact I made after my episode of Intervention, when I joined Director Harvey Weiss to speak on a panel with others affected by inhalant abuse in Washington DC.  Many of the people that I have spoken with were once inhalant addicts themselves or friends and family (especially parents) of inhalant users who devistatingly passed away while using inhalants. This is an organization that works on reducing, preventing, and making the public aware of inhalant abuse, a goal that we both have in common.

In their most recent newsletter, the National Inhalant Prevention Coalition (NIPC) defines inhalant abuse as "the intentional misuse, via inhalation, of common household, school and workplace products and chemicals to “get high.”  This definition also infers two primary inhalant abuse slang terms:  “Sniffing” and “Huffing.” In a sense the Process of“huffing” defines the slang terms for the Activity i.e. bagging (huffing from a bag); Glading (misusing air freshener); etc."

NIPC also regularly provides the public with updates and facts imperitive to spread the awareness and prevention of inhalant abuse.  Here is an update of some of the most recent facts:

1.  Any time an inhalant is used, it could be a fatal episode.  This could be the first time you ever use inhalants, or the 100th.  NIPC notes that there is research showing that "of those people who died from huffing, about one-third died at first time use."


Posted by on in Alcoholism


Sobriety is an interesting thing, especially as most people initially attempt to find recovery at a 12-step meeting. The focus of this article is to discuss a different way of staying sober that is outside the confines of AA or NA, or a traditional approach to recovery.

I used alcohol and drugs for a period of 10 years.  After significant social and health problems I was faced with a decision after being in a coma for nearly a month due to my drug use. My experience as a clinician is that everybody who makes a decision to quit using needs to find their own motivation to quit and remain chemical-free.  My motivation came from my grandmother when she said, “I was very concerned that you wouldn’t make it”.  This is significant to me because both of my grandparents survived Auschwitz.  They spent every day not knowing if they would be alive for the next 24 hours. My grandmother is my moral compass and I remember thinking that if she was able to find a way to stay alive for four years in horrific conditions, I could find a way to stay sober.

When I got sober my grandparents asked me to try 12-step meetings.  I attended for some time but I never resonated with the approach.  While some people find recovery through 12-step meetings, I think it’s important to remember that most popular doesn’t always mean most successful.



Posted by on in Gambling Addiction
*A SHARE from my Recovery Blog ~~ Relapse, what can Help*

Have you ever heard the old song by Bill Withers, “Lean on me”? Well, when you really listen to the words of this song as it pertains to Recovery, it has some excellent advice.
I happen to hear it yesterday, and along with a friend of mine’s Blog Post, it reinforced what I share as some GOOD ADVICE on a Tool I used often to prevent a relapse in my own early recovery. When we first enter Recovery, you seem to be go through phase’s, and one is dealing with *Triggers & Urges* all the time.

There are many tools and skills you will learn in treatment and 12-Step meetings that will help ease these symptoms as you gain recovery time. One fact of recovery is a big percentage of people will Relapse in the first 90 days of coming out of Treatment, Rehab, Etc, Etc….

THE MAIN REASON?……They don’t USE what they have LEARNED.
I have taught those who I Sponsor how to make a Phone List Plan, and to USE IT when
you feel urges and or you get triggered in Recovery. And, Sorry GUYS, but you’re the WORST offenders of not using your Phone List.

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I help YOU CARRY ON”
(Song: by Bill Withers)

See, when I was still employed at the last bank I worked for, I had to travel a little.
So I can’t count HOW MANY times my Phone Plan Saved me from a Relapse. There are Indian Casino’s everywhere and Lottery/Video poker machines all over, (my addiction was compulsive gambling) so I always had my phone list with me at all times.
I’m sure you’re wondering, “What is this Phone Plan”?
It is a list of Phone numbers with Support people you can call when you feel Urges or Triggers to Use. When you call someone BEFORE YOU USE….
Most ALWAYS you can talk and the urge or trigger will subside while you’re talking and sharing WHY you felt then NEED to use.

It really does WORK! Of course there are much more to apply to keep you Safe in recovery from Relapse, but this ONE ACT and really help you stay on course. And, yes
It can also be a “Miracle” as well. Here is a ReBlog share from my good friend Aaron
who has a blog called, “Christian Recovery” and how HIS PHONE LIST became a Miracle
for him. I encourage you to visit his blog at: :-) :-)


Hi, my name is Aaron Emerson. I am a recovering heroin addict who is called by God to use my experience to help others. I live in the Lansing, Michigan area and I am clean from drugs and alcohol just for today. I blog about my recovery, God, addiction and anything else I feel like. If I can just help or inspire one person to get clean than I will feel like I fulfilled my purpose. If I can stay clean than you can too.

The Miracle Happens

September 14, 2013

I want to write a short post about a huge subject for me. It’s about miracles. They happen if you believe them and want them.

I always used to hear people in recovery say that when you feel like getting high, if you call another person in recovery and talk about your feelings, the urge to use drugs will eventually pass. I never believed them. Well, not that I didn’t believe them but, I didn’t want to believe them. There is a huge difference.

I didn’t want to quit using drugs for years but I was introduced to Narcotics Anonymous and treatment facilities during my using times. I was forced to attend various meetings and rehab through the court system and, also, to please my parents. I was in places that I could have got my life together, but I simply didn’t want to quit getting high. These places used to drill in my head to call a person in recovery when I felt cravings. They told me a miracle will happen. I would just say in my head, “Bullcrap.”

I want to share something that happened to me yesterday. I have been clean for a little over four months now. I finally got desperate to change my life around and get clean so I started going to NA meetings. I got a sponsor. I have been using the tools that have been offered to me. When I feel like using, I do what I learned to do a while ago but never followed up on. I follow-up on it now. I feel like getting high, I pick up the phone and call my sponsor.

He talks me through it and helps me make a wise decision. Yesterday, though, I was mowing lawn and it was the first day that it was cold. A thought popped up in my head. I flashed back to last winter when I would be walking around the streets of Lansing, waiting to pick up some dope. I would be freezing my butt off, pacing, waiting, desperate. Then I would hook up with my dealer and….you know….fix up. Instant warmth. Instant euphoria. Out in the cold streets but warm and rushing on the inside. I flashed back to that instant gratification. The instant hit of pleasure. Like a magical blanket.

As soon as I thought about that scenario I dialed my sponsor’s number. He didn’t answer so I called another huge influence in my life that is also in recovery. She told me she could relate to what I’m feeling and she helped me think through my crazy thoughts. She flat-out helped me. Then A MIRACLE HAPPENED!, My bad thoughts and feelings just passed. I got off the phone and prayed. I felt better. Talk about instant gratification. It is a flat-out miracle. That’s it, a miracle. It happened!

In the last four months I have been through this quite a bit where I call someone in recovery when I get cravings. This time really stuck out, though. Maybe it was because the first person I called was busy so I called another person right after? I really don’t know, but this situation was a huge boost of confidence. It gave me assurance that God is always with me and that HE is working in my life. It also let me know how blessed I am to have such a good support system. It is a must if you are in the recovery process to have people who you can talk to about your problems and cravings. You have to be able to get outside yourself and have people who want to help you. You can’t do this alone!

The good thing is, though, that it is possible! If you want to quit and stay clean you can. If I can do it, trust me, so can you. Miracles happen if you let them. The desire to use drugs will pass if you want it to. Even if you feel like using, call someone, and you won’t feel like it anymore. If you do, just keep on praying and call someone else and it will. It works. This really works and I wish I could tell the world. I wish I could tell every person that is struggling, “If you want to quit then you can. It may not seem like it, but if you sincerely want to, YOU CAN.” YOU REALLY CAN….BY: Aaron Emmerson
Tagged in: relapse prevention
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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Staying sober requires that recovering people remain motivated towards sobriety. Recovering individuals need to become involved in Social Anchoring, a skill which comprises five very distinct actions to enable long-term support for recovery. Through the development of these actions people begin to learn a practical application of principles which offer a sufficient substitute other than alcohol or drugs.

Most newly sober people have trouble evaluating their experience and abilities objectively. This lack of objectivity can result in poor decision making and a lack of awareness which does not put your skills and achievements in a positive light. This article is intended to be a starting place so you can best determine how to best present your specific skills and find various ways to enliven your sobriety.

1) Attendance at recovery based meetings. It is imperative that people who want to remain sober, spend time with other people trying to achieve the same thing. Recovery based fellowship enables people to see what works, what doesn’t, learn skills to support long-term abstinence, and develop friendships so that when one experiences a desire to drink and use, they can call upon their fellows in these meetings, rather than answering the call of their favorite chemical.

2) Remaining accountable. We need to spend time with people who are working a recovery program and exhibit behaviors that are suggestive of a life committed to personal growth and sobriety. Junior members are encouraged to find senior members who “have what they want” and develop a mentor relationship with one another. These junior/senior members meet regularly to discuss how they can apply what they have learned, offer objective feedback, and help you to develop a plan of action for meetings goals.

3) Developing a connection with a Higher Power. This right-of-passage usually involves coming to terms with archaic religious views and discarding the codified structure of what isn’t working, and which prevents people from reaching full integrity in their recovery program. New members are encouraged to set-aside what they know and begin to see things differently. Remembering that setting aside what you know isn’t asking you to discard what you know, rather it is about becoming willing to consider a different viewpoint or understanding that our way doesn’t support us to get what we want.


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