Why Are Opiates So Addictive?

stormy sea with hand reaching for help

Opiates are notorious for their addictive qualities and the impact they have on people who become dependent on them. Opium and its derivatives have been a part of human history for more than 3000 years. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it wasn’t until 1806 that the active ingredient in opium was first isolated. It was named morphine, after the ancient Greek god of sleep and dreams. (1) That marked the beginning of humanity’s complex pharmacological relationship with opioid compounds.

The agony of withdrawal soon became apparent to anyone who used morphine for more than a few days and tried to quit abruptly. However, we wouldn’t begin to understand the disease model of addiction until more than 100 years later when Dr. William Silkworth proposed that addiction was a psychological illness in the 1930s. It wasn’t until 1954 that the broader medical community accepted the idea. One of the early pioneers of addiction medicine, Ruth Fox, would later go on to form the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). (2)

Why Opiate Withdrawal is so Severe

All opiates work, in part, by activating receptors in the brain and causing the brain’s “reward system” to flood with dopamine. One of the functions a healthy brain uses dopamine releases for is to reinforce positive behaviors. For example, regular strenuous exercise produces dopamine. The brain is hardwired to seek that chemical that delivers a sense of well-being and calm. When abusing drugs becomes the primary source of dopamine surges, it can easily disrupt the usual set of priorities we have. The drug-seeking and using behavior is repeatedly reinforced and a pattern quickly develops.

Opiate addiction is complex. It very directly involves the brain’s reward system in a way unlike any other category of chemical. The double-edged sword of pleasure and pain it wields makes it a cruel master. It causes people to quickly develop deep-seated behavior patterns that can be incredibly challenging to change. Ironically, semi-synthetic opiates like heroin were initially developed in an attempt to make a less addictive opioid which could still be useful for pain relief. Modern research into opiate addiction has moved the field of addiction treatment beyond simply trying to treat symptoms into a deeper understanding of addiction and a focus on long-term outcomes.

Good News About a Solution

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) more than 2 million Americans are currently grappling with an opiate use disorder.(3) The positive news is that more research has been done into opioid addiction in the past 30 years or so than ever before and it is yielding promising results. The more we understand the mechanism of opiate addiction, the more effective interventions we can devise. As the opioid epidemic has exploded in the U.S. the demand for effective long-term solutions has become more urgent than ever before. Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT has gained mainstream acceptance for delivering demonstrably better outcomes. The CDC is currently conducting a long-term study of over 1,000 patients to research outcomes for MAT patients. (4)

The ultimate goal of MAT along with other long-term programs is lifetime abstinence. Research has shown that longer engagement with opioid use disorder patients improves outcomes. Aftercare planning and outpatient treatment with or without MAT mitigates relapse events more effectively than the old treatment model where a patient was discharged after a couple of weeks and told to simply attend meetings on their own. MAT is only one of several solutions however and it’s not generally meant to continue for a lifetime. The powerful and complex addictive nature of opiates means that patients must be committed to change in order to maintain their recovery. There is no single cure for addiction in the form of a pill, no easy answer. The good news is that the treatment field is constantly evolving. Some very real and very promising developments in the treatment of opioid addiction have emerged in recent years. As science learns more about the inner workings of the brain and how genes play a role in addiction, we can expect to see more and more effective treatment.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC46725/
(2) https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/evolution-addiction-medicine-medical-specialty/2011-12
(3) https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment
(4) https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/Medication-Assisted-Treatment-Opioid-Use-Disorder-Study.html

What Is the Addiction Severity Index?

patient with doctor going over the addiction severity index

The Addiction Severity Index (ASI) is an assessment used by clinicians or researchers to evaluate a person’s need for substance abuse treatment. ASI is an instrument that guides treatment planning, and a semi-structured interview process that also assesses the history, intensity, and consequences of substance abuse.

ASI collects information about a person’s substance abuse habits and how they are associated with physical, mental, and psychosocial factors. These factors include health status, employment, and financial status, legal status, family history, and relationships, as well as psychological functioning. The higher the score a person receives on the ASI, the stronger their need is for treatment.

If you are being evaluated for substance abuse treatment, an addiction specialist may use the ASI as a means to determine the extent of your problem. The ASI can be a very beneficial tool, and it is essential to be as honest and forthcoming as possible about your substance abuse and other key factors in your life. An ASI, generally speaking, can be conducted in one hour. A trained interviewer will gather information both about your recent history (past 30 days) as well as lifetime trends and problems.

The Addiction Severity Index

The ASI provides a general overview of issues related to substance abuse, rather than concentrating on any specific area. An individual’s input is crucial because it allows healthcare providers to devise the safest and most effective treatment plan. Any information recorded in the ASI is confidential.

In each of the aforementioned areas, you will be asked to answer questions based on a 1-5 scale, and how bothered you are by problems in each area. You will also be asked how important you believe treatment is for you in those areas.

The scale looks like this:

1 – Not at all
2 – Slightly
3 – Moderately
4 – Considerably
5 – Extremely

You have the right to refuse to answer any question, especially if you consider the topic to be too personal, uncomfortable, painful, or traumatic. Keep in mind, however, that there are benefits to answering as many questions as possible and also truthfully because this information will be used to design a comprehensive treatment plan that is appropriate for your individual needs.

Why Does the ASI Matter?

therapy session with patient about the addiction severity index

An evaluative tool such as the ASI is important because substance abuse is a complex condition that is affected by many factors and also has repercussions that impact many areas of a person’s life. The more information that a person involved in your treatment has about your individual circumstances, the better informed they will be when they design a plan for you.

These programs operate much differently than say, 12-step support groups. They have the potential to address every aspect of a person’s health and emotional well-being in addition to substance abuse. For example, if you also struggle with maintaining employment or have legal issues, a devised recovery plan can be more focused on how to overcome these difficulties.

Substance abuse often causes damage to relationships, self-esteem, and a wide variety of life aspects that can be addressed if a treatment planner has information that helps to see the importance of these issues in your life. In other words, the ASI offers an interviewer a complete picture of what an individual’s life is like and how substance abuse fits into that life and affects it.

The ASI can also be essential for addressing co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression. These conditions must be addressed simultaneously with substance abuse because if they are left untreated, a relapse is far more likely to occur. The whole point of using the Addiction Severity Index and using comprehensive addiction treatment is to heal and repair as many parts of a person’s life as possible, and not just the addiction.

Getting Treatment for Substance Abuse

Harmony Treatment and Wellness offers integrated, individualized programs that are outcome-driven and designed to examine and address addiction as well as mental and physical health. We employ highly-trained professionals who seek to give clients every opportunity they can to recovery and achieve long-lasting sobriety and well-being.

Our programs consist of a wealth of therapies and services clinically-proven to be beneficial for the process of recovery. These services include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Individual and family counseling
  • Group support
  • Health and wellness education

  • Substance abuse education
  • Activities like art and music therapy
  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Aftercare planning

Our caring staff also provides clients with the help they need to overcome other issues in their lives, such as those related to the legal system, finances, employment, and family.

If you are struggling to overcome a substance abuse problem, we urge you to contact us today! We are dedicated to helping our clients reclaim their lives from the grips of addiction and go on to live the happy, healthy lives they deserve!

⟹ READ THIS NEXT: Mental Health & Addiction

6 Tips for Navigating 4th of July Parties While Sober

4th of July Sober Party Tips


The 4th of July is synonymous with drinking and partying. For people in sobriety, it can be difficult to navigate the holiday. However, if you feel strongly that you want to have the 4th of July experience while staying true to your recovery, these sober party tips can help. 


1. Make Sure You’re Ready

Ask yourself, am I able to go to a place where alcohol will be served and not feel triggered? How often do I feel cravings? Do I have a support network I can call upon if I feel triggered? If you can’t say with confidence that your sobriety would be safe in a situation where people are drinking, don’t risk it. 


2. Host a Party of Your Own 

If you are worried about attending a party where you may be triggered, why not host your own sober celebration? Plenty of people will be happy to spend the 4th of July sober. Get the barbecue going, play some games, and spend the day outside enjoying the great weather. Plus one of the perks of hosting is you stay busy. 


3. Have a Friend to Lean On

Maybe you could bring a sober friend with you for support, or arrange with your sponsor ahead of time that you may need to call them on the day. Or maybe you could ask someone to check in on you via text during the party. Come up with a strategy that feels right to you. Putting some plans into place for coping with triggers will go a long way in protecting your sobriety. 


4. Keep a List of Coping Strategies on Your Phone

Speaking of coping with triggers, keep a list of portable coping skills on your phone. It could be going for a walk around the block, doing some deep breathing in the bathroom, or as Amanda Gist suggests “applying lavender essential oil to your neck and wrists to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.” Keeping a list will help you remember these strategies in the event you feel triggered. 


5. Come Prepared with Non-Alcoholic Options

Bringing your own drinks gives you more control over the situation. If you’re offered a drink you can say, “thanks but I brought my own.” It also avoids that awkward feeling of wanting something to hold whilst mingling. 


6. Be Your Own Exit Strategy

Carpooling is great for the environment but skip it today. Drive yourself to the party. That way if things start to feel unsafe for you, you can leave immediately. It might even be good to have a place in mind, where you can go and feel safe. 

And if you find yourself struggling, please do not hesitate to reach out for help. Contact us anytime, we are here to help.

Understanding Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder

To feel “low” from time to time is to be human, but what happens when it takes over your life? Major Depressive Disorder, or clinical depression, is a mood disorder that affects how you think, feel, and behave. It can manifest in physical symptoms like extreme fatigue and can affect normal day-to-day functioning. In some cases it can be so severe that sufferers feel that there is no reason to live and can become suicidal. 

Contrary to popular belief it is not something you can just “snap out of.” Major Depressive Disorder is a clinical issue that typically requires medical attention and intervention. Depression can affect people at any age or stage of life, including children and teens. 


Symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder

Major Depressive Disorder symptoms can vary from person to person. Not everyone with clinical depression will experience all of these symptoms. However, in general symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder can include: 

  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or despair
  • Lack of motivation
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of interest or joy in activities previously enjoyed such as hobbies
  • Tiredness, extreme fatigue or lack of energy to even accomplish small tasks
  • Weight fluctuation, either reduced appetite resulting in weight loss, or increased food cravings resulting in weight gain
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling irritable, having angry outbursts, or feeling frustrated by even small things
  • Sleep changes, either in the form of insomnia or oversleeping
  • Trouble with concentration, feeling foggy, difficulty with decision making, and forgetfulness
  • Slowed speech, thought, and movement
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Frequent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide


Depression and Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is common among people experiencing Major Depressive Disorder. Often people use substances like drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and attempt to ease the pain they are feeling. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol do not solve the problem and come with issues of their own. For example, alcohol can actually trigger depressive symptoms. Thus, substance abuse and depression can actually fuel each other and make things far worse. 

For this reason, Major Depressive Disorder and Substance Use Disorder are often seen together, called Co-occurring Disorders. 



Currently the best course of treatment for Major Depressive Disorder is a combination of medication and therapy. Usually doctors prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) first. These medications are often better known by their brand names and include Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Celexa. Antidepressants such as these typically take anywhere from two to six weeks to be effective and it might take a few attempts to find the best medication fit and dosage. 

Furthermore, therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help patients recognize negative thought patterns early on, teach coping skills and strategies for controlling symptoms. 

In cases where Major Depressive Disorder co-occurs with substance abuse, comprehensive treatment is necessary. Facilities which specialize in treatment of Substance Use Disorder, addiction, and co-occurring disorders such as clinical depression will be able to treat all aspects of the problem. 

When only one side of a co-occurring disorder receives treatment, the untreated condition can continue to wreak havoc. Thus if a patient is treated only for alcohol abuse but not depression, the depression can drive them to use to deal with difficult symptoms. If the depression is treated without addressing the alcohol abuse, a person’s drinking could trigger the depression again. 


Getting Help 

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or co-occurring disorders, contact us today. Harmony Recovery Group specializes in treating co-occurring disorders and getting to the root cause in order to give you the best chance at long-term recovery. Call us today and find out how we can help.

What is Nitrous Oxide? This Risky Inhalant Poses Health Concerns

Nitrous Oxide Inhalant Drug

Nitrous oxide, also known as Laughing Gas or Whip-its, is a colorless, odorless gas which works as an inhalant. It has been provided in clinical settings for over a century to relax patients for procedures. Reusable whipped cream canisters, like the ones for professional chef use, use Nitrous Oxide as a propellant. This is how it is more commonly acquired for recreational use. 


Clinical Use

In a clinical setting, Nitrous Oxide is often combined with oxygen and administered through a mask. The oxygen is helpful because high doses without additional oxygen can cause hypoxia (oxygen deficiency). If there is not oxygen alongside the nitrous, often the doctor will give the patient oxygen for several minutes after the Nitrous is discontinued. This helps clear any remaining gas from the body.  

In this way, the substance is very safe. It can relieve pain and act as a mild sedative, making it particularly useful in minor dental procedures where patients are fearful or would be uncomfortable. It is also often provided during childbirth as a mild pain reliever and relaxant. However, the effects wear off very quickly. 


Effects of Nitrous Oxide

When inhaled, Nitrous Oxide creates a high that lasts around 20 seconds causing feelings of euphoria and relaxation. Users may also experience laughing fits, hence the name Laughing Gas. 

It can also cause strong hallucinations in larger amounts. Steve-O, of Jackass fame and now 11 years sober, says Nitrous Oxide is one of the most frequent and darkest drugs he ever did. His hallucinations were so strong that he was constantly chasing that feeling again, ingesting larger and larger amounts with dangerous implications. 

Other effects of the drug include dizziness and difficulty thinking straight, impairments which can become dangerous. In Australia, an 18 year-old boy fell from a balcony and died after using Nitrous Oxide. Friends say he likely fell due to the dizzying effects of the drug. 

While overdoses are rare, they have been reported in both the UK and US. As previously mentioned, when the substance is used in large amounts without added oxygen, it can cause hypoxia, low blood pressure, and fainting. 


Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide

Short-term side effects can include:

  • Shivering
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Hallucinations
  • Sound distortion
  • Excessive sweating
  • Vomiting

There are also reports of allergic reactions to the drug. Signs to look out for are fever, wheezing, difficulty breathing, chills, and hives. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

Long-term effects typically only occur from long-term abuse. Because Nitrous Oxide blocks B-12 uptake, those who use the gas regularly may develop deficiency which can lead to Anemia, nerve damage, and neurological complications. 


Getting Help 

Nitrous Oxide is one of many substances people take to escape their reality or as a party drug. But what happens when things get out of control? If you or a loved one are struggling with any type of substance abuse or addiction, we can help. 

Call us today, we’re here to talk and we’re here to listen. 


Women’s Healthcare Month: How Addiction Affects Women Differently

Women's Healthcare and Addiction

In the past, men reported higher rates of addiction and substance use disorder than women, but the past few decades women have swiftly closed the gender gap. Today, men and women experience roughly equal rates of these issues. However, women’s rates of progression, experiences, reasons for use, and stigmas can vary greatly from their male counterparts. 


Addiction Progression in Women 

Scientific studies have found that women progress in addiction faster than men due to their physiology. This is particularly true with alcohol, which female bodies process differently. Because women have less of a particular stomach enzyme which helps break down alcohol, it remains in their system longer and leads to higher blood alcohol levels. One drink for a woman can have twice the physical impact of one drink for a man. When a woman is drinking often, this higher saturation of alcohol leads to dependence more quickly. It also leads to brain and organ damage more quickly than for men. 


Co-occurring Disorders in Women

Studies show that women are two times as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as men. Self-medicating is a common theme with co-occurring disorders to manage uncomfortable feelings and often leads to abuse, dependence and addiction. Women are also more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempts than men. 

Furthermore, domestic and sexual trauma in women can lead to co-occurring disorders. Roughly one in three women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime, a stat which is higher for women than it is for men. Women are more vulnerable to physical attacks and are more likely to experience child sexual abuse, incest, neglect in childhood, and domestic violence. A history of violent trauma is more common among women with drug addiction, often as a result of PTSD. In fact, one study found that as many as 6 in 10 women with addiction also have PTSD. 


Women’s Pain and Addiction

Women’s pain is less likely to be taken seriously by medical professionals than men’s pain, called Pain Bias. According to Harvard Health, women’s pain is more likely to be considered psychological rather than physical. One study found that women in emergency rooms in acute pain were less likely to receive painkillers than males in similar condition. 

Conversely, women are found to suffer more frequently and more intensely from pain and often require more medication to mitigate the effects. One study found that women needed twice the amount of morphine as males to receive comparable pain relief. Women are also more likely to have chronic and painful inflammatory and/or auto-immune conditions than men. Further, women’s reproductive health conditions can lead to significant pain such as Endometriosis which affects 1 in 10 women worldwide.

The lack of adequate pain management can lead women to seek pain relief elsewhere in the form of illicit substances or illegally-sold prescription medications on the street. 


Social Stigmas and Pressures for Addiction in Women

Women with children in particular experience social stigmas around addiction. They have been found to be less likely to admit they have a problem, to analyze their own alcohol or substance use habits. They are also less likely to speak to a friend or professional about their problem for fear of judgement.

Further, women with addiction who are pregnant are less likely to seek support. One study found that 25% of opioid addicted pregnant women went untreated. Researchers believe that shame and stigma play a role in their barrier to receiving help. 


Getting Help 

Women need and deserve proper support in treatment of Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and Addiction. Seeking help in a supportive, nurturing environment that also specializes in treating Co-occurring Disorders can help to make the changes needed to overcome addiction. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with drugs or alcohol, contact us today. We are here to listen and we are here to help.










Substance Abuse Rates Are Higher in the LGBTQ Community

LGBTQ Substance Abuse Rates

June is LGBTQ Pride Month, where we celebrate our LGBTQ community and increase visibility and discussions around equality. We’d like to take this moment to discuss how Substance Abuse affects the LGBTQ community at disproportionately higher rates and what we can do to support them. 

People who identify as LGBTQ are at a higher risk for Substance Use Disorder (SUD) and addiction. For example, according to the Center for American Progress, 20-30% of people who identify as LGBTQ use drugs and alcohol compared with about 9% of the general population. Furthermore, a 2015 study found that people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual are twice as likely to have used an illicit drug in the past year. LGBT identifying individuals are also found to binge drink in a higher percentage than heterosexual individuals.


Discrimination Can Lead to Substance Abuse

Although great strides have been made towards equality, dignity, acceptance, and fairness for the LGBTQ community, we still have a very long way to go. LGBTQ people face high levels of stress every day, often called Minority Stress, simply by being themselves. 

Many LGBTQ individuals have experienced social prejudice in the form of discriminatory laws and practices around areas such as housing, employment, relationship recognition, and healthcare.  Furthermore, social stigma from friends and even family members adds to the challenges.

Issues like these can range from difficult and upsetting to dangerous and severely traumatic. LGBTQ individuals suffer higher incidences of stressful childhood experiences, school victimization, neighborhood hate crimes, and family conflict than heterosexual and cisgender individuals.

For instance, traumatic experiences for LGBTQ can include: 

  • Disownment from their family based on their sexual orientation
  • Violence based on sexual orientation or gender identification (hate crimes)
  • Rejection from their religious community
  • Physical abuse by family members
  • Bullying or peer ridicule for LGBTQ youth
  • Public discrimination in the form of job loss or child custody loss

Furthermore, LGBTQ community members who are also of a minority race, religion or gender face further societal pressures and prejudices.

Moreover, these societal pressures can lead to feelings of self-loathing, shame, or negative self-view which correlates to higher substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide rates among LGBTQ. 

As a result, each of these factors and stressors lead to significant stress and anxiety around everyday choices and lifestyle. Feelings of isolation, anger, fear, and depression lead to a higher likelihood of substance abuse to escape these problems. 


Social Component

Party subcultures in LGBTQ communities can also promote substance abuse. A UK study found that the most widely used drugs among LGBTQ people were party drugs such as poppers, cocaine, ecstasy, ketamine and amphetamines. LGBTQ individuals were 10 times more likely to have used cocaine in the previous month than the general population. 


Higher Rates of Co-occurring Disorders

Trauma and stress can exacerbate mental illness, driving people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. As a result, this is one of the reasons LGBTQ individuals are more likely to have Co-occurring Disorders. According to the SAMHSA, people who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, PTSD and mental other health disorders. Additionally, they are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts and attempts. 

Transgender individuals are twice as likely to have a mental disorder as cisgender individuals. In adolescence, transgender youth have higher rates of self-harm, depression, suicide, and eating disorders than cisgender youth. 

This is why it is vital that LGBTQ individuals in substance abuse treatment also be screened and treated for co-occurring psychiatric disorders. 


How Can Non-LGBTQ Help? 

Firstly, change starts at the individual level. For example, try educating yourself on LGBTQ issues. Be conscious not to reinforce stereotypes and stigmas that lead to the feelings of isolation which lead LGBTQ to use. Support laws and policies that lead to equality for all LGBTQ members of society. Likewise, be an advocate and speak up for injustice. In short, if society is causing the problem, we need to change our way of behaving. 

Secondly, support your LGBTQ friends and family. If you feel they have a problem, talk to them. Be a listening ear, tell them your concerns, and if it feels right, discuss treatment options. Addiction thrives in the dark so bringing it to light can help, just remember to do so gently. 


Getting Help 

However you identify, if you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, help is available. Call us today to find out how we can support you through this difficult time. We’re here to listen. 



Connolly MD, Zervos MJ, Barone CJ, Johnson CC, Joseph CLM. The Mental Health of Transgender Youth: Advances in Understanding. J Adolesc Health Off Publ Soc Adolesc Med. 2016;59(5):489-495. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.06.012.

Duncan, D. T., Hatzenbuehler, M. L., & Johnson, R. M. (2014). Neighborhood-level LGBT hate crimes and current illicit drug use among sexual minority youth. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 135, 65–70.

Huebner, D. M., Thoma, B. C., & Neilands, T. B. (2015). School victimization and substance abuse among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender adolescents. Prevention Science, 16, 734–743.

Patricia E. Penn , Denali Brooke , Chad M. Mosher , Sandra Gallagher , Audrey J. Brooks & Rebecca Richey (2013) LGBTQ Persons with Co-occurring Conditions: Perspectives on Treatment, Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, 31:4, 466-483, DOI: 10.1080/07347324.2013.831637. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07347324.2013.831637

Schneeberger, A. R., Dietl, M. F., Muenzenmaier, K. H., Huber, C. G., & Lang, U. E. (2014). Stressful childhood experiences and health outcomes in sexual minority populations: A systematic review. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49, 1427–1445.

7 Sober Tips for Memorial Day From People Who’ve Been There

Sober Memorial Day: 7 Tips

Navigating Memorial Day Sober

We Asked People In Recovery For Their Strategies


Memorial Day is coming up fast and while many are looking forward to the long weekend, holidays like this one can create some anxiety for those of us in recovery. It might be a little easier than usual, since we’re still technically in the time of social distancing, but we asked some of our sober friends for their tips for navigating Memorial Day.

1. Start Some Self Reflection

Check in and ask yourself some questions such as, where am I at in my recovery? Am I capable of going to a place where alcohol will be served and not being triggered to use? Have I built a support network I can call upon if I do have these feelings?  Be honest with yourself, know your limits, and stick to them. If you can’t say with confidence that your sobriety would be safe in a situation where people are drinking, don’t go. 

2. Have Portable Coping Skills

Amanda Gist, public speaker and writer on mental health and addiction, suggests that when a trigger arises it’s good to have some go-to coping skills in your back pocket. For example, these can be “excusing yourself for a ten minute walk, doing some deep breathing in the bathroom, or applying lavender essential oil to your neck and wrists to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Another option would be to have a friend you can reach out to via text with the agreement that they’ll help you untangle the thoughts you’re struggling with in the moment of the trigger.” 

3. Do Something Different This Year

This one might be easier due to lockdown but going to the same party you went to last year when you were using isn’t a good idea. As Joanne Ketch of Chrysalis Counseling says, “Don’t do the ‘same old thing.’ Try a new way to celebrate. For instance, you could go to a different home, grill something new, go to the park, even change the music. Changes will help your brain not associate the day with drinking or using.” 

4. Going to a Party? Mentally Prepare Yourself for Questions (and Prepare Answers, Too)

If you’re going to a gathering, barbecue or party, another suggestion from Amanda is to have some verbal responses planned in case you are offered a drink. “This way, you know you won’t be stumbling around for words if you are offered a drink. No swinging between telling your life story and just running away. Have a few reliable one-liners, like the simple but effective ‘No thanks, I don’t drink.’ Or the grateful but stern ‘I appreciate the offer, that’s so thoughtful of you but I’m not drinking.’ Or there’s the offer-them-an-alternative: ‘I don’t drink alcohol but I’d love a lemonade if you have one!’

5. Find a Substitute

Do you feel awkward at a party without something in your hand? Megan Kioulafofski, founder of Sol and Spirit, suggests coming prepared with a substitute. “It avoids those ‘you’re not drinking?’ conversations and makes me feel like I’m not missing out on anything,” she says. For example, Megan’s favorite substitute is to mix Kombucha with soda water, “it has a nice bite to it.” 

*Additionally, just make sure your alcohol-free drink isn’t made with anything you used to use in your drink of choice to avoid triggers. For example, if you used to drink Rum and Coke, it’s not a good idea to drink plain coke at a party. 

6. Have Your “Outs” Ready

“… And be willing to use them,” says Joanne. Planning an escape or distraction strategy ahead of time will be helpful in the event you feel that the situation is no longer safe for your sobriety. “The out can be physically leaving the event. But, it can also be a smaller ‘out’ such as a text, phone call, FaceTime or Skype with someone. They can support you and talk you through it.”

7. Replace FOMO with JOMO and Skip it Altogether

Mike, founder of “I Will Not Drink With You Today,” suggests a different approach altogether. “If you feel that going anywhere will trigger you, ask yourself ‘What’s more important: this party or my sobriety?’ Holidays come and go, there’s no reason you can’t sit this one out.  Camp at home with some TV or a book and watch how nothing is different afterward.” 


We hope these tips were able to help you stay sober this Memorial Day. If you find yourself or a loved one needing additional support reach out to us we are here for you.


Foster Care Awareness Month: Rebuilding Families After Addiction

Foster Care Awareness Month: Rebuilding Families in the Aftermath of Addiction

May is National Foster Care Awareness Month.

One in three children in foster care are there due to parental Addiction. Foster care and substance abuse are intimately linked and can cause long-term problems for afflicted families. Today we’re talking about starting to heal the trauma that addiction can cause in a family with children, and how to re-build. 

First things first, opening the paths of communication is key.

How far the conversation goes depends on the age of the children but be sure to apologize for anything they may have experienced directly (i.e. an outburst) or indirectly (your absence, etc.). This doesn’t need to be an exhaustive list but anything that stands out can be noted. Tell them they are you here for them now and are doing your best to recover from your problem. You children may not have much to say but if they do, put your listening hat on. Hear them out, validate their feelings, tell them that you love them. All strong relationships are built on communication and child-parent relationships are no different. 

Once you’ve cleared the air it’s important to establish a “new normal.”

This is where you will be speaking with actions rather than words, showing up and being there for them. Create routines, spend time with them, and maybe even start a new tradition like Spaghetti Night or a Sunday morning bike ride. Even something as small as watching their favorite movie with them can mean the world. For most kids, your presence is enough. 

The truth is, this process can take time.

Even if you are feeling miles ahead in terms of recovery and rebuilding, they might not be. Or if you are having hard days, be kind to yourself. The recovery process is different for everyone and having the family rebuild process in the mix is additionally challenging. Just remember why you’re doing this, your children need your sobriety as much as you do. They need their parent. You don’t have to be perfect, just keep showing up for them.


Every scenario looks different. The ultimate goal is to heal, and let go of resentments and the shame. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction and their children have been placed in foster care our case managers might be able to help. Contact us below or click here.

4 Common Co-Occurring Disorders Accompanying Addiction

Dual Diagnosis occurring disorders

Mental health conditions can run hand-in-hand with drug and alcohol addiction. In a clinical setting, the terms co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis describe a person who is struggling with substance use disorder and a mental health condition. 

It is estimated that 17.5 million Americans are struggling with a mental health disorder, and of those people, one in four are actively abusing substances or developed an addiction. Sadly, only half of those with co-occurring disorders actually receive treatment for their dual diagnosis. 

Research has shown that 34% of co-occurring disorder patients received mental health treatment without receiving addiction treatment. 2% received care for only an addiction. Meanwhile, only 12% actually received treatment that supported all their issues and disorders.

In other words, it can be a vicious cycle. Substance abuse is fueled by a mental health condition, or an underlying mental health condition is exacerbated by substance abuse. 

The most common mental health conditions seen with addiction are: 
  1. Depression
  2. Anxiety Disorders
  3. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  4. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

However, these are not the only mental health disorders that occur with addiction. Overall, comprehensive treatment has the best outcome for dual diagnosis patients with co-occurring disorders. Only treating one, and not the other creates a roundabout effect. A patient who receives mental health treatment but not addiction treatment continues to use, which aggravates their mental health condition. A patient who receives addiction treatment but not mental health, struggles to remain sober. Therefore, this person, without proper care, is also more likely to relapse due to the effects of their mental health condition.

At Harmony Recovery Group, we help patients recover from addiction and co-occurring disorders through evidence-based treatment in a warm and supportive environment. If you or a loved one are struggling with cooccurring disorders or addiction in general, please do not hesitate to contact our admission specialists at 844-746-8836. We are here to help and support you. 

Read more about the relationships between mental health and addiction.