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?


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.

Evolution of Addiction Treatment – California learning

Addiction conferences are getting more and more common, and quite a few nowadays showcase the talents of some very knowledgeable, and renowned, addiction experts. Coming from the academic side of things, I’ve been to conferences held by the American Psychological Association, the American Public Health Association, the Society for Neuroscience, and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence.

When it comes to more clinical, or addiction treatment oriented, conferences, I think our readers would be hard pressed to find a better conference than the Evolution of Addiction Treatment conference about to take place at the Westin Hotel by the Los Angeles airport in just over a week (December 8th-11th). Some of the biggest names in addiction research and addiction treatment will be there including Drs Allen Berger and David Mee-Lee who have both contributed greatly to the field of addiction during their decades of work. The conference would be worth it even if they were the only ones speaking.

But they’re not. There are literally dozes of speakers and 3.5 full days of amazing talks. If you decide to go, we even arranged for a discount for you by entering the code “AAA10” before you pay. We’ll have a little booth set up in the hall if you want to come by and say “hi” but more than anything, we’d love for you to have the opportunity to learn as much as you can about addiction and addiction treatment options so that you can continue to carry the message that there is more than hope, there’s treatment that works!

See you there!

Saving lives made easy – Treating opiate overdose with intranasal naloxone

oxycodone-addiction-big1Contributing co-author: Andrew Chen

Imagine that you and your friend have been using heroin (or another opiate). A few hours go by and you notice your friend is progressively becoming more and more unresponsive. You check on him and find that his breathing is shallow, his skin is cold, and his pupils are constricted. You recognize these as signs of opiate overdose and call for help. Now what?

Well… If you had some naloxone around, you might be able to treat the overdose and save your friend’s life before the paramedics even arrive.

Naloxone hydrochloride (naloxone) is the standard treatment for opioid overdose. Naloxone works by blocking opioid receptors, thereby removing opioid agonists, such as heroin or oxycodone, from those same receptors. As a result, the overdose is reversed and death is prevented.

What makes naloxone great is that it has no potential for abuse. In fact, it makes the user feel pretty crappy.

Naloxone is typically delivered through an injection, which makes it pretty much useless in many situations. However, it can also be delivered using an intranasal spray device. This intranasal form of naloxone is getting lots of attention recently because it is relatively easy to administer.

In 2006, The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) implemented an overdose prevention program, providing training and intranasal naloxone to 385 individuals deemed likely to witness an overdose. These individuals were often family members of opiate users or drug-using partners.

15 months later, the BPHC conducted a follow-up:

  • Contact was made with 278 of the original participants.
  • 222 reported witnessing no overdoses during the 15-month span.
  • 7 had their naloxone stolen, lost, or confiscated.
  • 50 reported witnessing at least one overdose during the 15-month span. Together, these 50 individuals reported a total of 74 successful overdose reversals using intranasal naloxone!

The BPHC program is not the only example of successful use of naloxone in opiate overdose prevention programs. Similar programs have popped up in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Baltimore, and New Mexico.

Unlike injections, using a nasal spray isn’t rocket science. All of the participants in the BPHC program were trained by non-medical public health workers, which makes the idea relatively cheap. As the data shows, the participants were able to effectively recognize an opiate overdose and administer intranasal naloxone. By targeting at-risk populations and providing proper training, distribution of intranasal naloxone can help in saving lives.

For more information, check out our post Addiction and the brain part IV – Opiates


Doe-Simkins, M., Walley, A.Y., Epstein, A., & Moyer, P. (2009) Saved by the nose: Bystander-administered intranasal naloxone hydrochloride for opiod overdose. American Journal of Public Health. 99(5)

Promising new medical treatment options for drug addiction!!!

Researchers are attacking the issue of drug addiction from multiple angles, and the results seem to be more and more ways to help. Some promising new developments in pharmacological (as in medication) therapies include a new cocaine-vaccine, as well as expanded use of Buprenorphine, for the treatment of opiate (heroin, morphine) addiction.

  • These medications are best used along with behavioral treatment in order to increase to probability of treatment success.
  • By reducing cravings, as well as reducing the effects of the drugs themselves, these medications can increase the length of time that patients will stay in treatment, which is the most reliable way of producing better treatment outcomes.

What else is new aside from medications?

There are also some exciting developments in the behavioral treatment, including Contingency Management (CM), a treatment method that tries to reteach addicts positive, drug-free behaviors by reinforcing those over the use of drugs. While some people still have problems with programs that use CM because of the notion of rewarding drug addicts for not using drugs, I say use whatever works!

Lastly, as early as 2003, researchers have noted that proper drug treatment may take longer than the 14-30 day programs that are currently being offered (1). In fact, while the article I’m referring too speaks specifically about methamphetamine addiction, we now know that the long use of many drugs, including cocaine, leads to long lasting brain changes that can take up to a year to show significant recovery.

I personally think that proper drug treatment for long time addicts (anyone with more than a year or so of heavy use) should take on the order of 6 months to a year, and should be supplemented by some outpatient post-care for an extended period of time (I’m far from the only one calling for this, see article 2). It’s the only sensible thing to do given the long term changes that such drug use creates in the brain…

I think it’s about time that insurance companies step up the plate and recognize that the huge cost of drug problems for our society (estimated at more than $100 billion annually) can be vastly reduced by providing sound, scientifically based, medical treatment options for those who need it.

(1) Margaret Cretzmeyer M.S.W, Mary Vaughan Sarrazin Ph.D., Diane L. Huber Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, CNAAc, Robert I. Block Ph.D. & James A. Hall Ph.D., LISW( 2003) Treatment of methamphetamine abuse: research findings and clinical directions. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment Volume 24.
A. Thomas McLellan, PhD; David C. Lewis, MD; Charles P. O’Brien, MD, PhD; Herbert D. Kleber, MD (2000). Drug Dependence, a Chronic Medical Illness: Implications for Treatment, Insurance, and Outcomes Evaluation. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 284, pp. 1689-1695.

Question of the day:
Do you know anyone who’s been through residential drug treatment?
How long were they in for?
How many times?
Did it help?

Addiction treatment in Vietnam – Beatings and forced labor

You’ll never think of Cashews in the same way after reading the first few pages of this recent report by the Human Rights Watch group that looked into the abuses in Vietnamese “drug treatment” centers.

These drug treatment camps in Veitnam are little more than forced labor jailsThe detainees in these facilities, whether they checked themselves in voluntarily or were committed after being arrested for using or possessing drugs, describe terrible conditions, hard forced labor, and extensions to sentences that make their experience seem much more like jail than any form of drug treatment. Indeed the report states that “no one who had been detained described any form of scientifically or medically appropriate drug dependency treatment within a center. Psychosocial counseling involved lectures on the evils of drug use and morning exercises while chanting slogans such as ‘Healthy! Healthy! Healthy!’ .”

It should be pretty obvious that relapse rates are extremely high since, as we’ve talked about numerous times here on A3, at least part of addiction involves compulsive behavior affected by biology and early experiences and therefore punishment alone will simply not work for true addicts… And still we put all of our addicts in jails and prisons with little actual drug treatment in our own country – I guess at least we don’t have forced labor.

Read this thing  by the Human Rights Watch group – it’ll leave you just a little speechless.

Family Addiction – A Tough Nut to Crack

Guest author – Lisa Fredriksen from

I was 49 years old when one of my loved ones entered a residential alcohol treatment program and I found myself plunged into a whole other world – a world that included terms and concepts like codependency, adult children of alcoholics, 12-step programs, co-addictions, dual diagnosis and the role a family member has in the denial that protects a loved one’s drinking. The family addiction world was a world I found confusing and overwhelming as I learned just how many of my loved ones had an alcohol problem and what that had meant in my life.

True to my nature, I began my quest for deeper understanding in the same way I’d approached my six other published nonfiction books and numerous articles. I immersed myself in research, intent on learning as much as I could about the subject – in this case alcoholism and treatment programs – and then all of the other issues that emerged as I tried to understand why a loved one drinks too much and why someone like myself puts up with it for so long. I started attending Al- Anon meetings, doubled my individual therapy sessions and attended family-help group sessions at the treatment center, as well.

codependencyMy book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop! What You Really Need To Know When A Loved One Drinks Too Much, and my blog,, are the culmination and continuation of my discoveries. I hope that by sharing what I have learned, others – whether a parent, friend, sibling, spouse or child – will find the tools they need to live their lives.

I share this information because I wish I had known it, that it had been openly and freely talked about, long before I’d spent decades grappling with my various loved ones’ drinking. I try keep my shares (including my book) very short and simple. I know, myself, that when I first started looking for information, I was frustrated with the variety and depth of the books and research on what I was striving to understand – excessive drinking (alcohol abuse), alcoholism, co-addictions, adult children of alcoholics, codependency, dual diagnosis, how to help the alcoholic stop drinking, how to heal the family, how to talk to your children, family in recovery – and the list went on and on.

For now, I’d like to leave you with my top key discoveries:

1. Alcoholism is one of the diseases of addiction – a chronic relapsing disease. Check out for a wealth of information. It’s produced by HBO, NIAAA, NIDA and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
2. To begin treating addiction, the substance of abuse must be stopped in its entirety in order to allow the structural and chemical changes in the brain to change and recover.

These first two discoveries freed me from my continued efforts to try control my loved ones’ drinking and thus stop my nagging, raging, deal-making and shaming – the behaviors I’d been using in order to “help” them stop [hence the title of my book, If You Loved Me, You’d Stop!…]. They also allowed me to respect the person but hate the disease and know that until that person came to grips with the power of addiction, they would/will continue to drink, no matter how hard they try to control their drinking.

3. Other family members need help, too, in order to change some of the behaviors they’ve adopted in order to survive but that are actually getting in the way of their living healthy, happy, fulfilling lives, regardless of whether their loved one stops drinking or not.
4. Alcoholism is a young person’s disease. Due to brain imaging technologies of the past fifteen years or so, neuroscientists have been studying how the brain develops. According to NIAAA, half of alcoholics were addicted by age 21 and two-thirds were addicted by age 25. Click here to better understand why.
5. Having a dual diagnoses (a mental illness, such as depression, bipolar, ADHD or PTSD) and an addiction (to alcohol or drugs) is common. Click here for information.