Using Stress Management In Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT)

August 3, 2014

thBy Terence T. Gorski, Author

This blog is an excerpt from the book:

Starting Recovery With Relapse Prevention
by Terence T. Gorski. 

GORSKI’S RELAPSE PREVENTION CERTIFICATION SCHOOL (RPCS)
November 10 -14, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six

2301 SE 17th Street Causeway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 3331
Iinformation: Tresa Watson: 352-596-8000, tresa@cenaps.com
Course Description: www.cenaps.com

Stress management is a critical key to staying away from alcohol and other drugs[i] [ii]during the critical first two weeks of recovery.[iii] It is important for people in recovery to learn how to recognize their stress levels and use immediate relaxation techniques to lower their stress. [iv] [v]

Recovering people are especially vulnerable to stress.[vi] There is a growing body of evidence that many addicted people have brain chemistry imbalances that make it difficult for them to manage stress in early recovery. The regular and heavy use of alcohol and other drugs can cause toxic effects on the brain that create symptoms that cause additional stress and interfere with effective stress management.

SEE RELATED BLOGS:
Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse ,
The CENAPS Model and Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention,  and
Mindfulness Made Simple.

Many people who are in recovery from addiction have serious problems with Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW). PAW is a bio-psychosocial syndrome that results from the combination of brain dysfunction caused by addictive alcohol or drug use, and the stress of coping with life without drugs or alcohol. PAW is caused by brain chemistry imbalances that are related to addiction. PAW disrupts the ability to think clearly, manage feelings and emotions, manage stress, and self-regulate behavior.

PAW is stress sensitive. Getting into recovery causes a great deal of stress. Many recovering people never learn to manage stress without using alcohol or other drugs. Stress makes the brain dysfunction in early recovery get worse. As the level of stress goes up, the severity of PAW symptoms increase. As PAW symptoms get worse, recovering people start losing their ability to effectively manage their stress. As a result, they are locked into constant states of high stress that cause them to go between emotional numbness and emotional overreaction. Since high stress is linked to getting relief by self-medicating stress with alcohol or other drugs, high stress gets linked with the craving for alcohol or other drugs. So one of the first steps in managing craving is to learn how to relax and lower stress without using alcohol or other drugs.

The severity of PAW depends upon two things: the severity of brain dysfunction caused by addiction and the amount of stress experienced in recovery. The first two weeks of recovery is the period of highest stress in recovery. This high stress occurs before you have a chance to learn how to manage it in a sober and responsible way. Since you cannot remove yourself from all stressful situations, you need to prepare yourself to handle them when they occur. It is not the situation that causes stress; it is your reaction to the situation.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse to substance abuse in addicted persons, even after long periods of abstinence. Stress can cause a problem drinker to drink more, a person using prescription medication to use more than prescribed, and an illicit drug user to get more deeply involved in the drug culture than they could ever imagine. The high stress of the first two weeks of recovery can activate powerful cravings that make people want to start self-medicating with alcohol or other drugs in spite of their commitment to stop and stay stopped.

There is a simple tool called The Stress Thermometer that can help you to learn how monitor your stress. There is a simple immediate relaxation technique called Relaxed Breathing that can help you noticeably lower you stress in two to three minutes. First, let’s talk about the Stress Thermometer.

The Stress Thermometer

The Stress Thermometer is a self-monitoring tool that teaches people to become aware of their current stress levels, notice increases and decreases in stress at different times, and encourages the use of immediate relaxation techniques to lower stress as soon stress levels begin to rise. The Stress Thermometer makes it possible to manage stress before craving for alcohol or other drugs is activated. Lowering stress can also lower cravings. Lowering cravings can help you to turn off denial and addictive thinking. (More about this later).

The concept of using a stress thermometer came from thinking about how we use a temperature thermometer to measure our body temperature. When we take our body temperature we use a thermometer to tell us accurately and objectively what our body temperature is. When we use a stress thermometer, we use a system for self-monitoring our stress levels that can tell us accurately and objectively how high our stress levels are.

The stress thermometer is divided into four color-coded regions: blue – relaxation, green – functional, yellow – acute stress reaction, and red – trauma reaction.

What the Stress Levels Mean

Low Stress/Relaxation: Stress levels 1, 2, and 3. These stress levels are coded blue because they are cool and relaxing.

  • Stress Level 1: Deeply Relaxed/Nearly Asleep: At Stress Level 1 you are in a state of deep relaxation and nearly asleep. Your mind is not focused on anything in particular and you feel like you are waking up in the morning to a day off and can just let your mind drift in the deeply relaxed state.
  • Stress Level 2: Deeply Relaxed/Not Focused: As you come back from a state of deep relaxation you enter Level 2, during which you stay very relaxed, but begin to notice where you’re at, what is going on around you. You can stay in that state and just be aware and deeply relaxed. Eventually we will either go back down to Level 1 and then perhaps falls asleep or else you will move up to Stress Level 3.
  • Stress Level 3: Deeply Relaxed/Focused:At stress level 3 you get focused and start to think about getting yourself back into gear and getting going. In other words, you are getting ready to “kick-start your brain” so you can move into a functional stress level to begin getting things done.

By practicing the Relaxed Breathing Technique (this will be explained on page 19) most people can learn to put themselves in a relaxed state (Stress Level 1, 2, or 3), stay there for a few minutes, and then come back feeling refreshed and relaxed. It is important to remember that this will take time and practice. In our culture people are taught to work hard and burn themselves out. People don’t get much training on how to relax. People who get a euphoric effect from using alcohol or other drugs don’t need to. When they get the “right amount” in their system they shut down their stress chemistry, turn on the pleasure chemistry, and feel relaxed.

It is important to practice relaxation four times per day. I recommend linking it to meals: Take five minutes in the morning before breakfast, five minutes at lunch, five minutes at dinner, and five minutes to relax before going to sleep. Taking these stress breaks will make it easier for you to stay at a functional stress level and bounce back quickly from high stress situations.

With that in mind, let’s look at the “Functional Stress levels.”

Functional Stress: Stress levels 4, 5 & 6 designate the zone of functional stress. They are coded green because green is a color that represents “go”.  At stress levels 4, 5, and 6 we are experiencing stress levels that are high enough to give us the energy to get started, keep going, and get things done. The stress, however, is not so high that in interferes with what we are doing.

  • Stress Level 4: With effort we get Focused and Active.
  • Stress Level 5: We operate at high performance, a state of free flow with little or no effort.
  • Stress level 6: We can keep on going but it takes effort and we notice we are getting tired. It’s called free flow with effort. This is a good time to take a short break if you can to get your stress level back down to a level five.

Acute Stress Reaction: Stress levels 7, 8, and 9 are coded yellow. The color yellow represents caution. At stress levels 7, 8, and 9 we are experiencing an acute stress reaction. The word “acute” means immediate and severe. The good thing about acute stress is that if we notice it early and know how to relax, by taking a short break and using a relaxed breathing technique for example, we can lower our stress and get back into the functional zone. When we enter stress level 7 it means that our immediate levels of stress have gotten so high that we can’t consistently function normally. We’re in danger.

  • Stress level 7: Space Out: at a stress level 7 we space out. Our mind goes somewhere else and we don’t even know we were gone until our mind comes back on task.
  • Stress level 8: Driven and Defensive: at stress level eight we are driven and defensive. Our stress chemical has been activated and we are running on an adrenaline rush that is keeping us compulsively on task. The problem is that if someone or something interrupts us we become defensive and can easily move into stress level 9.
  • Stress level 9: Overreaction/Survival Behavior: at stress level 9 our automatic survival behavior takes over. The three basic survival behaviors that everyone has are: fight (irritated, angry, agitated); flight (anxious, fearful, panicked); and freeze (we feel an agitated sense of depression and indecision. We freeze up and can’t make a decision or move.) On top of these three core survival behaviors we learn more sophisticated survival behaviors from our family of origin, life experiences, education or special training in stress management, emergency management, martial arts, or combat. For that training to automatically come into play, we must have practiced it over-and-over again until it became habitual. In sports, emergency services, police work, and military operations these are called trained response. When our stress hits level ten our brain won’t allow us to rise to the situation. The emergency brain response will always lower us to the level of our training. In an emergency, all we can rely on are our automatic responses that we learned to perform on cue without having to think about it.

Traumatic Stress Reaction: Stress levels 10, 15, and 20 are coded red. Red is for stop. At this point our stress levels are so high that our brains and minds are at risk of shutting down. There are three levels of stress that can occur in the red zone of traumatic stress.

  • Stress level 10: Loss of Control: We automatically start using our survival behavior and we can’t control it. We are on automatic pilot and we will go through our learned survival responses one-by-one. This means we will cycle through stages of extreme anger (fight), extreme fear (flight, and extreme inner conflict or ambivalence (freeze). It is important to remember that all people with serious alcohol and drug problems have conditioned themselves with a survival behavior called “seek and use drugs to handle this.” So it is not unusual for a person at a stress level ten to get into drug seeking behavior and start using alcohol or other drugs.
  • Stress level 15: Traumatic Stress: At level 15 our high stress overloads the brain and we mentally disconnect from what is happening to us. Our stress is so high that we can’t stay consciously connected with out bodies. We may go into a state of daze, shock, and dissociation. Our mind can start to play tricks on us and things around us may seem bigger, or closer or farther away than they really are. We may start feeling confused and disoriented. It may seem like we are moving in slow motion. Some people feel like they have floated out of their bodies and it seems like they are watching themselves go through the experience.
  • Stress level 20: Collapse/Psychosis: When our stress levels hit a level 20 our brains can’t take the high level of stress and fatigue. We may collapse, enter an exhausted state of stupor or restless sleep, move into a vivid fantasy world or a world of memories or dreams, or become unconscious.

Any time people experience a “level 10 plus” state of stress; it will take a while after the stress stops for our brain to start functioning normally. When this is a short-term period of adjustment it is called an “acute trauma reaction.” When in it is a longer-term reaction it is called post traumatic stress disorder.

If you have ever experienced a “level 10 plus” stress experience – which can happen when you are the victim of crime, accidents, caught in a burning house, participating in combat, having been assaulted, etc. – it is important to discuss these experiences with your doctor or therapist. This is especially important if the high stress experience you had causes problems that you did not have before it occurred.

The Stress Thermometer

Developed By Terence T. Gorski (© Terence T. Gorski, 2011)
www.cenaps.com; www.relapse.org; www.facebook.com/GorskiRecovery

Level 20: Dissociation/Unconsciousness: I get dissociated and feel like I am floating out of my body. Things seem unreal, and I eventual pass out.
Level 15: Traumatic Stress: Stress overloads the brain and we go into a state of daze, shock or dissociation. We may feel like we are floating out of our bodies and watching ourselves go through the experience.
Level 10: Lose Control: Fight = Anger-based, Flee = Fear-based, Freeze = Depression-based.
——————————–The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 9: Overreact: Anger, fear, or compulsion get out control & starts running our intellect.
Level 8: Get Defensive: Automatic defenses are used; we start acting out compulsively. The ability to think becomes a servant to hidden fear, anger, & depression. Strong craving and urges to fight, run, hide, find a rescuer, blame others, or lose motivation & hope.
Level 7: Space Out: My brain can’t handle the stress, turns off for a second, and I gone blank and don’t even realize it until my brain turns back on a few seconds later.
——————————– The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 6: Free Flow Activity With Effort I’m getting tired and have to push myself to keep going.
Level 5: Free Flow Activity With No Effort: I’m totally into what I’m doing and get lost in the process. I’m on automatic pilot.
Level 4: Become Focused and Active With Effort: I make a decision to dig in and get to work. It takes an effort to get started.
——————————– The Brain Shift Gears ——————————–
Level 3: Relaxed – Aware But Not Focused: I’m relaxed and aware of what’s going on around me. I’m beginning to realize that I need to get going.
Level 2: Very Relaxed – Not Aware & Not Focused: I’m so relaxed that I’m not aware of what’s going on around me. I’m disconnected and don’t want to notice anything.
Level 1: Deeply Relaxed – Nearly Asleep: I’m so deeply relaxed that I’m drifting in and out of a dreamy type of sleep state filled with active fantasy or daydreaming.
The Most Important Stress Management Tool is
The Conscious Awareness of the Rise and Fall of Your Stress Levels.
This is Achieved Through Self-monitoring.

 

Measuring Levels of Stress

Notice that you are measuring your personal perception of stress, which is a combination of three things: (1) the intensity of the stressor (the situation activating stress); (2) your ability to cope with or handle the stressor; and (3) your level of awareness while you are experiencing the stress.

It is possible for you to score yourself very low on the stress thermometer even when your stress is very high. This can happen because: (1) you are distracted and involved in something else (like managing the crisis causing your stress); (2) your stress is so high that you are emotionally numb and don’t know what you are feeling; (3) if you have lived with such high stress for such a long time that you consider it normal; and (4) you have trained yourself to ignore your stress.

The first step in learning how to manage your stress is to learn how to recognize and evaluate your level of stress and by learning how to quickly get back into a low stress level by using a Relaxed Breathing Technique. Let’s start by looking at how you can improve your stress awareness.

 

Improving Stress Awareness

The best way to learn to be aware of your stress level is to get in the habit of consciously monitoring your stress level. You can do this by using a mental tool called The Stress Thermometer, (page 17). The first step is to imagine that you have an internal stress thermometer that starts in the pit of your stomach and ends in your throat. The lowest reading on the stress thermometer is zero and represents a deep sense of relaxation that is so complete that you want to fall asleep. At a stress level seven or eight, your stress becomes so intense that you start shutting down, getting defensive, or avoiding the issue that is causing the stress. If you can’t manage or get away from the stressful situation, at a level ten you lose control and start believing that you can’t handle the situation and that you or someone you love may be hurt or killed. These extreme feelings of stress are called trauma.

When most people hit a stress level of seven or higher they are not able to respond to constructive criticism or to make sense out of their emotional experiences. At stress levels between seven and nine most people start acting compulsively, overreact to things going on around them, and start using automatic habitual survival behaviors that may or may not solve the problem and lower stress.

This is why it is so important for you to learn to recognize your stress levels when they start hitting a level seven and learn how to quickly lower them. You can do this by using an immediate relaxation response technique called Relaxed Breathing any time you notice your stress hitting a level seven or above. So you have four goals in this exercise:

(1)        To learn how to get into the habit of noticing when your stress is getting up to a level seven or eight;

(2)        To learn how to quickly lower your stress by using the Relaxed Breathing Technique;

(3)        To figure out what is happening and how you are thinking and feeling about what is happening that is causing your stress to go up; and

(4)        Manage the stressful situation by responsibly getting out of the situation or learning how to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that will allow you to stay cool and relaxed even tough you are in a tough situation.

Monitoring Your Stress – Body Awareness

Body awareness is a technique that allows you to recognize how your body physically reacts to stress. It can be a powerful skill to use in stress management because as you notice the stress in different parts of your body, you will start to relax the part of the body you are noticing. With enough practice your body will automatically start identifying and releasing stress before you become consciously aware of it. Muscle tension is the primary way your body let’s you know that you are experiencing stress. Consciously using a systematic body awareness technique whenever you think about it and at least four times per day will start you on the road to teaching your body to automatically recognize and release stress. Here’s how the technique works:

Begin by closing your eyes. You will concentrate on one muscle group at a time, tensing and releasing and being aware of how tight the muscle is as you focus on it. If the muscle feels tight as you begin, this may indicate you store stress in this muscle. Begin with focusing on your toes and slowly move up your body. Tighten your toes and release, flex your calves and release, tighten your thighs and release, tighten your stomach muscles and release, fist your hands and release, tense your shoulders and release, clench you jaw and release, squint your eyes and scrunch your face and release. Any time you encounter tension in a muscle, record that muscle tension and be aware that you are holding stress there. This will help you in developing a personal stress reduction plan and using exercises and techniques to release pent-up tension.

Reducing Your Stress – Relaxed Breathing

There are a number of different relaxation methods. For the purpose of this workbook I am going to teach the easiest and most effective. It is called Relaxed Breathing. It is so effective that military, police and firefighters are taught to use it to lower their stress when responding to emergencies. Here’s how it works:

Relaxed Breathing, often called combat breathing in the military or tactical breath by police and emergency responders, is designed for both before and during stressful times to calm you down and help you relax. In terms of the stress thermometer, relaxed breathing is used before a stressful situation to calm you down and get you ready to be at your best. It is used during a stressful situation to keep your stress from going above that critical Level 7, where your brain turns off and automatic defensive behavior and cravings kick in.

Early in recovery, thinking about and talking about your use of alcohol or other drugs will cause some of your highest stress. The catch 22 is this – if you don’t talk about it, the thoughts will keep coming back like a ghost in the night that haunts moments that should be quiet and restful. Each time you expel the ghost by refusing to think and talk about the “real problems” the ghost goes away for a little while and comes back stronger. Your denial and resistance is strengthened, the intensity of your craving goes up, and your ability to think rationality about what you need to do goes down. As a result the voice of this “stress ghost” grows into a full-blown “stress monster” that can literally take your brain hostage and make you believe that self-medication with alcohol or other drugs is the best or only way to get back in control of yourself and your life.

Step 1: The first thing you need to do is to convince yourself that you can manage and reduce stress without having to self-medicate. There is another way. That way involves learning how to control your breathing.

Step 2: Practice relaxed breathing in a safe environment when you are not stressed. Just go through the steps and get used to them.

Step 3: Get used to rating your stress level. Initially you may need to use the stress thermometer, but with a few times of practice (four times per day for three or more days) the use of the scale will be an automatic tool that you will use whenever you check out you stress level.

Step 4: Take control of the process by stressing yourself out and then relaxing yourself using the relaxed breathing technique.

Sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for ten or fifteen minutes. Take a deep breath and do a quick body checks. Then on a sheet of paper write the word START and underneath or next to it rate your stress level.

For example, I would do a body check and write: START = 6. I am still relaxed and able to think and respond, but I am tired and on the edge of spacing out.

Step 5: Stress yourself out! Your heard what I said. Think about the things you usually think about that raise your stress. Be sure to beat yourself up about your drinking and drugging, how stupid you were, the problems it has caused and how you will never-ever be able to repair the damage you have done to your life. Stop the process before your stress hits a level 9 or 10 and you go running out of the room. Then write the words: AFTER STRESS and rate your stress level. Most people find it easy to raise their stress.

For example, after beating myself up for about 60 seconds I would write: AFTER STRESS = 8. I feel myself driving myself and notice the thoughts start to take on a life of their own. If someone interrupts me at this moment I could easily over-react.

Step 6: Relax yourself! You heard me. Do what you need to do to relax. This is the problem for many people, especially people who use alcohol, prescribed medication, or other drugs regularly and heavily. They can stress themselves out easily enough, but other than self-medication they have no way to calm themselves down. So try this:

Take a deep breath and hold it for a moment until your lungs feel just a little uncomfortable, hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale all the way out. Hold your breath for a moment with your lungs empty and then slowly inhale again. Start to breath a slow rhythmic count of four: “INHALE– two- three – four; HOLD – two – three – four; EXHALE – two – three – four; HOLD – two – three – four. Then start the cycle over by inhaling to the count of four. Repeat the cycle five times. Imagine the stress gathering in your lungs as you inhale and hold. Imagine the stress releasing from your mouth as you exhale and hold. That’s it.

Now rate your stress again. Look at the stress thermometer and see what happened. Then write the words: AFTER followed by your stress rating.

For example I would write: AFTER RELAXING = 4 (remember I’ve been practicing a long time). So the record of my session looks like this:

START =6; AFTER STRESS = 8; BREATHING REPS = 5; AFTER =4.

Don’t force yourself to relax, just do the relaxed breathing, and focus on counting and imaging the stress leaving your body ever time you exhale.

Practice four times per day, at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before bed. Keep track of your progress. Use relaxed breathing if you notice your stress going up during any of the following exercises.

Footnotes

[i] Stress and increased Relapse Risk: Stress is an important factor known to increase alcohol and drug relapse risk. This paper examines the stress-related processes that influence addiction relapse. First, individual patient vignettes of stress- and cue-related situations that increase drug seeking and relapse susceptibility are presented. Next, empirical findings from human laboratory and brain-imaging studies that are consistent with clinical observations and support the specific role of stress processes in the drug-craving state are reviewed. Recent findings on differences in stress responsivity in addicted versus matched community social drinkers are reviewed to demonstrate alterations in stress pathways that could explain the significant contribution of stress-related mechanisms on craving and relapse susceptibility. Finally, significant implications of these findings for clinical practice are discussed, with a specific focus on the development of novel interventions that target stress processes and drug craving to improve addiction relapse outcomes.

  • Reference: The role of stress in addiction relapse. Curr Psychiatry Rep.  2007; 9(5):388-95 (ISSN: 1523-3812) Sinha R. Department of Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street, Room S110, New Haven, CT 06519, USA
  • Stress Identification and Management: Stress as verified by clinical observations, patient self-reports, and subjective and behavioral measures have been correlated depressive symptoms, stress, and drug craving during withdrawal. All of theses factors predict future relapse risk. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal

[ii] Stress Identification and Management: Stress as verified by clinical observations, patient self-reports, and subjective and behavioral measures have been correlated depressive symptoms, stress, and drug craving during withdrawal. All of these factors predict future relapse risk. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal.

[iii] The Role of Stress In Addiction: Both animal and human studies demonstrate that stress plays a major role in the process of alcohol and drug addiction and that a variety of stressors can increase both self-reported stress and measures of biological stress. Among neural measures, brain atrophy in the medial frontal regions and hyperreactivity of the anterior cingulate during withdrawal were identified as important in drug withdrawal and relapse risk. This study suggests that stress management would be helpful in preventing relapse especially during the period of withdrawal.

Reference: New findings on biological factors predicting addiction relapse vulnerability. Curr Psychiatry Rep.  2011; 13(5):398-405 (ISSN: 1535-1645) INTERNET: http://reference.medscape.com/medline/abstract/21792580

[iv] Stress and Addiction: Stress plays a major role in the process of drug addiction and various stressors are known to increase measures of craving in drug dependent human laboratory subjects. Animal models of stress-induced reinstatement of drug-seeking have also been developed in order to determine the neuropharmacological and neurobiological features of stress-induced relapse.

  • Reference: Pharmacologically-induced stress: a cross-species probe for translational research in drug addiction and relapse. Am J Transl Res.  2010; 3(1):81-9 (ISSN: 1991) See RE; Waters RP. Department of Neurosciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston SC USA.

[v] Stress-Induced Craving and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina 29425, USA. (backs@musc.edu) has found that stress-induced craving and stress reactivity may influence risk for substance use or relapse to use. Interventions designed to manage stress-induced craving and stress reactivity may serve as excellent adjuncts to more comprehensive treatment programs. The purpose of this study was to (1) tailor an existing, manualized, cognitive-behavioral stress management (CBSM) intervention for use in individuals with substance use disorders and (2) preliminarily evaluate the effects of the intervention using an experimental stress-induction paradigm. Twenty individuals were interviewed and then completed a psychological stress task, the Mental Arithmetic Task (MAT). After this, participants were assigned to either the CBSM intervention group or a non-treatment comparison group. Approximately 3 weeks later, participants completed a second MAT. In contrast to the comparison group, the CBSM group demonstrated significantly less stress-induced craving (p<.04) and stress (p<.02), and reported greater ability to resist urges to use (p<.02) after the second MAT. These findings are among the first to report on the use of an intervention to attenuate craving and stress reactivity among individuals with substance use disorders. Although preliminary, the findings suggest that systematic investigation of interventions specifically targeting stress management in individuals with substance use disorders should be undertaken.

  • Reference: Source: Back SE, Gentilin S, Brady KT. Cognitive-behavioral stress management for individuals with substance use disorders: a pilot study J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007 Aug;195(8):662-8

[vi] Research Society On Alcoholism: This report of the proceedings of a symposium presented at the 2004 Research Society on Alcoholism Meeting provides evidence linking stress during sobriety to craving that increases the risk for relapse. The initial presentation by Rajita Sinha summarized clinical evidence for the hypothesis that there is an increased sensitivity to stress-induced craving in alcoholics. During early abstinence, alcoholics who were confronted with stressful circumstances showed increased susceptibility for relapse. George Breese presented data demonstrating that stress could substitute for repeated withdrawals from chronic ethanol to induce anxiety-like behavior. This persistent adaptive change induced by multiple withdrawals allowed stress to induce an anxiety-like response that was absent in animals that were not previously exposed to chronic ethanol. Subsequently, Amanda Roberts reviewed evidence that increased drinking induced by stress was dependent on corticotrophin-releasing factor (CRF). In addition, rats that were stressed during protracted abstinence exhibited anxiety-like behavior that was also dependent on CRF. Christopher Dayas indicated that stress increases the reinstatement of an alcohol-related cue. Moreover, this effect was enhanced by previous alcohol dependence. These interactive effects between stress and alcohol-related environmental stimuli depended on concurrent activation of endogenous opioid and CRF systems. A.D. Lê covered information that indicated that stress facilitated reinstatement to alcohol responding and summarized the influence of multiple deprivations on this interaction. David Overstreet provided evidence that restraint stress during repeated alcohol deprivations increases voluntary drinking in alcohol-preferring (P) rats that result in withdrawal-induced anxiety that is not observed in the absence of stress. Testing of drugs on the stress-induced voluntary drinking implicated serotonin and CRF involvement in the sensitized response. Collectively, the presentations provided convincing support for an involvement of stress in the cause of relapse and continuing alcohol abuse and suggested novel pharmacological approaches for treating relapse induced by stress.

  • Reference: George R. Breese, Kathleen Chu, Christopher V. Dayas, Douglas Funk, Darin J. Knapp, George F. Koob, Dzung Anh Lê, Laura E. O’Dell, David H. Overstreet, Amanda J. Roberts, Rajita Sinha, Glenn R. Valdez, and Friedbert Weiss. Stress Enhancement of Craving During Sobriety: A Risk for Relapse, Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2005 February; 29(2): 185–195.

See the related blog: Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse

Stress Management Is Used In The Gorski Relapse Prevention Certification School (RPCS)

Relaxation Training and Mindfulness Meditation are a big part of Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT). When patients are under high levels of stress, their ability to understand, integrate, and use new skills is diminished. Gorski RPT teaches therapists how to use a form of immediate relaxation training to keep clien’s stress low during the session. It also teaches them to use relaxation methods in the moment so they are more likely to use them in real-life events. For an overview of how relaxation training and a simple tool called the stress thermometer can be used with RPT check out Terry Gorski’s Blog:

GORSKI’S RELAPSE PREVENTION CERTIFICATION SCHOOL (RPCS)
November 10 -14, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty Six

2301 SE 17th Street Causeway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
For further information: Tresa Watson: 352-596-8000, tresa@cenaps.com 

SEE RELATED BLOGS:
Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse ,
The CENAPS Model and Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention,  and
Mindfulness Made Simple.


The Matrix Model – Stages of Recovery

July 11, 2014

By Terence T.Gorski, Author
www.relapse.org

20140711-213822-77902045.jpg

The Matrix Model for Cocaine Addiction was originally developed by Richard Rawson. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/074054729400080B

I believe the recovery chart depicted her is modified from the framework of the Matrix Recovery Model.

The model is developmental in nature (i.e. their are a series of developmental steps and stages of recovery). The idea of Post Acute Withdrawal is built into the model by intruding the the concept of “hitting the wall” which is a severe episode of PAW. PAW however, was not specifically mentioned in early versions of the model.

The Matrix Model was popular during the years of “The Cocaine Epidemic” in the 1980”s and 1990’s. It was an empirical model growing out of treatment experience and I clinical practice.

As with many other models it was expanded to include all addictive substances without any real evidence it was valid. It implies progressive recovery, with relapse as a treatment recovery failure.

There is no specific relapse prevention plan or emergency plan to stop relapse quickly should it occur. As a result the model, toy knowledge, has not adapted to integrate the chronic life-style related disease model and the need for relapse prevention and management of the course of the entire lifespan.

The model has been used in many programs and helped many people to recover.

The Matrix Model has been recognized as an evidence-based program and practice by NREPP – http://www.nrepp.samhsa.gov/ViewIntervention.aspx?id=87

I cannot locate the specific diagram and it is not referenced. The idea that neurological symptoms of recovery (PAW) can be predicted by days abstinent is controversial. Stage of addiction, type and amount of drug(s) used, age and health status of the patient, type of treatment, nutrition and stress management effect the progression of recovery.

GORSKI BOOKS


High Risk Situations and Relapse

May 4, 2014

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By Terence T. Gorski, <a href=”http://www.relapse.org”>Author

A High Risk Situation (HRS) is the last step in an ongoing relapse process. To put it simply, a high risk situation is any experience that causes people to if two things:

1. Move away from the people, places, and things that support your recovery; and

2. Putt yourself around people places and things that support your return it addictive use.

To be more specific, a high risk situation can be described as any experience that meets one or more of the following criteria. The more criteria that are part of the experience, the higher the risk of starting addictive use. Here is how to recognize a high risk situation.

1. It isolates you from people who support your recovery;

2. It puts you around people who support and encourage your return to addictive use;

3. It gives you easy access to your addictive substance or behavior;

4. It puts you in a place where other people are acting out their addiction;

5. It encourages addictive thinking based upon the mistaken belief that addictive use will stop my pain and solve my problems;

6. It evokes strong feelings and emotions that are difficult for you to handle in a sober state of mind (these can be strong positive or negative emotions);

7. It activates or is a trigger for craving (the strong urge to use);

8. It reactivates old and deeply entrenched addiction-seeking (alcohol/drug seeking) behaviors which drive you into more intense high risk situations;

9. It limits your choices and available options for coping with or getting out of the situation; and

10. It puts you under social pressure to use, often with the promise of secrecy (It’s OK because no one will know!) and a guarantee it will be just this once (You can enjoy yourself now and get right back into recovery tomorrow!).

You can get out of high risk situations if you recognize what the situation really is, and have a plan for getting out and getting help immediately. Without a plan made in advance to deal with the situation the risk of returning to addictive use is very high.

Many people flirt with high risk situations. They often talk about wanting to prove to themselves they can handle the situation without using.

If they get into a high risk situation and get out without using, they tend to develop a false sense of confidence. They say to themselves: “If I could handle it once without using, I can do it again.”

This leads them to minimize the danger of high risk situations and take unnecessary risks with their recovery.

Early relapse warning signs are the thoughts, feelings and actions that lead you into high risk situations. In relapse prevention these warning signs are often described as Apparently Irrelevant Decisions that put people in high risk situations that seem to happen by chance.

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Managing Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW): Five Things You Can Do

January 16, 2014

By Terence T. Gorski, Author
January 16, 2014

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Five Things You Can Do!

This is an Excerpt From The Book: Straight Talk About Addiction
By Terence T. Gorski
Get It From GORSKI BOOKS — Get It From AMAZON

Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW) can be a serious problem for nearly 90% of people in recovery from chemical addictions. There is hope. There are some simple recommendation that can help you manage PAW symptoms. In severe cases and when coexisting disorders, especially depression, are present, there are medications that can help. Don’t be too quick to start medications. The consistent use of five simple and straight forward steps can make a big difference in reducing the frequency and severity of PAW symptoms episodes. Here are the recommended steps in managing PAW:

1. Accurate Information: Explain PAW and have the person do a self-evaluation of PAW and review the results. This will give them words and ideas to explain what they are experiencing. It will also help people to stop feeling crazy, judging themselves for having the symptoms, and being anxious and afraid because they don’t know what is happening. Everything that needs to be covered in a comprehensive recovery education program on Post Acute Withdrawal is presented in the Comprehensive Guide to PAW.

2. Stress Management, Relaxation and Meditation: PAW is stress sensitive. This means the symptoms get more severe when experience high stress and less sever under low stress levels. Mindfulness Meditation has been shown to be especially effective. (See the Blog: Mindfulness Made Simple)

3. Proper Diet: Have an alcohol and drug free diet. Eat a high protein, complex carbohydrate meal plan. The closest diet plan is a hypoglycemic diet. Ask a nutritionist or look it up the internet. Avoid foods high in sugar and limit your caffeine intake. Supplement with multiple vitamins,Vitamin B-12, and broad spectrum amino acids. (Eating Right To Live Sober is a book on solid no-nonsense nutrition principles that have stood the test of time.)

4. Aerobic Exercise: Doing heart-measured aerobic exercise at least twenty minutes  per day, a minimum three-days per week in a heart-measured aerobic zone improves psychological well-being and overall health. To determine you aerobic training zone, subtract your age from 220. 80% of that number is you minimal training zone. 80% is the max). Too high or too low don’t seem to help much.

5. A Recovery Program: Have a regular schedule of recovery activities that put you in places and around people who support your recovery and where you can honestly talk about yourself without judgment. It is also important to having a sponsor/mentor and therapist trained as an addiction professional.

These practices seem to help stabilize brain chemistry, lower stress, and improve levels of self-esteem.

Don’t leave PAW management to chance.
Get a plan.
Work the plan.
If it doesn’t work, get additional help.

Please don’t spread the mistaken belief there is nothing that can be done to reduce the frequency and severity of PAW symptom episode. IT’S JUST IS NOT TRUE. The brain is plastic. It grows in response to experiences especially when stress in managed well during the experience.

THE MIND IS A POWERFUL THING — USE IT WISELY 

This is an Excerpt From The Book: Straight Talk About Addiction

By Terence T. Gorski
Get It From GORSKI BOOKS — Get It From AMAZON

 


Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW) and Neurocognitive Recovery In Alcoholism

December 4, 2013

Imageby Terence T. Gorski, Author

I first introduced the concept of Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW) in training programs that I presented starting in 1976 and the concept was originally published in the first edition of book Learning To Living Again – A Guide for Recovery From Alcoholism and in Passages Through Recovery. 

The concept of PAW was based upon a combination of clinical experience with relapse-prone alcoholics and a small but growing literature published by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) which was suggesting long-term neuropsychological impairment in recovering alcoholics. These impairments made it difficult for alcoholics to respond to traditional addiction counseling, even when advances in the cognitive therapy field were specifically adapted to alcoholism treatment.

The use of harsh confrontation, which was common in the treatment of alcoholics and drug addicts in the 1970’s, actually increased client denial and defensiveness, decreased the ability of recovering people to hear understand and integrate new information. The client got stuck in recovery was unable to progress in recovery, and became increasing frustrated. Symptoms if increased stress were obvious, but clients were unable to respond to the relaxation and stress management training which was just starting come of age. I coined the word stuck point to describe this inability to progress in recovery in spite of attempts to do so.

Once the client got stuck their stress increased and a predictable pattern of early warning signs became apparent. In a future article I will present the independent research which resulted in the AWARE Questionnaire, which confirmed and refined the ability to recognize the early warning signs of relapse.

The stuck point led to increased stress. The high stress, in turn, increased frustration and a morbid fear of inevitable failure. Since alcohol and drug use had been so destructive in the past, the fear of relapse activated a survival threat seemed to decrease the ability to think clearly and learn new information and skills. The relapsing people usually failed to understand what was happening and judged themselves as dumb, stupid, and unable to recover. Therapist often failed to recognize the neuropsychological basis of the symptoms, mislabeled it as denial and resistance and proceed to confront the client. The confrontation just made things worse. Other therapists decided the neurocognitive impairment was caused by unresolved family of origin problems and used deep relaxation and guided imagery to resolve trauma from previous physical or sexual abuse. This of course, was the hallmark of the codependency era.

The use of confrontation, regressive hypnosis, and catharsis techniques all increased the stress of clients, lowered their self-esteem by making them feel crazy, and decreased their self-confidence. This lack of self-confidence or absence of the positive belief in their ability to successfully recover was later dubbed low efficacy by cognitive therapists such as Alan Marlatt, Dennis Donovan, and Dennis Miller.

Convincing evidence began to develop that low efficacy was directly related with an increase in early relapse warning signs and the eventual failure to maintain recovery. The final trigger event was a high risk situation which activated craving in an environment that reinforced alcohol use while removing support for ongoing recovery.

Alan Marlatt observed the same thing. He originally described the phenomenon of apparently irrelevant decisions, which, in essence, described the same phenomena that I described as early relapse warning signs.

Both concepts were pointing at the same thing – symptoms caused progressive neuropsychology or neurocognitive dysfunction related to the stress of feeling stuck in a dysfunctional state and slowly becoming so dysfunctional and having no effective way to manage the growing inability to function. This produced a survival threat. We now know that high levels of stress activates the amygdala in the brain. The amygdala would shift behavioral control from slow-moving conscious decision-making to automatic use of emergency survival skills.

I labeled this progressive stress-induced dysfunction as the relapse syndrome.

The relapse syndrome was a progression of early warning signs of relapse  that ended in a high risk situation which activated craving, drug-seeking behavior, exposure to high risk situations, and the return to using alcohol and or other drugs.

The bottom line is this. In 2008 a compelling body of evidence exists that there is progressive brain dysfunction in alcoholic clients. This brain dysfunction is measurable and supported in the scientific literature. What follows is the research verification for the Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAW) Syndrome. This evidence is summarized in the following Alcohol Alert.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
Alcohol Alert, No. 53 – July 2001

ON THE INTERNET: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa53.htm

 Brain damage is a common and potentially severe consequence of long-term, heavy alcohol consumption. Even mild-to-moderate drinking can adversely affect cognitive functioning (i.e., mental activities that involve acquiring, storing, retrieving, and using information) (1). Persistent cognitive impairment can contribute to poor job performance in adult alcoholics, and can interfere with learning and academic achievement in adolescents with an established pattern of chronic heavy drinking (2). A small but significant proportion of the heaviest drinkers may develop devastating, irreversible brain-damage syndromes, such as Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder in which the patient is incapable of remembering new information for more than a few seconds (3).

It stands to reason that cognitive impairment also may impede recovery from alcoholism, although evidence has not conclusively shown this to be the case.  For example, Morgenstern and Bates (4) studied whether deficits in a patient’s learning and planning abilities-core aspects of many treatment strategies-affected recovery from alcoholism. They found that impairment was not a significant predictor of poor treatment response. On the other hand, evidence does support the possibility that brain damage, whether resulting from or predating alcohol use, may contribute to the development and progression of alcoholism (5).

Designing practical strategies to cope with the complex combination of alcoholism and cognitive impairment requires an understanding of the nature of cognitive functions and their interactions with structural and functional brain abnormalities. This issue of Alcohol Alert describes the nature and consequences of common alcohol-associated cognitive defects, explores the extent to which some cognitive abilities recover with abstinence, and summarizes recent research on the effects of cognitive deficits on alcoholism treatment outcome.

Cognition and Alcohol

Most alcoholics exhibit mild-to-moderate deficiencies in intellectual functioning (6), along with diminished brain size and regional changes in brain-cell activity. The most prevalent alcohol-associated brain impairments affect visuospatial abilities and higher cognitive functioning (7). Visuospatial abilities include perceiving and remembering the relative locations of objects in 2- and 3-dimensional space. Examples include driving a car or assembling a piece of furniture based on instructions contained in a line drawing. Higher cognitive functioning includes the abstract-thinking capabilities needed to organize a plan, set it in motion, and change it as needed (2).

Most alcoholics entering treatment perform as well as nonalcoholics on tests of overall intelligence. However, alcoholics perform poorly on neuropsychological tests that measure specific cognitive abilities (8). For example, an alcoholic who has remained abstinent after treatment may have no apparent difficulty filing office documents correctly, a task that engages multiple brain regions. However, that same person might be unable to devise a completely different filing system, a task closely associated with higher cognitive functioning.

How Much Is Too Much?

The link between duration and lifetime quantity of drinking and the development of cognitive problems is unclear. Some investigators have proposed that cognitive performance worsens in direct proportion to the severity and duration of alcoholism (6,9). Studies suggest that social drinkers who consume more than 21 drinks per week also fit into this category (6). Other investigators have suggested that cognitive deficits may be detectable only in those alcoholics who have been drinking regularly for 10 years or more (8,10). Long-term, light-to-moderate social drinkers have been found to fall into this category as well, showing cognitive deficits equivalent to those found in detoxified alcoholics (8). Although further research is needed to determine how a person’s pattern of drinking is related to cognitive impairment, some deficits are possible even in people who are not heavy drinkers.

Tracking Structural and Functional Brain Abnormalities

Structural and functional brain abnormalities generally are measured by noninvasive imaging techniques that provide a picture of the living brain with minimal risk to the individual. Structural imaging techniques, such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, are used to generate computerized pictures of living tissue. Functional imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, permit scientists to study cell activity by tracking blood flow and energy metabolism. For more information about imaging, see Alcohol Alert No. 47, “Imaging and Alcoholism: A Window on the Brain.”

Structural imaging consistently reveals that compared with nonalcoholics, most alcoholics’ brains are smaller and less dense (11,12). Loss of brain volume is most noticeable in two areas: the outer layer (i.e., the cortex) of the frontal lobe, which is considered a major center of higher mental functions (7,12,13); and the cerebellum, which is responsible largely for gait and balance as well as certain aspects of learning (14). Support for these results is provided by functional imaging studies, which reveal altered brain activity throughout the cortex and cerebellum of heavy drinkers (15). In addition, functional imaging often is sufficiently sensitive to detect these irregularities before they can be observed by structural imaging techniques, and even before major cognitive problems themselves become manifest. This suggests that functional imaging may be particularly useful for detecting the early stages of cognitive decline (15).

Understanding the Basis of Cognitive Impairment

Accurate measurement of cognitive abilities is challenging, and relating those abilities to a specific brain irregularity simply may not be possible with the current technology (16). Discrepancies among research findings have led scientists to develop improved cognitive-measuring techniques. Using a battery of tests, Beatty and colleagues (9) have suggested that widespread (i.e., diffuse) cognitive impairment could arise from damage to multiple brain areas, each of which regulates distinct but related abilities. Likewise, damaging the network of brain cells that synchronizes the overall activity of those multiple areas may produce the same cognitive impairments previously attributed to localized damage (9).

Is Impairment Reversible?

Certain alcohol-related cognitive impairment is reversible with abstinence (17). Newly detoxified adult alcoholics often exhibit mild yet significant deficits in some cognitive abilities, especially problem-solving, short-term memory, and visuospatial abilities (18). By remaining abstinent, however, the recovering alcoholic will continue to recover brain function over a period of several months to 1 year (19)-with improvements in working memory, visuospatial functioning, and attention-accompanied by significant increases in brain volume, compared with treated alcoholics who have subsequently relapsed to drinking (18).

Rewiring Brain Networks

Reversibility of alcohol-related cognitive function also may be the result of a reorganization of key brain-cell networks. Some researchers have proposed that such reorganization may contribute to the success of alcoholism treatment. Using advanced imaging techniques, Pfefferbaum and colleagues (20) examined the brain activity of cognitively impaired alcoholic participants during a series of tests designed to assess cognitive function. They found that although the alcoholic subjects had abnormal patterns of brain activation, compared with control subjects, they were able to complete the tasks equally well, suggesting that the brain systems in alcoholics can be functionally reorganized so that tasks formerly performed by alcohol-damaged brain systems are shunted to alternative brain systems.  This finding-that cognitively impaired alcoholic patients use different brain pathways than unimpaired patients to achieve equivalent outcome-also was suggested in a study of patients in 12-step treatment programs (4). Functional brain reorganization may be particularly advantageous for adolescent alcohol abusers in treatment, because their developing brains are still in the process of establishing nerve-cell networks (21).

Cognitive Function and Alcoholism Treatment

The exact role that cognitive function has in alcoholism treatment success is unclear. Structural and functional imaging, as well as more specific cognitive tests, may provide scientists with the tools needed to reveal subtle relationships between alcohol-related cognitive impairment and recovery. Meanwhile, certain conclusions can be drawn from existing research that help to explain how cognitive function may influence alcoholism treatment:

Cognitive deficits have been hypothesized to affect the efficacy of alcoholism treatment, although a clear association has not been established. One view finds that cognitively impaired patients may not be able to comprehend the information imparted during therapy and, thus, may not make full use of the strategies presented, thereby hampering recovery. Another view is that cognitive functioning may not directly influence treatment outcome, but may impact other factors that, in turn, contribute to treatment success (22). Focusing on those factors-such as improved nutrition, opportunities for exercise, careful evaluation of comorbid mental or medical disorders, and/or treatment strategies aimed at enticing the patient out of long-standing social isolation-ultimately may be more beneficial than focusing exclusively on recovery from alcoholism.

Other types of non-alcohol-related brain damage also can produce symptoms resembling those associated with chronic alcoholism. Clinicians must be aware that no matter the cause of the impairment, it may have an impact on the patient’s ability to benefit fully from alcohol-treatment strategies. Cognitive impairment is usually most severe during the first weeks of abstinence, perhaps making it difficult for some alcoholics to benefit from educational and skill-development sessions, which are important components of many treatment programs (22,23). For example, one study found that alcoholics tested soon after entering treatment were unable to recall treatment-related information presented in a film they had just been shown (4). As time goes by and cognitive function improves, however, patients may make better use of information presented to them in individual and group therapy, educational programs, and 12-step programs.

Cognitive Impairment and Recovery From alcoholism
 – A Commentary by NIAAA Director Enoch Gordis, M.D.

The new noninvasive imaging techniques that allow us to “see” how the brain operates have been a boon to the study of cognition. Through this medium, we now know that the brain is capable of “rewiring” itself. In doing so, the brain can regain some of the cognitive abilities previously diminished as a result of damage from alcohol or other diseases. The brain’s remarkable ability to recover is important for at least two reasons. First, alcohol use over a period of time, even at low levels of drinking, can produce varying degrees of cognitive damage, a problem that is of particular concern because alcohol use is so widespread. Thus, the brain’s self-repairing ability may help defer or reduce alcohol-induced cognitive problems among a large portion of the population. Second, the brain’s ability to rewire itself may have implications in terms of adolescent drinking. Recent evidence suggests that the adolescent brain, which is still forming important cellular connections, is more vulnerable than the adult brain to alcohol-induced damage. This is particularly troubling, given the problems associated with chronic binge drinking, which is all too common among young people. The brain’s ability to rewire important neurological systems might help mitigate a lifetime of cognitive difficulties resulting from chronic drinking during adolescence, but we do not yet know if this is true. Future research will help clarify this and other important questions about alcohol’s effect on cognition.

References

(1) Evert, D.L., and Oscar-Berman, M. Alcohol-related cognitive impairments: An overview of how alcoholism may affect the workings of the brain. Alcohol Health Res World 19(2):89-96, 1995. (2) Giancola, P.R., and Moss, H.B. Executive cognitive functioning in alcohol use disorders. In: Galanter, M., ed. Recent Developments in Alcoholism: Volume 14. The Consequences of Alcoholism.New York: Plenum Press, 1998. pp. 227-251. (3) Oscar-Berman, M. Severe brain dysfunction: Alcoholic Korsakoff’s syndrome. Alcohol Health Res World 14(2):120-129, 1990. (4) Morgenstern, J., and Bates, M.E. Effects of executive function impairment on change processes and substance use outcomes in 12-step treatment. J Stud Alcohol 60(6)846-855, 1999. (5) Bowden, S.C.; Crews, F.T.; Bates, M.E.; et al. Neurotoxicity and neurocognitive impairments with alcohol and drug-use disorders: Potential roles in addiction and recovery. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 25(2):317-321, 2001. (6) Parsons, O.A. Neurocognitive deficits in alcoholics and social drinkers: A continuum? Alcohol Clin Exp Res 22(4):954-961, 1998. (7) Oscar-Berman, M.; Shagrin, B.; Evert, D.L.; and Epstein, C. Impairments of brain and behavior: The neurological effects of alcohol. Alcohol Health Res World 21(1):65-75, 1997. (8) Parsons, O.A., and Nixon, S.J. Cognitive functioning in sober social drinkers: A review of the research since 1986. J Stud Alcohol 59(2):180-190, 1998. (9) Beatty, W.W.; Tivis, R.; Stott, H.D; Nixon, S.J.; and Parsons, O.A. Neuropsychological deficits in sober alcoholics: Influences of chronicity and recent alcohol consumption. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 24(2):149-154, 2000. (10) Eckardt, M.J.; File, S.E.; Gessa, G.L.; et al. Effects of moderate alcohol consumption on the central nervous system. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 22(5):998-1040, 1998. (11) Pfefferbaum, A.; Rosenbloom, M.; Crusan, K.; and Jernigan, T.L. Brain CT changes in alcoholics: Effects of age and alcohol consumption. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 12(1):81-87, 1988. (12) Pfefferbaum, A.; Lim, K.O.; Zipursky, R.B.; et al. Brain gray and white matter volume loss accelerates with aging in chronic alcoholics: A quantitative MRI study. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 16(6):1078-1089, 1992. (13) Lyvers, M. “Loss of control” in alcoholism and drug addiction: A neuroscientific interpretation. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol8(2):225-249, 2000. (14) Sullivan, E.V.; Rosenbloom, M.J.; Deshmukh, A.; et al. Alcohol and the cerebellum: Effects on balance, motor coordination, and cognition. Alcohol Health Res World 19(2):138-141, 1995. (15) Eberling, J.L., and Jagust, W.J. Imaging studies of aging, neurodegenerative disease, and alcoholism. Alcohol Health Res World 19(4):279-286, 1995. (16) Parsons, O.A. Determinants of cognitive deficits in alcoholics: The search continues. Clin Neuropsychologist 8(1):39-58, 1994. (17) Volkow, N.; Wang, G.J.; and Doria, J.J. Monitoring the brain’s response to alcohol with positron emission tomography. Alcohol Health Res World 19(4):296-299, 1995. (18) Sullivan, E.V.; Rosenbloom, M.J.; Lim, K.O.; and Pfefferbaum, A. Longitudinal changes in cognition, gait, and balance in abstinent and relapsed alcoholic men: Relationships to changes in brain structure. Neuropsychology 14(2):178-188, 2000a. (19) Sullivan, E.V.; Rosenbloom, M.J.; and Pfefferbaum, A. Pattern of motor and cognitive deficits in detoxified alcoholic men. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 24(5):611-621, 2000 b. (20) Pfefferbaum, A.; Desmond, J.E.; Galloway, C.; et al. Reorganization of frontal systems used by alcoholics for spatial working memory: An fMRI study. NeuroImage 13:1-14, 2001. (21) Spear, L. Modeling adolescent development and alcohol use in animals. Alcohol Res Health 24(2):115-123, 2000. (22) Allen, D.N.; Goldstein, G.; and Seaton, B.E. Cognitive rehabilitation of chronic alcohol abusers. Neuropsych Review 7(1):21-39, 1997. (23) McCrady, B.S., and Smith, D.E. Implications of cognitive impairment for the treatment of alcoholism. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 10(2):145-149, 1986.


Addiction Symptoms, PAW, and The Circle Of Denial

December 2, 2013

By Terence T. Gorski

imagesAlcohol and drug addiction has progressive symptoms that are readily observable. There are the SUBSTANCE-BASED SYMPTOMS, which occur while the addict is actively using with a high blood level of the drug. Then there are the ABSTINENCE/WITHDRAWAL-BASED SYMPTOMS, which come into play when an alcoholic/addict tried to stop using. This includes an acute withdrawal syndrome, known and recognized for decades. It also includes the symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW).

PAW, an Abstinence-based group of symptoms, shows up in the following ways:

(1) Problems in thinking clearly and solving usually simple problems;

(2) Problems managing feelings and emotions which results in alternating episodes of emotional over-reaction or emotional numbness;

(3) Problems with storing short-term memory into long-term memory which makes people forgetful;

(4) Sleep disorders marked by the inability to sleep restfully until exhaustion imposes a sleeping marathon of 20 hours or longer;

(5) Problems with psychomotor coordination making people stumble, drop things, or knock things over (the origin of the term “dry drunk);

(6) Problems with managing stress marked by the tendency of the previous five symptoms getting dramatically worse when tired, fatigued, or under pressure.

The incredible thing is that all of these symptoms, both SUBSTANCE-BASED SYMPTOMS and ABSTINENCE/WITHDRAWAL-BASED SYMPTOMS, are very noticeable. They are not at all funny although there is a tendency to laugh about them. It is what is called dark humor, gallows humor, or a cold joke. But then again, humor is more about pain than anything else. We rarely laugh at people who are doing healthy functional things. We laugh at the things that hurt so bad we need some comic relief to get away even for a little while.

So how are these readily observable symptoms so easily accepted in the real world, enabled by people close to the addict, and denied by the alcoholics themselves, and usually no diagnosed by trained physicians, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals?  It is liked a circular closed loop of denial:

“I deny! à My friends & family deny! à The world denies à Start again.

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Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAW): The Symptoms

October 27, 2013

By Terence T. Gorski

Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW) is a cluster of symptoms that occur in recovering addicts and alcoholics. PAW symptoms usually begin to occur between seven and fourteen days after the acute period of withdrawal, and usually peak between three and six months after the start of abstinence.

Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAW) Syndrome is also referred to as:

– The protracted withdrawal syndrome,

– Chronic brain toxicity,

– Long-term neuropsychological impairment

– Long-term neuro-cognitive impairment

Acute withdrawal (AW) is composed of physical symptoms that occur as a result of stopping the use of a drug after the addict has develop tolerance and dependence.

– Tolerance means that the body adapts to the constant use of large quantities of the primary drug of choice. As a result it takes more and more of the drug to experience the desired effect from taking the drug.

– Dependence means that the body learns to function normally with a high dose of the drug. When they stop taking the drug they experience symptoms of acute withdrawal.

– Symptoms of Acute Withdrawal (AW) includes shakes, vomiting, chills, muscle soreness and cramps, headaches, diarrhea or constipation, extreme skin sensitivity, sensitivity to light, and more. PAW begins to emerge as AW symptoms begin to subside.

PAW is a bio-psycho-social syndrome that results from the combination of damage to the nervous system caused by alcohol or drugs and the psychosocial stress of coping with life without drugs or alcohol.

PAW symptoms can be divided into the following six groups or clusters:

1.  Difficulty Thinking Clearly:  PAW causes recovering people to have difficulty recognizing and solving usually simple problems, making decisions, concentrating, understanding abstract concepts, and stopping rigid and repetitive ways of thinking.

2.  Difficulty Managing Feelings: PAW creates the tendency to vacillate between emotional overreactions or emotional numbness;

3.  Difficulty Remembering Things: PAW causes people to have difficulty remembering what they learn and understand. The memories tend to fade after several hours something. It’s as if the memories are not shifted from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4.  Difficulty Sleeping Restfully: PAW causes sleep disturbances. Many recovering people have difficulty falling asleep and sleeping restfully. Their sleep is fitful; they awaken many times during the night, and do not feel rested after sleep.

5.  Problems With Physical Coordination: Recovering people often have difficulty with hand-eye coordination and controlling fine muscle movements. They also have problems with balance and can easily feel dizzy and disoriented.

6.  Stress Sensitivity: Recovering people tend to be stress sensitive. This means that a low level of stress can cause an exaggerated reaction on their brain and nervous system. Living in high stress, which is necessary in facing the challenges of early recovery, cause the problems with managing thoughts, feelings, memory, and sleep to become even more severe.

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