How Alcohol May Be Disrupting Your Sleep

January 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Health


wake upA popular sleep aid for many people, both those who have alcoholic traits and those who do not, is an alcoholic beverage before bed.

The sedative effects of alcohol on the body and brain were believed to be beneficial for those who suffer from stress and/or insomnia. Many believe that alcohol has a calming effect on the central nervous system, allowing for relaxation and instant relief from worries and stresses of a busy life. This may not only be a false premise, but a concern for increased problems of insomnia and loss of restful sleep among those who consume alcohol before going to sleep.

Scientific research done on various aspects of sleep disturbance has been ongoing. Now it is known that alcohol may be actually disturbing the brain’s natural cycles of sleep, causing some permanent insomnia tendencies for those who drink even small amounts at bedtime for long periods, as well as for those who exhibit alcoholic drinking patterns.

While alcohol may promote drowsiness and a more rapid ability to fall asleep, it also disturbs the kind of sleep that leaves us feeling rested and restored the following morning.

How Sleep Works

The reasons are relatively simple to explain. At the onset, our bodies go into a sleep state that is somewhat shallower than the restorative sleep we achieve with REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage. The shallow stage of sleep is often referred to as Non Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep. This stage generally lasts approximately 90 minutes from the onset of sleep. During this stage, the body does not receive full rest and little or no dreaming occurs. The brain is believed to be processing and sorting thoughts and events that have occupied our daytime activity. This takes place in the more active (frontal area) of the brain.

When the body remains in the semi-restful state (NREM), most of us do not feel rested or refreshed upon waking. This leads to further insomnia and depression, along with decreased brain and body functioning. The mind needs restful (REM) sleep to feel focused and sharp.

The Effects of Drinking

Alcohol consumption within an hour before sleep has been shown to increase activity in the frontal portion of the brain, thereby disrupting the patterns of REM sleep. Activation of the frontal alpha portion of the brain causes increased agitation, restlessness and insomnia symptoms. This cycle reduces restful sleep by incremental stages as the drinking behavior continues.

It is possible for drinkers to attain REM sleep stages on occasion but they cannot remain in that state long enough to receive full restorative benefit. They wake frequently, not returning to the deep sleep that is needed to feel rested. Sleep patterns are interrupted and neither the brain nor the body of the drinker is gaining needed rest.

The longer the periods that drinkers continue this pattern, the worse the cycle becomes. In alcoholic drinkers who have stopped drinking, there appears to be damage that is not mitigated with long periods of abstinence. These drinkers may never regain restful patterns that bring them the benefits of deep, long periods of REM sleep.

Alcohol is shown to permanently disrupt REM sleep patterns of the brain. Alcohol use is not only unbeneficial to those who suffer from insomnia but it also seems to increase the condition over time and with continued use. The deprivation of sleep causes greater incidence of depression, loss of mental clarity, and increasing loss of healthy-body functioning. These can all lead to higher risks of heart disease and other stress-related illnesses.


MedicalNewsToday. Alcohol disrupts sleep despite initial sedative effect. Retrieved online from:

National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism. Alcohol and Sleep. Retrieved online from:

WebMD. Mann, DeniseAlcohol and a Good Night’s Sleep Don’t Mix. Retrieved online from:

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.

Binge Drinking: Is Indulging Once Bad for Your Health?

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Health, People and Culture


cheering with beerA recent study has found that as little as one isolated episode of binge drinking is detrimental to an individual’s health. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School conducted the study under the lead of Professor Gyongyi Szabo. The researchers discovered that when the blood alcohol level of participants (11 men and 14 women) was raised to at least 0.08g/dl in the span of one hour, bacteria was leaked from the gut and the toxins released triggered immune responses that could be potentially dangerous to health – like fever, tissue destruction, and inflammation.

Who’s Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is prevalent throughout the U.S., especially with young adults. Having more than one drink is now the norm across college campuses and within subcultures such as sports, music festivals, etc.

A broad definition of binge drinking is drinking in order to become intoxicated via heavy alcohol consumption over the course of a short amount of time. It is said that as many as one third of adolescents binge drink and the behavior is more common in males than females. It’s not difficult to see this behavior glamorized in the media or even at an office holiday party, but make no mistake: binge drinking is dangerous territory.

Health Risks of Binge Drinking

Frequent binge drinking can affect the neurological, cardiac and gastrointestinal systems of the body. More than five drinks for a male and more than four standard drinks for a female in one sitting is considered binging.

Since binge drinking generally overlaps with social drinking, it is often overlooked as it’s considered a part of regular social activity. The results from this study are especially important because of the widespread cultural acceptance of binge drinking. We now know that deterioration in the body begins from the first binge drinking episode–this is powerful information which will hopefully help to reduce this dangerous behavior.

Binge drinking also affects people’s mental health, increasing the incident of suicide and hampering good decision making (incidence of unplanned/unprotected sex, unplanned pregnancy, and an increased risk for STDs, including HIV is higher while binge drinking).

If you or someone you know binge drinks, there are resources both online and offline that can help. While binge drinking can be a sign of a deeper addiction, we now know that even engaging in such behavior even infrequently can be detrimental to one’s health.

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.

What Is Rock Bottom?

September 10, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News


TGDGsadgirlWhen you Google the words “rock bottom,” you will find a dictionary definition that classifies this term as a noun that means “the lowest possible level.” When it comes to addiction recovery, the words “rock bottom” can have hundreds of definitions. This is because not everyone’s “rock bottom” will be the same. If only rock bottom truly were that simple.

I know during my active addiction, I often found myself asking what my rock bottom actually was. Unfortunately, that question could not be answered by others. Every addict or alcoholic has a different rock bottom, and the variations can be dramatic. Some addicts may undergo very traumatic life experiences that signify to them that they have hit rock bottom. Some may lose their homes, while others may file bankruptcy or turn to prostitution to earn the income needed to pay for drugs. If you are at the point where you’re wondering if you’ve hit your “rock bottom,” here are three ways to find your answer.

1. Decide If You Have Had Enough

I think the number one question I found myself returning to again and again was if I’d had enough. For many of us, we continue to stretch the limits of how much pain and suffering we can sustain. For some of us, losing our homes or jobs is enough to make us realize how great a problem drugs and alcohol have become. For others, it can take losing the support of friends and family. For many, “enough” comes in the form of overdosing or selling your body for drugs. Deciding you have had enough is a matter of deciding whether you want to live or die, and what lengths you are willing to go to save yourself and get sober.

2. Make a Pros and Cons List

Weighing the pros and cons may seem like a silly way to examine the options of wanting to get clean and sober or not, but I believe you need to do whatever it takes. Some people need to visually see a list of all the consequences of their drug use before they can fully understand the pros of getting sober. A pros and cons list may not be the thing that motivates you to choose to get sober, but many times we can’t see the damage we’re causing until we make a list like this. We may be in the habit of rationalizing away the negative consequences of our addictions, instead of seeing our addiction as a major problem in our lives. The pros of using drugs may seem to be numerous in our heads, but on paper, they are few in number to non-existent.

3. Evaluate What Have You Gained

Addicts regularly encounter people who are incredibly belittling toward those caught in the treacherous cycle of addiction. These people may list all the reasons why using drugs is bad, but when you are active in your addiction, you don’t care. Many addicts are okay with being homeless or broke, since there are many alternative ways to get money, food or anything else we need–as long as we can get our drug of choice. One question I never asked myself as an addict was what I gained from my addiction? Did using drugs gain me friends? Did I gain wisdom and knowledge? Who was benefiting from my drug use? Who was I helping?

Even in our darkest days, we addicts know there are things we want in life aside from drugs or alcohol. Bring those things to light and see if you have accomplished any of them. I wanted to be a writer, but had I published any work? Your dreams and goals are still important, but you may have lost sight of those because you’ve been so focused on how to stay drunk or high.

Finding your own definition of “rock bottom” is a difficult task. Though it’s nearly impossible to define “rock bottom” before you get there, you sort of just know when you hit it. In a way, it almost brings you a feeling of relief to know that you’ve finally had enough. When I hit rock bottom, I was not only relieved but I was beyond grateful that I had found the willingness to quit before it was too late. People say you won’t quit until you’ve had enough and, as insincere as it sounds, it’s true. Search for answers inside yourself and you will find a solution, if you are willing to look at the big picture.


Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

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.


What Alcohol Really Does to Your Body


alcoholismAbsorption of alcohol into the body begins in the stomach lining, where it is assimilated into the body of the drinker. However, on its way there, it passes through the mouth, down the throat and the esophagus.

Alcohol Poses a Danger to Your Body

Because of alcohol’s caustic effect on the lining of the stomach and throat, several things can occur during this short passage into the body. The stomach produces acid to help digest food and beverages. If there is no food in the stomach, alcohol may cause the acid to back up into the throat and esophagus, causing acid reflux. This condition can erode the esophagus over time, a not uncommon condition seen among those who drink–even those who drink moderately. This can then cause bleeding of the esophagus. Another factor that can cause damage to the esophagus occurs when a drinker vomits from consumption of alcohol. These alcohol-related issues with the throat and stomach can pose a serious health threat.

Again, a drinker’s stomach is in danger. Another negative effect of alcohol consumption and a risk for the drinker is to get a hole in the lining of the stomach. This is known as an ulcer, and many drinkers develop ulcers from the excess stomach acid combined with excess alcohol, which can become a toxic mix. Drinkers, even those with moderate habits, develop bleeding ulcers. Over time, this creates an inability for drinkers to digest any foods properly. The condition is painful, as well, and may lead to hemorrhaging of the stomach, esophagus or throat; which can sometimes be fatal.

Your Brain and Alcohol

Without the complex mechanisms of the brain operating fully, no one can function. Alcohol use, even a single drink, can impair brain function. Some of this damage is reparable, but not completely. Any drinking damages the brain by altering the signals and messaging taking place there. These changes can alter mood, behavior and the physical responses of the human body. Over time and with heavy alcohol use, the damage can be devastating and permanent.

Your Heart and Alcohol

The heart is heavily impacted by alcohol use; even moderate drinkers have developed heart disease. While some medical practitioners may tout the benefits of drinking a glass of wine or two daily, the risk for some people is too great, and outweighs the benefits. Knowing if your heart is in danger from alcohol is not always possible, so it is often best to assume the benefits are easily outweighed by the dangers. High blood pressure is the most common health risk resulting from alcohol, and may occur with even a single episode of heavy drinking.

Your Pancreas and Alcohol

The pancreas may become toxic with alcohol assimilation. This means that it begins to create poison out of the alcohol in the system of the drinker. The condition created is called pancreatitis and can lead to numerous health risks that include diabetes, problems with blood sugar levels and ongoing digestive problems.

Cancers of the throat, liver, mouth and esophagus may take place in drinkers. Damage to the immune system that occurs with alcohol consumption may increase risks for cancers of these and other types.


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.

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