The Creative Theory of Addiction Recovery

This is a guest post from Patrick Meninga of the Spiritual River website.

Since I first got clean and sober over 8 years ago, I have been creating a new life for myself. Talking about creation makes sense when I frame my recovery and how I have grown through the years, because it was always through deliberate change and deliberate action that I can look back and see how I have progressed in my personal growth.

Creation is a mindset in recovery….it is the attitude that is adopted by the winners in recovery. It doesn’t matter what exact program of recovery someone is working, be it the 12 step program or something else entirely. The winners in recovery, the people who are staying sober over the long run and really making growth in their recovery, they are the ones who are actively creating.

Creation goes beyond spiritual growth and takes more of an holistic approach. Essentially you have to treat the entire person for addiction, not just the spiritual malady. This is an important distinction because if you do not think in holistic terms then you might shut yourself off to possible avenues of growth in other areas of your life.

The creative mindset can help you to have a stronger recovery, by pushing you to grow in new ways. What then, are the critical steps to creating this new life for yourself? Let’s take a look:

1) Start with abstinence. Make this your number one priority and then start building on it. Early recovery is an awesome thing, because simple abstinence from drugs and alcohol can start opening up so many doors, so quickly. (This is why it’s called recovery, because you start recovering things you had previously lost: relationships, self esteem, perhaps a job, and so on). Make abstinence from drugs and alcohol the foundation of your recovery. Create a zero tolerance policy with yourself–that you will not use drugs or alcohol no matter what.

2) Use overwhelming force. I highly recommend that newcomers in recovery use this concept in order to make it through early recovery. The idea is to take whatever you think it is going to take in order for you to stay clean and sober and multiply it by ten. Examples:

* Don’t just go to treatment, go to long term treatment.

* Don’t just go to a meeting, go to a meeting every day (or several meetings a day).

* Don’t just go to a therapist, go to a therapist and actually act on the direction they give you.

You have to go above and beyond what you think is necessary in order to get through early recovery. So many people underestimate what it will take to stay clean, so you have to overcompensate in the other direction. Go big.

3) Focus on networking in early recovery. In early recovery, networking with others is of critical importance. We need help and support in order to recover. We also need to gain new knowledge.

4) Shift your focus as you progress to one of personal growth. Networking becomes less important at 5 years sober and even less so at 10 years. This does not mean that it is no longer a factor, it just becomes less important for you to network in order to stay clean and sober. As you progress, your own growth and personal development becomes a bigger part of how and why you stay clean. Therefore, you should motivate yourself to start growing holistically as you progress in your recovery. In other words, seek to grow in different areas of your life.

5) Focus on health. You should start treating yourself better in recovery as your self esteem repairs itself over the years. We abused ourselves for so long in addiction and that takes time to heal. Again, use a holistic approach. Seek to grow spiritually, but also start exercising, improve your diet, quit smoking, and so on. Look at your overall health and take care of your emotional well being as well.

This is important because one of your biggest insurances against relapse becomes your self esteem. If you feel good about yourself and value your life highly then it becomes less likely that you will relapse. Therefore, make it a point to take care of yourself in as many ways as possible. Live healthy in recovery and this help you in the fight against relapse.

6) There is only one hurdle in long term recovery: to overcome complacency. This is your only real hurdle as you move into long term recovery. You have to somehow be actively on guard against the subtle threat of relapse through becoming complacent. So how can you do that?

Push yourself to grow. Push yourself to learn new things. And here is one of the big shortcuts that will really help in overcoming complacency: continue to work with other recovering addicts and alcoholics on a regular basis. If you do this consistently and make a habit of it, then your recovery will be a lot stronger because of it.

If you start using some of these ideas and follow these strategies in your recovery, then you will notice after a while that you really have been creating a new life for yourself. It is not enough for us to simply get sober and sit around being passive all day….we need to get active, get involved, have a vision of some sort (a vision of helping others is particularly powerful). Take the idea of creative recovery and try to work it into your life, and you will start noticing the benefits right away.

Patrick Meninga is a recovering addict who writes at the Spiritual River about addiction recovery. Check him out if you are interested in learning more!

Addiction recovery help by replacement

contributing author: Katie McGrath

It’s easy to see why some people search for ways to escape their everyday life. Daily obstacles and challenges are common, and sometimes, life can seem like a difficult, if not impossible, test of wills. Addiction recovery help is about finding another option.

People turn to many different coping methods, including addictive behaviors such as drinking alcohol, using drugs, or gambling (1). But many other behaviors that aren’t considered as deviant as those just mentioned can also develop unhealthy patterns, including excessive work, promiscuous or risky sex, and high adrenalin activities like car and motorcycle racing, skydiving, rock climbing, and other forms of “extreme sports.”

In fact, researchers have found that drug users and extreme sports athletes rationalize their respective involvements in very similar ways (2).

Unfortunately, if the activities are used for escape, people usually find the relief they get to be temporary. When the “high” is finished, they find their problems alive and well as life comes back at them full-force. A temporary distraction, no matter how exciting or effective (like extreme sports, alcohol, or drug use) is just that – temporary.

The idea of “switching addictions” has come up in psychological research in the past (4). The question is: Can addicts substitute their choice addiction for a behavior that is actually beneficial?

Some research suggests that they can.

Yoga is one of he activities that may help drug addicts refocus their attention

Activities like exercise (running, yoga, and such), art (painting, photography), and other hobbies (such as gardening), may provide a source of comfort for drug users looking for a way to “fill in” the void left by drugs and/or alcohol. Each of these activities may provide the repetitive, mindful, pursuit that people who are prone to addiction may seek without many of the harms and dangers.

When I stopped getting high, one of the hardest things was figuring out what to do with my free time that didn’t involve using drugs. It was what I was used to doing when I was happy, sad, or bored. Now, I would be all those things, but the drugs weren’t there. It took me more than a year to get comfortable with movies, the gym, and books as replacements for what I knew how to do best – using drugs.

Running and other forms of exercise can be useful in recovery

In future posts, we’ll go over some specific ideas for changing behavior that may be useful for addicts trying to stop. We’ll also suggest specific strategies to keep from developing unhealthy habits even in these new, more constructive habits, while keeping them long-term. Addiction recovery can be tough, but actively replacing activities can help.

Question of the day:
If you’ve quit drugs or other addiction, do you have any suggestions regarding new habits you picked up that helped you in developing a new, healthier life?

Citations:

1. Hart, A. D. When coping becomes addiction.

2. Larkin, M., Griffiths, M. D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalizing and contextualizing risk. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 14, pp. 215-232.

Addiction stories: How I recovered from my addiction to crystal meth

By the time I was done with my addiction to crystal meth, I had racked up 4 arrests, 9 felonies, a $750,000 bail, a year in jail, and an eight year suspended sentence to go along with my 5 year probation period. Though I think education is important to keep getting the message out about addiction and drug abuse, there is no doubt that addiction stories do a great job of getting the message across, so here goes.

My crystal meth addiction story

The kid my parents knew was going nowhere, and fast. That’s why I was surprised when they came to my rescue after 3 years of barely speaking to them. My lawyer recommended that I check into a rehab facility immediately; treating my drug abuse problem was our only line of legal defense.

cocaine linesI had long known that I had an addiction problem when I first checked myself into rehab. Still, my reason for going in was my legal trouble. Within 3 months, I was using crystal meth again, but the difference was that this time, I felt bad about it. I had changed in those first three months. The daily discussions in the addiction treatment facility, my growing relationship with my parents, and a few sober months (more sobriety than I had in years) were doing their job. I relapsed as soon as I went back to work in my studio, which was a big trigger for me, but using wasn’t any fun this time.

I ended up being kicked out of that facility for providing a meth-positive urine test. My parents were irate. I felt ashamed though I began using daily immediately. My real lesson came when I dragged myself from my friend’s couch to an AA meeting one night. I walked by a homeless man who was clearly high when the realization hit me:

I was one step away from becoming like this man.

You see, when I was in the throes of my crystal meth addiction, I had money because I was selling drugs. I had a great car, a motorcycle, an apartment and my own recording studio. After my arrest though, all of that had been taken away. I just made matters worse by getting myself thrown out of what was serving as my home, leaving myself to sleep on a friend’s couch for the foreseeable future.

Something had to change.

homelessI woke up the next morning, smoked some meth, and drove straight to an outpatient drug program offered by my health insurance. I missed the check-in time for that day, but I was told to come back the next morning, which I did. I talked to a counselor, explained my situation, and was given a list of sober-living homes to check out.

As I did this, I kept going to the program’s outpatient meetings, high on crystal meth, but ready to make a change. I was going to do anything I could so as not to end up homeless, or a lifetime prisoner. I had no idea how to stop doing the one thing that had been constant in my life since the age of 15, but I was determined to find out.

When I showed up at the sober-living facility that was to be the place where I got sober, I was so high I couldn’t face the intake staff. I wore sunglasses indoors at 6 PM. My bags were searched, I was shown to my room, and the rest of my life began.

I wasn’t happy to be sober, but I was happier doing what these people told me than I was fighting the cops, the legal system, and the drugs. I had quite a few missteps, but I took my punishments without a word, knowing they were nothing compared to the suffering I’d experience if I left that place.

Overall, I have one message to those struggling with getting clean:

If you want to get past the hump of knowing you have a problem but not knowing what to do about it, the choice has to be made clear. This can’t be a game of subtle changes. No one wants to stop using if the alternative doesn’t seem a whole lot better. For most of us, that means hitting a bottom so low that I can’t be ignored. You get to make the choice of what the bottom will be for you.

You don’t have to almost die, but you might; losing a job could be enough, but if you miss that sign, the next could be the streets; losing your spouse will sometimes do it, but if not, losing your shared custody will hurt even more.

At each one of these steps, you get to make a choice – Do I want things to get worse or not?

Ask yourself that question while looking at the price you’ve paid up to now. If you’re willing to go even lower for that next hit, I say go for it. If you think you want to stop but can’t seem to really grasp just how far you’ve gone, get a friend you trust, a non-using friend, and have them tell you how they see the path your life has taken.

It’s going to take a fight to get out, but if I beat my addiction, you can beat yours.

By now, I’ve received my Ph.D. from UCLA, one of the top universities in the world. I study addiction research, and publish this addiction blog along with a Psychology Today column and a number of academic journals. I also have my mind set on changing the way our society deals with drug abuse and addiction. Given everything I’ve accomplished by now, the choice should have seemed clear before my arrest – but it wasn’t. I hope that by sharing addiction stories, including mine, we can start that process.

About Addiction: Drug Information, alcohol safety, and Addiction recovery resources

You guessed it, another great piece detailing some interesting information about addiction from the corners of the world (wide web?). Enjoy, and remember to let us know if we’re missing some topics you’d like to see here!

Drug Information and alcohol safety

Drug.ie– Educating teens about drugs during the time of adolescence may be too late according to this piece. which claims that parents are very ignorant about the whole drug culture (many do not even know that their teens are using drugs or alcohol). In order to try to combat the drug problem parents should be educated and the whole community should work together to help alleviate the drug problem.   

Irish medical news– A new street drug has emerged in Ireland and is selling for €2 (something like $3). The drug has said to be as dangerous as methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). The drug is currently being analyzed for its properties but is thought to be as potent as mephedrone, BZP and MDPV.

Examiner– This article examines the history of Amy Winehouse and how she used to be deeply involved in the world of drugs.  The good thing that emerges from this article is the fact that Amy Winehouse has been sober for over 3 years – If Amy can do it, I’m sure many other addicts can!

Breaking the cycles- This article examines the proper ways to deal with individuals when they are drunk.  Alcohol works by depressing the central nervous system by slowing down the heart rate, lowering blood pressure and slowing a person’s breathing rate. If a friend passes out and they have consumed a lot of alcohol you should turn them on their side in order to prevent them from choking on their vomit. This is important, however it cannot stop the depressant action of alcohol as it keeps working on the central nervous system.

Addiction recovery resources

Bloomsburg Buisnessweek– Mental illness stigma is very difficult to shake when it comes to addiction recovery. In order to compact this issue individuals need to be educated about mental illness. In order to reduce stigma people should be urged to focus on the person rather than the disease.

5min Life Videopedia– This video gives a great perspective on how to help individuals who are recovering from drug addiction and alcohol abuse. It is worth watching, Enjoy!

About Addiction: Drug use, Addiction Recovery, and smoking

We’re back with our weekly post about addiction news and research. We’ve got harm reduction in Australia, heroin ads that don’t work, the impact of drug abuse on children, and more. Get your 30 seconds of education for the day.

Using Drugs – Heroin, HIV, the law, and recovery

The Australian– There is a state approved heroin injecting room in Australia. The center opened to create a safer place for drug users to shoot heroin. 3500 individuals have overdosed on the premises without a single fatality, making for a very interesting way of combating drug addiction that would definitely fall under that harm-reduction model American hate so much!

Star Advertiser– When it comes to scaring individuals into not using drugs, specifically heroin, fear appeals do not seem to work in preventing future drug users. Fear appeals ads show drug users as violent, and often have missing teeth or skin problems. Apparently, audiences are smart enough to see these as not really representative of heroin users in general and they’re not buying it, making the ads useless in combating drug addiction.

Global Development– Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the fastest growth rate of HIV infection in the world (Russia accounts for between 60% and 70% of the epidemic). This may be due to sharing dirty needles when using drugs and the biggest problem is likely lack of prevention efforts for high risk groups.

Guardian– A senior police officer from Britain thinks that individuals should not be criminally prosecuted for possessing marijuana. By focusing less on drugs found among youth the police can focus on things they see as more important like hard core criminals. I’m sure our legalization friends will love this, although again, this isn’t legalization but decriminalization and parents will hate it.

Addiction Inbox– Meditation and exercise play a role in drug addiction recovery. Both methods apparently help to eliminate the panic and anxiety that plays a role in detoxification. Although it may not be the most popular method of recovery, we at A3 have already written about this and think you should give it a try!

Breaking the cycles–  A program called Partnership for a Drug Free America has five new drug programs in order to eliminate drug use among teens. These programs educate teens as well as their parents with a variety to drug information.

Smoking, pregnancy, and attitude

Science Daily- Women who smoke during pregnancy can hinder their children’s coordination and physical control (likely affecting boys more). Smoking during pregnancy can damage development in the fetal stage, so if you are expecting try not to light up (as our other post on pregnancy and smoking recommends).

Decoder– You are in for a good read on the changing attitudes of smoking. This blog gives an inside perspective on smoking and how it has evolved from the time it was considered “cool”.

Addiction’s impact on others

Philly Daily News- Addiction impacts not only the drug addict but their children as well. 15% of all children live in a household with an alcoholic and one in four children is exposed to a family member’s alcohol abuse or dependence. These children are often neglected when their parents are under the influence and that neglect can lead to some pretty terrible outcomes for the children themselves down the line.

Addiction Recovery– This is an excellent read on the importance of patience when it comes to addiction recovery. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a drug addict’s wonderful new life. Recovery takes time so take a deep  breath and enjoy!

Addiction, exercise, recovery: A little less sweating, just as much addiction help!

contributing author: Katie McGrath

We’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of active habits, especially early in recovery when addicts are looking for things to do instead of drugs and alcohol. If you want to look at another blogger who supports the idea that replacing addictive habits is essential to recovery, you should check out Spiritual River, written by Patrick Meninga. He has numerous blogs the specifically talk about what he calls the “creative theory of addiction.”

As we continue exploring what I call “positive addictions“, the important point to remember is to start small and to find things you enjoy doing. Any hobby that gives you enjoyment and that can take up a certain amount of time each day can serve as a “positive addiction”. In addition to the helpful exercise-recovery activities that we described in our earlier posts (like yoga and running), there are a number of less physically demanding ones that can be at least as helpful.

Other addiction help options!

Research has shown that activities like gardening, painting, listening and playing music, and writing (journaling, poetry writing, literary writing) have all served as positive addictions. We’ll look at each one of these briefly:

– Gardening can increase self esteem by enabling you to care and nurture for a living thing. It can reinforce and evoke positive emotions through growing, harvesting, and experiencing the growth of plants (1). Gardening can allow for an escape into an activity that promotes life while combining creativity and hard work (if you think gardening is easy, you’ve obviously never tried it!).

– Music therapy has also been shown to have a number of positive effects on drug users. We’ve all felt the power of music we love, whether sober, or under the influence. Analyzing lyrics and sharing songs enables people to express their feelings and thoughts in a positive way. In one particular study, relaxing music shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep and improved mood on the following day (2).

Photgraphy

– Similarly, poetry and writing are pathways to feelings. Poetry therapy enables people to overcome obstacles and painful memories by writing and using words to express their feelings (3). The benefits of putting one’s thoughts on paper (by journaling for example) are also great because they allow one to reflect on internal processes that may be very important but just outside of one’s awareness.

– Lastly, painting is another leisurely activity that has been shown to improve depression and anxiety by inspiring creativity and individuality (4). People can clear an open space in their mind by focusing on their art. While few of us will ever reach the levels of artistic geniuses like Picasso, Van Gough, and Rodin, the physical and emotional benefits of creating the art itself are worth at least as much as the critical acclaim.

Obviously, there are a number of ways to fill the void left by drugs when trying to quit. Addiction help doesn’t come only in the form of exercise. The important thing is to find something that gives you pleasure, takes your focus away from the worries of early recovery, and perhaps, that you can get involved in along with other people to allow for the formation of new, drug-free, relationships.

Best of luck!

Citations:

(1) Kavanagh, Hean. (1998). Outdoor space and adaptive gardening: Design, techniques, and tools. Food Products Press: Binghamton, NY.

(2) Abdollahnejad, Mohammad Reza. (2006). Music Therapy in the Tehran Therapeutic Community. Therapeutic Communities, Vol 27(1), pp. 147-158.

(3) Keith Van Vilet. (1977). Creativity and Self Image: An Odyssey in Poetry and Photography. Psychotherapy. Vol. 4 pp. 9-93.

(4) Gil Bar-Sela , Lily Atid, Sara Danos, Naomi Gabay, Ron Epelbaum. (2007) Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Division of Oncology, Rambam-Health Care Campus, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

Is abstinence the only answer? Quality of life in addiction recovery.

Contributing author: Chelsea Crow

Abstinence should not be the only standard by which we measure success in addiction recovery.

There’s no doubt that for some addicts, full abstinence is necessary for recovery. Still, it would be hard to deny that even if they can’t stay completely clean, addicts who reduce their use substantially can see great improvement in their quality of life. I think that improvement shouldn’t be ignored.

I’ve been advocating for the use of other measures for success in addiction treatment for a while now, and a recent article gets us a step or so closer to having others consider it.

The study was conducted in New York City. All participants had a history of heavy illicit substance use for at least a year, and all self-reported abstinence for at least one month. The researchers then followed them for a period of two years, using a baseline interview at the beginning, after one year, and at the end. The interviews consisted of participants’ self-reported abstinence, Quality of Life , change in life satisfaction, as well as their commitment and motivation to abstinence.

Not surprisingly, the study found that those who reported greater life satisfaction at the baseline interview were likely to stay abstinent for longer. However, they also found that overall life satisfaction for participants remained high for most. What they didn’t look at was whether or not participants’ life satisfaction decreased with all levels of use or whether a severe relapse was necessary to cause such a reduction.

I think this should be one of our next explorations. I have a feeling that with reduced use comes greater life satisfaction and quality – even if the abstinence is not complete. I think that by beginning to explore that connection, we’ll be able to make much more refined discoveries about methods of treatment that can save lives. There’s no question that even reductions in use can allow the body, and brain, at least a partial recovery from the effects of heavy drug use.

I’ll keep you updated.

Citation:

Laudet, Alexandre B., Becker, Jeffrey B. & White, William L. (2009). Don’t Wanna Go Through That Madness No More: Quality of Life Satisfaction as Predictor of Sustained Remission from Illicit Drug Misuse. Substance Use & Misuse, 44 (2), 227-252.