Guest Blog: Impact of Exercise in Addiction Recovery for Youth

This week’s guest blogger is Fiona Parascandalo of DUO, an Ontario addiction-recovery program focused on youth and the healing value of exercise. For young adults,  in particular, exercise is a key component to recovery. Learn why and how. MWM. #OYACommunity

Exercise is something that is often touted as making people happier and reducing stress, but less commonly discussed is the how the benefits of exercise can be used in the addiction recovery process. Youth especially have a lot to gain by incorporating exercise into their treatment or counseling. Exercise allows youth to take control of their journey towards to recovery, exercise also has significant impacts on the brain in there critical stage of development, and exercise is an easy practice to build into a daily routine.

  1. Exercise promotes active engagement with recovery: It is important for youth to feel in control of their recovery process and be given the opportunity to see the outcomes of their daily choices. In many treatment programs, youth are treated as passive participants and removed from making choices about their recovery or long term treatment plans. This can be damaging to the development of self-identity in a crucial stage of transitioning into adulthood. When youth engage in an exercise program as a focal point of recovery, they are the centre of the recovery process and their physical effort has direct ties to their recovery.

The purpose of exercise is to revitalize and develop the body, mind, and spirit. Initiating a fitness regime at any stage of recovery involves making a change to addiction driven behaviours and engaging in new, mindful behaviors. Exercise is an opportunity to tune out stimulus and cravings, and focus on natural sensations in the body.

As youth are developing into themselves and defining who they are as individuals, exercise provides a means to discover the underlying catalysts of addictive behaviors so that addiction does not become a lifelong issue.

  1.  Exercise stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive substances: Addiction is created in the brain by the addictive substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamines) or behaviour (i.e. sex, video games) continuously stimulating the brain’s reward centre. New pathways are created and the user begins to crave the substance that caused the over stimulation of their reward centre. For youth, this is an especially dangerous neurological dependence as their brains are at an important stage of development.

In terms of brain development, late teen and early adult years mark the time when the prefrontal cortex, involved in the control of impulses and decision-making, is maturing. Involvement in substance abuse can delay or damage this development causing lifelong struggles with reckless and irrational behaviour.

In addition to creating new pathways in the brain, establishing a regular exercise regime as part of a stringent recovery process has been shown to reduce cravings and build resistance to triggers.

This allows the youth to take control of their reliance on a substance or addictive behaviour and engage in an activity that will positively affect their future neurological development as well as overall health.

  1. Exercise can be incorporated into a daily routine: For treatment to have a lasting effect it should be easily integrated into daily life and the practices learned should be simple to recall when facing a trigger. Establishing a daily routine will allow for a disciplined approach to facing triggers that can be utilized anywhere and at any time.

For example, if first thing in the morning is when you typically have your first cigarette, switch this behaviour with a morning run or simple body-weight workout; if after school you typically use with your friends, switch this with an after school team practice or start a regular football game with your friends. While this is a simplified explanation of how exercise can be leaned on when facing triggers or cravings, it does highlight the fact that exercise is a tool that can be used by anyone to assist in the recovery process. As part of a controlled and monitored recovery process small behavioural changes can have lasting impacts.

For teens and young adults the ease of integrating exercise into their daily routines is essential to its impact on their addiction. Between the ages of 15-24 daily activities and commitments are continuously changing, and addiction can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with these changes or as a way to escape the burden of increasing stressors.

Exercise is an affordable and customizable tool that has the capability to replace the feelings of relief and escape caused by substances. Chemicals released in the brain while exercising, endorphins and serotonin, reduce stress and increase happiness.

When facing stressful or overwhelming situations, individuals in recovery can learn to rely on exercise rather than abusing a substance to improve their mood and cope with the situation. Youth have the most to gain from engaging in an exercise focused recovery program as they will learn lifelong skills that can be easily integrated into their busy schedules.

Fiona Parascandelo

DUOaddictionfj@outlook.com

www.duoaddictionsupport.ca

©2015 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved.

Guest Blog: The Process of Recovery

When Midwestern Mama’s son first went to treatment in 2011, she found online news articles about a young man who had attended the same program and had recently published a memoir about his experience. She emailed him and was pleasantly surprised to get a response. In the long years ahead, Midwestern Mama and Chad Hepler stayed in contact – ever grateful for his insights, support and encouragement all from a young man’s perspective. Today, Chad Hepler is a certified addiction counselor serving adolescents and their parents. Read what he has to say about the process of recovery.

Addiction and recovery is a process. A person does not become a rock bottom drug user overnight. It takes time. Just like the process of recovery.

This “process” is best explained by Prochaska & DiClemente’s five stages of change. In this article, I will examine the first two stages, precontemplation and contemplation, and how they relate to the teenage drug user. I will also discuss how parents survive this “process” of recovery.

The precontemplation stage is essentially denial. During this stage, the user does not believe there is a problem.

They are not considering change and generally do not care what you have to say in regards to their substance use.

A large percentage of users fall into this stage even when their life seems to be crumbling around them. This is the reason, insanity, is paired with addiction.

From an outsider’s perspective, it is painfully obvious the drug use is the problem, but the user just keeps on pushing.

There is no logical answer as to why a person continues to use, it’s simply insane. It’s doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Or as one of my patients said, “It’s doing the same thing over and over, knowing damn well, nothing will change.”

As an adolescent addiction counselor, I am faced everyday with the teenage drug user in the precontemplation stage. My goal is to move them from precontemplation to contemplation.

If I can help the teen reconsider their drug use, then I have succeeded. Nothing will mess up a good buzz more than a mindset of ambivalence.

Like they say in the rooms of AA, there’s nothing worse than a stomach full of booze and a mind full of AA. Sure, I would love to say my goal is long term recovery without a relapse, but quite frankly, that would be insane.

So how do the non-users maintain their sanity, while the drug user goes through this “process?” They work on themselves. They attend a self-help group, such as Alanon, Alateen, Naranon, and Families Anonymous. They get a sponsor, they work the steps, and they love and support their user’s recovery, not their addiction.

Chad Hepler is a Certified Addiction Counselor, working with adolescents for the last five years in a psychiatric hospital setting. He is also the author of two memoirs of his own addiction and recovery, Intervention: Anything But My Own Skin and Beyond Intervention: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery.

Guest Blog: Becoming a Professional with a Focus on Helping Young Men – Part 1 of 3

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Today’s guest blog post is by Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, a Twin Cities-based substance use and mental health professional. Welcome to the #OYACommunity, and thank you for sharing a three-part series with our readers.

As a professional in the field of addiction, I have the privilege of helping individuals and families navigate the road to recovery. I feel grateful everyday to carry the message of hope. In my first post I will be sharing my story of recovery and how my addiction took me from the depths of despair to a place of strength and freedom. It was my experience as an addict that launched me into a place of passion to educate, prevent and treat the disease of addiction.

Experiencing Addiction

I have seen addiction from several different perspectives. As an adolescent and teenager I watched my mother lose herself to addiction. I spent many nights carrying her to bed and endless days cleaning up the aftermath of her substance use.

The disease of addiction robbed my life as a kid.

In 2003 my mother lost her battle with substances and died an, “accidental death.”

The combination of grieving the loss of my mother and the pressures of young adulthood left me open minded to methods of relief. In the process, I discovered drugs, particularly cocaine, and found the affects to be incredibly pleasurable. The relief I found in using cocaine was amazing.

In a short period of time I was using it daily. I had no idea that in the next several years my life would become empty.

Breakthrough

On January 9, 2008, I sat on the floor of my NYC studio apartment. I stared blankly at the ground and questioned the benefits of taking my own life. At 26 years old, I was a broken young man. My apartment was silent, messy and smelled of stale smoke. Beer cans and cigarette butts littered the floor. I had been heavily abusing illicit drugs, alcohol and prescription pills. In just two years, I had lost 33lbs, become addicted to 4 different substances and blown through every last dollar I had. I had isolated myself into a 400 square foot room and often times did not leave for days on end.

My relationships with friends and family were non-existent. My ability to function as a human being had vanished.

The only thing keeping me alive was my 3-year-old Boston terrier named Emma. By now, Emma looked at me with disbelief and disgust.

Reaching out to my Dad

As the hopelessness grew and the thoughts of suicide increased, I felt the presence of my father.

I recall him telling me that when I was ready, he would be there. I made the call that changed my life.

Two days later I was admitted to Hazelden in Center City, Minn., for treatment.

Within a short amount of time, I would learn how to live a sober life with unimaginable happiness. I would have relationships and feel a sense of belonging.

My purpose for living would change and I would know what it’s like to help other people.

For the first time ever, I felt like the person I wanted to be.

The Desire to Help Other People

Within a few months of being sober, I knew I wanted to help people. I was hungry to work in the human services field and felt highly motivated to support people in their recovery. After nearly 10 rejections for employment, I was offered a very entry-level position at a company called Supportive Living Services, in Brooklyn Park, Minn. With no training or education on addiction, Supportive Living Services took a chance and created an opportunity for me.

My sole purpose was designed to tell their existing clients about my experience with mental health and substance abuse and how I found a new way of living. They called this role a “peer support specialist.”

Sharing My Story

For the next 4 years I worked diligently throughout the metropolitan area, sharing my story and helping individuals get the help they needed. It was ideal, enjoyable and rewarding. I was slowly promoted to a more clinical role, however never lost my title as peer support specialist. No matter what type of position I was advanced to, I still told my story to clients to give them hope.

During my 3rd year at Supportive Living Services, I enrolled at The Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies. I spent two years educating myself about addiction and learning about the illness from an entirely new perspective – a professional perspective. I grew as a professional, but even more as a person. Having the personal experience in conjunction with the master’s level education provided me an opportunity to maximize my ability to help people. After nearly 5 years of working with Supportive Living Services, I knew it was time to move on. If I were to grow, I would need to challenge myself and continue learning.

Recognizing the Unique Needs of Young Men with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Needs

I saw a serious need for education, prevention, mentorship and guidance for young men struggling with addiction and mental health. I saw young men living with parents at age 25 after dropping out of college.

I saw these same young men turn to substances as the method to cope with anxiety and depression.

I saw young men losing hope in their selves because they could not live up to their parent’s expectations. But most of all, I saw myself. I saw lost boys living in a young man’s body.

A sizable portion of young men and women face mental health and addiction problems. The percentage of addicted young adults seeking treatment has risen steadily.

Many have been in treatment before and relapsed. Too many leave treatment against medical advice, usually driven by an addiction to opiates or a sense of overconfidence.

Families despair that their children will be lost before they can really begin to live.

The Boomerang Generation

Often dubbed the “boomerang generation” or part of a “failure to launch” epidemic, these young men often are part of the 29 percent of young adults who have moved back in with their parents and the 22 percent of young adults who report current illicit drug use.

In particular, young males are at greater risk for mental health disorders and addiction. At a critical period of their lives, they face extreme pressure from society, peers, families and themselves to “have a plan.”

These young men often struggle to establish their own identity and can occur as a result of “feeling caught” developmentally between adolescence and young adulthood.

Many do not have the tools needed to cope or deal with the pressures they face. As a result, many young men find themselves battling mental health disorders and addiction.

This group represents unique challenges for their families as well as mental health and addiction professionals. Successful treatment requires a different approach that addresses not only the addiction but also the underlying mental health issues. Additionally, treatment needs to be individualized and custom to the person receiving care. Too often, the incoming patient becomes a “number” as opposed a “person”. Lastly, the person needs to have a voice in their treatment. The young adult already feels a sense of worthlessness and lack of autonomy will increase the chances of a relapse.

The Decision to Focus my Practice

For these reasons, in August of 2014, I started my company, Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health. Our philosophy and approach is built on a person-centered, individualized and strength-based model, which builds on people positive attributes as opposed to weakness. We strongly believe that people recover and seek the help they need once a relationship is formed and trust is established between a practitioner and client. Change is only made once the client realizes that their goals do not align with the way they are living their life. People who are sick respond better with empathy and support versus confrontation and punishment. We help individuals and family navigate the rocky road of recovery.

My professional practice follows a specific guideline that I believe is instrumental to helping this struggling population. My personal story of recovery gives me the strength to fight for each patient and never lose hope in his ability to recover.

Upcoming Guest Blog Posts

In my next two posts I will discuss intervention and treatment and how these stages relate to the young adult male. Can intervention be done in a less aggressive and person-centered approach? Or do we need to use leverage as an alternative to getting young men into treatment? And, how do we alter treatment with this vulnerable population? What type of treatment provides best outcomes? All questions I will explain over the next several weeks.

Drew Horowitz, MA, LADC, RAS, has a vast range of experiences working with addiction and mental health. He gained a wealth of knowledge through his own recovery coupled with extensive training: a master’s level education from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction and an undergraduate degree in psychology and human development from Hofstra University. Following a career with several substance abuse and mental health organizations, he formed Drew Horowitz & Associates, LLC, an organization designed to assist young men who struggle to overcome addiction and mental health.

Contact Drew:

http://drewhorowitzassociates.com/

horowitzassociates@gmail.com

651-698-7358

Chit Chat is Good for The Cause

Whether face-to-face or online, good things happen when we talk – and listen – to each other. Midwestern Mama shares a quick reflection on a recent #AddictionChat and encourages others to participate.

When parents and professionals talk, and more importantly when they listen to each other, we make great strides on the challenges of young-adult substance use. Last night, another online mom and I co-hosted #AddictionChat on Twitter. It was thoughtful, insightful and informative. Participants included parents, young people in recovery, therapists and other professionals, as well as association representatives. Not only did we share a variety of perspectives, we had a chance to understand each other.

Before starting Our Young Addicts, I was hesitant to share much online. Now, I understand why it’s a highly engaging and helpful way to communicate. I have learned so much from listening to others and have found short- and long-term strategies for helping my son, my family and myself. And, I truly believe it helps others. #OYACommunity

If you’d like to join these chats, it’s on Twitter each Wednesday night at 8 p.m. CST. There is a different moderator/co-host each week, and the topics rotate.  The next #AddictionChat on parenting will take place on May 27.

Midwestern Mama