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The Importance of Relationships in Recovery

One of the most devastating aspects of addiction is the damage it causes to relationships with intimate partners, family, friends, or colleagues. Many treatment programs recognize the important role of relationships in the healing process—especially within the family.

Kelly E. Green’s new book Relationships in Recovery is a comprehensive overview of the crucial role relationships play in the battle against addiction. Through her work with hundreds of clients, the psychologist and addictions expert has learned that social support is a key aspect of the recovery process.

“Most people enter recovery for substance abuse problems hoping not just for improvement in their addiction but also for improvement in their relationships. That’s because the majority who seek treatment report having interpersonal problems and relationship distress,” Dr. Green writes, “in many cases, substance abuse has both caused relationship problems and become a way of trying to cope with them.”

In many important aspects, addiction is a relationship disease and not simply misuse of substances. “The idea that recovery should be wholly an individual journey reinforces the idea that addiction is solely a character flaw,” says Green. “That idea has been disproven by loads of research, and although individual recovery is critically important, so is relationship recovery.”

Relationships in Recovery aims to help people in recovery “improve a broad range of relationships and relationship skills.” It is a guidebook that provides readers with many worksheets to discover what impact their substance use had on their relationships and what impact their relationships can have on their recovery.

Dr. Green emphasizes that recovery is primarily a process of change to improve health and wellness, rather than just achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Why the focus on relationship skills in recovery? “The impact of our relationships on our quality of life can be profound. Most of us tend to feel better when our relationships are doing well.”

What kind of relationships are we talking about? “All kinds of relationships are important in life, and all kinds of relationships are important to your recovery.” Interestingly, her checklist of possible relationships starts with “relationship with God or spiritual being(s)” before listing romantic partners, relatives, and other relationships.

Many of Dr. Green’s clients ask her questions like “How do you repair relationships that have been damaged by addiction?” and “How long does it take?”

Toxic relationships can indeed be a big problem. “An essential skill for recovery is finding ways to minimize the harmful effects and maximize the helpful effects the relationships in your life have on your addiction recovery efforts,” writes Green.

She cautions her readers not to fall for certain myths about relationships:

Myth #1: Relationships automatically improve when recovery begins
Myth #2: Recovery starts as soon as you’re sober
Myth #3: Apologies fix relationships
Myth #4: The support of loved ones is always helpful

Number 4 is especially important because sometimes loved ones will engage in what’s known as enabling behavior. While trying to help, friends and family members may actually make the situation worse by protecting the addicted person from the negative consequences of their actions, thus delaying the decision to get help for their substance use disorder.

An effective treatment program explores the unhealthy and healthy aspects of their clients’ relationships, ideally with the participation of affected family members, so the whole family can heal.

As Dr. Green explains, this requires developing effective communication skills, rebuilding trust (by being honest with one another), and setting healthy boundaries. An “important goal of healthy interpersonal boundaries is allowing you to connect with others to build meaningful healthy relationships.,” explains Dr. Green.

All of this requires a lot of work. “Addiction recovery is hard,” warns Green. “Relationships are hard. Relationships, while you’re overcoming addiction, are extremely hard.” Nevertheless, people in recovery and their loved ones should not be discouraged and use the skills and strategies outlined in the book to keep working on their recovery and “strive for progress, not perfection” as they improve their “quality of life through recovery and reconnection.”

Harmony Foundation has long recognized the importance of family involvement in the recovery process. Due to the COVID pandemic, Harmony is currently offering a modified family engagement workshop that is available to all families of current and former clients.

The virtual education group has two goals. The first is to educate family members about the disease model of addiction and how it can help them understand their loved one’s condition. The second is to give family members time to express themselves and begin to heal their own pain, while also engaging in self-examination. The three-hour session is facilitated by a licensed therapist.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Supporting Children Affected by Addiction

Addiction is often described as a family disease.

“Addiction is a family disease that stresses the family to the breaking point, impacts the stability of the home, the family’s unity, mental health, physical health, finances, and overall family dynamics,” warns the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) on their website. “Living with addiction can put family members under unusual stress. Normal routines are constantly being interrupted by unexpected or even frightening kinds of experiences that are part of living with alcohol and drug use.”

In a recent webinar for Harmony Foundation, Lindsey Chadwick, manager of the children’s program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Center, explained how addiction affects the children in the family of the addicted person and what therapists can do to help children heal from the trauma of addiction.

Addiction has a high probability of perpetuating itself: a troubling 75 percent of adults in treatment grew up with addiction in their families, explained Chadwick. Children living through abuse, violence, and other traumatic events such as parental substance misuse often suffer the ill effects of what are known as “adverse childhood experiences” for the rest of their lives.

An additional risk factor is a possible genetic disposition. According to NCADD, “genetics make up 50 percent of the risk for alcohol and drug dependence.”

Supporting children traumatized by addiction isn’t easy. They often find creative ways to suppress their trauma. Many of them internalize addiction expert Claudia Black’s family rules of addiction: don’t talk, don’t trust, don’t feel. One way of breaking through that wall of denial is drawing. Often it’s easier for children to draw what they cannot verbalize. Chadwick presented three examples during the webinar.

 

The first image, entitled “Fighting” showed a profoundly sad child with the parents arguing in the hallway. The prevailing colors are cobalt blue and gray. The second image, called “Broken Promises” depicted a child eagerly waiting for their dad to show up while the father is shown injecting drugs in another room. The third picture, showing awake, illustrated the attempt of a traumatized child to deal with the death of a parent. The drawings—harrowing examples of what children affected by substance misuse are going through—can serve as a starting point in therapy.

Another indicator can be observing the role the child has assumed in the family dynamic. According to addiction educator Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, the co-founder of the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), kids often try to manage the situation by assuming certain roles in the family, such as the “family hero” who is trying to make everyone in the family look good, the “caregiver” who tries to keep everyone in the family happy, the “mascot” or “jester” who uses humor to keep things on a superficial level to protect others and themselves from feeling the painful truth of the addiction, or the “lost child” who just checks out emotionally.

Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms do not help process the trauma but mainly suppress it in unhealthy ways. Therapists need to recognize these survival modes and turn them into the support that helps children thrive. Prevention research suggests that children in families with addiction need three critical things, explained Chadwick: age-appropriate information, skill-building, and attachments to safe adults.

They need to understand that addiction is a disease and that the situation in the family is not their fault. They need to understand that people with addiction are not bad people although they sometimes do bad things. Children need to realize that they are not alone and that it’s okay to talk about their feelings.

It’s equally important to listen to the children to find out how addiction has affected them and help them realize there are people who understand what they are going through. In this case, “listening” includes talking, drawing, playing, and the support of the group.

Finally, Chadwick emphasized the important function of playing. It’s how children do self-care and it helps create safety. Children impacted by addiction need to attach to safe people and a safe place to cope with the trauma. And as Chadwick put it, it’s a child’s number one job to have fun!

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment programs in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Sober October is the New Dry January

A new movement was taking shape in the year before the COVID-19 pandemic:

health-conscious “sober curious” people in fashionable localities were increasingly asking for non-alcoholic craft beers and cocktails. That trend took a serious hit during the pandemic but many people are nevertheless aware of how unhealthy heavy drinking really is. “Many are abstaining for their health. But it can be harder to commit to swearing off pinot noir if you’re not quitting for a specific reason with a duration in mind. Enter: Sober October,” wrote Molly Longman last year.
 
Like its New Year’s resolution cousin Dry January, Sober October has participants commit to not drinking any alcohol for a month.
 
The rules are pretty straightforward. Obviously, you don’t drink any alcohol. But many people also raise money for charities as they abstain—which can fortify their motivation not to give up before the month is up. Others are doing Sober October just for fun and their health, but not for charity. Some people expand the challenge beyond alcohol, giving up other psychoactive substances such as marijuana as well, or are committing to not using social media. Others stick to just alcohol.
 
Both campaigns may function as a kind of reflection on how important alcohol has become in one’s life. Can you actually go a month without alcohol? And if not, WHY? Dry January and Sober October let people “sample sobriety” without being overwhelmed by any notion of quitting alcohol for good.
 
Some people are so used to drinking on a daily basis that they may ask “What can I do instead of drinking?” Answer: there are lots of much healthier options. The British newspaper The Guardian offered “17 ways to unwind after a stressful day—without hitting the booze” for last year’s Sober October—among them reading, exercising, and taking up a hobby.
 
Even a short break from alcohol can make a difference for your well-being. A British study found that “abstaining from booze for a month – sees people regaining control of their drinking, having more energy, better skin and losing weight. They also report drinking less months later.” 80 percent of participants felt more in control of their drinking; 71 percent said they slept better, 58 percent lost weight, and 54 percent had better skin.
 
A sober period can be an opportunity for people to realize that there is too much focus on drinking alcohol in their lives and that alcohol use is having too much of a negative impact on their relationships and their self-growth.
 
If alcohol is often taken in larger amounts or over longer periods than was intended and if there have been unsuccessful efforts to cut back, Sober October can become the perfect opportunity to reflect on what that means in a person’s life. Alcohol addiction is a progressive disease that often starts with drinking more than was intended and repeatedly failing to cut back. The real reason for the continued alcohol use is frequently an attempt to self-medicate intense stress and emotional pain.
 
However, relieving any kind of stress with copious amounts of alcohol is a dangerous proposition. “Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems” including alcohol use disorder (AUD).
 
As we recently reported on this blog, new research showed that consuming alcohol increases the risk of getting more cancers than previously thought. A 2018 study published in the BMJ concluded that “abstinence from alcohol in moderate-heavy drinkers improves insulin resistance, weight, BP, and cancer-related growth factors. These data support an independent association of alcohol consumption with cancer risk and suggest an increased risk of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.”
 
And unhealthy alcohol use can lead to addiction, of course. A severe alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol misuse involving—among other criteria—being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it results in negative consequences, having to drink more to get the same effect, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking.
 
Recovery from alcohol addiction is more than just giving up drinking, though. It is a comprehensive lifestyle change built on the solid foundation of a purposeful life free from addictive substances and behaviors.
 
Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. Our holistic approach promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering clients to embark upon a lifelong journey of recovery. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

Alcohol Consumption Linked to More Cancers Than Previously Thought

Most people who drink alcohol are aware that excessive consumption can lead to addiction but few people know that alcohol use is also causally linked to multiple cancers.

In their 2021 study “Global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption,” Rumgay, Shield, Charvat, et al. note that “There is low awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer risk among the general public, but adding cancer warnings to alcohol labels, similar to those used on tobacco products, might deter people from purchasing alcohol products and increase awareness of the causal link with cancer, which could then confer increased public support for alcohol policies.”

The risk is significant. As the science correspondent of The Guardian, Nicola Davis, reported in July, “alcohol is estimated to have caused more than 740,000 cancer cases around the world last year.” There is strong evidence that “alcohol consumption can cause various cancers including those of the breast, liver, colon, rectum, oropharynx, larynx, and esophagus.”

A new study conducted by an international team led by Imperial College London found that consuming alcohol increases the risk of getting more cancers than previously thought. Previous research suggested that even fairly modest levels of drinking can increase the cancer risk.

“The evidence indicates that the more alcohol a person drinks—particularly the more alcohol a person drinks regularly over time—the higher his or her risk of developing alcohol-associated cancer,” warns the National Cancer Institute. “Even those who have no more than one drink per day and binge drinkers (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers. Based on data from 2009, an estimated 3.5 percent of cancer deaths in the United States (about 19,500 deaths) were alcohol-related.”

That number is likely to go up now. There are strong indications that drug and alcohol misuse increased dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Associated Press reported in July that drug “overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 last year in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to US government data. “That estimate far eclipses the high of about 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29 percent increase.”

In their survey of alcohol consumption during the pandemic, Grossman, Benjamin-Neelon, and Sonnenschein concluded that “alcohol use in the US is a public health problem that appears to have worsened since the onset of COVID-19. Adults during COVID-19 reported high levels of alcohol consumption, with those who reported high levels of impact from COVID-19 reporting significantly more alcohol (both more days and total drinks) than participants who were not as impacted by COVID-19. Additionally, participants reported perceived increases in their current alcohol intake compared to pre-COVID-19.”

In their study, Rumgay, Shield, Charvat, et al. drew the conclusion that “alcohol use causes a substantial burden of cancer, a burden that could potentially be avoided through cost-effective policy and interventions to increase awareness of the risk of alcohol and decrease overall alcohol consumption. General population strategies, such as WHO’s best buys, include a reduction of availability, an increase in price via taxation, and a ban on the marketing, and are most effective for an outcome such as alcohol-attributable cancer, where even lower levels of drinking can increase the risk of cancer. With increases in alcohol consumption predicted until at least 2030 in several world regions, action must be taken to reduce the avoidable burden of cancer attributable to alcohol.”

“Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions,” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems” including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems, various types of cancer, learning and memory problems, including dementia and, of course, alcohol addiction.

Severe alcohol use disorder is a serious condition requiring comprehensive treatment. Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Recovery Month 2021: Recovery is For Everyone

Recovery Month is a national observance held every September to educate Americans that substance misuse treatment and mental health services can enable those with a mental and/or substance use disorder to live a healthy and rewarding life.

Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery, just as we celebrate health improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and heart disease. This observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, that evidence-based treatment is effective, and people can and do recover from addiction.

Each year, Recovery Month selects a new theme to spread the message and share success stories of treatment and recovery. Last year’s theme was “Celebrating Connections,” this year, the Recovery Month observance will work “to promote and support new evidence-based treatment and recovery practices, the emergence of a strong and proud recovery community, and the dedication of service providers and community members across the nation who make recovery in all its forms possible,” writes the National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) on their Recovery Month page

This year’s Recovery Month theme, “Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community,” reminds people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone in their recovery journey. Everyone’s journey is different, but we are all in this together. “Recovery Month will continue to educate others about substance use disorders and co-occurring disorders, the effectiveness of treatment and recovery services, and that recovery is possible,” writes NAADAC. “All of us, from celebrities and sports figures to our co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family members, throughout our lives have experienced peaks and valleys, both big and small. But with strength, support, and hope from the people we love, we are resilient.”

New Host This Year

Previously, Recovery Month was sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In June 2020, SAMHSA announced its decision to retire its annual convening of Recovery Month stakeholders as well as the development of future themes and assets, and the management of the events calendar.

Faces & Voices of Recovery has created a new Recovery Month website hosting all Recovery Month events and assets that make this celebration possible. You can download shareable graphics and more on that website. 

Finally, you, too, can be part of it: What’s happening for #recoverymonth in your community? Once an event takes place, share photos and event information for all to see! Once uploaded, all photos undergo a brief review and then could be published here!

Harmony Foundation has been part of the recovery community for decades. We are one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

Whole Family Healing: Supporting Children Impacted by Substance Use

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

Children are often the first ones hurt and the last ones helped when substance use is impacting the family.  In this workshop, we will explore how children are impacted, learn tools to help them cope, and important messages for children to hear.  Participants can learn new tools to help families change the family legacy and discover recovery together. Continue reading “Whole Family Healing: Supporting Children Impacted by Substance Use”

The Argument for Quitting Tobacco while in Addiction Treatment


“Smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body,” warns the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States.”
According to the CDC, 14 percent of all adults (34 million people) smoked cigarettes in 2019: (15.3 percent of men and 12.7 percent of women). Among people with substance use disorder (SUD), however, the smoking rates are estimated to be two to four times those of the general population. 
Despite those high rates of tobacco use, concurrent treatment of nicotine addiction during early recovery has been hampered by concerns that these interventions are often not successful in this population or that recovery from other addictions could be compromised if tobacco cessation was included with treatment services.
Despite the well-known health risks, people in recovery are often reluctant to embrace tobacco cessation. Last year, addiction expert John Kelly and others assessed a national cross-sectional sample of individuals in recovery from alcohol or drug (AOD) misuse on whether smoking cessation services (SCS) should be: excluded, available, offered, or integrated into AOD services. The research showed that only about a quarter wanted SCS integrated into their treatment services. 
“Roughly equal proportions endorsed each attitudinal position (23.5 percent excluded, 25 percent available, 24.6 percent offered; 26.9 percent integrated). Correlates of holding more positive SCS implementation attitudes were Black race; primary substance other than alcohol, greater intensity of former or recent smoking, and less mutual-help organization participation; older individuals achieving recovery between 30 and 40 years ago also had more positive attitudes toward integrating SCS.”
Although attitudes regarding the provision of smoking cessation services are part of any SUD treatment are clearly mixed, there may be benefits.
“The potential benefits of addressing nicotine addiction as part of substance dependency treatment may include improved response to interventions for other addictions and, over the long term, reduced tobacco-related morbidity and mortality, wrote James Sharp, Steven Schwartz, et al. in 2003.
They note that the recovery community “has been slow to integrate treatment for nicotine dependence for fear that such an intervention might undermine recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. There is growing evidence that including nicotine treatment in chemical dependency programs may enhance treatment outcomes; many other studies have failed to document any negative effects.”
Professor Kelly and his colleagues found that the “oppositional pattern was accentuated particularly among those with primary alcohol problem histories and those participating in mutual-help organizations. Given the universally well-known negative health effects of smoking, understanding more about the exact reasons why certain groups of recovering persons may endorse such positions is an area worthy of further investigation, as it may uncover potential barriers to SCS implementation in AOD treatment settings.”
Like other drugs, nicotine engages the reward cycle of the brain. “A transient surge of endorphins in the reward circuits of the brain causes a slight, brief euphoria when nicotine is administered. This surge is much briefer than the ‘high’ associated with other drugs,” explains the relevant National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) page. “However, like other drugs of abuse, nicotine increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in these reward circuits, which reinforces the behavior of taking the drug.”
In a treatment environment, people with addiction can no longer turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with co-occurring mental health issues, trauma, or emotional pain. Tobacco is often the one substance they can still turn to when they feel stressed or depressed, hence they are reluctant to quit smoking cigarettes. Sometimes, patients even start smoking in treatment. They are simply looking for substitute substance use perceived as less dangerous—at least in the foreseeable future.
Harmony offers a tobacco cessation group as part of a holistic addiction treatment to help those seeking additional support. If you are interested in beginning a life of recovery and interested to hear more about how quitting nicotine can help your goal, our admissions team is here to help. Begin the process by verifying your insurance benefits online or by calling us at (866) 686-7867.

Circle Up! Adding Psychotherapy Groups To Your Practice

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

As the former president of the Four Corners Group Psychotherapy Society, one of the most common things that I hear is “how do you get a group off of the ground!?” So many clinicians have aspirations to add a group to their practice but hit a wall when it’s time to start marketing it, or, they start a group only to see it fizzle and die a few months later! In most cases what is lacking is not the creativity of the therapist but a clear marketing plan and integration of the group into the business model of their practice. In this workshop, you’ll not only learn how to create a marketing plan for your psychotherapy group but you’ll leave feeling more confident in your growing identity as a Group Psychotherapist.

Continue reading “Circle Up! Adding Psychotherapy Groups To Your Practice”

Colorado’s Historic Investment In Behavioral Healthcare

New laws signed by Colorado Governor Jared Polis in June have been praised as the largest investment in behavioral healthcare in the state’s history. For State Senator Brittany Pettersen, “the legislation is the culmination of five years of work and a momentous chapter in an against-all-odds kind of story,” reported CBS 4 in Denver. “You don’t often see people who are elected who had a parent who struggled with addiction, especially a heroin addiction,” said Pettersen whose mother struggled with addiction for years.

The largest of the mental and behavioral health bills in terms of fiscal impact and legislative scale is Senate Bill 137. According to The Gazette, the $114 million bill “uses federal stimulus money to cover a lot of ground, including addiction services and crisis response. It also has a strong lean toward helping young people, including $2.5 million for elementary school programs and $5 million for specialized, high-quality youth residential help and therapeutic foster care.”

Governor Polis also put his signature to House Bill 1276 concerning the prevention of substance use disorders. “The bill makes a number of tweaks to state law in an effort to mitigate opioid or other substance abuse,” reported The Gazette.

“Those include prescription limitations on benzodiazepines, a permanent extension to the prescription drug monitoring program, a revamped educational program on the best practices for prescribing benzodiazepines and a collaborative program to be administered by the Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services to study evidence-based substance abuse prevention practices.”

Deaths from suicides also hit a record high last year in Colorado, according to CBS 4. Polis signed laws funding mental health disaster response teams and a new 9-8-8 suicide hotline. State Rep. Lisa Cutter sponsored both bills. “When you’re in crisis, three numbers: 9-8-8, and help will be there,” she said.

The Community Behavioral Health Disaster Program (House Bill 1281) concerns the creation of a “community behavioral health disaster preparedness and response program in the department of public health and environment to ensure behavioral health is adequately represented within disaster preparedness and response efforts across the state.”

The new laws address urgent mental health needs in the Centennial State. “Colorado was deep in a mental health crisis long before the pandemic hit,” reported Stephanie Earls for The Gazette in June.

In May, Jena Hausmann, CEO of Children’s Hospital Colorado, declared a “state of emergency” in youth mental health, a first in the 117-year history of the hospital system. “Right now, Colorado’s children uniquely need our help,” Hausmann said. “It has been devastating to see suicide become the leading cause of death for Colorado’s children.”

Colorado Public Radio (CPR) reported in June that “so many Coloradans died of COVID-19 and related causes, including drug overdoses, that life expectancy statistics fell dramatically this past year.” Data released by the state health department show overall life expectancy in Colorado dropped by a full two years, from 80.9 years in 2019 to 78.9 years in 2020.

“Besides deaths from COVID-19, Colorado recorded hundreds of additional deaths, which appear to have at least an arm’s length connection to the pandemic as people self-medicated for anxiety and depression or chose to avoid healthcare and other human interaction out of concern for infection,” reported CPR.

“Causes like drug overdoses, Alzheimer’s, and liver diseases, starvation, and parasitic diseases all experienced double-digit percentage increases in 2020. That’s above the average number of deaths from the causes in the three years prior to the start of the pandemic.”

People with substance use disorder, depression, anxiety, and trauma need access to mental healthcare and evidence-based addiction treatment. Hopefully, the new laws will improve the situation and help patients with mental health needs and addiction get the services they need.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (866) 686-7867 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Early Intervention in Alcohol Use Disorder

Some 16 million Americans are estimated to suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). Many of them don’t receive the help they need.

If left untreated, alcohol misuse can quickly spiral out of control. When alcohol use begins to have a negative impact on a person’s health and relationships, it may be diagnosed as an alcohol use disorder. Recognizing the warning signs of alcohol misuse and getting appropriate treatment can make a significant difference in someone’s recovery process.

A short questionnaire such as CAGE can help determine if you should be concerned about your alcohol consumption. CAGE is an acronym with each letter representing one of the four questionnaire questions:

Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover (eye-opener)?

Two or more ‘yes’ answers are considered clinically significant, indicating an alcohol problem.

The more traditional “Jellinek Curve,” created by E. Morton Jellinek in the 1950s is a parabola representing several stages of alcohol addiction and recovery. Jellinek coined the term “disease concept of alcoholism,” an important step toward the medicalization of alcohol misuse away from simply regarding it as moral turpitude. His research demonstrated that alcohol addiction is a pernicious disease progressing through several distinct phases.

In the initial “pre-alcoholic” stage people drink to feel better about themselves, to dull their pain, or to eliminate anxiety and depression. In stage 2, alcohol misuse escalates to blackout experiences, and efforts to hide the increasing alcohol consumption.

In the “middle alcoholic” third stage, family members and friends begin to worry about the alcohol misuse and may also notice physical signs such as facial redness, weight gain or loss, sluggishness, or stomach bloating. The person struggling with alcohol use may now skip work, forget or ignore important tasks, and become irritated easily.

Stage 4 corresponds to a severe alcohol use disorder. Drinking has become the total focus of all activities, even at the expense of the person’s livelihood, health, and relationships. Tolerance for large amounts of alcohol is considerable and abstaining from alcohol may result in withdrawal symptoms. Any attempt to stop using without help at this late stage may result in tremors or hallucinations (delirium tremens) and could induce seizures.

Since 2013, physicians and addiction professionals have also been using eleven criteria for alcohol use disorder listed in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5). The eleven symptoms also indicate a progression, starting with the perception of drinking too much and failed attempts to cut back (1–2), escalating to neglect, recklessness, and sickness (7–9), and culminating in (substance) tolerance and withdrawal symptoms (10–11).

The DSM-5 describes several levels of severity for alcohol misuse:
mild AUD – the presence of 2 to 3 symptoms
moderate AUD – the presence of 4 to 5 symptoms
severe ­AUD – the presence of 6 or more symptoms

At the vertex of the Jellinek parabola we find the vicious cycle of continuing “obsessive drinking,” but its right arm represents recovery from addiction, beginning with an “honest desire for help” and learning that “alcoholism is an illness.”

Recovery does not have to wait for this low point, though. The honest desire to change can begin at any level and many treatment providers—including Harmony—offer different levels of care for the respective degrees of severity.

While a severe alcohol use disorder may require medically supervised detoxification and residential treatment, earlier stages of the disease may well be reversed in an intensive outpatient program. Alcohol misuse is often driven by underlying mental health issues such as trauma, anxiety, and depression. Any such co-occurring conditions need to be addressed in a comprehensive treatment approach at any level.

Levels of care can also function in a step-down fashion. A severe AUD may first require around-the-clock residential treatment, followed by partial hospitalization, before eventually stepping down to an intensive outpatient program (IOP). There is also continuous 12-Step facilitation and alumni support. Delaying necessary treatment is never a good option. The earlier alcohol misuse is caught and halted, the better the chance of a full recovery.

Addiction to alcohol is a serious condition that requires comprehensive treatment. If the AUD is severe and the alcohol misuse has been going on for a long time, withdrawal symptoms—such as delirium tremens—can become life-threatening. Substance addiction is a chronic disease that will not simply go away and relapse is not uncommon, simply requiring further treatment.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, or you have questions about our programs, call us today at (970) 432-8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible. Our experienced staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.