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How Addiction Affects Body, Mind, and Spirit

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By Michael Rass

Addiction cannot simply be reduced to substance use, chemically caused by drugs and alcohol in the human body. Addiction is a complex biopsychosocial and spiritual disorder with many interlocking conditions and mechanisms. Many addiction professionals view it as a disease of the mind, body, and spirit.

A Disease of the Body:

Most psychoactive substances are regarded as toxins by the human body and its defense system. A healthy liver will try to purge any amount of alcohol as soon as possible, for example. Different substances have different effects on the body. Alcohol destroys brain cells and depresses the central nervous system, while cocaine is a stimulant, raising blood pressure and heart rate. Both substances, like others, trigger the release of certain chemical messengers in the brain, known as neurotransmitters. The main ones are dopamine, which elicits pleasure, norepinephrine causing arousal and focus, and serotonin, which causes feelings of happiness, counteracting negative emotions.

The repeated, artificially elevated release of these neurotransmitters will eventually cause changes in the brain of the addicted individual, providing the increasingly rigid neurological structure for the psychological aspects of addiction. In addition to slowly changing the mind of the addicted person, substances like alcohol, crystal meth, cocaine, and others will have a pathological impact on the physical body, damaging major organs, the cardiovascular system, the skin, and teeth as well as causing dangerous infections, malnutrition, and chronic pain conditions. Most people suffering from a severe substance use disorder (SUD) have been neglecting their physical fitness for a long time, having completely given up on anything resembling a healthy lifestyle.

A Disease of the Mind:

For psychiatrists, addiction is primarily a disease of the mind. The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)—the diagnostic manual widely used by psychiatrists in the United States—states that “all drugs that are taken in excess have in common direct activation of the brain reward system, which is involved in the reinforcement of behaviors and the production of memories.” These psychoactive substances “produce such an intense activation of the reward system that normal activities may be neglected.”

Eventually, this “intense activation” may trap the user in an addiction cycle of craving, using, and withdrawal, leading to renewed craving. In the psychiatric jargon of the DSM-5, “the essential feature of a substance use disorder is a cluster of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicating that the individual continues using the substance despite significant substance-related problems.” In other words, compulsive substance use, despite negative consequences. The user is now caught in a cycle of drug or alcohol use that requires ever-increasing amounts of the substance just to feel “normal.”

The question is, how did the addicted person get there? Why the “intense activation” in the first place? And then again and again? This is where other mental health issues typically play a crucial role. Most addiction professionals now believe that substance abuse is not simply caused by irresponsible pleasure-seeking but should, in most cases, been seen as an attempt to self-medicate serious mental health conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder, major depression, or anxiety. And those are often connected to highly traumatic life events the individual is unable to handle in a healthy way. The “intense activation” is supposed to numb intense emotional pain.

Due to the phenomenon of tolerance this numbing can only be maintained with ever-higher doses of drugs and alcohol while the brain tries to counteract the unnatural surges of neurotransmitters in an effort to rebalance its hormonal setting. At the same time, more and more toxins will do more and more damage to the well-being of the user. Meanwhile, the continual degradation of the physical body causes more stress and emotional pain, providing further motivation to continue with substance misuse. Body and mind are caught in a deadly down spiral: the addicted mind will make the body sicker, and the degraded body will exacerbate the cravings driving the addiction.

A Disease of the Spirit:

For many addiction professionals, addiction goes beyond this body-mind interaction, though. They also view it as a disease of the spirit. In his influential study, Canadian physician Gabor Maté compared addiction to the “realm of hungry ghosts,” one of six types of rebirth in Asian mythology. It is said to be the abode of restless spirits suffering from insatiable cravings and unhealthy attachments, condemned to inhabit dismal places.

At the heart of the addiction problem is a deeper malaise: the disconnection from the Higher Power—whatever that might be, a missing sense of purpose, a failure at authentic self-actualization, the highest level in Maslow’s pyramid of human needs.

This ethereal aspect of the disease is often a hard sell in an increasingly agnostic society. It doesn’t easily correspond to medical and scientific concepts and spirituality can mean very different things to different people. Whatever it is, Americans are increasingly identifying with it.  “About a quarter of US adults (27 percent) now say they think of themselves as spiritual but not religious, up 8 percentage points in five years,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017.

Many of them see spirituality as a personal search for the meaning of life, for connection with the entire universe—with a Power greater than ourselves. They do not necessarily seek a religious practice defined by mandatory observances, rules, and prohibitions. Instead, they want to connect with a Higher Power rooted in love and compassion—a Power that gives human beings perspective, meaning, and a life of purpose.

It is a perspective of the utmost importance to people in recovery. Many succumbed to a life of despair because they lacked a spiritual outlook. Sadly, our current culture seems to promote mostly vanity, instant gratification, zoning-out, and craving for material distractions, all things that are dangerous for a person in recovery. Addiction is a demon trying to disconnect us from our spirituality, the Higher Power, and our fellow human beings. To recover fully from addiction we must strengthen the body, heal the mind, and reconnect to our spirituality. This takes time and effort. A lot of time and effort. That is why recovery is a life-long pursuit.

Heart Centered Counseling

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Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m Gina Thorne and I’m pleased today to be joined with Kim Sharpe, director of provider outreach and community relations for Heart-Centered Counseling. You’re based out of Fort Collins, but you actually have sites in Denver.

We have offices in Fort Collins, Loveland, Greeley, South Denver, Inglewood, Littleton, Aurora, Castle Rock and Colorado Springs.And we also reach out into the mountain communities and rural communities through Telehealth. So we are really statewide. Continue reading “Heart Centered Counseling”

The Role of Cognitive Skills and Brain Function in Recovery Building a Strong Foundation for Success

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

Cognitive skills such as Short Term and Long Term Memory, Visual and Auditory Processing, Attention, Processing Speed, and Logic and Reasoning are the foundation for learning. These skills which work much like your computer’s processor are vital and necessary for clarity of thought, the ability to connect consequences with behavior, problem solving, and the ability to remember and apply coping and self-management skills when under stress. Substance abuse negatively affects the function of these important skills making recovery and performance in work and day-to-day life more difficult than necessary. In this webinar, we’ll learn about the impact these skills have on recovery and most importantly, how these skills can be made better! There are options to improve cognitive function and restore much of what has been lost or damaged, giving those in recovery a new mind with which to tackle their new life. Continue reading “The Role of Cognitive Skills and Brain Function in Recovery Building a Strong Foundation for Success”

Colorado Recovery

Colorado Recovery

I’m really excited today to be joined with Kelly Grebe, who’s the community liaison. Community liaison for Colorado Recovery and then Dr. Kathleen Daly, who’s the Medical Director for Colorado recovery. It’s nice to have you both here. Really excited to hear more about what you all are doing. You’ve had an opportunity to spend some time with us here at Harmony and we got really excited when we get to talk to people who work with folks with mental health and want to learn more about services because obviously there’s such a need for it in our communities. And so, we’re going to talk a little bit about what you all do and then ask a little question or two about you personally as well.

Thanks for having us. It’s been wonderful to tour Harmony. It’s been really great. Seeing everything you do.
Continue reading “Colorado Recovery”

The Vaping Epidemic and Fatal Lung Injuries

Vaping

By Michael Rass

Although e-cigarettes have been around for more than a decade, vaping rates have dramatically increased in recent years, particularly among teens. According to the Child Mind Institute, “e-cigarettes are now the most frequently used tobacco product among adolescents—some 2.1 million middle and high school students were e-cigarette users in 2017—far surpassing traditional combustible cigarettes.”

The Food and Drug Administration announced new steps in September to address the “epidemic of youth e-cigarette use,” issuing “more than 1,300 warning letters and civil money penalty complaints (fines) to retailers who illegally sold JUUL and other e-cigarette products to minors.” The Surgeon General warns that nicotine is harmful to children and young adults. “E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine as well as other chemicals that are known to damage health. For example, users risk exposing their respiratory systems to potentially harmful chemicals in e-cigarettes.”

Vaping products have risen in popularity among teenagers and young adults because they are considered a safer alternative to traditional smoking and provide a clandestine means of using marijuana. In a 2017 state survey, 27 percent of Colorado youths reported using e-cigarette products—the picture is not much different in other states. Vaping is also endemic among young adults in their twenties and thirties.

The popularity of vaping co-evolved with the widespread perception that marijuana use is harmless. In recent months, too many young Americans had to learn the hard way that neither vaping nor cannabis use is without risk, especially when the two are combined.

Colorado is now one of several states investigating severe lung injury associated with vaping. There have been at least nine cases in the Centennial State. Colorado parents Ruby and Tim Johnson told CBS that vaping nearly took their daughter’s life. Piper Johnson was diagnosed with Colorado’s first case of a vaping-related illness. The first-year college student had been vaping for more than two years.

As of October 29, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 1888 vaping-related lung-injury cases in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and one US territory. Thirty-seven deaths have been confirmed in 24 states. Early symptoms of these lung injuries include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Medically, it’s still unclear exactly what is going on. “Despite the accumulating data on the clinical and imaging features of vaping-associated lung injury, its pathology is poorly understood,” a number of Mayo Clinic specialists wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine in October. They did discover, however, that all of the cases they studied “had a history of vaping, with 71 percent of them having used marijuana or cannabis oils.”

The CDC currently recommends refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC (the psychoactive component of cannabis). Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker took the drastic step of declaring a public health emergency and banning in-store and online sales of vaping products in the Commonwealth through January 25, 2020. On the same day, California health officials issued an advisory asking residents to immediately refrain from using e-cigarette devices until a statewide investigation into the risks associated with vaping is completed.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is investigating all cases reported to them and advises that “the best way to protect yourself against vaping-related illness is to stop vaping.”

“Findings from other states show that most people who got sick used THC-only products or both THC and nicotine products. That is true in Colorado as well, but because the long-term health effects of vaping are unknown and as information on the illness emerges, our best advice is to consider not using vaping products.”

Coloradans who think they may have been sickened by any vaping product should contact their doctor, local public health agency, or poison control at 1-800-222-1222.

Harmony Foundation supports long-term behavioral change. When clients choose our program for recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, they are taught coping skills to help them avoid all addictive substances and embrace a healthy lifestyle. This is why we do not support vaping on campus and provide recovery skills classes that teach healthy choices.

Replacing alcohol or opioid misuse with increased nicotine intake is not a good idea. True recovery goes beyond abstinence from illicit drugs and alcohol. The goal of addiction treatment at Harmony is a comprehensive body-mind-spirit reset. The cessation of substance misuse is only one aspect of that reset.

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LINKS
CDPHE information on vaping and lung illness https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/vaping-lung-illness

Surgeon General’s fact sheet on vaping. https://e-cigarettes.surgeongeneral.gov/

Summit Malibu

Welcome to the Harmony Foundation podcast series. I’m very pleased today to be joined with Steven Buchan who was working with Summit Malibu out of Malibu, California. 

Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s beautiful here.

It’s no Malibu, but it’s definitely beautiful.

It’s different, but it’s… I mean, so I was talking to Marlyce about this. We have the ocean. You guys have the mountains.

And we are very grateful for that because we believe that it makes all the difference in recovery, especially with the people that we have that come up here. I know that Malibu has some beautiful places, the beaches are amazing there. We’re really excited to talk with you a little bit about Summit Malibu, but before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about what got you into the field of addiction treatment.
Continue reading “Summit Malibu”

Harmony Foundation Supports Long-Term Recovery

Aftercare Blog

By Michael Rass

A solid network of recovery support is a critical aspect of staying sober on the recovery journey. As part of their treatment program, Harmony connects clients with long-term alumni in their area who can continue the peer support and help them connect with the local recovery community. And, of course, they can stay in touch with their case manager and the Harmony alumni team. Continue reading “Harmony Foundation Supports Long-Term Recovery”

Erik’s House of Healing

Erik's House of Healing

I’m pleased today to be joined with Jerry Short with Erik’s House of Healing, sober living in Aurora, Colorado.
Thank you.

It’s good to have you here. I feel like it’s taken forever to get this, mostly on my side. I think we’ve canceled and started three or four times, but it’s definitely been worth the wait. So thank you so much.

Today’s meant to be. Thank you. I appreciate you calling.

It’s very. I’ve toured a lot of sober homes and I’m honestly very impressed with the quality of what you’ve put together here. It’s a really lovely place.

I thank you. I wanted to make it nice for people.

Let’s talk a little bit about Erik’s House. We started that conversation a little bit earlier. What was the impetus for you to launch Erik’s house?

Well, honestly, I wanted to … My son and I, Paul, when he was with us, we wanted to make a house better than we could find for him. We wanted to have a place where people could feel comfortable in a nice location. I wanted to offer counseling while people are here without charging extra. We got our house therapy dog, Lucy. We just wanted to make a place for people to heal. It takes a good environment.

We talked a little bit earlier about Erik’s House. Erik was your son.
Continue reading “Erik’s House of Healing”

Harmony Foundation Announces Second Major Expansion During Its 50th Year

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Colorado drug addiction program is celebrating it’s 50th Anniversary with a new intensive outpatient program with a unique twist and a Fort Collins Recovery Center. Gala celebrating milestone was held Oct 25 in Denver with special guest Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips. Continue reading “Harmony Foundation Announces Second Major Expansion During Its 50th Year”

Moving from Annoyed to Impactful: Working with the Selfie Generation

*This presentation is no longer eligible for the 1 CE credit*

If America can’t decide what to make of the Millennial generation, neither can our mental health and addiction professionals. Millennials are the most misunderstood cohort and are harshly critiqued by older generations and society at large. Millennials experience exclusive generational issues that are vastly different from Gen X and Boomers and need a tailored approach to best meet their unique needs. Attendees will learn about the specific generational issues that Millennials face and how to best address these issues effectively utilizing evidence-based practices. Continue reading “Moving from Annoyed to Impactful: Working with the Selfie Generation”