Tag Archives: Addiction

Skill-Building Activities for Mental Health and Addiction

“Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Steps to Recovery

Recovery takes time, a community, and will involve many different steps for each person. In recovery, a setback may be inevitable. However, a setback is not a reason for recovery to be abandoned. Everyone struggles with something in their own way and will face obstacles and setbacks. One of the best courses of action you can take is to accumulate various tools and means of support. Addiction is complex and thus your recovery will also be complex. This does not mean it is impossible, but simply that it is a process that will take serious effort.

The thought of addressing mental health issues, particularly when in recovery, may not be the most appealing. In fact, it may feel like an exhausting task. However, it is possible to engage without using all of your energy. With recovery, there are different forms of therapy that will be needed. Among them, Adventure Therapy is a way to participate in therapy while staying active. Understandably, it is not always going to be possible to engage in more strenuous physical exercise. Sometimes you just need something that is calming and simple. The good thing is there are a lot of options for low-impact activities. They will do a lot to improve your mental health and help you in your sobriety.

Low-Impact Activities to Improve Mental Health

A sense of purpose is incredibly important for any person and especially so when you are in recovery. When you have a routine and engage in physical exercise or social activities, that is a part of establishing your identity. There are low-impact activities like gardening and volunteering that allow you to be active without extending too much energy. They may even help you find a sense of self-worth.

With gardening and volunteering, you can take care of where you live and the community around you. When you give back to others, you should do so without expecting anything in return. Nonetheless, it will in turn enrich your life and you may find great improvements to your mental health. While gardening and volunteering can differ, both will develop the communities that are immensely important in recovery.

With gardening, you can work with a wide variety of plants that are visually pleasing as well as plants that can provide food. As you nourish the plants, it is rewarding to see the results of your labor. It is also fulfilling to know you are helping to create and maintain life. When you volunteer, you may be able to gain leadership and team-building skills. These skills will be essential in work and day-to-day life.

Practicing Mindfulness

Activities like yoga, meditation, cooking, and walking are all easy-going ways to relax, ease stress, and reduce symptoms of mental illness. They won’t be an instant fix, but they can be a component of the working parts that comprise your recovery. Yoga, in particular, has been shown to be helpful for stress and pain management. A Harvard Mental Health Letter cites a study by the University of Utah, which showed that people who practiced yoga had better stress regulation and in turn better pain management.*

There are many different ways to practice meditation, with no one way being correct. Often, people who practice meditation want to focus on their breath and focus on the present moment. The idea is to create a state of calm and peace, which will allow for internal reflection. From an article published by the US National Library of Medicine, author Michael McGee MD, wrote, “Several studies have also suggested that meditation can be helpful for the treatment of anxiety, addiction, aggression, suicidality, and depression.”*

Often, we can be our worst enemy when we constantly over-think our problems. This feeds a negative mindset from which it is hard to recover. Meditation and yoga are great ways to calm a racing mind. Adventure Therapy can be totally calm like yoga and meditation or high-impact like team sports and white-water rafting. Whatever you choose, it should help you to stop dwelling on the negative aspects of life that keep you down.

Cooking and Walking as Therapy

Cooking and walking are two activities that can do a lot to help your physical and mental health. With walking, you can get much needed exercise without too much of a strain. When you are walking outdoors, you may find that you are able to find time for reflection and it may help relieve some stress. Cooking is an activity that requires you to learn and focus on the tasks at hand. You may end up learning a lot about nutrition which obviously affects your physical health, but also affects your mental health in ways you may not even realize.

In an article for Psychology Today, Linda Wasmer Andrews writes that culinary therapy is growing at clinics and therapists offices, and is being used to treat a number of conditions including, “…depression, anxiety, eating disorders, ADHD, and addiction.”* What you eat can greatly affect your mental health, but the act of cooking itself can be immensely helpful.  As you cook, you gain new knowledge and also you can practice mindfulness as you focus on each step. Mindfulness may appear to be simple, but it something that when you practice it, it yields extraordinary benefits. Among the benefits, it will help reduce the time you spend worrying which feeds into mental illness.

Mental Health and Recovery

While the activities listed above are calm and low intensity, they can still be adventurous and you can learn. Sometimes just learning new facts and skills can be an exciting experience. Any type of Adventure Therapy should help you develop life-skills, interpersonal relationships, and even enable you to learn more about yourself. As the types of Adventure Therapy vary, the benefits will also vary from activity to activity. You can try a wide variety and figure out what is best for you. Whatever you choose, hopefully you are able to challenge yourself and find experiences that will be so fulfilling you will only want to move forward on this new path.

Addiction and mental health issues are not always going to feed in to one another. However, they can end up forming a vicious cycle when left untreated. Even if you are fortunate to never face serious mental illness problems, it will still be beneficial to you to work on your mental health. When you are in a better place mentally, you are better equipped to fight addiction. Mental health and addiction are both complex issues and not something you can solve by yourself. Engaging in these light activities with the support of your community will be important steps in your recovery.

*Resources:
Harvard- Yoga for anxiety and depression
US National Library of Medicine – Meditation and Psychiatry
Newsweek – 1 in 5 suffer from a mental illness
Psychology Today – Kitchen Therapy

The Link Between Hunger Hormones, Substance Abuse and Addiction


When you start continually using a substance such as alcohol, opioids or cocaine, your body not only builds up a tolerance, but it eventually starts to develop cravings for that substance. This isn’t all too dissimilar to cravings you will have for certain kinds of food.

When one’s hunger hormones are out of whack, the person is at risk of overeating and eventually obesity. Researchers have begun studying this phenomenon as it relates to drug and alcohol use. And in limited trials to this point, they have found quite positive results.

This article will break down the likely connection between hunger hormones and substance cravings, and then we will get into the latest advancements and what they could mean for treating addiction in the near future.

How Hunger Hormones May Be Related to Substance Use 

As we learn more about overeating and obesity, the more important it is to focus on how hunger hormones (aka gut hormones) work. And as scientists study these hormones more and more, they are finding an increasingly stronger connection to the continued use of alcohol or drugs.

“Hormones from the gut act in the brain to modulate dopamine signaling, which controls decisions to seek out rewards,” said Dr. Mitchell Roitman, University of Illinois-Chicago neuroscientist, in a Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior article.

It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol have a direct effect on the brain’s dopamine production. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain sent by neurons to other nerve cells. In most cases, drug and alcohol use temporarily speeds up the production of dopamine. It tempts people into repeating and reinforcing this perceived pleasurable activity.

Prolonged substance use changes the brain’s natural ability to produce dopamine, and the body physiologically wants more of the substance in order to feel “normal” again. There is a reward in the brain when substances are used to achieve a certain state, and after a while, that reward almost becomes expected, leaving the person on edge until it is met again.

So if gut hormones have an effect on dopamine, and drugs and alcohol do, too, it follows that the key to fighting substance abuse should be in figuring out how to regulate these hormones. We are starting to understand that gut hormones are responsible for our cravings for more than just food, but any substance we put into our bodies.

Which Hormones Play a Role in Cravings?

There are three main gut hormones in play when it comes to regulating cravings and how “full” someone is regarding food, liquids, substances and more. These hormones are:

  • Ghrelin: The primary hunger hormone that increases appetite and food intake while promoting fat storage. It also plays a role in insulin release, and it can act on regions of the brain known for reward processing. A recent study found that ghrelin can influence the reward value of alcohol intake similar to the way it increases the reward value of food.
  • GLP-1: A hormone that releases while eating to tell the brain when the person has eaten enough. GLP-1 originates in the small intestine, and it stimulates insulin secretion while inhibiting glucagen secretion. This lowers the blood sugar levels in the body.
  • Amylin: Another hormone that tells the brain when to stop eating, and it also mitigates glucagen secretion. Diabetic patients are deficient in this peptide hormone.

Medications that Focus on These Hormones

If GLP-1 and amylin tell the person when to stop eating or drinking, then focusing on these hormones appears to be the key to regulating cravings and preventing overconsumption.

“Medications affecting GLP-1 and amylin are already FDA approved for Type II diabetes and obesity. These drugs could be repurposed for treating drug craving and relapse,” said Dr. Heath Schmidt of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman Medical School.

And at the University of Rhode Island, a group of researchers from the school’s College of Pharmacy have begun studying how a ghrelin-inhibiting drug affects alcohol cravings. Their studies have worked under the theory that higher concentrations of ghrelin are associated with higher alcohol cravings and consumption.

Professor Fatemeh Akhlaghi said that his team has found positive results when using a drug to block ghrelin in order to stave off alcohol cravings. So far, they have tested this medication in rats, as well as 12 volunteer patients. Their study was published in May in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Granted, scientists need to do further research in order to make a rock-solid conclusion about treating substance cravings by inhibiting ghrelin. But, the early results show much promise, at least.

Types of Diabetes Drugs – and Their Drawbacks

When focusing on hunger hormones in order to reduce alcohol cravings, the goal would be to:

  • Mitigate ghrelin levels.
  • Increase GLP-1 and amylin production.

The University of Rhode Island team used a drug originally developed by Pfizer to treat obesity and diabetes in their study. Elsewhere, scientists are focusing on GLP-1 analogs and agonists. In total, all aforementioned drugs have to do with diabetes and obesity, but scientists are now looking at them as a potential solution to alcohol and drug cravings.

If you’re not familiar with GLP-1 agonists, also called incretin mimetics, some common names to know are (generic name followed by brand name in parentheses):

  • Dulaglutide (Trulicity)
  • Exenatide (Bydureon)
  • Exenatide (Byetta)
  • Liraglutide (Victoza)
  • Lixisenatide (Adlyxin)
  • Semaglutide (Ozempic)

An agonist means it boost the production of, in this case, GLP-1. The drugs listed here are for type 2 diabetes patients and injectable, but they aren’t insulin. Instead, they improve blood sugar control and make you feel “full” more quickly – and for a longer period of time. This helps prevent overeating and, by extension, promotes weight loss.

However, you have to be careful when using GLP-1 agonist drugs and watch for side effects such as:

  • Either diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headaches
  • Heavy sweating

Managing Cravings in Rehabilitation and Recovery

Drug and alcohol addiction recovery programs typically place a major emphasis on managing cravings. This is often part of their relapse prevention education, in which clients learn about cravings and then practice a few strategies for keeping them in check. This is especially important as they graduate the program and return home to everyday life with no therapist or doctor to watch over them 24/7.

Cravings tend to last two to five years in most clients, although they can persist longer in some cases. They tend to lessen in intensity and frequency in time, but it’s important for people in recovery to know how to manage them and not let them draw them into relapse.

Although medications such as diabetes drugs may eventually become popular in order to help with substance cravings, they are not quite ready yet. In the meantime, learn some tried-and-true relapse prevention techniques, and find a rehab program that will teach these to you and give you sufficient time to practice these before you return home as a sober individual.

See Our Relapse Prevention Resource