The clinical team at Northbound Treatment Services constantly reviews the latest scientific findings when it comes to designing the best possible treatment for our clients. For example, scientists are currently arguing whether it is possible to differentiate between the different types of substance-induced mood disorders and regular mood disorders. In other words, can you tell the difference between depression caused by drugs and a sober person’s depression? What’s not up for argument is the fact that drinking and drug use only make depression, anxiety, mania, PTSD, OCD, and psychosis worse. Study after study has demonstrated that alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, opiates, etc. cause mood disorders by altering the brain’s neurotransmitters. The user must take more and more just to feel normal. And we all know that ingesting ever-increasing quantities of drugs is a losing game.
Alcohol and Anxiety
Let’s start with alcohol. What a lot of heavy drinkers don’t realize is that they’re drinking themselves into an alcohol-induced anxiety disorder. Alcohol is the original Xanax in that it whisks your worries away. But the link between alcohol and mood disorders has been conclusively demonstrated. The problem is that long-term use of alcohol wears on the brain’s “worry center,” the amygdala, which controls the body’s automatic response to fear. When the brain is confronted with fear, the brain takes two courses of action. First, the brain transmits information to the cerebral cortex (the thinking part of the brain) to inform it of what specifically is endangering the individual. Second, the brain transmits to the amygdala the same information so that the body might prepare for action. Alcohol cools this circuit down, which would be fine if it weren’t for the brain’s constant attempt to equalize. It’s as if the brain sends out more and more fear signals in response to the suppression by alcohol.
One Northbound Treatment Services client shared his experience: “When I quit drinking I felt on edge. Like something bad was gonna happen, but I had no idea what. I was scared, but just at this low level. I was just constantly irritated. Working the steps really helped, but I also needed time for my brain to adjust.”
This individual’s experience is actually quite typical, and he “only drank beer” for twenty years, daily for the last ten. According to authorities, it’s the daily mental mood bath that does the damage. There are constant warnings about the danger of drinking leading to cancer, liver damage, and high blood pressure, but for many individuals the subsequent substance-induced anxiety disorder they develop from drinking is the most immediately disturbing, and an all-too-common trigger for relapse. The brain heals slowly, and alcoholics want to feel normal right now. That’s why it takes 90 days (preferably with 90 meetings) for the anxiety to subside.
Depression and Drugs
Many individuals have attempted to “self-cure” their depression with opioids, marijuana, cocaine, etc. What they inevitably learn is that although depression is a chemical imbalance, you can’t restore the natural balance until whatever is triggering the imbalance is addressed. In other words, if there is no underlying issue, then anti-depressants should put the individual back on an even keel – yet this is rarely the case. Usually relief is only experienced after a combination of serious step work combined with exactly the right medication. And depression isn’t the only mood disorder linked to self-medication; it’s the tip of the iceberg.
Methamphetamine and ADHD
Mild amphetamines have long been prescribed to treat ADD and ADHD, and there is a reason for this: hyperactive students can concentrate more easily on speed. But these are low doses of extended-release amphetamine-like chemicals, which cannot be compared to meth. Hence the constructive study as opposed to hyper tweaking. According to MRIs and CAT scans, it seems that meth burns “holes” in your brain that appear as dark regions of the brain where there should be bright activity. What does this add up to? Severe depression, the inability to concentrate, memory loss, and the list goes on.
The brain is an amazing organ and it’s surprisingly resilient. That’s why Northbound Treatment Services focuses on long-term treatment and sobriety goals, because we know it takes time to heal. And until the fog clears, the risk of relapse remains high. There are a number of reasons for this, but the pain of depression and the discomfort of anxiety have led far too many back to the darkness of drugs.
Opioids and Depression
Too many young people think prescription pills won’t hook them. They don’t realize they are sliding into a pit of despair until it’s too late. Northbound Treatment Services helps clients climb out of the opioids pit. Our treatment for opioid-induced depression is comprehensive, with the correct medication combined with exercise, nutrition, and therapy. Depression is characterized by chronic fatigue (despite spending more time sleeping), irritability, poor concentration, anxiety, and self-imposed isolation. The good news is that with steady meeting attendance, getting a sponsor, and working the steps, the insidious grip of depression gradually begins to loosen. Depression is a disease of visible darkness, and when an individual opens up and shares at meetings, when an individual helps others and gets away from their own problems, they feel better.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is very useful in treating opioid-induced mood disorders. CBT is an invaluable tool at Northbound Treatment Services, oftentimes more useful than medication with no side effects. CBT is effective at treating a client’s individual anxieties and cognitive distortions, and it is utilized when, and only when, a client is at a point in their recovery where it will be beneficial and they are ready. CBT is included, when appropriate, in a client’s individual treatment plan and will be developed to meet their specific needs.
The entire team at Northbound Treatment Services is involved in the planning process and in developing treatments for substance induced mood disorders. Each client is assigned a case manager and a therapist who work in concert to develop each client’s individualized treatment plan. This plan, outlining goals and areas of concern, serves as a template for the client’s time in treatment. This treatment plan will also set clear expectations of the work each client must do to progress through our full continuum of care. There is no quick fix in addiction and mental health treatment, so we work as a team to try and assist all of our clients in developing the skills needed for long-term sobriety and mental health. Additionally, reaching the milestones set in the treatment plan often builds self-esteem and a sense of self-worth in our clients. That is what this whole process is all about.