Tag Archives: Treatment Best Practices

Genetic Testing & Addiction

How Genetic History Impacts Addiction

The science behind genetic testing used as a method to understand addiction may be relatively new. Still, it is making a significant impact. It is not a perfect fix when it comes to resolving or preventing addiction, but it helps in understanding addiction and treatment. If medical professionals fully understand their patient’s history and makeup, they are better equipped to help them. At Reflections, we firmly believe in fully understanding and treating each patient. When we work with genetic testing, we are not going to get a magic book with all of the answers. However, we will better understand each patient. This will help the patient in their recovery and they will have a better chance at maintaining sobriety.

When someone is already suffering from addiction, our goal is to understand their history and how they got there. Is there anything in their history and genetic make-up that made them susceptible to addiction? In a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH), they noted, “Addictions are moderately to highly heritable.”* This does not mean that every person with addiction in their heritage will suffer from addiction. The risks are higher but there a lot of factors. The possibility of addiction can greatly depend on the availability of an addictive agent, exposure to the addictive agent, and their choice to take it (NIH)*. Nonetheless, the reality is that there can be a greater risk and this is important to keep in mind. Identifying genes that make a person susceptible to addiction make it easier to then identify tools to help prevent relapse.

Genetic testing is only one piece of a very complex puzzle in resolving the problem of addiction.

-Robert Parkinson, U.S. News

Understanding Addiction with Genetic Testing

At Reflections Recovery Center, Lisa Parsons is the Medical Director. Dr. Parsons is particularly interested in understanding every aspect of the patient’s physical makeup to fully help them. It helps to look at the DNA of patients to understand if they are carrying any vulnerability in their genetics. If so, did something occur in their life that turned that vulnerability on? Someone that is prone to stress and anxiety might be fine until something traumatic happens. Part of their genetics that drive the stress and anxiety can be what then makes them susceptible to substance abuse. The testing our team does, including Dr. Parsons, looks at these factors and check for imbalances. Once an imbalance is identified, we can begin treatment to regain a proper balance again. As with any treatment, nothing is a perfect or a total fix on its own. Nonetheless, regaining balance in any area is hugely important and helpful.

DNA Methylation

One of the genetic structures we look at is DNA methylation. Methylation is a chemical reaction that occurs in every cell and tissue in our bodies.* It is, understandably, an incredibly important part of our health. As methylation is a process that involves DNA, understanding it and our genetic history is so important. Within the brain, there are reuptake proteins which act like vacuum cleaners. They live between brain cells that take away neurotransmitters to create balance. Balance is incredibly important for health in every aspect and especially so when it comes to methylation.

When someone is undermethylated, with too many reuptake proteins, they may feel chronically depressed, tense, and anxious. Some people may feel suicidal or a lack of care for their own life or safety. With too few reuptake proteins (overmethylation) someone might feel fidgety, tense, have a hard time relaxing, or have a hard time sleeping. With either imbalance, this can leave someone susceptible to addiction as they try to cope with these symptoms.  Methylation is a process that significantly impacts our health and lives more than most of us realize.

There are, of course, many other aspects of genetic testing to look at. This is just a brief example of what we will look at to thoroughly help each patient.

Treating Addiction with Genetic Testing

Not everyone suffering from addiction carries the same genes indicating addiction. Likewise, not everyone with vulnerable genetics will suffer from addiction. For those that are vulnerable or carry “addiction genes”, understanding their genetic makeup will help. Genetic testing allows us to determine if a patient is suffering from any number of disorders. We can see what in their genetic makeup may have made them vulnerable to addiction in the first place. It can also help to determine what is the best course of action for treatment. The more precisely we can understand genetics, the better we can tailor treatment to each individual.

In an article for U.S. News, Robert Parkinson writes, “Genetic testing is only one piece of a very complex puzzle in resolving the problem of addiction.”* This is incredibly important for any person, or loved one, dealing with addiction to know. Genetic testing is not going to provide a clear map for curing addiction and ensure there is never a relapse. What it will do is provide clarity and direction in some aspects. Addiction may be a complex puzzle and genetic testing may only be one part of that puzzle, but each piece is still vital. We want each patient to maintain sobriety, not just become sober for a short amount of time. If we are going to meet this goal, then we have to look at everything we can to help them.

*Resources:
NIH – Genes and Addictions
Revolution Health – What is Methylation and Why Should You Care?
U.S. News – Genetic Testing for Addiction

Work Separation Anxiety and Not Receiving Addiction Treatment for Fear of Missing Work


Ask yourself this, “Do I fear calling in sick or taking vacation time? Do I worry that my tasks will pile up and fall behind while I’m gone? Or that others will try to do them and mess them up? Or that my boss will get impatient or look down on me for being absent?”

If you answered yes to the first question and to any of the following three, then you may suffer from work separation anxiety. Granted, this isn’t a clinical disorder, but it isn’t an ideal spot to be in. Furthermore, work stress will likely build up until you try to seek relief in unhealthy ways, such as substance use.

In the U.S, only about 11 percent of the roughly 25 million people who battle drug and alcohol addictions will enter a treatment program this year. Yes, some of this is due to inadequate insurance coverage. But, some people eschew seeking addiction treatment for fear of taking time away from their job.

What Is Work Separation Anxiety?

Separation Anxiety: The fear or distress that can happen to both children and adults when they think about separating from home or from the people they’ve become attached to. 

The Mayo Clinic asserts that separation anxiety, when it comes to relationships, normally occurs in infants and toddlers 3 years and younger.

“Less often, separation anxiety disorder can also occur in teenagers and adults, causing significant problems leaving home or going to work. But treatment can help,” The Mayo Clinic asserts.

When it comes to work, separation anxiety involves worrying over being away from the workplace for a prolonged time. And, in many respects, it’s understandable. To many of us, our work is our lifeblood – way beyond simply a means of paying our bills.

Our professions define many of our identities, too. After all, how many times do you meet a new person and they ask, “What do you do for work?” within the first couple of minutes?

It can be hard to separate yourself from the notion that where you work and what you do there does not comprise your entire existence. This is especially true if you’re used to working late, taking your work home with you and always being on standby in case “something urgent” arises.

Signs and Potential Symptoms of Work Separation Anxiety

If you look at the symptoms The Mayo Clinic lists for regular separation anxiety, you can tweak the list a bit in order to presume the symptoms of work separation anxiety:

  • Recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from the workplace or out of touch with colleagues
  • Constant, excessive worry about losing the job, the company going under, or colleagues not being able to do your tasks the way you would do them
  • Reluctance or refusal to take extended time away from work
  • Worried that something bad happened with the company while you’re disconnected from communication – such as no phone nearby, no service or dead battery on your phone, or no internet connection for your laptop
  • Repeated nightmares about losing your job or the company suffering a setback
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, indigestion, hot flashes or other symptoms when away from the workplace

Separation anxiety often has a close relationship with:

  • Anxiety disorders – such as generalized anxiety, panic disorders, panic attacks and phobias
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression

According to Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., counselor and professor at Northern Illinois University, workplace separation anxiety is characterized by “the type of person who cannot enjoy a moment away from the office for fear of what might happen in your absence or what tasks you’re not completing when you’re actually supposed to be focused on leisure, not work.”

Work Stress Leading to Substance Abuse

The stress of feeling always plugged into work can cause some people to unwind with a substance like alcohol or marijuana at the end of a long day. But in other cases, people begin taking drugs to overcome the lack of sleep or because they think it will boost their performance on the job. A stimulant is usually the drug of choice in these situations, with possibilities including cocaine, Adderall and methamphetamine.

The real concern with somebody battling workplace separation anxiety and substance abuse is that they are caught in a vicious cycle. The substance use may help them always be on the go, but it’s adding more stress and anxiety to the equation. This is bound to coming to a breaking point, eventually.

Substance Abuse Leading to Loss of Job

Another tragedy is that this job that the work this individual can’t pull oneself away from is being jeopardized by the continued substance abuse. Job loss could occur if the individual:

  • Says something inappropriate or offensive to a colleague
  • Lashes out at a coworker
  • Injures oneself or a colleague
  • Gets caught using on the job
  • Is hospitalized due to drug use at home and misses time from work

All of these erratic behaviors are more likely when an individual is actively addicted to drugs or alcohol. It’s worth saying again: Substance abuse directly jeopardizes their job standing. The longer the addiction rages on, it’s almost not a question if the person will lose their job or be demoted, but when.

Why Are Some People Afraid of Taking Time Away from Work for Rehab?

This is a valid question. Even though everyone who experiences work separation anxiety is not a drug addict, you almost have to be an addict to understand why other addicts don’t want to take the time away from work to rehabilitate.

When you’re actively addicted to a substance, paranoia is a common symptom or characteristic. Many addicts are constantly looking over their shoulder, so to speak. Addiction also rewires the brain to have thinking patterns that seem erratic or irrational to non-addicts.

A small sample of the myriad reasons people struggling with addiction may hesitate to take time off work for rehab include:

  • They fear losing their job or a demotion. (There are actually FMLA laws in place to preserve your job as you seek substance abuse treatment.)
  • They fear it would be letting down the rest of the company.
  • It would be seen as an admission of guilt. They can’t imagine interactions with colleagues and bosses ever being the same after going to and returning from rehab.
  • It would seemingly stifle all progress they had made toward the next promotion.
  • They are overwhelmed by the thought of falling behind on their work.
  • They don’t trust their colleagues to pick up the slack or to do the same quality of work in their absence.
  • Some work cultures implicitly look down on people who take vacation time or too much time off work, even if paid time off is one of the employee benefits.

Many of these are valid concerns, but actually getting into a rehab program will help alleviate many of these anxieties.

Working Through Work Separation Anxiety in Rehab

Professional addiction treatment programs can not only help you work toward long-term sobriety, but the counseling provided can help you overcome struggles like work separation anxiety. Counselors can help you understand what a healthy workload looks like once you return to your job.

And, perhaps, the counseling will help you realize that you either need a change of scenery or a new role at work, especially if your current role is stifling your larger goals in life. No matter what, the previous status quo is no longer acceptable.

If you have a son, brother or husband who’s struggling with substance use and can’t seem to pull himself away from work, there’s a level of stubbornness to break through to get him to go to rehab. A professional intervention is likely your best option in this scenario. Reflections Recovery Center stages professional interventions for men 18 years and older.

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The Science of Addiction Cravings and Preventing Relapse


Brain Science Explains Addiction Cravings

Psychology explains that cravings are common, often coming from a place of incompleteness or a need for relief from suffering.

The feeling of incompleteness — feeling inadequate, flawed or fundamentally lacking in some way — can be a source of great psychological pain for many. Self-medicating with pills, too much wine or a penchant for overeating relieves the pain for a short time.

Neuroscience teaches us that the things we crave, the pleasure-inducing parts of life, are things that increase dopamine in the brain. Dopamine makes things, like sex, feel so good it blocks out all other ideas and desires the mind might have, narrowing our focus to one specific goal: to attain that state of pleasure until it’s fulfilled. And anything that feels that good carries the potential for addiction.

The Impact of Cues/Triggers

The third piece of understanding cravings from a scientific perspective is triggers or cues. An association — the sound of opening a beer bottle or the visual of a needle on TV, for example — instantly ignites the addicted person to seek their poison. These triggers or cues elicit an emotional response, rapidly increasing the flow of dopamine to the brain.

Then internal cues – such as memories, wishes and imagination – further increase the flow of dopamine. Pretty soon, the dopamine takes over the brain until there seems only one viable course of action:  to satiate the craving and take the drug or drink.

Each time a person who is craving drugs or alcohol uses or imbibes, the impact of cues gets reinforced and stronger. Repeated cycles of craving and satiation changes the synapses in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, modifying and attuning it to achieve faster relief.

Drug and Alcohol Cravings

Brain science explains cravings as a natural process. The brain’s job is to motivate us to achieve important goals.

When someone has a chemical dependency, their unconscious automated goal is to achieve relief through drugs or alcohol. Unfortunately and ironically, people who start using or drinking for psychological pain relief inevitably end up facing greater and greater pain.

The destruction of their lives, jobs and relationships leads to financial and legal problems as well as more painful cravings, which only cause addicted individuals to feel more incomplete and more pain than when they first sought relief.

It Takes Time

According to research, cravings are one of the strongest predictors of relapse.

Drug cravings and alcohol cravings take much longer to subside than the withdrawal symptoms from these substances do. Therefore, the rehabilitation and recovery phase — what people normally picture as traditional rehab — is crucial.

During rehab at Reflections Recovery Center, our male clients learn skills that help them actively recognize triggers or cues and respond in a way that avoids relapse. We teach many other skills and lessons to clients in rehab, including:

  • Insight into the reasons behind why the client fell into addiction
  • Learning how to be sober
  • How to deal with addiction cravings
  • How to return home and avoid the pitfalls of relapse

The cravings among those in rehab will lessen in time and sometimes go away completely, but it’s not an overnight occurrence. It takes new skills, patience, time and effort to become a new man, allow the brain to reset, and experience diminished cravings.

You should expect cravings to occur. But if you’re involved in a recovery program that teaches you how to respond to the cravings in a healthy way, you should have the tools necessary to achieve long-term sobriety.

How Residential Treatment Helps

Reflections Recovery Center utilizes a variety of therapies to help those in recovery recognize and deal with cravings, triggers and cues. These therapies include, but are not limited to:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is the most widely used and recommended therapy for mental health issues. In CBT, the patient spends time talking to a trained therapist who diagnoses and treats mental and emotional problems.

The therapist and patient work together to identify and modify dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors. The process boosts happiness and confidence with the belief system that unhappiness is not predicated on events or situations in our lives, but rather how we perceive and interpret those events and situations.

The benefit of this way of thinking is that we can reconsider how we view external stimuli and change the way we think, affecting how we feel and behave in any situation. CBT is evidence-based and pronounced highly effective by scientific research.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on providing skills for social behavior and emotional regulation. Originally developed to help people with borderline personality disorder, DBT has since shown to be effective in treating many other mental health issues.

DBT typically involves one-on-one sessions with a trained therapist, although treatment centers also use it in group support meetings where individuals learn and practice new psychosocial skills with others. Group members share their experiences and provide mutual support in these instances.

DBT teaches clients skills in four main areas:

  • Mindfulness
  • Distress Tolerance
  • Emotion Regulation
  • Interpersonal Effectiveness

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a well-studied and non-invasive treatment for addiction, trauma and many other psychological disorders. The therapist helps move traumatic events and negative emotions stored in long-term memory to the forefront of the client’s mind. Then, the therapist can help the client reassess and reprocess those thoughts in a new way.

The therapist then help the client understand his or her own experience(s) in a more rational, realistic and positive way. Removing the impediments of negative self-thinking opens the channels in the brain’s neurological mechanisms for healing.

The results from this simple therapy are amazing. It clears away negative feelings and emotional distress, helping the client emerge grounded in strength and a survivor mentality.

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Get Help with Coping with Addiction Cravings

Reflections’ rehab program places a heavy emphasis on learning how to deal with addiction cravings in the aftercare phase. This ensures the client has the tools necessary to manage his cravings as he recovers. It also gives him the best chance of a successful and lasting sobriety.

If you or a loved one is struggling with cravings, contact us today. We have a team of trained professionals waiting to help.

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