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The Labyrinth—a Powerful Map for Your Recovery Journey

The original Labyrinth in Greek mythology was an elaborate, confusing structure designed by Daedalus to imprison the Minotaur monster. According to the myth, that labyrinth was so cunningly made that Daedalus could barely escape it himself after building it. 

Today, many people would call such a structure a maze while a labyrinth serves an entirely different purpose. “The labyrinth is one of the oldest contemplative and transformational tools known to humankind, used for centuries for prayer, ritual, initiation, and personal and spiritual growth,” wrote Melissa Gayle West in Exploring the Labyrinth. It’s a spiritual healing tool that has no blind alleys, dead ends, or tricks (as in a maze), and you can always see the center. “Once you set your foot upon its path, the labyrinth gently and faultlessly leads you to the center of both the labyrinth and yourself, no matter how many twists and turns you negotiate in the process.” 

“Many walkers see the pathway as embodying a deeper meaning, such as the journey of life. You walk to the center, stop and reflect, then slowly go back to your day-to-day existence,” wrote Nancy Stedman for The Philadelphia Inquirer in April. 

 Spiritual pioneer Reverend Lauren Artress has called labyrinths watering holes for the spirit. “Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual practice that shifts the metaphor of living a spiritual life. Instead of climbing the ladder of perfection, or living a rule-bound life, the labyrinth teaches us that life is a journey to arrive at being conscious in the present moment,” Dr. Artress wrote in The Path of the Holy Fool: How the Labyrinth Ignites Our Visionary Powers

Representing growth and transformation, walking a labyrinth can confer a sense of clarity, peace, and serenity—a valuable mindset on the spiritual journey of recovery from addiction. Addiction treatment at Harmony promotes physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, empowering clients to embark upon the lifelong journey of recovery.

Walking the labyrinth at Harmony serves as a symbolic representation of that journey. You mindfully walk to the center accepting the gift of recovery before returning to your day-to-day existence a changed person ready to embrace a new life of sobriety. 

At the same time, walking the labyrinth is not only a symbolic act. The meditative aspect of the walk is a powerful recovery tool to calm the mind and ward off cravings. “The mind can be stilled and attention paid to the body, the wisdom of the heart, and the graces of being rather than doing,” wrote Melissa Gayle West in Exploring the Labyrinth.

Harmony will give you many tools to cope with the mental stress and trauma that may have fueled your substance misuse. Meditation is often one of the more important tools because it can train your mind to regulate emotions better, stay focused, and overcome cravings. Walking our labyrinth can be part of your meditation practice while you’re in treatment at Harmony.

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. 

Alcohol Use Disorder Still Severely Undertreated in the US

Some 16 million Americans are believed to have alcohol use disorder (AUD). Many of them don’t receive the help they need despite the ongoing addiction crisis that has been plaguing the United States for many years now. An estimated 93,000 people in the US die from alcohol-related causes each year.

new study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis involving data from more than 200,000 people with and without AUD found that although the vast majority of those with alcohol use disorder see their doctors regularly for a range of issues, fewer than ten percent get treatment for alcohol misuse.

“Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease, but compared to other chronic diseases, it’s wildly untreated,” said senior author Laura Jean Bierut, MD and professor of psychiatry. “For example, two-thirds of patients with HIV and 94 percent of patients with diabetes receive treatment, compared with only 6 percent of people with alcohol use disorder.”

“It’s not that these people aren’t in the healthcare system,” said first author Carrie Mintz, MD and assistant professor of psychiatry. “But although they see doctors regularly, the vast majority aren’t getting the help they need.”

Analyzing pre-pandemic data gathered from 2015 through 2019 via the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the researchers found that about 8 percent of those surveyed met the current criteria for alcohol use disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders in the US.

Of the surveyed people who met the DSM-5 criteria, 81 percent had received medical care in a doctor’s office or spent time in a hospital or clinic during the previous year. But only 12 percent reported they had been advised to cut down on their drinking, 5 percent were offered information about treatment, and only 6 percent actually received treatment, some of whom were not referred by their doctors but sought out treatment options by themselves.

The researchers found that although most people with alcohol use disorder had access to healthcare and although 70 percent reported they had been asked about their alcohol use, there was no attempt to follow up with treatment options.

“Some primary care doctors may not feel comfortable telling patients they should cut down on drinking, prescribing medication to help them cut back or referring them to treatment because they don’t specialize in treating alcohol misuse; but the result is that many people who need treatment aren’t getting it,” said Professor Bierut. “We used to see the same thing with smoking, but when physicians became educated about smoking and learned that many of their patients wanted to quit or cut back, doctors began offering more treatment, and more people were able to quit. We think the same thing may be possible with alcohol.”

The study confirms that alcohol misuse was a serious public health issue even before the onset of the COVID pandemic. In January 2020, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) published an analysis that found that “nearly 1 million people died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017.”

“Alcohol is not a benign substance and there are many ways it can contribute to mortality,” NIAAA Director George Koob wrote a little over a year ago. “The current findings suggest that alcohol-related deaths involving injuries, overdoses, and chronic diseases are increasing across a wide swath of the population. The report is a wake-up call to the growing threat alcohol poses to public health.”

That was before the beginning of the COVID pandemic which is believed to have caused a dramatic rise in drug and alcohol misuse. “We know alcohol use and misuse have increased during the pandemic,” Professor Mintz said in May 2021. “It seems there has been a shift toward heavier drinking. Plus, many doctor’s offices, AA groups, and other support groups were shut down for a period of time, so we would hypothesize that even the relatively small percentage of people in treatment may have declined during the past year.”

The Washington University researchers noted that during the pandemic, alcohol sales in the US increased by 34 percent. Consequently, they expect that as the country emerges from COVID-19 and returns to normal, the number of people with alcohol use disorder will have climbed.

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. Detoxification without qualified medical supervision can lead to seizures and other dangerous conditions.

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.

COVID-19 Fuels Twin Addiction Epidemics

“Methamphetamine availability and methamphetamine-related harms have been increasing in the United States,” warned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year.

While the country’s headlines focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and occasionally on the continuing opioid crisis, another drug epidemic has been slowly escalating, as we reported on this blog in June 2020.

Methamphetamine is now among the most misused illicit drugs in the United States. According to the CDC, “During 2015–2018, an estimated 1.6 million US adults aged ≥18 years, on average, reported past-year methamphetamine use; 52.9 percent had a methamphetamine use disorder, and 22.3 percent reported injecting methamphetamine within the past year. Co-occurring substance use and mental illness were common among those who used methamphetamine within the past year.”

“The continued escalation of methamphetamine use, alone or with opioids, presents providers with complex medical challenges and difficult consequences for patients, families, and the legal and health care systems,” reported Michael Jann on Psychiatric Times in May. “Separately, each drug represents an epidemic and a crisis. Together, they magnify the medical complications facing our society.”

The CDC emphasized the importance of addressing co-occurring mental health concerns when treating methamphetamine addiction.

“The overlap of methamphetamine use with mental illness, especially serious mental illness, suggests an important role for mental health providers to engage in care with this population, in coordination with addiction and other health care providers. Treatment of co-occurring mental and substance use disorders has been a recognized gap in the system of care and persons who use methamphetamine might be particularly affected.”

The opioid epidemic started to escalate again after a brief leveling-off period in 2018. The latest preliminary CDC data show an alarming 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020—largely driven by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl.

In Colorado, overdose deaths involving fentanyl more than doubled in 2020 compared with 2019, rising 111 percent to 452 deaths last year from 214 in 2019. “All overdose deaths, including from heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, totaled 1,223 in 2020, up nearly 20 percent from 1,062 the year before, according to state health department data that is preliminary and expected to rise even higher,” reported The Colorado Sun in February.

Many health professionals believe the COVID-19 pandemic, which kept people isolated and led to increased rates of anxiety and depression, is largely responsible for the current worsening of the twin addiction epidemics.

“Fentanyl is like kerosene. Methamphetamine is like natural gas. Then the COVID pandemic is like, ‘Let’s add some diesel fuel,’” Dr. Joshua Blum, an addiction professional at Denver Health told The Colorado Sun. “It’s like one flammable agent added to another.”

The concurrent misuse of opioids such as heroin and fentanyl and stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine is on the rise, as Tom Valentino recently reported in Addiction Professional.

Treating polysubstance addiction requires a comprehensive, holistic approach. Misusing more than one drug concurrently can complicate addiction treatment and recovery. Drugs taken in combination can boost the narcotic effects of the substances in unforeseeable ways. Their toxic effects increase and withdrawal symptoms become more severe and prolonged.

Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful addiction treatment centers in the world. We provide trauma-informed dual-diagnosis care that addresses substance use and mental health concerns. 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.

Ethical Considerations For Recovery Coaches

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

In this webinar, we will be discussing ethical considerations that are being implemented with Recovery Coaching as Recovery Coaching is becoming more recognized, professionalized, and validated as a proper tool for achieving sustained recovery.

Presented by:
Michael Maassel, BA, CPFS
Director of Alumni and Recovery Support Services
Harmony Foundation, Inc.

 

 

 

Michael’s journey into the addiction treatment and recovery world began with her own drug and alcohol addiction and subsequent treatment in December of 2015. Michael went on to get her CPFS Certification (Colorado Peer and Family Specialist) as well as her Recovery Coach Trainer Certification through CCAR (Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery). Michael serves as Co-President on the National Board for TPAS (Treatment Professionals for Alumni Services) and is also Co-Chair for the Colorado Chapter of TPAS. She hosts a podcast titled “Monday State of Mind” that focuses on how recovery tools can benefit everyone’s state of mind. Lastly, she is a published author of her book she co-authored with two other people in the recovery world titled, “Drowning in Addiction: Sink or Swim.” Michael is passionate about recovery and chooses to recover out loud.

 

Recovery Coach Training at Harmony

Recovery coaches can be a crucial element in a recovery journey. They may not offer primary treatment for addiction, do not diagnose, and are not associated with any particular recovery method. But they offer critical support and facilitate positive change—especially in early recovery.

“Our job is to promote recovery; it’s about being recovery positive,” says recovery coach Michael Maassel, the Director of Alumni and Recovery Support Services at Harmony Foundation. “A recovery coach is that sweet spot between a therapist and a sponsor because we have training but do not require a license. We’re trained to operate on a peer-to-peer level.”

According to addiction expert William White, recovery coaches provide:

Emotional support: demonstrations of empathy, love, caring, and concern in such activities as peer mentoring and recovery coaching, as well as in recovery support groups.

Informational support: provision of health and wellness information; educational assistance; and help in acquiring new skills, ranging from life skills to skills in employment readiness and citizenship restoration.

Instrumental support: concrete assistance in task accomplishment, especially with stressful or unpleasant tasks such as filling out applications and obtaining entitlements, providing child care, or providing transportation to support-group meetings and clothing assistance outlets.

Companionship: helping people in early recovery feel connected and enjoy being with others, especially in recreational activities in alcohol- and drug-free environments. This assistance is particularly crucial in early recovery when little about abstaining from alcohol or drugs is reinforcing.

 Similarly, Michael Maassel lists four main tasks for recovery coaches:

  • Promote recovery
  • Remove barriers
  • Connect people with support services
  • Encourage hope, optimism, and healthy living

Being recovery positive means convincing people that “recovery is great, that it allows you to be present so that people with addiction are actually convinced that they could live a sober life,” she says. It’s a cheerleading function: people with addiction frequently need to be persuaded that recovery is really worth it, that sobriety is more appealing than active addiction, i.e., misusing drugs and alcohol.

The second task of the recovery coach is removing barriers. “This is huge,” says Maassel. “Somebody comes to you saying ‘I can’t get sober,’ or ‘I don’t have people who believe in me,’ or ‘I live at this end of town, how am I supposed to get to the other end of town?’ Recovery coaches make it happen: ‘You don’t have a car, let’s get you a bus pass. You have money but no ride, let’s get you an Uber.’ Or we help them get involved in a group that can help them to get from point A to B.”

Recovery coaches listen with empathy and without judgment. “If they say ‘I can’t get sober,’ we ask them why they think that. Maybe they feel they have to do it a certain way because that’s what they have been told. Then it is for us to open their eyes and let them know that there’s not just one way to recovery. So, we’re removing that particular barrier.”

Recovery coaches try to remove roadblocks as much as they can. “If they say ‘I don’t have anybody to support me,’ we say, ‘You already have one person. I support you!’ But we also make sure we are not the only support avenue.

“We connect people with recovery support services, build up their resource bank, their recovery capital, their toolbox. We let them know it’s not just us they can rely on. We connect them with whatever services they may need or prefer, whether that’s 12-Step facilitation such as AA or NA, SMART Recovery, Recovery Dharma, or residential treatment.”

“We don’t want them to be singularly dependent on just one avenue because what happens if that avenue goes away,” explains Maassel. “We’re about diversifying their recovery. If something goes wrong with one avenue, they still have others. They should have no reason to say ‘no’ to their recovery.”

And finally, recovery coaches encourage hope, optimism, and healthy living. “Sometimes, a recovery coach may be the only person that gives them that hope. Recovery is a journey—there is no destination to reach—and it’s our job to move them forward. It can be a tough journey, and when they are down and out at times, it’s up to us to be there and support them.”

If you are interested in helping people sustain their recovery from addiction, Harmony Foundation is offering training for recovery coaches.

Who can be a recovery coach?

  • Credentialed addiction professionals
  • Treatment center support staff, volunteers, and alumni
  • Staff from behavioral health and government agencies
  • Representatives from inpatient and outpatient centers and sober living homes
  • Individuals, family members, and advocates of recovery

The CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© is a 4-day intensive training program focusing on providing participants with the skills needed to guide, mentor, and support anyone who would like to enter into or sustain long-term recovery from an addiction to alcohol or drugs. The next program is scheduled to begin on August 5th, 2021.

The Importance of Engaging Families in Recovery

Addiction is a family disease, making it also a disease of relationships.

In a recent webinar, Harmony Foundation family therapist Morgan Roy explained the impact of addiction on the family dynamic. Family engagement plays a vital role in recovery for the individual and the family system.

Family engagement is not an easy task as all family systems are different but one rule always applies: Everybody in the family system is deeply affected by the behavior of the addicted individual. Roy likened the “ripple effect” of addiction to the break shot in eightball pool billiards where the cue ball impacts all other balls on the table.

“Families need to recover, too,” said Roy, “and family support increases the likelihood of successful treatment, it can improve psychiatric symptoms, and help prevent a relapse.”

Addiction strains the relationships in the family no matter which member is the addicted person. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a parent, child, spouse, or sibling,” said Roy. “Every member of the family system struggles. Living with someone in active addiction is a daily challenge for everyone in the home.”

Roy emphasized the importance of systemic thinking. “All parts of the system are inter-connected and inter-related. If one part of the system changes, the other parts must change to accommodate those changes.”

The good news is that small, feasible changes can lead to big improvements. “Small changes lead to bigger changes,” explained Roy.

The key is family engagement and education. When families learn about the disease of addiction while their loved one is in treatment, “they are able to see that they are not alone in this process.” Knowledge is power for families. “When their person returns home from treatment, they will be able to meet them where they are at” and “there is a deeper understanding for what is happening in their person’s world.”

Family members typically have many questions:

  • How do I help my family member?
  • What do I do when my person comes home?
  • Is there more that I can do?
  • How do I trust them again?
  • How do we start over?
  • Could I have done more?

These are all important questions and they can be addressed in our family program. Families also learn the three Cs: They didn’t CAUSE the addiction, they cannot CURE it, and they cannot CONTROL it.

But Family members can SUPPORT their loved one by engaging with their own recovery plan and meet the person with the addiction where they are at rather than clinging to overly ambitious expectations. There is no cause for pessimism: families with addiction are “not broken but breaking through,” Morgan Roy told the participants of the webinar.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Harmony is currently offering a modified family engagement workshop that is available to all families of current and former clients. This virtual education group has two goals. The first is to provide education to family members about the disease model of addiction and how it can help them come to understand their loved one’s condition.

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.

CDC Reports Alarming Surge in Overdose Deaths and Polysubstance Use

2020 is expected to have been another catastrophic year in the American addiction epidemic. There had been cautious optimism after drug overdose deaths had finally decreased slightly in 2018 only to peak again at 70,630 in 2019.

But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation. Social isolation, fear of infection, and financial hardship seem to have resulted in a significant increase in substance misuse—with devastating consequences. The latest preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show an alarming 29 percent rise in overdose deaths from October 2019 through September 2020—the most recent data available—compared with the previous 12-month period. According to the CDC data, more than 87,000 Americans died of drug overdoses over the 12-month period that ended in September, with a predicted number of deaths exceeding 90,000 for the first time.

“Illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids were the primary drivers, although many fatal overdoses have also involved stimulant drugs, particularly methamphetamine,” reported Abby Goodnough in The New York Times.

Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirmed the trend at a recent national conference, saying that more deaths than ever involved drug combinations, typically of fentanyl or heroin with stimulants.

“Dealers are lacing these non-opioid drugs with cheaper, yet potent, opioids to make a larger profit,” she said. “Someone who’s addicted to a stimulant drug like cocaine or methamphetamine is not tolerant to opioids, which means they are going to be at high risk of overdose if they get a stimulant drug that’s laced with an opioid-like fentanyl.”

Polysubstance use, the consumption of more than one drug over a defined period, simultaneously or at different times—inadvertently or deliberately—is extremely dangerous. Mixing opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers like oxycodone with alcoholic beverages or stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine can also be lethal.

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment warned that “polysubstance use is common in hospitalized patients with substance use disorders and identifying patterns of polysubstance use can guide clinical management. Hospital providers should prepare to manage polysubstance use during hospitalization and hospitals should broaden care beyond interventions for opioid use disorder.”

The CDC reported that “in 2019, 76 percent of cocaine-involved overdose deaths in the US also involved opioids, punctuating a trend dating back to 2009 that saw overdose deaths involving cocaine and opioids increase at a faster pace than overdose deaths involving cocaine alone.”

“Researchers also found that from 2009 to 2016, overdose deaths involving psychostimulants (such as methamphetamine, amphetamine, and methylphenidate) but no opioids was higher than the rate of deaths involving both drugs, but the pattern reversed from 2017 to 2019, with overdose deaths involving both now outpacing deaths involving only psychostimulants,” reported Tom Valentino in Addiction Professional.

“Rates of co-involvement of opioids in drug overdose deaths involving cocaine and psychostimulants were found to vary by region across the US, hitting the Northeast region of the country hardest in 2019,” wrote Valentino. “Overall in the US, 76 percent of the 15,883 drug overdose deaths that involved cocaine also involved at least one opioid, but 83.1 percent of cocaine-involved deaths also involved one or more opioids in the Northeast. Meanwhile, 63 percent of cocaine overdose deaths in the West involved at least one opioid, the lowest rate of any region.”

Misusing more than one drug concurrently can also complicate addiction treatment and recovery. Drugs taken in combination can boost the narcotic effects of the substances in unforeseeable ways. Their toxic effects increase and withdrawal symptoms become more severe and prolonged.

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.

How the Great Outdoors Can Boost Your Recovery

Nestled on a 43-acre campus in the Rocky Mountains just outside of Estes Park, Colorado, Harmony Foundation is one of the longest-running and most successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment centers in the world. Throughout its history, Harmony has been able to utilize its proximity to nature in the healing process.

“Outdoor therapy for people in addiction recovery is the idea that spending time in the outdoors can offer the benefit of a new outlet for self-discovery,” Roy DuPrez, founder of Back2Basics Outdoor Adventure Recovery, recently wrote on Addiction Professional. “If a person is suffering from addiction, outdoor therapy is another tool on the path to recovery. Although spending time outdoors won’t cure a substance use disorder on its own, making the effort to spend more time in nature offers some important benefits for people in recovery.”

Connecting with nature is a powerful weapon in the battle against addiction. In his 2018 book, Lost Connections, British writer and journalist Johann Hari argues that depression and anxiety—important comorbidities for substance use disorder (SUD)—are primarily driven by nine disconnections, including being disconnected from other people, meaningful values, and from the natural world. It follows that if people with depression, anxiety, and/or addiction re-connect with people and the natural world, their chance of healing improves.

DuPrez agrees. “Recovery requires a multifaceted approach focusing on a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. By spending time in the outdoors, holistic benefits include: reduced depression, improved physical fitness, better sleep, enhanced cognitive function, opportunities to build relationships, and decreased risk of relapse.”

When people are surrounded by a natural environment they process stress differently, making the task more manageable. Being in nature shields people from the many over-stimulating, anxiety-inducing situations in our busy modern world.

“Combating boredom is another major issue for individuals in recovery and is a common cause of relapse. Boredom can be combated by starting a new outdoor hobby. Skiing, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, and photography are all great ways to get outside. Once a person has begun getting out in nature, they will begin feeling less anxious and less stressed. Stress reduction is part of the outdoor experience.”

A major reason for that stress reduction is the spiritual dimension of the great outdoors. Wilderness is able to teach people a healthy sense of humility while intuitively affirming their place in the universe. Connecting with nature is “a great conduit to giving up the notion of being in charge,” says Harmony’s spiritual advisor, Bill Myers. “You’re humbled by nature, and it’s true humility through connection, rather than separateness through humiliation. Most people with addiction have plenty of experience with humiliation but not true humility. It is a release of the ego that is not a diminishment, not an absence but a connection to something.”

Myers likes to investigate with his clients how we are connected to powers beyond ourselves. “It helps us understand our rightful place in the world,” he says. “Instead of thinking ‘I’m in charge of my life, and I’m charging ahead doing all these things,’ we get to see how we are connected.”

Harmony Foundation is a dual-diagnosis-capable facility serving patients with SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders. Clients who are diagnosed with mental health issues—such as anxiety, depression, and other trauma-related responses—will meet with our mental health and medical staff to address medication management. We work with our clients to teach them healthy coping skills to help them manage their co-occurring issues.

Despite difficult circumstances, Harmony continues to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are taking extra precautions to ensure staff and client safety. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction do not delay seeking treatment. If you have questions about our programs, call us at 970.432.8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.

When Easier is Not the Better Option

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost, 1916)

Recovery from addiction is one of the hardest things a person can do and there are really no shortcuts. The addicted person has to put in the work. Recovery can be difficult emotionally, socially, and neurologically, even with the support of the most compassionate therapists and the most sophisticated addiction treatment program.

And although recovery may be the road less traveled, it is the more rewarding one, leading to a purposeful, more fulfilling life.

However, if someone is “drowning in addiction” they have to be willing to make the effort to swim to get better—and that can be hard. “Sobriety and recovery is a daily practice,” wrote Michael Maassel, Harmony’s director of alumni and recovery support services, in Drowning in Addiction: A Personal Guide to Recovery. “Transformation requires work, tending, weeding, and more action… Recovery is about taking ownership of your life and choosing to no longer be the victim, but the victor.”

Many people with addiction were desperately trying to numb their emotional pain by engaging in substance misuse and then were trapped in a hellish addiction cycle that only made that pain worse. Recovering from this disease involves hard work and difficult changes. Patients have to give up their maladaptive coping mechanisms—drugs and alcohol—and substitute them with healthy coping skills but that requires some adjustments.

“Change is hard for some of us,” reminded Maassel her listeners on her weekly podcast at the end of  2020. Change—even change for the better—is often an uncomfortable process while sticking with “the devil you know” can seem the easier less troublesome option.

“Willingness to open up and be accountable” is key, said Maassel’s guest on episode 33, health coach Sage Burmeister. “Change is the flow of the universe, don’t get stuck in one place” just because it seems the easier option. Fortunately, help is always available, you just have to look for it. “Community is the biggest support for change,” said Burmeister.

Taking on hard challenges is difficult for everybody, too many people continue with an unsatisfactory situation simply because changing it seems too much trouble. “Every day, we have countless opportunities to take the easiest, yet least satisfying road,” wrote Lori Deschene on Tiny Buddha. “We can turn to the things that comfort and numb us instead of acknowledging the things we want to change. We can do what comes naturally instead of recognizing and honoring what we do passionately. We can justify the path of least resistance by ignoring our strongest instincts.”

So often, we’re cheating ourselves by choosing the easy way out. But slacking off can be dangerous for people with addiction as recovery requires focus and the willingness to work on getting better every day. There are many healthy routines like meditation and breathwork that can help you be present and show up for yourself. You just have to do it.

Recovery may not be easy but it 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.

Misuse of Anti-Diarrhea Drug Loperamide Still Rising

People with opioid use disorder (OUD) sometimes attempt to ease withdrawal symptoms by misusing a common over-the-counter medication: loperamide, a drug that helps control symptoms of diarrhea and is widely sold under the brand name Imodium.
 
Loperamide counteracts diarrhea by slowing the contractions of the intestines. But since its chemical structure resembles an opioid, it can induce euphoric brain effects if consumed in extraordinarily large amounts. In addition to uncomfortable constipation, it can be toxic and lead to serious heart conditions, ileus (paralysis of the intestine), and addiction.
 
2016 study confirmed that loperamide is misused by people attempting to self-medicate their opioid addiction, sometimes with fatal results. “Loperamide’s accessibility, low cost, over-the-counter legal status, and lack of social stigma all contribute to its potential for abuse,” said lead author William Eggleston, PharmD, of the Upstate New York Poison Center, in Syracuse, NY.
 
In September 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced approved package size and package type limits for over-the-counter brand-name tablet and capsule forms of loperamide to address the misuse issue by limiting each carton to no more than 48 mg of loperamide and requiring unit-dose blister packaging.
 
“Abuse of loperamide continues in the United States, and taking higher than recommended doses can cause serious heart problems that can lead to death,” reported then Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless, M.D. in 2019. “The FDA has worked with manufacturers to approve package size limitations and unit-dose packaging for certain over-the-counter loperamide products. These changes are intended to increase the safe use of loperamide products without limiting over-the-counter access for consumers who use these products for their approved uses at the approved dose, according to labeling.”
 
The FDA requested that online distributors take voluntary steps to help reduce the risks of loperamide abuse and misuse by not selling more than one package of these drugs to each customer.
 
Apparently, these measures have been ineffective. “Between 2010 and 2015, the National Poison Data System showed a 91 percent increase in loperamide overdoses,” wrote Bryan Paul Negrini, M.D. recently on Addiction Professional.  “A 2019 study from Rutgers University confirmed that loperamide overdoses have gone up over the last few years, and a 2020 study from QJM: An International Journal of Medicine has also confirmed that non-medical misuse of Loperamide is common.”
 
Dr. Negrini tested the progress of the FDA’s packaging efforts by sending his 16-year-old son to a couple of pharmacies “with $50 to purchase as many Imodium tablets as he could. In both cases, he came out with boxes of hundreds of tablets and was never asked why such a young kid needed so many Imodium tablets.”
 
The dangers of loperamide misuse are very real. One of Dr. Negrini’s patients recently died a few days after he first saw him. He had been using the opioids “heroin and fentanyl on and off for at least a decade and had additionally started misusing Imodium.” His autopsy report attributed the death to “drug poisoning with loperamide.”
 
Opioid use disorder is a serious condition, requiring comprehensive professional treatment and should not be self-treated using medications such as Loperamide. “We have not seen active use of Loperamide on admission at Harmony, however, we have protocols in place to educate our clients about the impact this drug has in response to opioid addiction and use other more appropriate medications to help with the detox process,” says Harmony’s medical director Michael Rountree, M.D.
 
As one treatment option, Harmony offers HOPE – Harmony’s Opioid Programming Experience. HOPE is offered to all Harmony patients with OUD. The program involves enhanced medical, counseling, and case management services specifically tailored to meet these patients’ needs.
 
HOPE begins with thorough medical and psychological evaluations. Collaboration with the patient, members of the interdisciplinary team, and, when appropriate, family and referral sources, determine the most effective treatment plan. All HOPE clients are invited to participate in weekly opiate support groups led by a professional addiction counselor. This group addresses the specific challenges of early opioid recovery, including uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms, cravings, and strategies to avoid relapse.
 
Despite difficult circumstances, Harmony continues to serve patients during the COVID-19 pandemic and we are taking extra precautions to ensure staff and client safety. If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction do not delay seeking treatment. If you have questions about our programs, call us at 970.432.8075 to get the help needed as soon as possible.