The Power of Thought Stopping

August 19, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News


Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Proactively stop negative thoughts and follow them with distracting actions

Sometimes unwanted thoughts simply will not go away and we spend a lot of time and energy focused on the wrong things. Thought stopping is a simple, but effective tool for getting rid of those unwanted and unnecessary thoughts.

Thought stopping can be applied to a wide variety of unwanted thoughts, and is particularly helpful as a tool for those in sober recovery or rehab. Any bothersome thought, including anxious thoughts, depressive thoughts, memories of addiction behaviors, thoughts of using drugs or alcohol again, and memories of trauma or abuse, can be addressed through thought stopping. Thought stopping develops the mental discipline needed to consciously take control over an unwanted, unconscious behavior.

Getting Started on Thought Stopping

The first step in thought stopping is to tell yourself, “Stop!” If you are alone, this means shouting, “Stop!” as loud as you can. If not alone, say it to yourself silently. For some, this is enough to break the cycle of unwanted thoughts and move forward. For others, the statement needs to be combined with another type of reinforcement. Perhaps the most famous method is to snap a rubber band kept on one’s wrist. Other, less painful methods include visualizing a stop sign, snapping your fingers, tapping on a table, brief bouts of physical exercise to distract you, or literally turning in the opposite direction.

Thought Replacement

Being clear on what one does not want to think about often is not enough. The unhelpful or negative thought needs to be replaced with a helpful or positive thought, even if the new thought does not have any relationship to the negative thought. To accomplish this, one can visualize a special place, embrace an accurate, logical thought about the situation, or engage in a task that requires concentration and focus.

Real Life Application of Thought Stopping

Sometimes thought stopping is criticized for being an overly simplistic response to complex emotional problems. While this may be a fair criticism, those who are successful at using thought stopping as a coping skill frequently incorporate several types of thought stopping techniques for each unwanted thought. The skill is easy to learn, but using the skill may require practice. Consider the following real life examples.

Mark has been invited to a restaurant he frequented during the height of his alcohol use. He has not been back since he became sober. As he and his friends are ordering, friends begin to order alcohol and Mark experiences unhelpful thoughts arising in his mind. The margaritas here are great. If I only get one I’ll be okay. Everyone else is drinking. Mark recognizes that these are addiction thoughts, and begins the thought stopping process by saying “Stop!” silently to himself because he is with others. He reinforces this by closing his eyes and picturing a stop sign. He replaces the thoughts of alcohol by saying to himself, My sobriety is important to me. I don’t need any poison today. To get his mind focused on something else, he asks the server to make a recommendation for an appetizer.

Diane works in a stressful environment with many deadlines and an incompetent boss. One afternoon her boss begins complaining about problems with her work performance, most of which relate to things she did not do. Diane attempts to return to work, but cannot get anything done because she keeps thinking, My boss is so incompetent. I don’t get why they don’t fire him. As the thought repeats in her mind, she becomes angrier. She shuts the door to her office and says, “Stop!” as loud as she can without attracting attention. She does three jumping jacks and starts to smile as she is beginning to feel silly. Okay, Diane, she says to herself, You have three projects due today. Focus on those. Diane gets to work on her projects.

Mark and Diane demonstrate how effective thought stopping can have multiple steps. If either had merely said, “Stop!” to themselves, there is a high likelihood the unwanted thoughts would have quickly returned. Each of them used thought replacement and an activity to fill their mind with something positive.

Myths that Interfere with Thought Stopping

For thought stopping to be an effective coping skill, one needs to have confidence that the process will work. The following myths and inaccurate assumptions are common hindrances to effective thought stopping:

  • I can think negative thoughts or unhelpful thoughts as long as I don’t act on them
  • No one will ever know if I just think about it
  • I deserve the joy of thinking about my old habit or addiction
  • Thought stopping isn’t really possible–you really can’t control your thoughts
  • This is psychobabble
  • I can maintain my sobriety even if I don’t do practice thought stopping

Each of these myths can turn into an excuse for dwelling on an unwanted thought, which is unnecessary and self-defeating.

Moving Forward

With practice, thought stopping can become a part of daily life. As one consistently replaces unhelpful thoughts with helpful thoughts, the new helpful thoughts become more automatic. Thought stopping can be an effective tool during particularly stressful periods of life, such as the holidays, when there may be more frequent triggers for negative thoughts or relapse into addictive behaviors.


Cyndy Adeniyi is a counselor and founder of Out of the Woods Life Coaching.  She enjoys hiking, Zumba, and flea markets in her spare time. She lives with her husband and two children in Maryland.

Sobriety from Serenity, Not Salary

August 12, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News


You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

You Can Achieve Serenity with Sober Recovery

For as long as I can remember becoming a physician was my goal. My father was a physician and the medical world was familiar to me. We lived in a small town, and I saw the admiration and respect that was bestowed upon my father. My siblings and I always had everything we needed from a financial standpoint. Our job growing up was to work extremely hard at our studies. It was an expectation that we would be successful in our professional lives, and I think for all of us success was equated with money. We felt a lot of pressure, and it’s not surprising that we all started using alcohol in high school to “let off steam.”

The Drive to Succeed Can Exert Pressure

I internalized that drive for financial success and combined it with my desire to work in a helping profession. I earned a medical degree. During all those years of education, I refused to acknowledge the voice inside my head that kept telling me this was not the path to my happiness. Drinking alcohol in college had always helped to quiet that voice. I never truly felt at peace with my career decisions. My desire to project a certain image as a medical professional conflicted with what I was feeling deep inside.

I kept telling myself it would get better with time. I thought that with experience I would gain confidence and, with confidence, I would attain peace. I gained confidence and I gained experience and I made sure I knew exactly what I was doing. I earned a solid reputation among my colleagues and patients for being thorough and competent, but that nagging voice never left. I just couldn’t find peace. I pushed that concern away and thought as long as I was good at what I did and made enough money to buy what I wanted, I would achieve happiness. I had to. I had already come so far, I felt that I couldn’t quit now.

Trying to Buy Happiness

The first paycheck I received when I went into medical practice was so exciting. It was such a reward for over a decade of hard work. I loved taking care of my patients and getting to know them and their families, but I was incredibly stressed all of the time. I had a great responsibility, and I criticized and blamed myself any time a patient became unexpectedly ill or progressively sicker. What was I doing wrong? Had I missed something? How could I have prevented that patient’s problem? These were all valid questions that deserved consideration, but I took it to the extreme and ruminated over these issues all of the time.

A Noisy Mind Can Lead to Greater Stress

My brain never shut off. I was constantly thinking about the same stressful job-related issues over and over and over, and never coming up with a different answer. I was unrealistic with my expectations, and I was making myself sicker and sicker with stress. I was exhausting myself. I would go on these binge shopping trips on the weekends and spend hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars at a time. I would buy, buy, buy. I would fill the void I felt inside with stuff, and then go home and have a drink. Alcohol was my friend and my comfort. It was the only way my brain ever let go of stress and truly relaxed. Otherwise, I was in a constant state of turmoil, unease, and unrest. I had been this way my entire life. This had always been my “normal.”

I had by that time bought a nice home on the water, I drove a luxury car, had two boats, and wore all of the latest fashions. I was who I thought I was supposed to be. I had achieved the financial success that enabled me to have all of those things–all the things I thought made for a great life. What could possibly be wrong? Why did I feel so empty?

There Has to Be More to Life

I lived that way for a long time. I remember saying to myself a few years after graduating from medical school, “This is it? There has to be more to life than this.” It felt like such a letdown from a personal perspective. I loved my patients and I would have done anything for them. I cried with them. I laughed with them. I watched them grow older. I talked about their families. I sympathized when jobs were lost, when kids graduated and moved away, when family members passed. I learned about their drinking problems. I loved that part of medicine. I loved being trusted and being let into their lives. I hated when they got sick.

Eventually, I left clinical practice and took an administrative role. I thought I would feel better emotionally without having that stress of direct patient care. I also put myself into a position where I could justify drinking and using regularly. No patient care. No weekends. No “on call” responsibilities. No prescriptions to write. I became a nine-to-five budget and policy person. I also no longer had a leash on the monster inside. I quickly became a daily drinker. I functioned that way for many years. I felt even emptier inside once I did not have patients to care for, but I quickly filled that void by using.

Achieving Serenity in Sobriety

Inevitably, I crashed and burned. A suicide attempt marked my “hitting bottom” and also the beginning of my recovery. Years of treatment and supervision in a recovery program designed specifically for licensed professionals provided accountability and support to return to the workforce. I routinely met with other addicted physicians, lawyers, therapists, and nurses. I sat next to CEOs of multimillion dollar global companies. I would talk with the high-profile lawyer from the T.V. commercials, police officers, teachers, elected officials, a singer from a famous band, even a lottery winner. Every socioeconomic level was represented in those addiction treatment and sober recovery groups. There were a staggering number of financially successful people sitting in those chairs, and one thing we all had in common was substance abuse. It was there that I learned that college degrees, large bank accounts, and high status won’t ever fill that void inside. All of the money in the world won’t keep someone sober. We cannot buy serenity.

I thought long and hard over those first few months after I got sober and re-entered the work force. I had learned new coping skills to deal with stress. I had learned how to address the inner demons that led to my using. What I learned in the addiction treatment program and sober recovery groups helped me to make the most important decision I ever made. I chose to retire from medicine. I finally had the courage to pursue the unknown. I had the courage to choose my happiness.

Achieving serenity for me meant making life-changing decisions. I had spent the majority of my life fooling myself into thinking it was the things on the outside that mattered. I had all of that and I still attempted suicide. I had all of that and was still so unhappy and so miserable with my life that I didn’t want to continue living it. While I was in treatment I had episodes of feeling happy–truly happy. It was an amazing feeling. I knew without a doubt that I had never really felt that before. I knew that was the goal I wanted to achieve.

I sold the house, the cars, and the boats, and used some of my retirement money to make ends meet. I met and married a wonderful man who wanted me and not my salary. We live together in an average-sized home in an average neighborhood. I drive a late model SUV. We have a mortgage and credit card bills. I wear jeans and flip-flops. I have achieved more than I ever could have imagined. I am happy. I have serenity.


E. Sparks is a recovering alcoholic and addict. She is a wife, mother, and dog lover. She has a medical degree and recently retired from medical practice to focus on her passion for working with abandoned and abused dogs. She is an aspiring writer and hopes by sharing her knowledge and experience that she may help others who struggle with addiction.

Transference: A Weight Loss Story


Trying to control what you see in the mirror may lead to issues

Trying to control what you see in the mirror may lead to issues

Hindsight is a powerful thing. In fact, I would even say that hindsight for me is a powerful tool. When I look back to a time in my life when my biggest fears revolved around my weight, how I viewed myself and how others viewed me, I realize that what I was reacting to was more of a symptom of a problem than the actual problem. The actual problem reared its very ugly head years later when I found myself in the throes of alcohol addiction. Could it be possible that after years of struggling with my weight, conquering that issue with the help of weight loss surgery and developing a healthy lifestyle, I had simply transferred my addiction from food (as my elixir to soothe my pain) to alcohol? Had I won the battle only to uncover the true war?

How My Addictive Behavior Started

Looking back, I can see clearly that my problems with addictive behavior didn’t happen overnight. The things I worried about as a teenager–fitting in, making friends, not standing out in the wrong ways–were the same issues that plagued me as a young adult–getting the right job, finding the right mate, hanging out at the cool places and being seen with the “in” crowd. The perfectionist within me wanted to get every single thing right. In fact not just right, but perfect. And when that didn’t happen–say, when something was out of my control and didn’t go my way — I began self-medicating. In it’s earliest stages, my self-medication was food. I would eat anything and everything, and I gained a lot of weight. I sometimes blamed my food and weight issues on the fact that I was always told as a child “clean your plate” and basically learned to eat anything and like it, but that was just an excuse.

My Real Issues Hit Me Like a Ton of Bricks

By now you’re probably wondering, “Why all of this talk about childhood and weight issues? I thought this was supposed to be about addiction?” Well buckle up, here it comes. After taking matters into my own hands in my early 20s (it was that need to be in control thing again), I had weight loss surgery, lost more than 150 pounds and became the “beautiful on the outside to match the beautiful on the inside” young, vibrant, career professional that I knew I could be. And then I lived happily ever after, right? Not so much.

That was when it hit me. That was when I realized my life had changed forever. Not because of my weight loss, but because it was now physically impossible for me to self-medicate with food. If you know anything about gastric bypass weight loss surgery, you know that the surgically-treated stomach is reduced to roughly the size of an egg. Continuing to soothe my emotional needs with food was out of the question. But liquids…liquids might work. The doctor had said that liquids would go straight through. He had been cautioning me about the pitfalls of drinking high-calorie drinks and not feeling full, inhibiting weight loss. Little did he know that this basic principle about liquids after gastric bypass surgery would become the catalyst for my addiction transference. Drinking my sorrows away–the sorrows that were now a lot closer to the surface because I could no longer blame them on my being the fat girl–became my new addictive behavior. I became an alcoholic.

I needn’t describe the downward spiral I experienced at that point in my life. You’re welcome to use your imagination on that. Suffice it to say, every moment of comfort the alcohol provided—and there were MANY moments—was followed by weeks of fear and dread about how to fix what I might have broken (yes, blackouts were a regular occurrence that created a whole new layer of anxiety. To say that I wasn’t always crystal clear is an understatement).

Coping Tools. Don’t Leave Home Without Them

What I have learned in hindsight from this experience is that I needed tools. Tools to help me cope with my own overly-controlling and addictive behaviors and tendencies. Not the tendency to want to fit in or to excel and have friends. Rather, the tendency to need to control my entire environment. Time and life have taught me to change what I can and simply control my own reactions and expectations around everything else. For me, it is now about progress, not perfection. I’m learning to use mindfulness as a daily practice along the way. Looking in the mirror and asking myself why I am behaving the way I am is the first step. I have much gratitude for the professionals and friends who have given me the insight and space to be able to both recognize and work on this, and I’m grateful they are there to pick me up when I fall down–which happens a lot.


Brooke Lyn Harper has been a senior leader in the healthcare industry for over 15 years, specializing in healthcare compliance and privacy. Having overcome the life challenges of addiction and mental illness, her desire is to “pay it forward” by sharing her own experiences and expertise in hopes of touching others in an informative and engaging way.


Medical Marijuana: How Are There So Many Different Types?


There are many types of medical marijuana

There are many types of medical marijuana

We exist in a world where genetic codes can be altered on anything that lives. We have bred (cloned) animals from petri dishes. This is also the case with crops that have been used for centuries for food; primarily wheat, corn, soy and rice.

From the 1950s to today, marijuana has increased in potency, along with shifts in its use as a medicinal plant for those who suffer from specific types of pain. As breeders have created stronger strains of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana (cannabis), they have also developed specific genetic markers designed to enhance certain properties of marijuana. These properties may include pain relief, cessation of cellular development in certain types of cancer, appetite enhancement, and relaxation. Studies have attributed the active ingredients in marijuana (specific cannabinoids) with increasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy when used together.

As each cannabinoid is tested and found to be effective for use in these areas, different formulations of marijuana are bred to enhance these properties. As medical marijuana use increases, strains of marijuana are being developed and targeted for each purpose.

Cell development in cancer is being studied to find methods to stop the rapid growth and spread of cancer cells. This has been done in clinical trials, using marijuana, for liver, lung and breast cancer, with positive results in mice. Because there are specific strengths of a cannabinoid used to gain these results, marijuana with these high doses of Delta 9-THC are being tested for further medicinal use in fighting cancer cell growth.

The technology used for breeding seed for other purposes is used to increase the strength of certain cannabinoids in marijuana. Much as drought-resistant or pest-resistant seed is developed for food crops, seed to grow marijuana with specific genetic markers is done. Hybrid marijuana is nothing new. In the years following the explosive growth in popularity of pot in the 1960s and 1970s, new breeds, types and strains of marijuana emerged in the market place. Maui Wowie, Panama Red, and others became popular, as breeders learned how to take the specifics of each breed and pollinate plants for properties suited to growing climate and desired outcomes. The names generally come from the breeder, some are quite creative and some speak to qualities of the plants.

There are two basic species of cannabis grown for use as a drug. They are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. There are physical properties indicative of each species. There is another species that is primarily wild and used for products containing no THC, one active cannabinoid in marijuana. Hemp products may come from those plants with no or very low THC content.

Various regions and growing climates around the world determine the strain(s) of marijuana grown there. These will have specific properties that growers continue to develop for maximum production. When there are specified side effects of these strains, the chemical compounds involved are bred back into those plants, increasing their potency and efficacy for those purposes.

Marijuana has been used for centuries for its medicinal properties. These are being recognized scientifically and tested to prove their validity. As they are created, new uses for medical marijuana may be found.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News



Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Life is stressful, and everyone needs something to help them decompress. While some people manage to find healthy ways of relaxing, everyone is tempted by vices: junk food, reality TV, video games, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana…you know, outlets which offer immediate gratification and don’t require any real physical or mental exertion. Everyone gives in to vices from time to time, but some indulgences are much riskier than others.

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

People use drugs and alcohol to relax. They use them to diminish their inhibitions so they can socialize with people more easily. They use them to unwind after a stressful day at work. In other words, drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism for many people. For most people, the inclination to use drugs and alcohol stems less from a desire to cause pain than a desire to reduce pain. The problem though, is that this form of “self-medication” commonly begets addiction–the coping mechanism becomes an even greater problem unto itself.

The True Cost of Addiction

Chronic use of any drug will deplete you financially, impair your ability to make decisions, damage your health, and color your perception of reality. Becoming addicted to something means that you no longer use to get high–you use to sustain a consistent low. What was once a source of joy and a vehicle for escape becomes part of a boring, expensive, and generally destructive pattern of abuse.

As you develop a higher tolerance, or a chemical dependency, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the sort of buzz which got you hooked in the first place–which is the ultimate irony with drugs and alcohol. Certain substances will have you forever pursuing an idealized high which you may never truly experience again.

Finding Healthier Alternatives

There are other, more sustainable coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices that you might consider trying. What makes the healthier choices less desirable for some people, however, is that they won’t provide you with gratification without requiring you to put forth a little effort. Lighting up a joint and going for a jog are measurably different activities. But, just as drug and alcohol abuse commonly damages your self-perception, you might find that the activities which challenge you will likely enhance your feelings of self-worth. And, ideally speaking, you might find that building up your confidence and self-respect decreases your desire to consume drugs and alcohol.

Devising a consistent fitness regimen is one potential solution. Vigorous physical activity causes your body to release endorphins which provide you with their own unique–and completely natural–euphoria. What’s more, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your confidence, and has been found to generally decrease anxiety and depression over time.

Some people adapt a personal artistic practice. There are many creative activities which can bolster one’s sense of self-worth, and provide a constructive outlet for otherwise destructive emotional tendencies. There are many activities you might consider picking up: sewing, baking, drawing, creative writing, dance, or even playing a musical instrument.

You might also try bubble baths, reading classic literature, listening to records…there are many, many healthy ways of decreasing stress. One danger to be aware of, however, is when a healthy habit turns into an addiction itself.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The first and most crucial step towards overcoming your addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Self-deception and inadequate excuses only further perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Take a good, long, honest look at your life. Determine what your sources of happiness are, and maximize them. Determine what your sources of unhappiness are, and minimize their presence in your life as best as you can.

Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.

Drug Abuse among Artists: Why Is It So Prevalent?

July 28, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

With every high-profile celebrity who dies prematurely because of drugs, the world is reminded of the prevalence of addiction amongst celebrities and artists.

What propels someone toward creative self-expression (a yearning for acceptance, the need for an escape, or simply the compulsion to express potent emotions) are the very same things that can propel someone toward alcohol and substance abuse. We see the modern day manifestations of this all over the Internet. Think about the social media response to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent heroin overdose, or to the Twitter frenzy surrounding Justin Bieber’s recent incarceration after he was caught drag racing while intoxicated in Florida.

Think back just a few decades, to Hollywood’s golden age, when the public would have been reading stories about celebrity addicts like Judy Garland and her drug and alcohol problems. And later, Marilyn Monroe and her drug overdose. Or later still, when people were reading about Janis Joplin and her drug overdose. And then it was Jim Belushi. More recently, it was Whitney Houston. If you really think about it, the list of artist-drug-addict names extends on and on. So many creative celebrities struggle with their dependency on substances. Like everyone else who struggles with substance use, these celebrities also likely suffer from underlying causes such as anxiety or mental illness.

Where Creativity, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Converge

Author Kay Redfield Jamison wrote Touched With Fire, a book which examines the correlation between mental illness and the creative temperament. According to Jamison, many visual artists, writers, and musicians displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder long before such a diagnosis existed. Jamison makes the case that writers like Lord Byron, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner all displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder. And, incidentally, all three of them were known to drink heavily. Many experts now believe that Marilyn Monroe suffered from undiagnosed bi-polar disorder or borderline personality disorder. She also drank heavily (reportedly, champagne) and popped pills.

Drugs Are Perceived as Enhancing Creativity

One reason why artists gravitate toward drugs is likely because they feel that drugs diminish their inhibitions. They use substances to tap into their creativity. Many musicians, including Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson, have publicly expressed their fondness for marijuana. Comedian/writer George Carlin also advocated for it as a creative aid, if used “judiciously,” but also went on to concede that compulsive drug users inevitably reach a point of diminishing returns, and they either muster the strength to beat their addiction, or they succumb to it.

The Trappings of Fame

It can be difficult for the average person to understand why creative celebrities are prone to self-destruction. These are people who are revered for their artistic talents and have seemingly greater agency over their lives than most people. But the reality is that celebrities are as vulnerable to self-sabotage as anyone else.

For some celebrities, substances become a means of dealing with the anxieties caused by the lack of privacy that comes with fame. The onslaught of public attention is too much for some artists to deal with. A profession in the arts is also typically less stable then your conventional nine to five job, so that must create its own set of anxieties which might propel someone towards using substances. Conversely, many artists seem to panic when they reach the pinnacle of their success. It’s one thing to become famous for doing what you love — it’s another thing to sustain a fruitful career in the arts. For some, like former Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, the problem seemed to be that the profession itself didn’t yield the joy he had expected, and that the guilt he felt over his depression, compounded by drug abuse, might have propelled him towards suicide.

For some celebrities though, bad behavior seems to be largely the product of hedonism and a propensity to act upon impulses without fear of consequences. Many live by the sword, and many of them die by it.

The Silver Lining

People come to rely upon different substances for different reasons, and it stands to reason that people who experience pronounced shifts in mood frequently or endure stresses consistently, would be especially at risk. Artists are people easily tempted by a source of instant gratification, whether that is in the form of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, or other substances. And, while the public is quick to pass judgement, let us remember that a famous person is still just a person. They have foibles. They have weaknesses. They make mistakes. Celebrities are idolized and revered — both celebrated and vilified by the public — but we should remember that they are fallible people with their own, unique set of problems. When one of them succumbs to addiction, that can be a wake-up call and lesson for us all.


Author Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based blogger who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films, to energy legislation, to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them, and partially because he has himself struggled with them in the past — alcohol and marijuana in particular. However, Brandon is sober and in good health today, mentally and physically, and eager to help those who are struggling with drug addiction.



How Yoga Can Enhance and Strengthen the Recovery Process


Daily exercise is an integral part of the recovery process and most rehab programs for a reason. Exercise contributes to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of everyone, whether or not we are addicts. Exercise has been shown to enhance mood and fight depression naturally through the release of endorphins.

EndorphYogaforTGDGins can lower your perception of pain, improve self-esteem, and even act as a mild sedative. Incorporating regular physical activity into your life can reduce your stress and anxiety, increase your energy, and boost your sleep quality. Additionally, regular exercise can improve your heart health, blood pressure, bone strength, and muscle tone, as well as many other facets of your physical health.

Yoga offers all of the benefits of regular exercise and more to those who use it as part of their recovery process. The meditative quality of yoga encourages practitioners to examine their thought processes and learn to concentrate on posture and breathing with intention. If negative thoughts are dominating your mental space, especially during recovery, yoga will teach you to acknowledge those thoughts, and explore their source. If you have a self-defeating attitude outside of the yoga studio, yoga will shine a light on that attitude and force you to push yourself beyond your own boundaries and strengthen your willpower.

Here are three ways yoga can benefit your recovery:

1. Coping Mechanisms

An inability to cope with the everyday difficulties and the fluctuations of life is one of the underlying causes of addiction. Addicts who are in recovery often struggle with finding new and healthy ways of dealing with life stresses once they can no longer turn to a substance as a solution. Through reflective thought, controlled breathing, and mindful meditation, yoga intrinsically teaches the art of coping in healthy, appropriate ways. These new coping mechanisms are particularly useful for addicts and help to strengthen the recovery process.

2. Self-discipline

Improved self-discipline not only helps an addict to begin the recovery process, but it can also help an addict to stay on course and prevent a relapse. An important part of drug treatment is learning to greet a negative impulse with a positive action. When those in recovery learn to turn to yoga when they feel weak, the self-discipline skills required to overcome addiction are reinforced and enhanced.

3. Supportive Community

The culture of yoga is largely community-based. For a recovering addict, finding a supportive community is one of the keys to success in sobriety. Becoming a regular at a yoga studio will help introduce you to a new source of community that is generally health-minded and supportive of newcomers.

In addition to these benefits that yoga lends to those in recovery, yoga is considered by many to be a good source of spiritual guidance. These days, at least in most yoga studios in the U.S., yoga isn’t about a specific religion, but is a practice that helps us all live in the present moment. It helps us explore the depths of our mental and physical capabilities. This spiritual element of yoga is an added bonus for addicts who feel their addiction is rooted in a misguided way of life or lack of spirituality.


Elizabeth Seward has written about health and wellness for Discovery Health, National Geographic, How Stuff Works Health, and many other online and print publications. As a former touring rock musician, Elizabeth has firsthand experience with the struggles of substance abuse and the loss of loved ones because of it. She believes in the restorative power of yoga, meditation, talk therapy, and plant-based diets and she is an advocate for progressive drug policy reform.

Designer Drugs: What Are They?

June 24, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


Designer Drugs Are Synthesized from Other Drugs

Designer Drugs Are Synthesized from Other Drugs

New drugs are routinely created from other known drugs to eliminate side effects or to enhance benefits recognized by their use over time. In the creation of a new drug formulation, scientific researchers identify a particular property of the original drug and enhance that property to improve treatment of a condition that may be difficult to treat with existing drugs.

When Drug Development Goes Beyond Health Care

This system of drug development can go awry when the new drug is created from an illegal drug or is created without regulation. Unfortunately, such drugs proliferate in today’s world. Take, for instance the popularity of hallucinogenic drugs used for recreational purposes over the course of the last 60 years. In the 1950s, experimentation with LSD showed that it had promise as a treatment for schizophrenia. As research and experimentation continued, it became known that LSD could be enjoyable beyond its application in the mental health arena. The drug became popular for use as a party drug, producing a mind-expanding experience that some people deemed an aid for higher-consciousness seeking and spiritual development not possible without the substance. LSD quickly grew in popularity and became widely used. This new market for LSD created new labs that produced the drug. A synthetic drug derived from LSD was created in 1973 by two men who developed ALD-52. This new drug, ALD-52, would be considered a “synthesis drug” or “designer drug,” though these terms were not in use at that time. The development of ALD-52 was the first case to be prosecuted for the creation of a new synthetic drug from the original formula for LSD.

The Birth of Designer Drugs

Since that time, literally hundreds of designer drugs have been created. They run the gamut of categories, from opioids to hallucinogens, stimulants to steroids. The term “designer drugs” was first used to describe these synthesis drugs in the 1980s when they began to appear so quickly that drug enforcement agencies had a difficult time tracking them. These drugs are created by synthesizing one or more active agents in the original drug, and their production is often unregulated. They are created as a new substance to buy and sell. In many cases, designer drugs are illegal or only quasi-legal and, unfortunately, a whole new generation of drug addicts are buying them.

When Designer Drugs or Synthesis Drugs Become Destructive

There are some instances where designer drugs have legal applications, as well as illegal ones. The difference lies in the the entities that are creating them. For example, amphetamines are produced legally, and are legally synthesized to create methamphetamine. However, methamphetamine is seldom used for legal (medical) purposes, due to its inherently addictive properties. The ease of the synthesizing process allowed for the creation of home-made meth, which became popular as a street drug that has done irreparable damage to millions of users.

Ongoing production of designer drugs or synthesis drugs like PCP, methamphetamine, MDMA (ecstasy), and bath salts is a dangerous process. Each time a new synthesis drug is made, the ingredients used are made illegal by governing agencies responsible for taking those chemicals off the open market. As this occurs, new formulations of synthesis drugs are created and new synthetics are developed. This is done for the sake of profit, not health. Marketed to addicts who are desperate and will use whatever new version of their drug becomes available, these synthesis drugs have killed untold numbers of people. Keeping up with this type of illicit drug production is seemingly impossible for reinforcement agencies.

The Marketing of Designer Drugs

The draw for those in the drug trafficking industry, is to create these ever-evolving synthesis drugs while they can legally obtain the necessary ingredients and market the drugs before new laws and regulations are passed. Chemists and lay persons search for ingredients that allow them to market products such as bath salts, synthesized marijuana (also called Spice), and some synthesized opioids that mimic their legal cousins (such as Acetyl Fentanyl). Even sexual performance-enhancing drugs are now being illegally synthesized, due to the demand for these drugs outside of legal parameters. The synthesized versions of these drugs are less expensive and easier to produce, due to the as yet unknown compounds that are used to make them. Unfortunately, the synthesized versions can be deadly, due to the change in formulations and substitution of unregulated compounds. And, as each new designer drug appears on the open market, there are heightened risks for unknown side effects.


Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

A Mother’s Battle Is a Child’s War

May 12, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


aloneSince I was very little, my mom had been on crack. It started with her doing drugs in her room, then she would go out and partake with friends, and then it finally got to the point that she would leave me and my three other siblings home for days on end while she went on binges.

The hardest thing to swallow at that point was that my mom did drugs, it did not matter the drug of choice because all we knew is that her choice was the drug over us, and that was a painful realization.

Child Abuse Comes in Many Forms

Many people are naive and believe that child abuse means physically harming a child, but that is not the case. Child abuse comes in the form of neglect, abandonment, physical abuse, mental abuse and emotional abuse. A child who is being abused does not always show up to school with bruises on his body, and that is an important fact to remember.

Sometimes, bringing a known offender around your children can be considered neglect. There were many things that went on inside of our home that should never go on in any place. The “friends” hurt us in many ways. Most of the time, my sister and I would hide away in a locked room in order to keep our sanity. This was no way for anyone to live. Constant fear of being hurt is a pain all of its own.

My Siblings and I

When I was 10 years old, I had three other siblings with me. My older brother was 11, my little sister was five, and my little brother was three. When my mom would leave the house for extended periods, we had to fend for ourselves. It is hard being a child and providing for another child, especially when you have to keep it all a secret from the rest of the world.

Me and my brother used to argue over who had to stay home with our little brother. We had school, and he did not. We had to get my sister up and dressed for school. We used to sell our lunches at school so that we could buy hot dogs and bread for dinner. There was a point that we were stealing food from the local grocery store. We even had to smell our clothes to figure out which ones were the least dirty, and it got really hard to pick at times.

We Kept It a Secret

There was no option. If we told anyone what was going on, we would be taken away and split apart. We already didn’t have parents, so we could not stand the thought of being separated from each other as well. What we did was keep it all a secret. We pretended like everything was fine. We forged mom’s signature on school papers, and we kept on providing every way that we knew how.

I guess someone else noticed what was going on because all of that changed. My mom was actually home when it happened, but she was not sober. Child Protective Services (CPS) came into our house, and they took us away. They let us stay with family, but not any of our parents. We were only gone for a couple of days before they let us right back into the home that was littered with crack pipes only two or three days before. The worse part was that we had no say in where we wanted to go, and we had no say in what was going to happen. We were just children, and our voices were not heard.

I am a Mother Now

Looking back, I cannot fathom doing to my children what was done to us. My mother taught me not only how to make the wrong decisions, but through her mistakes, I was taught how to be a mom. I was taught that under no circumstances should I let my dirty habits get in the way of my family life, and with that lesson, I thrive as a mother. I have made my mistakes, but I was able to quickly see who I was becoming, and I changed my path of my own free will.

My Mom Now

My mom has quit doing drugs, and I am so very proud of her. Addiction runs rampant in our family, and she did not let it keep her. There were many times that we worried about her, about whether she would live or die, about when we would see her again and even about where we would be the next time she came home, but not anymore. Nowadays, she is a mom and a grandmother. She makes it a point to let us know that we are loved. I could not ask for anything more from my mom than what she is giving now.

Cryste Harvey* has battled with addiction since the day she was born. From family issues to personal issues, she has seen many things, but she has taken the leap to be sober and to help inform others of the hardships, trials and tribulations associated with addiction. She is now a mother and wife, and she has vowed to help others on their road to recovery. With little to no help from her parents and siblings, she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and continue on to college. Harvey is currently working toward an English degree, and she hopes to become a published author.

*name has been changed

Dealbreaker? When You Want to Quit but Your Significant Other Doesn’t

May 5, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture


broken-heartOftentimes, we come to recovery with previously relationships in tact, however, tenuously. Sometimes our partners are our codependent enablers with no using problem of their own. Sometimes they are out best party buddy. Either way, problems can arise as we embark on a way of life that changes substantially how we interact with the world. We may start going to recovery meetings. We may also want to avoid places where liquor will be served or others will be partying. All of this can present significant conflict when our partner simply wants to continue the way things were (with us just not overdoing it), or worse, when our partner wants their party buddy back.

Whatever the circumstances, the number one consideration should always be, Can I stay sober while in this relationship? It is a question only you can answer, but you should try and answer it truthfully. Also, it is a question that cannot be answered without exploring the issues and possibilities with the partner.

Educate Your Partner

Perhaps the easier situation from a recovery point of view is the one in which the partner does not also have a substance abuse problem. For them, educating them on the importance of staying in dry places and dry people and simply giving them space to adjust to the change, may be all it takes. Focus on getting to meetings and other recovery groups, but don’t completely oust them from your life. Encourage them to seek their own support groups and try and keep lines of communication open.

Find Mutually Enjoyable Activities

Work with your partner to plan activities where you both can enjoy yourselves, and where you can feel safe in your recovery. For example, you may have some friends who never did quite imbibe the way you did, and they may enjoy spending a quiet evening talking, going out to eat and a movie, playing games or bowling—well, you get it—activities that are not primarily about the alcohol or drugs. In the beginning, you may need to ask them to refrain from drinking. Let them know that in time, you will be on more solid ground, and them having a drink won’t be an issue.

Set a Time Limit and Have an “Out”

If your partner insists on hanging out with the same people you got wasted with, this may present a bigger challenge to your newly found sobriety. First and foremost, you can simply beg off altogether. Let your partner go, but stay away. Alternatively, if it is a group that starts slow and revs up as the night goes on, you may decide to stay only for a short time. For me, most parties that involve drinking are good until about 10 pm. Once people start getting buzzed, any number of feelings can arise, but mostly, I just get uncomfortable.

If you think your partner may want to stay longer than you, then drive separately, or prearrange for someone to drive him/her home. It is very important to have an out at all times. A trapped alcoholic may panic.

When Their Addiction Is Just Too Much

When you are dating an alcoholic or addict who is in the throes of his/her addiction, you are dealing with a completely different set of circumstances. In this case, it may be possible to stay together and stay sober, but it may also put a huge strain on your recovery efforts. Rather than making a huge decision to end a marriage or long-term relationship right away, it may be the wiser course to consider a temporary separation while you sort things out. You need to be in a relatively sane and sober environment in order to recover. You can make relationship decisions down the line, after you have some sober time under your belt.

No one can or should tell you how to live your life. However, if you are serious about getting sober, then you must also be honest about your ability to do so in certain company, and you must be willing to make the changes necessary to support your recovery.

Related article: Should You Date a Recovering Addict?

P. G. McGraw is a 30+ year sober alcoholic, writer, blogger and “joyfully rebellious heretic and mystic.”  She enjoys learning about Eastern and Indigenous Religions and applying that knowledge to her spiritual recovery. A former attorney, McGraw has a certificate as a chemical dependency counselor assistant and has worked as a sponsor, helping many people in the recovery process over the years.

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