Alcohol Awareness Month: Depression, Alcoholism, and Recovery

As the opioid crisis continues to rule news headlines, it can be easy to forget that alcohol still poses a serious problem to those who are addicted to it. April is Alcohol Awareness Month, founded and sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Its purpose is to spread awareness and education to the public to shatter the stigma that so frequently surrounds alcoholism while increasing understanding and acceptance of alcoholism as an illness.

Alcoholism is particularly common among individuals who suffer from a co-occurring mental illness. While studies vary regarding the comorbidity between depression and alcoholism, there is certainly evidence that individuals who suffer from major depressive disorder are 2-4 times more likely to suffer from an alcohol use disorder than those who do not. In addition, Individuals who suffer from an alcohol use disorder are twice as likely to suffer from depression in their lifetime. Regardless of whether depression or alcoholism appears first, each condition commonly perpetuates the other.

My Story

For me, depression came first. From a young age, I struggled to gather up the energy and ambition I needed to get out of bed and go to school. I recall my mother having to nearly drag me out of bed even though I had no problems in class. I was a smart, approachable young girl. I could put a bright smile on my face and make friends easily. Regardless of the facts, I felt as though I simply didn’t fit in with others. I had no desire to socialize or do things the other kids did. I was happier alone in my bedroom.

This isolation led me to a place where I began to deeply hate myself. I was slightly overweight and was made fun of for having a big forehead. Insecurity took hold of me and I let it run my life. I learned at the innocent age of 12 that a little Jack Daniels from my parent’s musty liquor cabinet would take away my feelings of insecurity and desolation.

Over the next few years, I began to go to high school intoxicated and alcohol was playing an exhilarating and important part of my life as I sought confidence through a bottle of liquid courage. It was my best friend that later became my worst enemy.

Although alcohol gave me a solution to my depression in the beginning, it eventually made everything worse and substantially changed life as I knew it. By the time I went to college, I couldn’t get out of bed without experiencing alcohol withdrawal. Around this time I was also introduced to opioids – which provided me with the functionality to go to class high until I could get home and take my next drink.

It wasn’t until alcohol and drugs had stolen my desire to live from me that I realized that I had been self-medicating all those years. When I went to a dual diagnosis treatment center I was diagnosed with depression and put on the right medication while receiving therapy to help me get to the root of my problems.

Depression and Alcoholism

The problem with self-medicating through alcohol abuse is that it usually leads to both tolerance and physical dependence towards alcohol. As alcohol is taken in excess over a period of time, the brain undergoes changes which involve judgment and decision making. The pattern of alcohol abuse soon becomes second nature, resulting in alcoholism.

Since alcohol releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine, it causes feelings of euphoria. This can make a person who suffers from depression feel better as it improves their mood and feelings of pleasure. On the other hand, in the case of a person who does not suffer from depression, when the alcohol is removed the brain will experience a lack of dopamine and serotonin. The lack of these chemicals can lead to depression. Left untreated, the vicious cycle of depression and alcoholism can be fatal.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Since the prevalence of depression and alcoholism co-occurring is extremely common and dire, it is imperative that both disorders be treated in order to increase the chances of success in sobriety. If only alcohol use disorder is treated, a person with an untreated mental illness is more likely to relapse than those who do not. Dual diagnosis treatment can be beneficial to individuals with co-occurring disorders as it focuses on treating both conditions simultaneously.

When I was in dual diagnosis treatment, I was armed with the relapse prevention tools I needed to both stay sober and treat my depression. I was surrounded by a group of other individuals who were also suffering from mental illness and alcoholism. They not only thoroughly understood what I was going through, but they were willing to listen to me, provide me with immense support, and hold me up when I was down. I learned how healing it can be to openly talk about my problems with other people who shared common experiences.

Treatment also encouraged me to incorporate healthy habits into my daily lifestyle that can also be used as coping mechanisms, such as yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature. These activities are all helpful in reducing stress and anxiety while promoting a sense of well-being.

Recovery

While the cycle of depression and alcoholism may seem a hopeless one, it is estimated that 20 million people are living in recovery from alcohol abuse. My own recovery proves this as I embarked on a journey of sobriety hand in hand with other alcoholics and addicts. I was given a life where my dreams were restored, my motivation came back with an enthusiastic outlook on life, and I found gratitude for the life I live today. Through treatment, hard work, and a compassionate support group, I believe that anyone has the ability to recover from depression and alcoholism.

Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from South Florida. She advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction. Her passion in life is to help others by sharing her experience, strength, and hope.

3 Keys to Solving Relationship Problems

From Psychology Today

Win-win problem-solving is a matter of mastering 3 basic skills.

Disagreements, arguments are part and parcel of close relationships with partners, family, friends. While what you disagree about in a relationship is always a moving target, where most people get stuck is in 3 key areas. Here’s how to navigate them to make effective problem-solving happen: 

1. Creating safety

If you feel safe in a relationship you can be honest, speak your mind, and express your thoughts and feelings and concerns without fear of the other person’s response. That doesn’t mean that the conversations at times don’t feel awkward and uncomfortable, but that from your side of it you’re not stopped by fear.

Safety is the bedrock of any close relationship. If it isn’t there what is there instead is a walking on eggshells, a shutting down, a giving in, a holding back that leads to depression or resentment or flares of anger or acting out. The lack of safety and the resulting caution can obviously come from within the relationship — that your partner has a wicked temper or is critical, that your brother is sensitive and easily feels hurt, that your friend is apt to blame you or heap on guilt. So, you don’t bring up problems with your partner for fear of the blast back, you bite your tongue with your brother because he’s not only going to feel wounded, but is likely to misunderstand your point, you water down your comment to your friend to avoid that well-known reaction.

Though your anxiety is going to tell you that safety comes only by being increasingly cautious around these folks, the path to creating a sense of safety actually comes from being bolder. You want to have a conversation about conversations, about what trigger your fears – I feel you don’t really listen and dismiss what I’m saying; you get this angry edge in your voice that makes me shut down. You do your best to be clear, and if the other person pushes back, isn’t willing to make an effort, decide what you need to do next to not feel like a victim. Don’t just take what you get. 

Read more here…

Q&A: How Digital Mental Health Tools Made a Difference for Hazard Independent Schools

From Ed Tech Magazine

Vivian Carter, the innovation coordinator at Hazard Independent Schools in Kentucky, explains how and why her rural district adopted a digital health tool for troubled students.

Digital health technology isn’t just for grown-ups. New tools can help connect children with the private and personalized resources they need to better understand their mental health and keep it in check.

For one school district, adopting an online mental and behavioral health system has been an effective tool to better help students in a rural community overcome barriers to learning, says Vivian Carter, innovation coordinator at Hazard Independent Schools in Eastern Kentucky.

In 2014, the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative (KVEC), which includes Hazard Independent Schools, received a Project Prevent grant from the Education Department that included funding to deploy and use the Ripple Effects online tool. Ripple Effects is a “Social Emotional Learning technology-based software system” that teachers can use to deliver behavior interventions and students can use to access personalized guidance and emotional resources. The technology is now being used in 70 of the 140 KVEC schools as a way to fill the gaps in mental health care for students and already has seen success in dropping the number of mental health and behavioral referrals.

Read more here…

One Sheridan school increased teacher retention and decreased students ‘falling through the cracks’ by adding mental health professionals

From Chalkbeat

At one school in the tiny district of Sheridan south of Denver, two social workers roam the hallways with handheld radios, responding to crisis after crisis.

It might be a student crying in class for unknown reasons, a disruptive student, or a fight. Less urgent requests, such as a check-in for a student who just seems to be having a rough day, usually come through email.

“It’s very much boots on the ground,” said Maggie Okoniewski, one of the social workers at Fort Logan Northgate.

The school has just under 600 students in grades third through eighth. The demographics are typical of the Sheridan school district. About one in four are identified as homeless — the highest rate for any school district in the state — and about 15 percent qualify as having special needs.

In between those calls, Okoniewski and her fellow social worker Danielle Watry check in on students they’ve identified as a priority. Every week the list includes about 60 students. In the last year, the list includes students from the heavily Hispanic population who have especially struggled with deportations or fears of separations, they said.

“And if I’m in the classroom, it’s almost certain that another student will flag us down,” Watry said.

Read more…

The Thrive Guide to Healing From Burnout

From Thrive

Four people who burned out share their strategies for moving forward and thriving again.

As talk of burnout — its signs and symptoms, its prevalence within different professionsgenerations, and walks of life — reaches a critical mass, a widening hole in media coverage is becoming impossible to ignore. We are gravely lacking in good examples of what thriving after burnout actually looks like.

Most people who burn out can’t just quit and move to a tropical island — they have to continue working and living their lives. But how? Even Buzzfeed‘s Anne Helen Petersen, the author of a recent viral essay on millennial burnout, concluded that after her own bout of burnout, “I don’t have a plan of action, other than to be more honest with myself about what I am and am not doing and why, and to try to disentangle myself from the idea that everything good is bad and everything bad is good,” she writes.

Two-thirds of the full-time American workforce suffers from burnout, the three main symptoms of which are exhaustion (mental and physical fatigue), a sense of being ineffective no matter how hard you’re working, and cynicism, according to experts. We at Thrive talk a lot about the importance of going upstream and making the changes (both individual and systemic) that will help prevent burnout in the first place. 

Read more here…

Shocking Rate Of Untreated PTSD Among British Teens

From IFLS

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be seen as an occupational hazard from serving in combat, but almost 8 percent of people in the UK have it by the time they turn 18. Yet most are not getting treatment, despite the shockingly high risk of suicide.

Trauma in young people, and the long-term effects on their mental health is a relatively under-researched area. Studies of the frequency of childhood PTSD in the US and Europe used diagnostic criteria now considered out of date. To address this, Professor Andrea Danese of King’s College London led interviews with more than 2,000 adolescents born in England and Wales when they were 18.

In The Lancet Psychiatry, Danese reports that 31 percent of those in his sample had experienced a traumatic event in their childhood, such as witnessing deaths or experiencing severe injury or sexual violation. Many of those involved suffered from “network trauma”, where they were affected by something they didn’t personally witness that happened to someone they were close to.

Read more here…

Feeling Stuck? 4 Ways to Overcome Roadblocks in Your Life

From Psychology Today

We’ve all been there—feeling stuck in a dead-end job, unfulfilling relationship, or stale routine. Or we begin a new project and lose momentum. Feeling exhausted and defeated, we lack the energy to move forward.

At times like these, even the best intentions and willpower are not enough. But research has revealed four effective ways to break through roadblocks.

1. Expand your perspective. Most people in Western cultures develop a linear mindset, expecting current conditions to continue (Alter & Kwan, 2009). This mindset reinforces the stories we believe about ourselves. If we grew up in poverty or a dysfunctional family, we expect more of the same. With the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, we attract more of what we know. If we had a narcissistic parent, we attract narcissistic relationships. If we grew up in poverty, we continue to see ourselves as poor and make poor choices—until we change our mindset.

To break free, we need to refocus our attention. This means taking a wider perspective rather than hiding from the truth or ignoring our problems.

Remarkably, a study at New York University found that people developed a more dynamic mindset after seeing the familiar yin/yang symbol on a researcher’s T-shirt. Instead of expecting current conditions to continue, they began seeing the world differently, becoming aware of new possibilities (Alter & Kwan, 2009).

As this study reveals, the natural wisdom of the Tao Te Ching expands our perspective, affirming nature’s dynamic cycles of yin and yang, sunlight and shadow, day and night, and the changing seasons. We then develop what psychologist Carol Dweck (2009) calls a “growth mindset.” You can expand your own mindset by exploring the wisdom of the East, studying the Tao Te Ching or spending time in nature, observing its cycles of growth and change.

2. Move. Moving our bodies affects our minds and emotions. Research has shown that exercise helps relieve depression (Babyak et al, 2000). Increasing the circulation to our brains, it also enables us to think more creatively (Steinberg et al, 1997). You can build your energy to move forward in your life by adding move movement to your days. There are many ways to do this: going for a brisk walk, using the stairs instead of an elevator, taking an exercise class, working out at the gym, dancing, swimming, or riding your bike. Find a way to move that you enjoy and feel your energies rise.

Read more here…

 

Proven Ways to Optimize Your Sleep

From Thrive Global

A sleep expert’s absolute best strategies for falling and staying asleep.

What should I do if I can’t sleep? 

Relaxation techniques are easy, effective practices that may help facilitate sleep. On a restless night, deep breathing exercises can help soothe the mind and body to sleep. Inhale completely and slowly, hold at the top for a few seconds, and release audibly and with control. The longer the breath, the better. Trouble falling asleep is sometimes caused by a mind full of the day’s worries. If we are too busy and don’t have time to resolve our concerns during the day, they may surface when it’s time to rest. In this case, keeping a worry list may be an effective relaxation technique. This list should be kept current, and time should be allotted during the day, not at night to review it. During this time, planning and problem solving can calmly take place.

How much sleep do we really need?

The recommendation for adults is typically seven to eight hours a night, though sleep needs vary individually. It is important to remember that children have longer sleep needs that actually increase during adolescence. As we age, we become less efficient at sleeping, and sleep periods often become more fragmented.

How can I determine if I am getting enough sleep?

Most adults in the U.S. carry a sleep debt, which means that their sleep patterns are insufficient to the needs of their body. Sleep debt is clinically irrelevant at small levels. However, an accumulation of sleep debt over weeks can affect mental and physical performance, including hormonal regulation and immune function. Observe your own sleeping pattern and note whether you wake up frequently during the night, are feeling well-rested throughout the day, and how many hours of sleep you’re getting.

Can a daytime nap compensate lacking sleep at night?

Daytime naps can be used to offset acute sleep loss and compensate for missed hours. Naps are also used to compensate for a scheduled short sleep. The best nap duration is around 20-30 minutes, as longer naps may involve periods of deep dream sleep. This is referred to as “sleep inertia,” the “tired” feeling after a long mid-day rest. Napping is a culturally acceptable behavior in many countries and there is no evidence that a short nap is problematic.

Read more here…

 

Most U.S. Teens See Anxiety and Depression as a Major Problem Among Their Peers

From Pew Social Trends

For boys and girls, day-to-day experiences and future aspirations vary in key ways

Anxiety and depression are on the rise among America’s youth and, whether they personally suffer from these conditions or not, seven-in-ten teens today see them as major problems among their peers. Concern about mental health cuts across gender, racial and socio-economic lines, with roughly equal shares of teens across demographic groups saying it is a significant issue in their community.

Fewer teens, though still substantial shares, voice concern over bullying, drug addiction and alcohol consumption. More than four-in-ten say these are major problems affecting people their age in the area where they live, according to a Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17.

When it comes to the pressures teens face, academics tops the list: 61% of teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades. By comparison, about three-in-ten say they feel a lot of pressure to look good (29%) and to fit in socially (28%), while roughly one-in-five feel similarly pressured to be involved in extracurricular activities and to be good at sports (21% each). And while about half of teens see drug addiction and alcohol consumption as major problems among people their age, fewer than one-in-ten say they personally feel a lot of pressure to use drugs (4%) or to drink alcohol (6%).

The pressure teens feel to do well in school is tied at least in part to their post-graduation goals. About six-in-ten teens (59%) say they plan to attend a four-year college after they finish high school, and these teens are more likely than those who have other plans to say they face a lot of pressure to get good grades.

Read more here…