Self-Injury Awareness Month: Learn the Signs and How to Help

Community Mental Health CenterSelf-injury, sometimes referred to as self-harm, is intentional, non-lethal behavior that causes physical injury to your body. March 1 of each year is Self-Injury Awareness Day, which leads into Self-Injury Awareness Month. The day and month serve to draw attention to the struggles of those affected by this condition. We, Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, wanted to bring some educational information on Self-Injury.

What Drives a Person to Self-Injure?

Self-harm is an attempt to relieve intense emotional pain that has become overwhelming. While the action may distract the sufferer from that pain briefly, it doesn't actually resolve the emotions or address their underlying causes. As we explain at our community mental health center, it is an unhealthy coping mechanism that may calm a people by giving them a sense of control and the ability to see a connection between the physical pain and what is causing it, as opposed to emotional pain, which can be harder to pinpoint.

The most common forms of self-injury include:

  • Cutting
  • Burning or branding
  • Bone-breaking
  • Excessive body piercing or tattooing
  • Picking at skin or preventing wound healing
  • Head-banging
  • Beating/bruising
  • Hair-pulling
  • Consuming dangerous substances

Self-injury is a behavior that is not limited to any particular demographic — age, race, socioeconomic level, religion or education level. However, according to WebMD1, it is more common among:

  • Adolescent females
  • People who have a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse
  • People who have co-existing problems of substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder or eating disorders
  • Individuals who were often raised in families that discouraged expression of anger
  • Individuals who lack skills to express their emotions and lack a good social support network

Self-harm tends to be a solitary behavior and one that sufferers generally attempt to conceal. While it is not suicidal in nature, the risk of suicide exists if the underlying emotional stress becomes too great or if an attempt to self-injure goes too far.

Identifying Self-Harm and How to Talk to Someone Who is Self-Injuring

If you 1) see a friend or loved one self-injuring, 2) notice signs of unexplained injury, or 3) detect attempts to hide injuries, the most important thing to know is that self-injury isn’t a “phase” or an “attention-seeking” behavior. It is a symptom of an emotional problem that must be treated.

If you suspect a loved one is self-harming, you should:

  • Talk with them about it as calmly as possible. Appearing alarmed or angry may cause them to withdraw.
  • Be nonjudgmental and supportive.
  • Be available to discuss the problem or problems that are causing the emotional pain that leads to self-injury if/when they are ready to talk about it.
  • Explain that there are treatments available at your community mental health center. Offer to help with making an appointment and attending with them if appropriate.
  • If the person’s behavior worsens and you believe they are contemplating suicide, seek emergency medical attention/intervention immediately.

Getting to the Heart of Self-Injury

At the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we help people who are self-injuring understand and address the issues that are causing them emotional pain and leading to the behavior. If you or someone you know needs to talk with someone about self-harm, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

1 - Source: http://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/guide/self-injuring-hurting

A 5-Point Plan for Facing Your Fears

Anxiety in a group of people

At the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we help clients treat anxiety in many ways, including counseling and medication. There are also steps you can take on your own to lessen the impact that anxiety has on your life — things like breath control and muscle relaxation. One of the most effective practices is learning to face your fears, however, it is also one of the most challenging. When you gradually confront the source of your anxiety (a process referred to as “exposure”) following a well-defined plan, you will be happy to discover that anxiety begins to have less power over you.

Experimenting with Exposure

If you have anxiety, you may have a long history of feelings of dread toward certain people, places, situations or objects.  The effects often deepen over a long period of time and repeated interactions. Consequently, it will take time and repeated exposure to reverse the effects.

Here are five steps you can take to gradually decrease the stress that your triggers create in you:

  • List the things that make you anxious. As you do, be sure to include all aspects of that fea For example, if crossing bridges gives you anxiety, you might have things on your list like “looking at pictures of bridges,” “looking at a bridge from a distance,” “walking past (but not on) a bridge,” “standing briefly on a bridge” and “walking or driving across a bridge.” Similarly if interacting with people makes you nervous, you might jot down “making eye contact,” “saying hello,” “speaking with someone for more than a few seconds,” “having a long conversation” and “shaking hands or hugging.”
  • Prioritize your list. For each type of anxiety-inducing scenario, order the list from most upsetting to least.
  • Intentionally put yourself into a challenging situation. Begin exposing yourself to the least upsetting stimuli on your list, repeating the exposure until the person/place/object no longer creates much of a reaction and you feel you can cross it off. Then move to the next stimuli and perform the process again, working your way down the list. It helps to make notes about your progress.
  • Repeat. Even after you’ve succeeded in crossing all the stimuli of a certain type off your list (everything related to bridges, for example), it’s important that you keep exposing yourself to them so that the anxiety doesn’t return.
  • Reward yourself. Facing deep-seated fears takes courage and commitment. As you make progress and hit milestones, give yourself a pat on the back. Buy yourself a gift (a book, some clothes, whatever you enjoy) or plan a special activity (hiking your favorite trail, trying that new restaurant) to celebrate your accomplishments. 

Helping You Eliminate Anxiety by Facing Your Fears

At Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we provide services that help people who are struggling with anxiety take steps to reduce or even eliminate it. If you would like to talk with someone about your anxiety challenges or make an appointment, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

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5 Steps for Developing Healthy Realistic Thinking

Mental Habits from Community Reach Center your Denver Mental Health Center

Even the most positive people have negative thoughts at times. It’s part of being human. But when negative thoughts about ourselves, our situation or the world around us start to become the norm, it is not healthy. These thoughts can drain your energy, leave you unwilling to face challenges and even cause your body to dump damaging stress hormones into your bloodstream. For those struggling with anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse or drug abuse it is easy to slip into negative thought patterns. If you do, it’s important to reach out to the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center.

There are also steps you can take on your own to change your negative thoughts. However, the goal isn’t to achieve a state of perpetual positive thinking. Constantly trying to put a positive spin on everything that occurs in your life isn’t healthy either. What you want to cultivate is realistic thinking. Seeing yourself, your relationships and world events as they really are (positive, negative or neutral) is the best way to live a genuine, grounded and emotionally healthy life.

How to Foster a More Rational Worldview

When alcohol abuse, drug abuse, depression or anxiety are central to your life it can feel like you have no control over your thoughts and emotions. They simply “happen.” But the truth is, you can be in control of them. As counselors at your community health center will tell you, the key is to have a process you can use regularly to reaffirm that you are in charge. Here are steps you can take:

  1. Monitor your self-talk.
    We all have an ongoing dialogue that runs in our head. Often it involves evaluating the world around us. That dialogue affects how we view our life, but because it’s constantly running, we tend to forget it’s there. The first step in promoting realistic thinking is simply to listen to that inner voice. For example, you might “hear” it say, “That person was rude to me the last time I saw them. I don’t like them.” Being aware of those types of comments starts to put you more in control of them.
  2. Identify thoughts that aren’t helpful.
    Not every negative thought is “bad.” For example, “I feel stressed and frustrated about my job because there are so many new things I am learning, but overtime I will learn and it will get easier” has a negative aspect, but it promotes a positive action. On the other hand, “I hate my job and don’t ever want to go back there” doesn’t really provide any benefit. It’s important to make the distinction between thoughts that are helpful and those that are not.
  3. Challenge your unhelpful thoughts.
    The next step in learning to be more realistic in your thinking is to question whether your thoughts are valid. Using an example from above, do you really hate your job or are you anxious about the new project that you’ve been assigned? Or do you have an issue with a coworker that needs to be resolved?
  4. Substitute realistic thoughts.
    Once you’ve identified a thought that isn’t helpful, you can replace it with one that is. Continuing with the work example, a more rational thought might be, “Once I get started on the new project I’m sure I’ll do fine. It’s just the anticipation I don’t like.” In addition to this type of coping statement, it can be beneficial to add some positive self-talk, like “I’m smart and capable, and I’ve done good work on projects like this in the past.
  5. Repeat.
    Realistic thinking doesn’t come easy, especially when you are also working on managing anxiety, depression, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. You need to continually return to it even when it feels natural to dwell on the negative.

Seeing the World in a Fair, Balanced Way

In our work with people at the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we stress the importance of being realistic in how you view the world. Freeing yourself from negative thought patterns is essential. If you’ve got questions about how to do that, or questions about mental health in general, contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

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Beware of Depression and Anxiety After Heart Surgery

February Heart Month Heart Attack

 

When someone has heart surgery or has suffered a cardiac event (like a heart attack or stroke), the first priority is stabilizing their physical health. However, at the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we counsel people who have had heart surgery, and their families, to be aware of the potential mental health impact.

Not surprisingly, people who have been affected by heart disease are prone to developing depression and anxiety. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, while depression is reported in roughly 1 in 10 Americans ages 18 and older, the number can be as high as 33 percent in heart attack patients.

Signs of Depression and Anxiety after Heart Surgery

The positive news about depression and anxiety is that they are treatable conditions. Cardiac patients do not have to simply endure them. The key is being aware of the relationship between cardiac events and mental health, and keeping an eye out for the signs that normal sadness and fear are progressing into an illness.

With depression, the most common symptoms are:

  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Lack of energy
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Change in appetite
  • A focus on potential negative outcomes

If a cardiac patient is developing anxiety, symptoms can include:

  • Nervousness, restlessness or being tense
  • Feelings of danger, dread or panic
  • Irritability
  • Muscle twitching or trembling
  • Difficulty thinking clearly or focusing

What You Can Do

In many cases, it can be challenging to determine whether symptoms are the result of physical health challenges or a mental health condition, since there is significant overlap. For example, a cardiac event can leave the patient with less energy due to damage to the heart, but decreased energy can also be a sign of depression.

If you suspect you may be experiencing depression or anxiety, you should talk with your primary care physician. These conditions are very common, so your doctor likely has experience with them. A short screening test you can take is highly accurate in identifying depression and anxiety. You can also contact your Denver mental health counselor for the same type of assessment. Either way, it can be a relief to know there is a cause for how you are feeling and treatments that can help bring your emotions back into balance.

Treating Depression and Anxiety

Treatments for depression and anxiety include “talk therapy” and medication. A counselor might also recommend stress reduction techniques like meditation or breathing exercises. In many cases, a treatment plan will include all of the above.

Not only is it important to treat depression and anxiety to provide relief from their symptoms, these conditions can have a negative impact on physical health as well. They cause stress hormones to circulate through the body and also can increase the likelihood that a cardiac patient will fail to follow their physical rehabilitation plan. Avoiding necessary exercises and disregarding a medication regimen are common in those with depression and anxiety.  

Here to Help with the Mental Health Aspects of Heart Surgery Recovery.

At the Community Reach Center, your Denver mental health center, we can provide the counseling and medication needed to bring depression and anxiety under control after heart surgery. Contact the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Anxiety and Heart Health: Understanding the Connection

February Heart Month Dealing with Anxiety image

It’s safe to say that nobody enjoys feeling stressed. However, our “fight or flight” response does serve a purpose. When we find ourselves in a situation that requires us to be extra alert and vigilant, and ready to take action, the change in our mental and physical state brought on by the response is just what we need. According to Wikipedia, some of the many physiological changes that take place as a cascade of hormones races through our body include:

  • Acceleration of heart and lung action
  • Inhibition of stomach and upper-intestinal action to the point where digestion slows down or stops
  • Constriction of blood vessels in many parts of the body
  • Dilation of blood vessels in the muscles
  • Liberation of metabolic energy sources (particularly fat and glycogen) for muscular action
  • Dilation of pupil (mydriasis)

You can see how these reactions would help our ancestors survive when faced with a threat. However, our fight or flight response is meant to be temporary and based on actual threats. It becomes a problem when a person with anxiety experiences these physiological changes on a regular or continuous basis due to what they perceive as potential threats. In that case, the surging or sustained “readiness” in the body’s system can actually cause damage to them.

February is American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month, and a great time to learn about the relationship between anxiety and heart health. According to Johns Hopkins, the correlation is not as well-defined as that between depression and heart health, but it is believed there is a direct connection.

Heart Attacks and Anxiety

It’s easy to understand how anxiety can impact the heart as described above. The flip side of that relationship is fairly straightforward as well, especially for anyone who has had a heart attack or who has a loved one who has. The shock of a life-threatening event can cause you to:

  • Worry about your health and the fact that another cardiac event could occur
  • Worry about your family and how the outcome of your health challenges will affect them
  • Lose sleep and experience the many consequences of not being rested
  • Frequently relive the event, especially when at the location or participating in the activity related to it
  • Have a very negative outlook regarding your future

In short, you can find yourself in a perpetual state of anxiety. And, unfortunately, that state is not helpful as your body tries to recover from the heart attack.

Take Action

So, what can you do to avoid the vicious circle of heart disease and anxiety? Your doctor can work with you to reduce your risk of a heart attack. This will include minimizing or eliminating risk factors such as:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • SmokingDiabetes
  • Diabetes
  • Being physically inactive
  • Being overweight/obese


As for anxiety, if you feel you have an ongoing problem with stress,  working with a therapist at a Denver mental health center for a few sessions can definitely help. There are also a number of stress-reducing steps you can take, including:

  • Pause and take some deep breaths
  • Take a walk to remove yourself from the stressful situation
  • Perform a regular stress-reducing activity like meditation or yoga
  • Practice positive self-talk (“I’ve got this.” “This stress is temporary.” “Things will work out.”)
  • Work on being “in the moment” meaning you are totally focused on what’s happening right now
  • Get regular exercise

A Ready Resource for Helping Alleviate Anxiety

Whether it’s anxiety that might lead to a heart attack or anxiety that develops after a heart attack, Community Reach Center is your Denver mental health center here to help you manage it. Contact us online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Six Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Long-Term Relationship

long term relationship mental health center of Denver

While we like for our romantic books and movies to end with the couple living “happily ever after,” anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship knows that that state is very difficult to achieve in real life. At Community Reach Center, we believe that maintaining a healthy long-term relationship requires a great deal of time and effort. But if the commitment is there, it absolutely can be done.

In it for the Long Haul

If you and your partner are truly focused on going the distance, here are some strategies you can use to help ensure you do:

  1. Compromise. Early in relationships, things tend to be more of a 50/50 split. Their wants and needs and yours are honored equally. But over time, it’s not uncommon for us to grow a little selfish and develop stronger preferences for the things we want to see or do or eat, the people we want to spend time with and the like. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, it’s important to recognize that shift and resist it.
  2. Be open and honest about your feelings. Effective communication is critical to successful long-term relationships. Sometimes we begin to keep things inside because we don’t want to “bother” our partner. In other cases, we may want to hang on to certain emotions because we feel it puts us in a position of power. Whatever the reason, it’s important to avoid building walls or coloring the truth when it comes to how we’re feeling. You put your partner at an unfair disadvantage if you are withholding information on your emotional state.
  3. Know that nobody ever “wins” an argument. When the focus of an argument becomes more about “winning” than resolving the issue, both of you lose. It’s much more conducive to a positive outcome to say early and often in a disagreement that the goal is to find a mutually acceptable solution to the problem. That can be difficult, but when it is, refer to item No. 1 above!
  4. Understand how your partner expresses love. Even for couples who have been together for many years, it’s easy to forget how their partner tends to demonstrate love. Taking time to recognize and appreciate those expressions is the best way to keep them coming. 
  5. Refuse to use the silent treatment. While we may try to tell ourselves that it’s better to remain silent than to say something hurtful, the truth is that receiving the silent treatment can be just as painful, and it can be just as damaging to a relationship. What’s more, there are more than two options in that scenario. A third would be speaking your mind but refraining from using angry, emotion-laden language. Carefully chosen words can go a long way toward resolving a conflict.
  6. Give them space. For some people it almost feels unnatural to be apart. But the truth is, we all need our space, even if that need doesn’t ever or often make it to the level of consciousness. And, absence truly does make the heart grow fonder.

Long-term Relationships and Mental Health

Healthy long-term relationships can have a powerfully positive influence on mental and emotional health. If you’re looking for a mental health center in the Denver area, you can contact us at Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Depression and Heart Disease: Learn More About the Link During American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month

Depression and heart disease are two of the most common disabling diseases in the U.S., and they often occur simultaneously. While research is ongoing as to the exact relationship, experts believe the two conditions influence one another.

February is American Heart Month, and as people pay special attention to their heart health, it’s also a great time to learn more about the link to depression. Your community mental health center is an excellent source of information.

How are Depression and Heart Disease Related?

Studies show that a significant number of people who have not been diagnosed with depression become depressed after suffering a heart attack. In fact, the American Heart Association says that depression is reported in one in 10 Americans age 18 and over, but for heart attack patients, the number is as high as one in three.

Similarly, people with depression who have no history of heart disease tend to develop heart disease more frequently than the population as a whole. For example, as reported by webmd.com, a study of 63,000 people in Norway over a span of 11 years found that compared to people with no symptoms of depression, those with mild depression were 5 percent more likely to develop heart failure, and those with moderate to severe depression had a 40 percent increased risk.

The relationship between the two conditions is complicated, but may include:

  • People who are depressed often do not take care of their physical health
  • Depression increases the presence of stress hormones that are damaging to the heart
  • People who have suffered a heart attack may feel embarrassed about their decreased physical capacity and concerned about their future, which can lead to depression
  • People with depression may have unusually sticky platelets, leading to hardening of the arteries

What You Can Do

Given the strong correlation between them, it’s important to take action to improve both your mental and physical health so that each contributes positively to the other. When it comes to depression, the first step is to recognize the symptoms, which can include any of these lasting for more than two weeks:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Feelings of self-hate, guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in appetite

If you feel you are suffering from depression, you should contact your doctor, counselor or community mental health center. There are successful evidence-based treatments for depression that can include talk therapy (also referred to as cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT) and antidepressant medications.

Regarding your heart health, the risk factors include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight/obese
  • Smoking
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a family history of heart disease


The best way to prevent heart disease is to see your doctor regularly and work to decrease or eliminate as many of the risk factors as you can.

Better Heart Health, Better Mental Health

The good news is that there are ways to decrease your risk of heart disease and to treat depression. If you want more information, your community mental health center is here for you. Contact Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Seven Tips for Beating the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Depression SAD

What we sometimes hear referred to as the “winter blues” here at Community Reach Center, is in many cases a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD, which generally has its onset when the days grow shorter in the fall, is characterized by a depressed mood that can last until the days start to lengthen in the spring. It is a form of depression that is more common in women than men, though the symptoms can be more severe in men. Young adults report a higher incidence of SAD than older adults.

The symptoms of SAD can include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Poor sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities and relationships
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Difficulty concentrating

At Community Reach Center, we work with many people every year who suffer from SAD. The precise mechanism of the disorder is not yet known, but there are certain factors that are suspected to play a role, including:

Serotonin levels

Serotonin levels Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.

Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) serotonin, and that reduction may cause depression.Circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythmThe decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.

The decrease in sunlight in the fall and winter months may affect the body’s internal clock, leading to depressed mood.

Melatonin levels

A reduction in sunlight may disrupt the body’s level of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate mood and sleep patterns.

What You Can Do

While any advice for beating SAD that you’ve received from your doctor or counselor should be your first priority, here are seven things you can do to fight it:

  1. Use a light box. These artificial lights mimic sunlight. Sitting in front of one for 30 minutes per day can, for some people, be as effective in treating SAD as taking medication. In addition to using a light box, you should also open curtains and blinds to let as much sunlight into your home as possible.
  2. Exercise. Getting regular exercise can help you beat SAD. And it doesn’t have to be a high intensity workout. For example, walking at a brisk pace for 30 to40 minutes per day five times a week or for 60 minutes per day three times per week can be very effective.
  3. Play upbeat music. Listening to cheery tunes can help elevate your mood both while the music is on and after.
  4. Get some fresh air. Being outside and exposed to more sunlight can help ease the symptoms of depression.
  5. Eat well. Eating a healthy diet including lean meat, and fresh fruits and vegetables, can help prevent SAD. It’s also a good idea to minimize or eliminate things like carbohydrates and candy from your diet as they can cause a mood spike and then a crash.
  6. Use a dawn simulator. A dawn simulator is a device that gradually increases the light in your bedroom to mimic the rising of the sun. Some people find that it can decrease the symptoms of depression and make it easier to get out of bed.
  7. Plan a vacation. Even if the trip won’t take place until later in the year, the act of planning for and envisioning a fun getaway can help elevate your mood.

Taking Steps to Beat the Winter Blues

The tactics above are great ways to address SAD. However, if your depression doesn’t respond to them or your condition worsens, you should contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. We’re here to help.
 

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week

Drug Free Kids

National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is an annual health awareness campaign geared for teens and intended to dispel the many myths about drug and alcohol use and addiction with facts. Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) created the observance in 2010 to promote educational events that provide teens with information on what experts have learned about drug use and addiction. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism became a partner in 2016. Both entities are part of the National Institutes of Health.

What is Drug Dependence?

One of the most fundamental facts shared during National Drug & Alcohol Facts Week is that addiction is a diagnosable, treatable illness – not a character flaw or lack of self-discipline, as it is often unfairly portrayed. As for the specific criteria of drug dependence, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fourth Edition, Text Revision, 2000) states a diagnosis of substance addiction requires at least three of the following:

  • Increased tolerance (needing higher doses to get the same effect)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
  • Taking more of the drug than intended or for a longer time than intended
  • A strong desire to decrease drug use and unsuccessful attempts to do so
  • Much time spent getting the drug, using it and recovering from its effects
  • Forsaking previously important activities to continue drug use
  • Ignoring the physical or psychological damage done by the drug


If you or someone you know meets three (or even one) of these criteria, it’s important that you seek help.

Addiction and Changes to the Brain

One of the reasons that drug addiction (and we’ll use “drug” to include prescription/illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco throughout this post) is so challenging to treat is due to how it changes to the brain. Human brains have what’s called a “reward” system. When we engage in an activity that meets a need or satisfies a desire, the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in the brain, and pleasure is experienced.

This reward pathway generally requires effort to trigger release of dopamine. Drugs create a shortcut to the sensation of pleasure, and over time, the brain of an addicted person reduces its natural production of dopamine. Consequently, the person begins needing the drug and typically in larger doses. Addiction is further reinforced by memories of drug use being paired with memories of the pleasure produced, which is why a person who has been sober for a long period is at risk of relapse when they are exposed to images or circumstances that remind them of their drug use.

Why Me and Not That Person?

The effects of drugs on the brain’s reward system are different for everyone. Those suffering from anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, or who have conditions like borderline personality disorder, seem to be especially susceptible to addiction. So while two people who are very alike may use drugs with the same frequency, one may become addicted to the substance while the other does not. Again, although using drugs in the first place is a choice, becoming addicted to them is not something a person has control over.

Good News and Much Work to be Done

The good news is that thanks to the work of researchers in a variety of fields, we know a lot more about the causes and potential treatments of addiction than we did even just five years ago. However, the effective treatment, and ideally prevention, of addiction is a significant challenge. Each substance presents unique problems and each person responds somewhat differently to the treatment options available. Researchers believe that chemical solutions to addiction are still a long way off. But, through varying combinations of counseling and medication, success can be achieved. So, the bottom line is that the prospects for those battling addiction continue to grow brighter.

Getting Started on the Road to Recovery

A good first step toward getting healthy is a conversation. If you need help with an addiction or want to talk about a loved one who does, you can contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Learn more about Substance Abuse Treatment on our website >

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How to Achieve Your Wellness Objectives using “SMART” Goals

A Goal without a plan is just a wish

The new year is a great time to set goals for personal improvement. For those struggling with anxiety, depression or substance abuse, that may mean striving to attain better control or eliminate a condition. While any effort toward an objective is helpful, one of the most effective ways to hit your target is to follow what’s called the SMART approach to goal setting.

SMART is an acronym for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-limited

Setting smart goals helps ensure the right focus and appropriate expectations as you start taking steps in a new direction. If goals are too large, too vague or too open-ended, you may have a hard time meeting them. Business expert George T. Doran is generally credited with creating SMART goals, which are used often in business applications, and like a lot of business strategies, they work wonderfully in many general areas.

Here’s what SMART goals look like:

Specific

A good goal is one that includes details like who, what, when, where and why. A goal such as “be happier” is vague, which makes it hard to know whether you have achieved it. A better goal might be focus on the happiness a specific activity or hobby brings such as, “I will spend more time on painting because it brings me happiness.”

Measurable

The best goals have a quantity associated with them so you can evaluate your progress toward them and adjust your approach as needed. Using the example above, you could make it more measurable by saying you will paint for four hours each week. If, over time, you look back and see that you’re only painting three hours per week, evaluate ways to dedicate another hour. Being aware you may have to overcome other feelings, such as guilt, to dedicate time to yourself and not focus your time on things you think you should do that do not bring you happiness.

Attainable

One of the problems with goal setting is that we sometimes dive in full of enthusiasm eager to make as much progress as possible, which leads to objectives that simply can’t be reached. For a person with a history of alcohol abuse, deciding to stop drinking altogether by March may not be realistic. And when we fail to meet our goals—even the unreasonable ones—it can be disappointing and frustrating.

Relevant

If what you need in your life is to better manage your depression, setting the goal to learn to ski it is just one action. This isn’t to say you can’t have goals that are related to your enjoyment of life and personal fulfillment, but take time to assemble a set of relevant objectives.

Time-limited

While you want to give yourself a reasonable amount of time to achieve your goals, allowing too much time can keep you from making progress. Deadlines provide motivation and help you prioritize goals over the many other tasks vying for your attention.

Short- and Long-Term Goals

In setting goals, it can be helpful to create both short- and long-term goals. For example, a short-term goal for battling depression might be:

  • Get out of bed by 7 a.m. each day.
  • Clean the kitchen every Saturday.

And long-term goals such as:

  • Obtain the certification needed to start a new career.
  • Repair my relationship with my brother.

Someone who struggles with anxiety might have short-term goals to “share my opinion at the next staff meeting” or “practice relaxation exercises every other day,” and long-term objectives such as “complete the introductory public speaking course at the community college” or “plan and take a vacation to a new city this summer.”

For those looking to get a handle on substance abuse, short-term goals might be something like:

  • Do not drink alcohol today.
  • Get information on a treatment program, and take steps toward creating a plan.

Read more about Substance abuse treatment >

Looking long-term:

  • Complete a six-week inpatient treatment program this fall.
  • Find a new place to live and relocate by the first of next year.

Behavioral Change Takes Time

When it comes to modifying behavior, it’s important to be aware that it takes time to turn a goal into a habit. How long it takes is a function of many factors including the behavior, your commitment to making the change and your circumstances. But be prepared for a period of time ranging from two to eight months, according to many experts.

Setting a Goal for Greater Wellness in 2017

Have questions about SMART goal setting or want to talk with someone about your challenges? We’re here to help. Contact us at the Community Reach Center online at communityreachcenter.org or by phone at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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