The Recovery of Craig K.

“First responders are usually the first on the scene to face challenging, dangerous, and draining situations,” explains a Supplemental Research Bulletin by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “They are also the first to reach out to disaster survivors and provide emotional and physical support to them. These duties, although essential to the entire community, are strenuous to first responders and with time put them at an increased risk of trauma.”
According to the SAMHSA Bulletin, “It is estimated that 30 percent of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as compared with 20 percent in the general population (Abbot et al., 2015). In a study about suicidality, firefighters were reported to have higher attempt and ideation rates than the general population (Stanley et al., 2016). In law enforcement, the estimates suggest between 125 and 300 police officers commit suicide every year (Badge of Life, 2016).”
Experiencing severe trauma is strongly correlated with substance use disorder (SUD). In a study investigating alcohol use in police officers following Hurricane Katrina, there was a significant association between involvement in the hurricane relief efforts and hazardous alcohol drinking (Heavey et al., 2015). In another study, the average number of alcoholic drinks after Hurricane Katrina increased from 2 to 7 drinks per day (McCanlies et al., 2014).
Many traumatized first responders attempt to alleviate their mental health symptoms with drugs and alcohol. Former police officer Craig K. was one of them. As a young man, the Harmony alumnus entered a work environment where you “push horrible calls to the back of the head,” downplay the horror, and move on. The traditional macho culture prevalent among first responders taught him how to “party like a cop” to release the stress.
When traumatic episodes start to show an impact you still don’t think you have a problem: “They tell you about the stress but they don’t build in a mechanism to deal with it.” One time, Craig was called to the scene of a helicopter crash. The smell of the jet fumes connected with the carnage he was forced to witness is etched into his memory. Craig refers to these traumatic events in his career as demons.
One of his main demons is the Columbine high school shooting. “To this day I can’t hear fire alarms,” he says. “I freak out when I hear fire alarms.” More than twenty years later, Craig is still angry with the teenage perpetrators.
In the aftermath of Columbine, his drinking “took another level” and he could not stop watching the news about the shooting on TV. Like many of his colleagues he was traumatized and felt the police were unjustly blamed for not doing enough to stop the massacre. Craig took it personally.
Family hardships followed: his son was born without an immune system and “everything was thrown out of kilter,” including his marriage. All the while his alcohol use disorder (AUD) became steadily worse. “We started going to therapy” but talking about the health problems of my son was just “an easy way to avoid talking about my problems,” Craig remembers. The inevitable negative consequences started to pile up, he left the police force and got a divorce.
The AUD kept destroying his life, “everything after 2011 is really cloudy.” At the end of last year, Craig finally realized that something was wrong. On New Year’s Eve, he was hospitalized for four days. “I still didn’t realize why I was shaking so much.” After his discharge, he started drinking again and by February he was back in the hospital. On that occasion, “the ER doctor tells me ‘if you keep this up, you’re going to die in three months.’”
By this time, however, Craig was firmly in the grip of active addiction, so he kept on drinking. After getting fired from his job, he saw his pastor who told him about Harmony Foundation. Craig was finally ready to change.
Traumatic life experiences are extremely common among patients with substance use disorder. Because of this strong correlation, trauma-informed care is an important part of addiction treatment at Harmony. All staff have been trained in trauma-informed care. When SUD patients arrive for treatment, they often have few coping skills to deal with their traumatic memories and emotional pain. They have to learn to manage emotions and situations without drugs and alcohol.
Craig finally realized that “ego was not his amigo.” Your ego “makes you cocky and doesn’t allow you to see your real self,” he says. “I rode the ego train 24/7.”
Things are much better now for Craig. “I don’t want to be that person anymore. I’m really excited that I am getting clear and more focused. I’m starting to understand things that I read in the Big Book, that we talk about in meetings, that I’m witnessing.”
At Harmony, he began to learn how to process his trauma, acquiring important coping skills. After his discharge, he connected with a sponsor within a week and—thanks to Zoom—was able to attend several meetings a day. The Daily Reflections and two other AA books go with him everywhere he goes.
“I have to work at this every day. It’s like a diet or going to the gym – you have to put in the work.” If you don’t work on your recovery every single day, you’re cheating yourself.
Recovery is always possible. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use disorder, or you have questions about our programs, call Harmony today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

A Family Affair: Navigating Holiday Triggers by Khara Croswaite Brindle

Family: Holiday Triggers

It’s that time of year again, the time where people like to highlight the good, the cheer, and the happiness of the holiday season. But what if holidays bring on a sense of dread? What if you have to navigate the heavy drinking of your family members? Or be in the same room with a person who hurt you in the past? What if holidays create loneliness, risk of relapse, or critical self-reflection as the year comes to a close? For many people, these worries are just the beginning of what they may navigate from November to the New Year. So how can we each feel supported through the stressors of the season?

Bolstering Boundaries

One important element of being successful in our functioning around family is boundaries. Boundaries can be defined as physical or emotional in the way they are implemented to allow feelings of safety. Here are some examples of boundaries to consider with family to support feelings of safety and security during the holiday season:

  • Allowing someone’s refusal of a hug from a family member they barely know
  • Supporting comfortable distance between individuals throughout holiday activity
  • Encouraging space when close proximity is triggering such as a walk or errand
  • Listening for verbal cues about safe and unsafe topics during meals
  • Honoring a person’s decision to decline an activity due to risk of relapse

In other words, identifying ideas of how to support each family member’s needs can encourage enjoyment in all holiday festivities without judgement or conflict. This mindfulness of self and others can entice individuals to fully participate and engage in positive experiences as a family.

Tracking Triggers

Mindfulness can support positive experience through coping with triggers in the holiday environment. Supporting each family member’s self-awareness of triggers can be a first step in determining adjustments to allow full participation in festivities.  In the hope of healthy family connection, below are some examples of triggers that may arise:

  • Interacting with a family member that was formerly abusive
  • Talking of trauma topics that create conflict such as the time they had a drinking problem, eating disorder, or abusive partner
  • Engaging in traditions that encourage relapse including spectator sports
  • Recognizing people or places that are connected to trauma memories such as the holiday party where they experienced sexual assault
  • Feeling peer pressure to engage in activities that feel unsafe including binge drinking
  • Having the perception of criticism or judgement by their family, coworkers, or friends
  • Remembering trauma anniversaries that overlap with the holidays including death and breakups
  • Experiencing sights, smells, and other sensory information that connect to trauma such as cologne/perfume, alcohol, or ice and snow

Cultivating Connection

With all of the potential triggers at play during the holidays, it becomes crucial that we feel a connection to one another in our efforts to contain the stress. Reaching out to trusted family and friends or seeking the help of a professional can support a person in navigating the holiday demands. Balancing out stress with positive connection can make a significant difference in our ability to participate in holiday traditions and create new, positive memories where trauma memories formerly dictated our experience. By connecting with people who can relate, we may also learn new skills of how to remain fully present in the holiday experience and find joy in the family and traditions we’ve come to value.

 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.


A Vaccine for Heroin?


The American prescription opioid epidemic has affected millions of Americans and their loved ones. Efforts to curb painkiller abuse had the unintended effect of leading to a scourge of heroin use – as the drug is often times cheaper, stronger and easier to acquire in the wake of prescription opioid crackdowns. Heroin abuse has become a major public health concern in both urban and rural America, due to the rise in both addiction and overdose death rates. While there is help available in the forms of treatment and 12-Step recovery, relapse rates are particularly high among opioid addicts.

Scientists continue to develop new methods intended to give addicts the best shot at successful recovery, and believe it or not, in the near future there may be a vaccine available that will prevent people from getting high if they use. Research was published last month that dealt with developing a vaccine that would prevent people from getting high if they use the powerful opioid narcotic fentanyl – an analgesic that is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin.

What’s more, clandestine laboratories are manufacturing fentanyl which is then being mixed with heroin to make it more potent. Heroin users are often unaware of the presence of fentanyl, an ignorance that can prove fatal. Admixtures of heroin fentanyl can severely depress respiratory function, which can result in death.

Working with mice, researchers were able to inject the animals with booster shots that would train their immune systems to attack the fentanyl molecules in the bloodstream before the drug crossed the blood-brain barrier resulting in euphoria or potential overdose, The Daily Beast reports. Additionally, when the researchers injected the mice with lethal doses of fentanyl, the mice survived.

“The idea that [the researchers] can make an effective vaccine is very cool. It’s a good accomplishment,” says Phil Skolnick, director of the Division of Pharmacotherapies and Medical Consequences of Drug Abuse at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), who was not involved in the study. “You have to trick the body, and it requires a fair amount of trickery.”

If the human clinical trials are successful, it could eventually lead to the development of a heroin vaccine. The vaccines would be specific to particular drug molecules. If people in recovery from heroin addiction are vaccinated, it could significantly deter relapse because the user would know that they will not experience the desired euphoric affect.

Until such time, the best opportunity of successful recovery rests on effective, evidence-based addiction treatment programs. If you are battling with prescription opioid and/or heroin addiction, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery.

Recovering Addicts Beware! Many E-Cigarettes Contain Alcohol

If your program of recovery involves attending 12 Step meetings, then it is highly likely you have seen people puffing on e-cigarettes – devices that vaporize liquid containing nicotine for inhalation. Over the last few years, many cigarette smokers have experimented with e-cigarettes. In some cases people have stopped using traditional tobacco products in favor of ‘vaping;’ in other cases people will use the devices concurrently with tobacco. While there remains to be little conclusive research on e-cigarettes as effective smoking cessation devices, there are a number of health experts that believe they are likely to be less harmful to your health than cigarettes.

Whether or not e-cigs are safer than cigarettes may be a moot point, at least when it comes to people in recovery. New research indicates that many commercial vaping products contain small levels of alcohol, enough alcohol to affect motor skills, CNBC reports. Researchers at Yale University found that about three-quarters of commercial e-cigarette liquids (tested) contained less than 1 percent alcohol. The finding was published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The researchers tested two groups of people, one using an e-cigarette with higher alcohol content and the other group using a device with lower levels, according to the article. While both groups reported not feeling any different, the group that vaporized an e-liquid with higher levels of alcohol showed a worse performance when given psychomotor tests.

“They didn’t actually know they were under the influence of alcohol,” said study co-author Dr. Mehmet Sofuoglu, a professor at the Yale School of Medicine. “It still influenced their performance.” 

The findings are especially troubling when you consider that many of the people in recovery who use commercial e-cigarettes may be unsuspectingly exposed to alcohol. It is highly recommended that people working a program of recovery avoid any mind altering substance, regardless of how minute the exposure may be; this goes for certain cough syrups, fermented drinks, some mouthwash brands and even certain foods. Even infinitesimal levels of exposure could have an effect that leads to a relapse.

If you are in recovery and would like to continue using your e-cigarette, it is important that you find nicotine liquids that do not contain alcohol.

A New Year In Recovery

Harmony Foundation would like to wish everyone in recovery a Happy New Year. We hope that everyone made it through the conclusion of the holiday season without picking up a drink or drug – a noteworthy accomplishment to say the least. Arguably, more alcohol is consumed on New Year’s Eve than any other day of the year and it can be difficult to resist the temptations all around.

We hope that everyone took a moment to think about how far you have come in recovery, even if you have only been clean and sober for a short period of time. Everyday sober is a blessing, and is another day of working towards a productive future. On the 1st of the year, it is always wise to reflect upon the people and things in your life for which you are grateful. Even if it is a short list, it will probably consist of more than before you got sober. Living from a place of gratitude is conducive to continue, long term recovery; a goal which every recovering addict and alcoholic strives to achieve – one day at a time.

If you happen to still be active in your addiction, perhaps recovery is a New Year’s resolution you have set for yourself. We would like you to know that breaking the cycle of addiction is possible, and worth it. The holidays can serve as a litmus test, showing you all the people and things that addiction has taken from you. Let 2016 be the year where you start working towards living a life free from drugs and alcohol, and in doing so you will begin to repair the damage of your past. What better time than now, why not start the new year on a sober footing?

While some addicts and alcoholics can begin to recover in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous from the beginning, others may need extra assistance in starting the process, such as medical detoxification and a safe place away from the ever looming, omnipresent temptations. Long-term residential treatment can provide the setting which will ensure a greater chance of success.

At Harmony Foundation, we can help you begin the journey of recovery. Our affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the beautiful Rocky Mountains is the perfect environment to start the process of turning your life around. If you or a loved one needs assistance, please contact us as soon as possible.

Putting Recovery First This Christmas


With Christmas less than a day away, those in recovery should already have a plan in place for navigating through the day without using a drink or a drug. It is important, even if you are traveling, to put your recovery first during the holiday; failing to do so can be dangerous and potentially lead to a relapse. Everyone wants to take part in the festivities, but for those in recovery it is paramount that we make safe and smart decisions. If you are new to recovery then it is always best to run your plan by your sponsor or recovery mentor, they can tell you if your plan is both sound and conducive to recovery.

If you are away from your family or your family is not a part of your life, it is best to make plans with your recovery peers. The people who are in your support network are both your friends and allies, being around them during the holiday will better ensure that you will make it through the day sober. Addicts and alcoholics often want to isolate themselves, especially when they are emotional. However, being alone for a significant amount of time can be a slippery slope that can lead to a relapse.

There will be many 12-step meetings that you can attend tomorrow, and everyone in recovery should make an effort to attend at least one. Attending multiple meetings on a holiday is not uncommon, and if you are having a hard time tomorrow it is wise to go to as many meetings as you need. Even if you are not struggling, it is safe to say that somebody else will be; you may be able to help another work through their problem.

Remember to take a moment tomorrow to reflect on that for which you are grateful. If you are working a program and staying abstinent, then you probably have a lot to be grateful for. It is likely that a number of people helped to you get where you are today, and it can be beneficial for you to let them know how happy you are to have them in your life.

Harmony Foundation would like to wish everyone in recovery a Merry Christmas. Never forget that the hand of recovery is always there for those who reach for it.

Concerns About Kombucha Alcohol Levels

Working a program of recovery requires eternal vigilance; it is crucial to stay away from risky situations and all mind altering substances. Many people, upon finding recovery, will begin looking for ways to lead a healthier life, one that usually includes exercise and eating well. Today, every health oriented grocery store and most general groceries carry a product called kombucha – a type of tea. While there are many claims made about the health benefits of kombucha, such as healthier digestion and having the ability to cure a number of illnesses, there is very little evidence to support such claims.

There are a number of people in recovery who drink kombucha, a drink which is unique when it comes to teas in that it is made by a fermentation process using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY). One the byproducts of the process includes the production of relatively minute amounts of alcohol – typically .5 percent by volume. Commercial kombucha makers are required to place a warning label about the presence of alcohol on each bottle, but the drinks can be purchased by minors because the drinks are considered to be non-alcoholic.

Unlike beer and liquor, kombucha continues to ferment after being bottled, which means it is possible for there to be more alcohol present at the time of consumption than what is labeled. United States law says that a drink with an alcohol content above half of one percent is considered an alcoholic beverage, which makes it subject to different rules and regulations.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) sent warning letters to some kombucha makers, for selling products which had alcohol levels above one-half of 1 percent, The Wall Street Journal reports. Last month, two consumer complaints seeking class action status were filed in California – alleging that Millennium Products Inc. (one of the largest kombucha manufacturers) engaged in deceptive practices in alcohol-content labeling.

One of the consumer complaints claims that some of Millennium Products Inc. drinks had alcohol levels of up to 3.8 percent. One beer typically contains an alcohol content of 5 percent, according to the article.

“There are people who can’t drink [alcohol] for religious or health reasons. Folks deserve to know what they’re drinking,’’ said Thomas Hogue, a spokesman at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.

If you are in recovery, it is always a safe bet to refrain from consuming alcohol at any content level – cough syrups, near-beer, and kombucha. An alcohol content level below half of one percent is still “alcohol,” consuming even small amounts of booze could lead to cravings and a potential relapse.

If you are or a loved one is abusing alcohol, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.

Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation.

Quiting Smoking Reduces Risk of Relapse


For many people, alcohol and cigarettes often go hand in hand. Some people who do not regularly smoke cigarettes will concede to doing so when they are drinking. The correlation between alcohol and nicotine may be more important than you think when it comes to addiction recovery.

Recovering from any addictive substance is challenging, anything one can do to make the experience less trying is recommended. Those in recovery usually give up cigarettes last, but it turns out that alcoholics who quit smoking when they stop drinking may find a greater chance at success.

New research suggests that smokers with a history of alcohol abuse are at an increased risk of relapse three years later if they continue smoking, Science Daily reports. The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York.

The findings come from a sample of 34,653 adults with a past alcohol use disorder. The researchers found, when compared to nonsmokers, daily smokers and nondaily smokers had about double the odds of relapsing to alcohol, according to the article.

Across the country, many substance use disorder treatment facilities do not require patients to give up cigarettes. Although, most will encourage smoking cessation, offering access to a number of current therapies. Some treatment centers believe that quitting drinking and smoking at the same time is too difficult. While that mindset may have some merit, in the long run quitting both at the same time may be more fruitful.

“Quitting smoking will improve anyone’s health,” says Goodwin, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. “But our study shows that giving up cigarettes is even more important for adults in recovery from alcohol since it will help them stay sober.”

The findings held even when factoring in:

  • Anxiety
  • Illicit Drug Use
  • Mood
  • Nicotine Dependence

The findings appear in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. __________________________________________________________________________________

If you are or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, please contact Harmony Foundation to begin the journey of recovery. Harmony is a state-of-the-art, affordable, residential addiction treatment program located in the Rocky Mountains.

Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation.

Blood Pressure Medication Affects Unconscious Addiction Memories

There is still a lot that scientists do not understand about the complex nature of addiction. Nevertheless, researchers continue to tirelessly probe the human mind in order to decode the nature of addiction and the causes of relapse, with the hope that one day better treatments for the disease can be developed.

Over the last few years, addiction researchers have been testing the effects of a number pharmaceuticals developed for a series of medical conditions. The goal was to see if such drugs had an impact on the cycle of addiction. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin have been experimenting with the blood pressure medication isradipine, and if human trials prove successful, the drug could help prevent relapse, ScienceDaily reports.

The researchers gave high doses of the antihypertensive drug isradipine to rats addicted to cocaine or alcohol. Hitoshi Morikawa, an associate professor of neuroscience at The University of Texas at Austin, along with colleagues, trained rats to associate either a black or white room with the use of a drug, according to the article. Over time, the rats given isradipine no longer chose the room they associated with the addictive drug. The rats who didn’t receive the antihypertensive almost always choice the drug room. The findings suggest that the memories of addiction had disappeared entirely.

“The isradipine erased memories that led them to associate a certain room with cocaine or alcohol,” said Morikawa.

It may be possible to target the associations an addict has with the experience prior to the use of a drug. If isradipine can erase the unconscious memories that underlie addiction in humans, it would be a monumental advancement in addiction research.

“Addicts show up to the rehab center already addicted,” he said. “Many addicts want to quit, but their brains are already conditioned. This drug might help the addicted brain become de-addicted.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved isradipine, the article reports. Morikawa points out that clinical trials could begin in the near future.

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

If you are or a love one are in the grips of a substance use disorder, please contact Harmony Foundation. We can help you build a foundation for recovery.

Addiction and recovery news provided by Harmony Foundation

Staying Sober During the Holidays – For the Newly Sober

In our previous blog post we wrote about how the holiday season can be stressful for those in active addiction who may isolate from family or, alternatively, may regret their actions during family get togethers while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

This time of year can also bring extra stresses for those in early recovery. Examples of this stress include being emotionally triggered from unresolved family issues or from the presence of alcohol at holiday parties. Family members and closed loved ones elicit deep emotions, which are likely to come out during the holidays because of the frequency or duration of family time. These emotions can become further complicated when experienced in the presence of alcohol. Holidays often provide the first big test to those in recovery- testing their resolve to stay sober while experiencing strong emotions. This becomes an even bigger test when access to alcohol is thrown into the mix.

Another stress faced by those in early recovery are the expectations that abound, beginning with self-imposed expectations. Some may experience negative emotions and may get into their character defects when with family. This may be a departure from their normal sense of elation and being on the “pink cloud” of early recovery, so they may feel they have failed somewhat in their recovery process.

There are also the expectations of close family members and friends. Those newly sober feel that their parents or spouses expect them to be healed after addiction treatment and they grow worrisome at any sign of imperfection, like being in a bad mood. Their auto response is often concern that the recovering addict may be using again. Others may expect those in early recovery to apologize for their past actions because they have seen on TV, for example, that amends is part of recovery, even if the person is not ready to do the 9th step.

These are all variations on the same theme, that holidays provide challenges for those in early recovery in many forms. The positive element is that they are healthy challenges and getting through them sober strengthens one’s recovery and faith in the recovery process.

This is where true recovery begins, and the newly sober need to harness the tools they learned in treatment, including relapse prevention techniques and 12 step principals and fellowship to face their emotions and situations in stride with grace – realizing that is it progress, not perfection.