Friday, July 13, 2018

This is Your Brain on Drugs...(Fried Egg not Included)

 Addressing the topic of “Addiction and the Brain” can be likened to a group of people with varying degrees of knowledge and experience, looking through a telescope and trying explain the universe in great detail. Science has come a long way when it comes to understanding the human brain, but we are still only scratching the surface. Our amazing brain still holds out a lot of mysteries as to how exactly it all comes together to function as our source for thinking, feeling and behaving the way we do in our own special way. The exact answers as to why all of us think how we think, and feel how we feel and do what we do, cannot be simply explained alone in terms of just brain chemicals and nueroreceptors, at least not yet. Scientists are making amazing advancements like never before but there is still progress to be made especially when it comes to grasping the way addiction often has many similarities among people, however in many other ways it can often be a uniquely individualized experience from person to person.

To start a broad discussion on addiction and the brain, a good basic understanding is to recognize and acknowledge that addiction impairs one’s ability to effectively reason. What is exactly is reason?

Reason: n. – 1: the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways: intelligence 2 -proper exercise of the mind 3 - sanity (Merriam-Webster)

Discussion – Review and discuss the following statements about addiction and impaired reason. Being as open, honest and reasonable as you can be, check off any that may have applied to you at some point:

Getting in trouble with the law multiple times for substance use related offenses but insisting that it was all caused by just “bad luck” or “people out to get me” but nothing at all due to substance use.

Repeated problems and arguments with family or other relationships about using substances yet insisting it is all based on others treating you unfairly or that they are all just being “crazy”

Experimenting over and over with the idea that “I can control this” but repeatedly proving that experiment is a failure by eventually losing control

Trying to convince yourself that “I can stop any time I want to” however that time never seems to come or when it does come it never seems to last.

Repeatedly falling into the “if trap” by convincing yourself that things would change for the better only “if” this or that happened but the “if’s” are all really just excuses or ways to blame other people

Thinking that “this couldn’t happen to me because I’m too smart” when it comes to addiction, when in reality addiction can happen to anyone of any intelligence level.

Getting intoxicated to a level where you lose control of your power of reason and then do something you later regret, only to do it again another time in the future, perhaps even repeatedly

Convincing yourself that “I just use drugs to have a good time or to feel good and that’s it” however in reality the stress from the consequences increasingly competes with the fun or the good feelings

Telling yourself you are fine when deep down you know that your use is compromising you mentally when it comes to your focus, your moods, your motivation, or your ability to handle stress.

Thinking that “I only use because I want too” when evidence shows, it’s not just that you want to use, but it has progressed to where you need to use

What other some other examples of choices you may have made either directly or indirectly because of substance use that could be considered to be unreasonable or just plain bad decisions?

Even if today, being honest, you still feel like you aren’t sure that you want to stop getting high, what other ways has substance use impacted you mentally? (Focus, mood, motivation, concentration, other?)

What if a family member of yours was here what would they say about you for these questions?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Friction, Traction and Action

“If there’s no friction, then there’s no traction. If there’s no traction, then there’s no action.”
– Matt Hoffman (Taking the Escalator subscriber)

If given the choice ahead of time, most of us would likely choose to have the smooth and easy path toward our goals, hopes and dreams. Realistically speaking, however, the more worthwhile and rewarding paths in this life are rarely ever easy to travel. The above quote really puts this process into a practical perspective:

A positive way to view some of the struggles we may face on our journey toward our desired destination is to consider the reality that:

It is often those times where there is some “FRICTION” (e.g. resistance, irritation, strife, etc.)

…that we learn to proverbially dig in and gain some “TRACTION” (the state of being drawn or pulled)

...that leads to positive “ACTION” (an exertion of power or force)

Drawing Strength from 
Your Personal Experiences and Struggles:

If you are in a situation right now where you are dealing with a substance use or coexisting mental health issue, then it is extremely probable that you have been through your own personal share of life challenges, struggles, and obstacles. The good thing is that if you are here reading this right now, then on some level you have pulled through enough to keep on moving forward. Good for you.

So often substance use group therapy can get hung up on negative consequences and losses, which has its time and place for discussion so that we can learn from our mistakes. However for the rest of this particular group exercise, focus on the positive gains that you have achieved personally by first facing friction in your life, then digging in and gaining traction so you were able to bring about positive action toward your goals.

Group Activity:

Pick one of the following words below that stands out to you when you think about a time in life when you faced some adversity but you made a decision to pull through which lead you to where you are today – Then take turns sharing your personal experiences associated with your chosen word:







Friday, June 8, 2018

I Feel Like No One Understands...

Have you ever been in a unique and challenging situation that caused you to feel like no one really understood what you were going through? Just about everyone has had that feeling at one time or another. One of the beautiful things about group therapy is that being involved in a cohesive group program provides an opportunity for group members to share their individual experiences with others who can respond with empathy.

Besides love and compassion, empathy is one of the most powerful factors when it comes to connecting with other human beings in a positive manner. Empathy involves shared thoughts, feelings and attitudes, even when personal experiences and backgrounds may be different. Empathy is like a bridge that connects one person to another through identification and understanding.

Three quick but key points for showing and experiencing empathy: Empathy comes more naturally to some people than others. Here are a few things to focus on when showing empathy:

Suspend interpersonal judgement – When empathizing with another person, judging that person’s actions can get in the way of understanding. Temporarily forget about whether or not you agree or disagree with what that person did when trying to empathize.

Focus on their heart and mind, not your own – When showing empathy, forget about how you imagine that you would think and feel in that person’s situation based on your experience and focus more on how that individual must have thought and felt from their perspective (which may be completely different than how you would feel in the same situation)

Imaginatively get into the other person’s world – Allow the other person’s point of view, circumstances and experiences to take you out of your own head and into their world, seeing and feeling things from their point of view and frame of reference as best that you can imagine

Showing Empathy Group Exercise:

Think about the title of this page: “I feel like no one understands…” Take a few minutes to think about a situation in your life which can be difficult to understand. Take turns sharing your situation one person at a time and allow your group members to try to show you empathy by responding according to the following rules for listeners:

Listen, but:
  • Don't give advice
  • Do not focus on whether you agree or disagree
  • Do not explain how you think the situation could have been handled differently
  • Try to respond with empathy and understanding

free addiction and mental health tools and information

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Accountability: Are You Meeting the Challenge?

Accountability and You: Are You Meeting the Challenge?

What exactly does it mean to be accountable?

Accountable: adj. – The obligation of an individual to account for his/her activities, accept responsibility for them and to disclose the results in a transparent manner – ( 

In simple terms, being accountable involves:

> Accepting responsibility for your actions

> Being answerable for the outcomes

> Taking ownership of your mistakes

Being accountable usually doesn’t come easy for anyone and it takes practice. However, learning to be accountable is highly beneficial and with time anyone can improve. Consider the following:

Accountability is closely linked with enhancing the following positive life benefits:

Successful relationships
Achievement of goals

To put it in perspective, think of the kind of person who you would want as a leader – Wouldn’t you want that person to be accountable for his or her actions? If you were assembling a team of some kind, wouldn’t you desire the members of that team to all be accountable? Accountability leads to success

Avoiding accountability by making excuses, blaming, lying, etc. is taking the short term easy way out when a problem arises. Facing your problems, mistakes, and challenges by being accountable is a path toward long term success.

Opening thoughts for self-examination: Which way do you lean when it comes to accountability?

> Point fingers or provide answers?
> Work hard or whine?
> Accept or accuse?
> Face the facts or flee?
> Confront challenges or criticize?

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Use Your Brain and Not Your Pain

What we say and what we do, especially in the heat of an emotionally charged moment, can usually be traced back to originate from one of two figurative areas: From our “brain” or from our “pain”*. Consider the following:

Our Brain – This is the metaphorical part of our consciousness that can put aside emotion to instead use rational and reasonable thinking. Decisions and actions are then based on a combination of sound judgment, reason, logic and good sense.

Our Pain – This symbolizes our personal collection of emotionally-charged memories of how we were mistreated, abused, hurt, frightened, cheated, tricked or taken advantage of in the past. This can be especially hard to ignore when the pain comes from a deep emotional scar or when the painful wound is still “open” (e.g. has not healed yet)

Surely you are already aware of the value of thinking before reacting and it is likely that you have been instructed to think before you speak since childhood. However, the question is, are you putting this into practice, especially in difficult, impassioned, or emotionally sensitive situations? It can be a challenge. Consider a few common ways to recognize if your thoughts and actions are coming more from your “brain” or more from your “pain”

Know Yourself…Questions for Discussion:

Did anything in the above chart stand out to you personally? What are some of your strengths and challenges?

When it comes to emotional pain, what are some of your sensitive areas? (Think about things that can trigger you)

Discuss and share as a group: What is helpful to you personally when it comes to successfully managing your emotions in a positive way, even when you may be feeling triggered?

*This concept of “brain vs. pain” is being presented in a very basic and brief format as a simplified tool for decision making when facing stress or conflict particularly when coping with a substance use or mental health issue. Similar expanded and more detailed versions of this concept our outlined and explained in greater detail in several therapeutic approaches such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and others.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Strategy List for Families Dealing with a Loved One’s Substance Use Issue

There are no easy answers. If anyone tells you they have a simple solution don’t listen to them.  Change is challenging. (Consider yourself, for example – is change easy for you?)

Ø Positive change is derived from a combination of insight, internal motivation and external motivation. These factors often change with time so you may need to adapt your approach

Ø Every human has free will (whether we like it or not, acceptance of this is important)

Ø There is HOPE – Part of your mission should be to hold on to hope and remain a source of hope (often in combination with a lot of patience) – Believe in the capacity for change in your loved one

Keeping a positive focus is better than relying primarily on negatively focused strategies – (Often easier said than done because of all of the emotions involved)

Ø Nagging is ineffective. Nagging is often a dysfunctional outlet for the frustrated family member but does little for the individual who is struggling with addiction

Ø “Tough Love” has a time and place – It is often not a first line tactic but to be used more as a last resort. (The “nuclear” option)

Ø “FBI tactics” alone are not enough – Staying alert is fine but focusing entirely on staying “one step ahead” is often a losing proposition when dealing with addiction. No matter how hard you try, you will be fooled on occasion and valuable energy can be wasted on surveillance and spying

Ø Honesty is essential and means a lot more than using deception or trickery. If you expect honesty, then model it yourself for your family member. You lose credibility and trust when you lie

Ø “Use your brain and not your pain” – As difficult as it can be, do your best to remain reasonable, rational, using sound judgement, rather than lashing out emotionally. Help one another with this

Ø Try to be proactive rather than reactive – Clear concise warnings of expectations ahead of time can make difficult decisions much easier later. Avoid overly repetitious warnings which can mirror nagging. Follow through on warnings when needed

Ø The saying is true: “Trust has to be earned – Trust is a lot like managing a bank account with “deposits” and “withdrawals” – Allow trust to be earned with time even when it can be scary to let go

Ø Behavior and attitude are the best measures of progress – Stay alert to subtle changes either way (but avoid nagging about them). Notice, recognize and praise the positive that you see

Ø Do not undervalue the power of encouragement – Sow sincere “seeds” of encouragement which may sprout with time. Emphasize the positive even when it seems small – Praise is powerful

Sometimes there is more – If someone is “holding on” to their substance use, often they may not let go until they see something else better to reach out for. *But they have to want it

Ø Coexisting issues often play a role – Mental health, trauma, and other issues can be a huge part of the puzzle – Or not – Sometimes addiction is just addiction

Family should be as united as possible – Communicate, work together, and avoid undermining each other. Be there to provide checks and balances for each other as it is easy to get caught up in emotions and pain. Remember self-care and caring for one another. Don’t be afraid to seek help for yourself

For a printable version of this on - CLICK HERE

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Garbages and Gardens - Attitude Made Simple

Attitude: “A predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person, or situation. Attitude influences an individual's choice of action, and responses to challenges, incentives, and rewards” (

The following is a simple, two-phase strategy toward developing and maintaining a positive attitude, (provided of course that you want to have a positive attitude – some people choose to like their negative attitude which is another problem unto itself)
If you want to have a positive attitude you should regularly “throw away” what isn’t good for you. Because we are human and imperfect, negative aspects of attitude can pop up at any time. People with a positive attitude have mastered the art of eliminating the thoughts that can transform a good attitude into a bad one. Everyone has negative thoughts at some point so it is critical to be able to know what thoughts are potentially dangerous to our outlook and attitude and then to quickly throw those negative thoughts in the garbage, like the trash that they are.
As one would expect, the next key component of maintaining a positive attitude is identifying and then nurturing the positive thoughts that sustain a positive mindset and viewpoint. The most important thing about positive thoughts is that they have to be meaningful to you. If thinking positive thoughts does not come naturally to you, then similar to growing a garden of flowers, you may need to plant, seed, fertilize, water and cultivate positive thoughts in order to help them “bloom” in your current state of mind.
The following questions will open discussion about attitude followed by further group activities afterward:

Attitude Self-Assessment
How would you rate your overall attitude in life?

When you are struggling with your attitude, what does it look like to yourself and to others?

What can trigger a negative shift in attitude for you?

What are some challenges when it comes to your overall outlook and attitude in life today?

What are some areas in which you have made improvement when it comes to your attitude?

How do you look, act and feel when you are able to keep a positive attitude?

Who or what can help you maintain and sustain a positive attitude?

What do you think that you may still need to work on in these areas?