6 Tips for Enjoying Sobriety During the Holidays

For many people, the holiday season is the most festive and exciting time of the year.  The holidays bring office parties, family gatherings, and delicious food. This time of year, however, also comes with the potential for a great deal of stress.  While celebrating with friends and loved ones is an important part of building relationships and making memories, these festivities often result in family drama, hectic schedules, and emotional turmoil.  Many people deal with the stress and anxiety of planning events, attending large gatherings, and facing unpleasant family members by turning to alcohol. Alcohol use is sometimes encouraged during the holidays to let loose and celebrate, but also to numb the brunt of family pressure and social anxiety.  If you are approaching your first holiday season in recovery, you may be concerned about enjoying yourself and finding ways to relax. Here are six tips for making the most of your sober holiday season. Always Check in with Your Limitations If you are in early recovery, it is a good idea to do an honest self-assessment of your mental and physical wellbeing before committing yourself to any holiday celebration.  Holiday parties often come with triggers, whether it be in the form of a coworker pressuring you to drink at an office party, or an old family dispute being brought up at the dinner table.  Try not to put yourself in situations you aren’t ready to handle. If you need to politely decline an invitation to preserve your sobriety, those closest to you will understand.  Bring Your Own Beverages It would be nice if every holiday gathering provided a plethora of delicious non-alcoholic drinks to choose from, but we know this is not the reality.  Showing [...]

Understanding and Recovering from Post Childhood Adversity Syndrome

Most people have a vague understanding of the basic psychological principles of traumatic experiences.  We are often able to draw clear lines from a traumatic incident or childhood to later adverse circumstances in people’s lives.  Emerging research, however, is beginning to paint a larger picture of how truly common childhood adversity is, as well as the many implications these experiences can have in adulthood.  While some forms of childhood adversity are more obvious, such as abuse and severe neglect, others are more insidious, as well as far more common. Having parents that divorce or abuse alcohol, for example, are common experiences that can have lingering effects on a child’s developing brain.  Post childhood adversity syndrome is often the result of these brain changes and can create a wide array of physical and mental symptoms that make health, joy, and relationships difficult to maintain in adulthood. What are ACEs? Adverse childhood experiences, also known as ACEs, refer to events or circumstances that occur in childhood that significantly increase the risk of developing several physical and mental health complications as an adult.  This may include physical, mental, and sexual abuse, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, substance abuse in the home, parental death or separation, as well as any other experience that impacts brain development in childhood.  Studies conducted to understand the impact of ACEs concluded that with each additional ACE, the risks increase for the individual. People who report having three or more ACEs, for example, are far more likely to suffer from disease and mental illness later in life.  A study conducted this year found that childhood adversity is associated with the malfunction of multiple stress response systems, and causes oxidative stress. Oxidative stress refers to an [...]

Alcohol Culture in America

The role of alcohol has a long and complicated history in the US.  Colonial Americans are said to have consumed more alcohol than during any other era of American history.  However, laws banning the production and consumption of alcohol would later mark the start of the Prohibition Era in the 1920s.  Supporters of prohibition were concerned about the moral and health implications of drinking and hoped that banning alcohol would eventually lead to an entirely sober country.  Unfortunately, criminalizing alcohol only empowered criminal organizations that found ways to produce and distribute alcohol on the black market. By 1933, the Prohibition Era had ended, and alcohol was again accepted in the mainstream.  Since then, alcohol has remained the only drug that is present at nearly every family gathering and social event and is so normalized that people who choose to abstain are considered outliers.   Because alcohol manufacturers can spend huge amount of money on advertising, messages telling us to drink are practically everywhere we look.  Unfortunately, the dark byproduct of alcohol culture is addiction, along with many other serious health issues. Many people are unaware of how extremely present alcohol is in almost every aspect of their life until they are forced to take a serious look at their own drinking or the alcohol use of someone they love.  Beginning to pay attention to the many social cues surrounding alcohol can help us to feel more in control and less manipulated, and over time we may be able to distance ourselves from alcohol culture as a society enough to lower the rates of addiction. Alcohol in Advertising and the Media One study conducted in 2016 found that alcohol companies spent $421 million dollars on advertising in [...]

Dissociative Disorders and Substance Abuse

The experience of dissociation, which refers to unintentional mental distancing from memories, feelings, or sense of self, is extremely common.  Most people have experienced some form of dissociation at some time in their lives, possibly after a traumatic incident or even just while daydreaming.  When dissociation continues for days or weeks, however, it can be difficult to function and maintain normal routines. Chronic dissociation is referred to as a dissociative disorder, a debilitating mental illness that requires long-term psychiatric care.  Substance use disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions among those with dissociative disorders and can hinder the success of psychiatric treatment. People who receive a dual diagnosis of addiction and dissociative disorder should be treated for both issues simultaneously, as ignoring one will likely counter any progress made in the treatment of the other. Types of Dissociative Disorders Dissociative disorders usually occur as a response to a traumatic event or abusive childhood.  Roughly 90% of people diagnosed with a form of dissociation have endured trauma in their past. These experiences create so much emotional pain and mental strife that the victim is unable to cope.  This can cause a psychological separation from the identity that experienced the trauma. The most well-known form of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, previously known as a split-personality disorder.  This condition has been a source of curiosity and Hollywood romanization over the years because of its extreme presentation. DID is caused by the formation of two or more distinct personalities, reoccurring amnesia regarding personal details and recent memories, and significant difficulty maintaining relationships and professional life.   Depersonalization/derealization disorder can create feelings of detachment from self or surroundings.  For example, a person may feel as if they [...]

When You Are in Recovery and Your Partner Still Drinks

Making the decision to seek treatment for alcohol addiction usually comes after a long string of embarrassing incidents, health issues, problems with job performance, and tension within relationships.  Many intimate partner relationships involve a great deal of alcohol use. Couples often get to know each other over drinks when they begin dating and may use alcohol to lower their inhibitions and bond.  Over time, however, alcohol abuse usually becomes deeply problematic in maintaining a healthy relationship. Alcohol heightens emotional response during arguments and can contribute to insecurities and jealousy.  Relationships with heavy alcohol use are also far more likely to have incidents of violence. When physical or emotional abuse is involved, the best decision is to end the relationship and protect your safety and wellbeing.  But when one person decides to get sober while their partner continues to drink, and there is still love and respect in the relationship, it can be difficult to navigate the situation without adding to the conflict. Here are a few strategies for protecting your sobriety when your partner drinks. Ask Them to Be Mindful of Your Triggers It is usually recommended that those in recovery from alcohol addiction keep alcohol out of their house and stay away from others while they are drinking.   This might not be possible if your spouse or live-in partner continues to drink, but you can still ask them to respect your recovery by avoiding especially triggering behaviors.  For example, if your partner typically keeps the refrigerator stocked with beer, invest in a mini-fridge and ask them to keep their beer where you don’t have to look at it every time you want something to eat.  You may also want to ask your partner [...]

5 Essential Oils that May Improve Mental Health

Aromatherapy is a holistic treatment method that has been used for emotional and physical ailments since ancient times.  Essential oils derived from plants are either inhaled or absorbed through the skin to promote mental wellbeing and ease physical discomfort.  Today, this method is not always recognized as a valid form of treatment in the medical community, but this is mostly due to a lack of research.  Research on the effectiveness of essential oils is limited and problematic, in part because study participants can identify different oils by smell and therefore the results can’t be randomized or unbiased.  Several studies have suggested that while no single essential oil has been proven to effectively treat anxiety or depression on its own, many oils have had success in minimizing certain symptoms of mental illness.  Success rates for essential oil therapy vary from person to person, but using oils in conjunction with professional mental health treatment might improve wellbeing. Lavender Lavender essential oil is one of the most commonly used in aromatherapy and has many purported benefits.  Lavender has a soft, pleasant smell that helps create a sense of calm. A study conducted in dental offices found that patients waiting anxiously for procedures felt more at ease when lavender was diffused in the room.  Women in labor are often encouraged to use lavender essential oil by doulas and midwives to help ease nervousness and anxiety. Additionally, one study found that diffusing lavender after giving birth may help ease symptoms of depression associated with hormonal fluctuation.  Lavender is also commonly used for sleep issues and can act as a sedative. One study found that when added to a healthy bedtime routine, participants who inhaled lavender reported better quality sleep and [...]

Health Risks of Heavy Drinking in Young Adults

It is often said that young people live their lives as if they are invincible.  This is especially apparent when we consider the popularity of drug and alcohol use among teens and young adults.  Most people are vaguely aware of the health consequences associated with heavy drinking, such as chronic liver disease and addiction, but the immediate health problems seen in young binge drinkers are not nearly as publicized.  Young people tend to believe they have time to experiment with substances, treat their bodies and minds carelessly, and leave it all behind without serious repercussions in the future. Unfortunately, the reality is that many young people are unable to consistently consume large amounts of alcohol without causing significant physical and mental damage.  Some of these conditions can be reversed if drinking is stopped early enough, while others may persist or even lead to chronic illness in later years. Understanding the risks associated with drinking may help young people make better decisions in the face of potentially immediate consequences.   Mental Health Many people struggling with mental health issues turn to alcohol to cope with their emotional pain.  Unfortunately, alcohol worsens symptoms of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders.  Young people that participate in problematic drinking behavior may or may not have pre-existing mental health issues, but problematic drinking is likely to lead to one or more symptoms of anxiety or depression over time.  These symptoms are commonly associated with addiction and withdrawal, and without treatment, many chronic drinkers enter into a cycle of ever-increasing alcohol consumption and poor mental health. Generally, mental health greatly improves when a heavy drinker enters sobriety.  However, a recent study found that people who reported an alcohol dependence in [...]

Coping with Violence in the Media

We are living in troubling times.  Violence seems to be everywhere you look, and incidents of mass violence and hate-fueled massacres are filling the 24-hour news cycle.  Seeing the aftermath of deranged perpetrators who set out to take the lives of complete strangers is deeply disturbing, and it can be difficult to cope with the reality we live in during the days and weeks that follow these tragic events.  For those that are already prone to symptoms of depression and anxiety, being bombarded by terrible acts of violence in the media can interfere with the ability to function. There are several ways to help manage these overwhelming feelings, as well as steps to take if you think you are unable to handle your emotions on your own. Turn Off the News In the aftermath of a violent event or mass shooting, it can feel as if details of the incident are coming at you from all angles.  You will see interviews with victims on the news, politicians responding to the event, countless prayers and opinions on social media, and coworkers talking about it during lunch.  While you may not be able to drown out talk of the incident entirely, you can eliminate much of the commentary and visuals by abstaining from the news and social media for a while. If your anxiety is already peaking, there is no reason to heighten your emotional response to such a tragic event and increase your risk of trauma and depression.  Taking some time away from media will allow you to focus on yourself and the people closest to you, and remind you of what is most important in life. Realistically Assess the Risk If your anxiety surrounding the [...]

Equalizing Digital Stress in Recovery 

Many of us have recurring fantasies about throwing our cell phones out the window and sequestering ourselves on a remote island, since the nature of modern existence is fraught with dings, blips, and buzzes day in and day out. While technology is an unquestionable necessity in this day and age, so is maintaining balance.  It's Okay to Be Hard to Get a Hold of  Many of us remember having to look around the neighborhood for a pile of bicycles on a front lawn to figure out where our friends were. Since then, we have transitioned to living “on-demand” lifestyles.  In a special edition of TIME Magazine called “The New Mindfulness,” Professor Daniel Levitin says in an article titled "How to Be Centered in a Crazy World," that “we’re consuming more information than we can process and it’s setting off a fight-or-flight response that makes us feel overwhelmed.” Journalist Ginny Graves subsequently suggests creating the following boundaries with technology: Take a 15-minute break every two hours  Check email no more than three times per day Skim emails and prioritize the ones that require a quick response, delete what you can, and flag the rest to read later when you're under less pressure  Delete distracting apps Turn off notifications Set your phone to “Do Not Disturb” mode a few hours before bed and customize settings so you can still get calls from key people In addition, you can offer to host a dinner party or game night in which all guests must place their phones and other communication devices into a basket by the front door. Encourage your friends and loved ones to enjoy conversation over the meal and bond during a board game or a playful [...]

Benefits of Attending Al-Anon Meetings

Family members of those struggling with alcohol use disorder are often advised to attend Al-Anon meetings while their loved one is seeking treatment for addiction.  You may be wondering if this kind of in-depth participation is necessary, or how Al-Anon can help you and your family. While the benefits of Al-Anon support groups are vast, here are a few that are sure to improve the recovery experience for you and your loved one in treatment.  Change the Things You Can The Serenity Prayer, a short prayer said at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, asks God for “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  These words provide a useful distinction to those struggling with addiction as well as all those that support them. Part of supporting your loved one while they are in treatment for addiction is recognizing that much of what happens next is out of your hands.  You can’t be there every step of the way as they work through the underlying issues of their substance abuse, just as you couldn’t force them to admit they have a problem or seek treatment. You can, however, take some time to assess the aspects of your family’s lives that you have some control over, and exercise your power to influence change.  Al-Anon support group meetings can help you to let go of the things you cannot change, and offer suggestions for the things you can. If your loved one will eventually be returning to your home, a few changes in surroundings can have a powerful effect on everyone in the household’s attitude and motivation. For example, you may be able [...]