Understanding Substance Use Disorders – The Basics

This video provides a brief overview of diagnosing and treating substance use disorders. It was originally created for a training I conducted for mental health trainees and interns.

Rethink the Beach: Tips for Sober Vacationers

Rethink the Beach: Tips for Sober Vacationers

Guest post by Jennifer Scott

Tips for sober vacationers
image courtesy of Unplash

When you’re newly sober, it feels like you’ll never be able to head to the beach again. In a culture where alcohol is advertised as an intrinsic part of getting away, from enjoying a cold one on the beach to sipping a martini in a resort pool, it’s hard to mentally separate drinking from the beach experience.

Despite the media’s depictions, it is completely possible to plan a sober beach vacation that’s just as fun as the trips you took before recovery. In fact, you’ll probably find that when you’re traveling clean, you’re more present and able to make the most of each getaway. Not sure where to start? These tips presented by counselorssoapbox for planning the beach vacation of your dreams, minus the drugs and alcohol.

Skip the Party Destinations

Heading to an uncommon beach destination is a great way to forgo temptation and crowds. Instead of heading to the usual spots, pick a more secluded neighbor. For example, Alabama beaches are less busy than nearby Florida but just as beautiful. However, it’s possible to steer clear of the party scene on even the most popular beaches like those in San Diego, Tulum, Mexico, or Turks and Caicos. Instead of taking the usual route of all-inclusive resorts and nightclubs, you can hit the beach during the day, see live performances at night, and stay in a vacation rental to escape from the action

Plan Around Activities

If you’re accustomed to beach vacations that are all about lounging on the beach, drink in hand, it might be hard to visualize the beach without the booze. Rather than trying to eliminate alcohol from your old routine, create new beach traditions that keep drugs and alcohol out of the picture entirely. Learn how to scuba dive, take a stand-up paddleboarding lesson, or head out on a dolphin-watching ship and you’ll be too entertained to think about using.

Share Your Sobriety

Tell your traveling companions about your sobriety. Friends who have your back can be the difference between resisting temptation and slipping up, so you should rethink any vacation with a known bad influence. When your friends know about your recovery journey, they can be supportive in the weak moments and help select activities that aren’t centered on drugs or alcohol. While you may not want to explain your sobriety to friendly strangers, it’s wise to have a plan for how you’ll decline drinks. Keep a white lie handy or practice saying “No, thanks,” as a complete sentence.

Chronicle Everything

Maybe you’re at a point in your recovery where you don’t feel tempted when friends or family drink around you, but you don’t feel completely comfortable either. It’s normal to feel left out when your companions drink and you don’t, but there are other ways to stay involved. When everyone else has a drink in hand and you don’t, take the opportunity to become the vacation photographer. Capture landmarks, choreograph silly poses and snap candid shots. Everyone will love having pictures of the trip, and you’ll feel included without having a drop.

Anticipate Your Triggers

You’re bound to face different encounters that can be triggering. With this in mind, have a plan of attack. Before sobriety, you might have gotten so upset that you felt the need to go for a few drinks. Now, you can set your mind up for potential mishaps and have a way to manage them. For example, if you’re heading to a beach in Mexico, have an emergency plan in the event that you lose your wallet or purse. Stash extra cash and copies of your passport in a hotel safe, but also familiarize yourself with how to get money in a pinch. Friends and family can quickly send you money through a remittance service like Remitly, which offers fast and secure money transfers. Plus, you can pick up your cash at one of 40,000 locations in the country.

Take Care of Yourself

Forgoing sleep and food will only weaken your resolve in the face of temptation, so resist the urge to jam-pack your vacation itinerary. Give yourself plenty of time to rest each night and stick to healthy choices for most meals. Try to retain your normal routine as much as possible; if your sobriety routine includes morning jogs and 12-step meetings, so should your vacation schedule.

Vacationing sober is all about overhauling your travel habits. Yes, that may mean that days of lounging aimlessly on the beach are a thing of the past. But when you can have a vacation that’s filled with fun activities in beautiful destinations, that’s both memorable and will be remembered, what could be better than that?

4 Steps to Take After Relapse

4 Steps to Take After Relapse

4 Steps to Take After Relapse.
Photo Credit: Pexels

4 Steps to Take After Relapse.

By: Jennifer Scott

No one wants to relapse. After all the hard work it took to get sober, the last thing you want is to go back to your old ways. However, relapsing is not all that uncommon. Actually, more recovering addicts relapse than not. And the odds are that you will relapse at some point on your recovery journey.

A significant reason for this is brain chemistry. Using addictive substances releases dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical, in the brain. This chemical can cause the brain to prioritize the drug over other necessities, which commonly leads to relapse.

Another reason involves stress and coping mechanisms. Many people use addictive substances to cope with external pressure. If new, healthier coping strategies aren’t developed, many recovering addicts can find themselves back using their old coping mechanism – drugs and alcohol.

If you’re stressed and feel anxiety at work, not only can it make you less productive, but it’s also linked to relapse. Without the correct coping mechanisms to deal with this stress, it is easy to fall back into drug abuse. Ways to cope could include starting a satisfying exercise routine, finding a hobby that helps occupy your mind in a healthy way, or boosting your mood at home by removing clutter and letting in more natural light.

Luckily, no matter what the underlying cause of relapse is, it is not a sign of failure. For many people, relapsing is merely a part of the recovery journey. There are some actions you should take after relapse, though, to get you back on the right track.

Contact a Professional

It’s important that you contact a professional. This step is essential for two reasons.

First, a professional can help you get back on the right track, whether that means changing your treatment program or help in developing healthy coping strategies. It is imperative that your doctors know about your relapse so they can adjust your treatment accordingly.

Secondly, relapse is dangerous. When you regularly use drugs or alcohol, your body develops a resistance to it. This development then causes you to use more and more of the substance to get the same effect.

When you stop using that drug for a while, your body’s resistance drops. If you suddenly begin using the substance in the same amounts as before, dangerous things can happen because you no longer have the same amount of tolerance.

Discuss It with Close Family and Friends

While it may not be easy, you’ll need to tell your family and close friends about the relapse. They need to know where you are on your recovery journey so that they can help you get back on your feet. Your family and friends can be critical individuals to lean on in this difficult time.

It can be painful and disappointing for your family members to hear about your relapse. But, it is vital that they know so that they can help you.

If you’re worried about their reaction, consider bringing them to therapy with you so they can understand just how common relapse is.

Forgive Yourself and Continue Forward

Remember, relapse is common.

Just because you relapsed doesn’t mean your recovery is doomed. You must forgive yourself so you can continue forward. By completing the steps outlined here, you can get yourself back on the right path to recovery. Complete recovery is possible, especially if you keep making the effort.

Adjust Your Strategy

Relapsing can be a sign that you need to adjust your treatment strategy.

This is not always the case; help from your doctors and your family members can help you decide if adjusting your strategy is a step you need to take.

If you do need to adjust your strategy, remember that there are many treatment options out there. There are usually many treatment options available in any given area. It might even be useful to combine different options to find just the right combination that works for you.

Relapse can be heartbreaking for everyone involved. But it is not the end of the world. The important thing is to take the necessary steps after a relapse to reorient yourself onto the path to recovery.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Jennifer Scott is a lifelong sufferer of anxiety and depression.  A single mom, she writes about the ups and downs of her mental illness on SpiritFinder.org. The blog serves as both a source of information for people with mental illness and a forum where those living with anxiety and depression can come together to discuss their experiences.

Does drinking alcohol to cope help?

Bottles of alcohol.

Alcoholic Beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Have you ever told yourself, “I need a drink?”

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression a million times, more or less. When someone has had a rough day and is feeling anxious or depressed, their first reaction is often to reach for a drink of alcohol to cope. Humans have been saying this and doing it ever since alcohol was first packaged so it could be saved for later use.

People who use alcohol to cope rarely ask themselves if the alcohol is really helping. Most people simply assume it is helpful. If you’ve developed a problem with alcohol or if you’re one of those who work in the counseling field, you probably have a strong opinion about the dangers of using alcohol to cope with stressful situations. But until recently, there’s been very little scientific research into when alcohol is helpful and for what problems.

Now we have evidence about drinking to relieve stress.

A recent study by Andrea M Wycoff at the University of Missouri-Columbia, US, looked at the use of alcohol for coping and concluded that not only is it not helpful, but it can also make your symptoms worse.

The study compared two populations, the group drawn from the general population and another group who had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). People with borderline personality disorder are known to be more likely to develop drinking problems. Some of the people with BPD had also been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder.

One problem with other research of this nature has been the strong tendency to exclude from the research anyone with a substance use disorder diagnosis. Some studies also exclude anyone with a previous mental health diagnosis. Eliminating people who have developed an alcohol use problem from a study on alcohol use problems results in a study that doesn’t inform us much about the connection between using alcohol and the subsequent development of problems.

How were the effects of alcohol on stress measured?

During this study, participants were given an electronic journal. They received periodic prompts to write down in their journal what they were doing, any alcohol consumption, and what they were feeling. They were specifically prompted to report on negative, sometimes called unhelpful feelings.

Whenever someone reported using alcohol, they were asked if they had done this to reduce negative feelings such as anxiety and depression or to increase positive feelings such as feeling calm or relaxed.

Did the alcohol help reduce anxiety and depression?

People who reported drinking to reduce their anxiety, depression, or both did report that they were doing it to reduce those negative emotions. In addition, after drinking, those people were more likely to report that they felt the drink had relieved their anxiety or depression. Initially, the researchers took this as confirmation that drinking alcohol did relieve the discomfort of anxiety and depression.

The facts didn’t confirm the feelings.

Feelings are difficult to measure. There aren’t medical instruments that can directly measure how anxious or how depressed someone is. What researchers resort to are paper and pencil questionnaires. These assessment instruments ask a series of questions about anxiety or depression. Using the same scale at different points in time helps measure increases or decreases in someone’s anxiety or depression.

While many people expected the drink to reduce their feelings of anxiety and or depression, that’s not what happened. Scores on an anxiety inventory did not decline. Instead, scores on depression inventories actually went up, meaning that people who drink to cope with depression end up more depressed, not less.

Drinking to relieve anxiety and depression affects alcoholics more than others.

Even more striking is that many people with an alcohol use disorder, especially those who would call themselves an alcoholic, found that their scores for depression rose even higher than the scores for those without an alcohol use disorder.

Some of the likely conclusions from this research are that repeatedly drinking to control anxiety and depression can result in an alcohol use disorder and that those people with that disorder will find drinking alcohol makes the problem worse, not better. The ability of alcohol to help you cope with anxiety, depression, and stress declines the more you use alcohol and eventually reaches a point where another drink will make your anxiety or depression worse.

An even more important conclusion is that using alcohol to cope with anxiety or depression increases the risk of becoming an alcoholic.

We need to know more about drinking when anxious or depressed.

There are some limitations of this study. It wasn’t a huge sample. It might be possible to find people who were an exception to these results. The sample also had a large percentage of women. Much of the literature about alcoholism and how it develops tells us that women are more likely to develop alcoholism and develop it more rapidly than men if they drink heavily.

The authors note that previous studies limited to men tell us that men are more likely to drink to cope with negative emotions and more likely to develop alcohol problems than women. Presumably, a study of men only would have resulted in an even stronger connection between using alcohol to cope with negative emotions and a subsequent increase in anxiety, depression, and an alcohol use disorder.

What about alcohol and the mentally ill?

The sample had a large number of participants who had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which should underscore an extra warning for those people with BPD to avoid the use of alcohol to regulate their emotions. It’s extremely likely that people with other specific mental health diagnoses would see a similar or an even larger effect.

I’ll be on the lookout for research that studies the effects of using alcohol to cope on subjects who have other diagnoses. From my experiences working in the drug and alcohol counseling field, I would expect to see very similar results among clients diagnosed with mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, and those suffering from the aftereffects of early childhood trauma. All of this tells me that the more someone believes they need to have a drink to cope with negative emotions, the more likely it is that drinking will lead to more severe and longer-lasting problems.

The takeaway from all this?

Drinking alcohol to cope with negative emotions and stress may feel like it’s working in the moment, but it is likely to make your problems worse.

For more on this topic, please see:

Wycoff, A. M., Carpenter, R. W., Hepp, J., Piasecki, T. M., & Trull, T. J. (2021). Real-time reports of drinking to cope: Associations with subjective relief from alcohol and changes in negative affect. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 130(6), 641–650. https://doi.org/10.1037/abn0000684

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Is nicotine a stimulant or a depressant? Video

Is nicotine a stimulant or a depressant? Video

A counselorssoapbox.com video by David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC.

Some people describe smoking as stimulating, others report that a cigarette calms them down. Is the nicotine in tobacco a stimulant or a depressant? This video examines why people sometimes experience tobacco as a stimulant and at other times as a depressant.

Will four beers get you drunk? – Video

A counselorssoapbox.com video by David Joel Miller, LMFT, LPCC.

Will for beers get you drunk? Will drinking light beer prevent intoxication? Does one kind of alcohol get you more intoxicated than another? This video discusses the connection between alcohol types and factors and intoxication.

Most read blog posts of 2019.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Blog post.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Which’s counselorssoapbox.com blog posts were read the most in 2019?

As the year 2019 comes to an end, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the most-read blog posts here on counselorssoapbox.com over the last year. As you can see, these posts cover a wide variety of topics.

Over the next year, counselorssoapbox will continue to bring you information about mental health, substance abuse, having a happy life, and generally coping with the ups and downs of modern life. If you have any questions, please send them on to me. I am hoping to see you all again in 2020.

In addition to the counselorssoapbox.com blog, we plan to publish additional books both in paperback and e-book formats, as well as expand the videos available on the counselorssoapbox YouTube channel.

Reasons Counselors and Therapists Lose Licenses               

6 ways to recover from Complex Trauma or Complex PTSD         

Is nicotine a stimulant or a depressant?

How much should you tell a therapist?

Levels or types of Borderline Personality Disorder

What if you go to the hospital drunk or high?

Do therapists have to report a crime?

What do therapists tell the police?

Do therapists tell parents what kids say?

Do counselors report rape?

Can you force a teenager to go for therapy?      

What do drug dreams mean?

Are you a Parentified Child?

Do people really forget what happened when drinking? – Blackouts 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Preventing Drug Use Disorders – Video.

Part of the drug treatment field involves efforts to prevent drug use disorders or to reduce their impact. Counselors need to be knowledgeable about drug education, and the various types of prevention initiatives. Drug prevention includes primary prevention, secondary prevention, and tertiary prevention. There are three basic prevention models around which programs are built, the sociocultural model, the disruption of consumption model, and the prescriptive model. It’s important that drug prevention programs not end up being advertising for drugs. Prevention may include drug resistance training and life skills training. Other prevention initiatives include social host ordinances, worksite prevention programs (EAP) establishing college drinking norms, and harm reduction.

Drug Counseling Video #11 Recovery.

Drug Counseling Video #11 Recovery.

What is recovery from addiction and alcoholism? After drug treatment comes recovery. Recovery involves many dimensions. This video explores how we measure recovery, the role of feelings and recovery, and relapse triggers. Unhelpful thoughts can be detrimental to recovery and it’s important to recognize when you’re having unhelpful thoughts. Recovery also involves learning how to handle urges and what to do if the recovering person should have a relapse.

Drug Counseling Video #10 Individual Counseling Skills.

Drug Counseling Video #10 Individual Counseling Skills.

Two basic drug counseling skills involve the use of motivational enhancement and the knowledge of the stages of change a client may be moving through. Stages of change include pre-contemplative, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and possible relapse. Skills needed for motivational interviewing include the ability to express empathy, develop discrepancies, roll with resistance, and support self-efficacy.