The Importance of Stimulating Environment

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The Importance of Stimulating Environment

Environmental factors play a large role addiction

A few decades ago, the Rat Park experiment done by Alexander made a big splash in the scientific community, especially in regards to addiction research. Since then, the validity and implications of the study have been explored significantly. Despite the many questions that may be associated with this study, it did bring an important topic into the discussion of addiction that had been, until then, focused mainly on the biological elements of addiction. This was the concept of stimulation or having a stimulating environment. This is a key concept for addiction prevention and recovery. So, let’s talk about the importance of having a stimulating environment.

The Rat Park experiment found, among other things, that when rats were given an environment in which they could thrive, they preferred to drink water and not morphine-laced water, even if morphine had addictive properties. When rats who were put from a restricted and isolated environment into an environment that had everything a rat needed to be happy, the rats stopped drinking the morphine-laced water, albeit they preferred it before that. Now, people are not rats and have more complicated preferences and desires. While rats needed only places to run and explore, as well as the opportunity to eat, mate, and interact with other rats, what constitutes a stimulating environment for a person is more complex to define.

What does it mean to have a stimulating environment in general? It means to have an environment that allows the person to thrive and grow, as well as to stay busy with different activities that are interesting, engaging, and satisfying.

How does this environment connect to addiction? A more stimulating environment contributes to a higher well-being and makes the individual happier and more satisfied. It reduces their distress and provides them with new tools to manage their negative emotions and structure their time.

What might we include in a stimulating environment? There are many different things that may also vary depending on the individual’s preferences and tastes. However, there are some key aspects. The first one is the need to have opportunities for work and education. Some small cities suffer from this, as there are limited opportunities for work or study within the town. An example of this is a town that depends, primarily on a single source of jobs, like a factory or a mine, that quickly goes downhill when the source closes down. A lack of opportunities for education and work lead to a lack of development and financial resources. Secondly, one might consider the need for relationships. All people, even introverted ones, need to have meaningful and close relationships. An environment that contributes to isolation might promote addiction because people feel lonely and depressed. The next aspect of a stimulating environment is access to different types of activities. For instance, having green spaces around to walk in and opportunities for physical activity, having courses or cultural centers, having libraries and movie theaters and even malls are all aspects of a stimulating environment. A lot of attention in the prevention of addictive behaviors in latter years has been focused on creating, for instance, urban environments where young people can entertain themselves and engage in sports or artistic activities.

When talking about not just prevention but addiction recovery, it becomes very important to create a new, more stimulating environment for the person who is struggling with addiction. This means that the person should find new and better ways to occupy their time and foster all aspects that promote their well-being, for instance, positive relationships, hobbies, volunteering, artistic activities, sports, and others. This allows the person to find new ways to feel happy and satisfied without needing to resort to drugs.

A stimulating environment has lower levels of distress as well as different things that promote positive emotions, enjoyment, connectedness, and other things. People have needs beyond the basic ones: needs to be entertained, need to be close to other people, need to grow and practice their abilities. By creating an environment that is more in line with these needs, individuals with addiction can more effectively stay sober.

The Rat Park experiment remains controversial and has had limited testability with people, as opposed to rats. However, interestingly, some support for the finding came from war veterans. When veterans came back from Vietnam, many came back with drug problems. However, at home, at environments that were free of distress and much more stimulation, most kicked the habit with little issue despite the addictive properties of the drugs. It may be important to create a stimulating environment to promote well-being and recovery from addiction.

 

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction reach out to the professionals at Valley Spring. If you want to learn more about our sober community 0r you’d like to learn more information, we can help you take the next step. Feel free to read our previous blog about what is the opioid epidemic.

What is the Opioid Epidemic?

Hearing a lot recently about the opioid epidemic? Read on to learn more

If you or someone you know is battling with addiciton, please reach out to Valley Spring Recovery Services. We will be happy to provide any needed referrals, if you are interested in learning more about halfway houses in nyc or are interested in sober living in Manhattan, we will be happy to help you! Also, please feel free to read our previous about co-occurring disorders 


When someone talks about addiction, it usually brings to mind illegal drugs or, indeed, alcohol. However, in recent years, one of the biggest public health crises associated with addiction has been opioid addiction. Opioid addiction has become one of the biggest addiction
-related issues in the history of the U.S, and their impact has been tremendous. Let’s examine the opioid epidemic and what it teaches us concerning addiction.

 

What are opioids? Opioids are a type of drugs that are usually used to manage pain. There are licit and illicit opioids. The legal versions might be used to manage pain in chronic pain patients or people with other health conditions that need pain relief. The illicit drugs tend to be more powerful than the legal drugs and, while they also might have pain relieving effects, their primary benefit is the feeling of pleasure, euphoria, and relaxation that they induce. Opioids are a highly addictive drug that also are associated with a high risk of overdose. Every day, over a 100 people just in the U.S. die of an opioid overdose, and even within a medical context, this drug can frequently be misused. Opioid addiction represents a public health crisis because it contributes to a high number of deaths by overdose, healthcare costs, the need to provide addiction treatment, and is also associated with productivity losses and criminal justice system costs. It represents a big problem for people with chronic pain issues who find their painkiller use restricted. It is a problem for families, for organizations, and for people with addiction as well.

 

The opioid epidemic became a hot button issue in the past few years. So, what happened? There have been several factors contributing to this development. Firstly, since the 90s, there was a tendency among the medical community to prescribe opioids at a high rate because these medications were not considered to be as addictive as they turned out to be. This led to a significant growth in addiction rates and also to the sales  and manufacturing of opioids. But this was not the only reason. At this time, there also was a significant growth among synthetic and illegal opioids. Opioids were easier to get on the street than other types of drugs, and they were also more affordable that many of the alternatives, so this also led to an increase in the amount of people who used them. To a point, it has been argued that there is still the issue of over prescription of opioids and the availability of illicit drugs or legal drug sold illegally continues to be high.

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What has been done to address the epidemic? The main measures have been associated with attempting to monitor the prescriptions for opioids, which has provided mixed results. On one hand, the current strict guidelines for physicians and patients concerning opioids might help prevent misuse but it has also been argued that it might impose an unfair burden on the lives of people who need these drugs for a good quality of life. It has also been argued that many of the people with addiction are not only people who get it because they need it but, primarily, people who abuse other drugs and buy them off the street. The success of the measures taken against the opioid epidemic has been mixed, and there have been other proposed measures to help alleviate the problem. One proposed solution for the frequent overdoses, recently suggested, has been that people should have a higher access to the drug naltrexone, which can prevent death from overdose. Making this drug accessible and common enough for people to have on them is expected to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths. Still, the issue remains.

 

What does the opioid epidemic show us about addiction? It shows that it can be a complex issue. NIH outlined plans for $500M to combat the opioid epedemic. Opioids may be addictive but they are also very necessary for many people. People with chronic pain may not always be able to go without opioids even if they have an addiction, for instance, so is it fair to restrict their access to these drugs? The second issue associated with this epidemic is that it shows that restrictive measures to deal with addiction might not be enough by themselves to reduce addiction rates. It also shows that there is still a lot that we do not know about drugs and that the use of specific medication and substances can have unexpected consequences in terms of addiction.

 

Overall, the opioid epidemic is a serious issue that represents a public health crisis in the U.S. It might be important to see how it develops and what can be learned from it.

Co-occurring Disorders

Mental Health deserves center stage alongside Addiction

Addiction is a serious issue on its own. It requires a  significant effort on the behalf of the person to seek treatment and go through a rehabilitation and recovery process. Any addiction can significantly affect the individual’s quality of life and can be difficult to treat. However, one of the issues associated with addiction is that it often doesn’t occur alone. Individuals with substance abuse problems frequently have co-occurring disorder, usually other mental health issues, that can make the treatment for addiction much more complex.

What are some common disorders that occur together with addiction? The first category is mood disorders. Problems like depression are very common among individuals who have addiction. Some people with this disorder may also have undiagnosed (or diagnosed) bipolar disorder. Another common category is anxiety. Many individuals who have addiction also have anxiety disorders, like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder, which is characterized by the presence of panic attacks. One particular problem that is significantly associated with addiction is Post-Traumatic Stress disorder. Many people with addiction can also have other mental health issues, which might range from problems like personality disorders to disorders like schizophrenia.

Why do these issues occur together with addiction? This may be because they precede it or occur (or become worse) due to substance abuse. Let’s take a closer look at this.

First, mental health disorders may occur with addiction because they precede it. Frequently, a person can have a mental health issue that remains undiagnosed or untreated. In this case, the individual can use different ways to deal with their symptoms. Someone with depression, for example, can use alcohol to numb themselves or take a stimulant to feel euphoric and happy for a while. A person with an anxiety disorder can use alcohol to relax in social situations and cope with their anxiety. Someone with post-traumatic stress disorder might abuse substances to cope with the symptoms. For people who do not know about treatment options, have never received a diagnosis, or who have limited  funds to afford proper treatment, drugs and alcohol might serve as ways of dealing with the symptoms on the short-term, which can lead to addiction. While not all people with substance abuse problems start using because of untreated mental health disorders, this is true of many individuals.

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However, substance abuse is, at best, a temporary solution for problems associated with mental health issues. Most substances can make the symptoms worse on the long run and may also contribute to the development of mental health issues. For example, there is some evidence that in people who have a predisposition for different conditions, like schizophrenia, using certain drugs, like marijuana, can trigger a psychotic episode. For most, substances can make their symptoms significantly worse or lead to the appearance of new issues even if there were none previously. Why does this happen?

Substances have an effect on the brain. Many drugs change the way the brain functions because they alter the neurochemical balance or the way in which the brain operates. For example, one can take a look at heroin. When a person becomes dependent on heroin, it means that their brain operates normally when there is heroin in their system but abnormally when there is not. The brain becomes accustomed to the presence of heroin and releases a certain amount of a neurotransmitter that is excessive when there is no heroin to deal with it. This neurotransmitter, noradrenaline, can make the person feel anxious and induce symptoms of withdrawal that harm the individual’s well-being and mental health. Other substances act upon the brain reward system. This means that the brain does not release the neurotransmitters associated with reward anymore unless the person is using. This means that the individual can no longer  enjoy other activities, which is associated with depression and make this problem worse.

Additionally, it can be difficult to treat addition when there is another disorder present. It means that this disorder also needs to be addressed, because kicking an addiction puts strain on the brain and the body and can temporarily worsen the symptoms of the disorder. This makes the person more distressed and might make them more likely to use again to relieve the symptoms, especially if the substance was used as “medication” for the disorder previously.

An effective type of treatment for addiction will need to address and accommodate the other disorder as well. In many cases, providing treatment for the co-occurring disorder can be very beneficial for the person and can lead to significantly better results.

Co-occurring disorder are an important feature of addiction. It is essential to see if the person is experiencing the symptoms of other mental health disorder and address it as well as the addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and battling mental illness, Valley Spring can help get you connected to the appropriate professionals! We offer a sober community in NYC and provide recovery services to those struggling with addiction. If you’d like to learn more about the damaging effects of alcohol or learn more about sober homes <– Click here. And please feel free to read our previous blog about if media depictions of drug use have an impact of real-world drug use.

Do Media Depictions of Drug Use Have an Impact on Real-world Drug Use?

Culture is both shaped and shaping

One of the criticisms associated with a lot of media that is blamed for being too violent or too sexual is associated with the way it portrays drug use. When we talk about drug use, we might consider alcohol, illicit drugs, and tobacco, which are often portrayed in a variety of contexts, and sometimes, portrayed in more positive, enticing, or appealing ways than the real-life consequences of drugs. Many people have protested these media depictions, but do they have an impact? Let’s take a look at some arguments for and against this and whether media depictions might influence real-life addiction.

 

For the impact of media:

  • Drugs are often portrayed as cool or more harmless than they truly are

Media depictions of drug use are often associated with “fun” and enjoyment. Alcohol, for example, might be shown as something that enables the characters to have fun or lose their inhibitions. Even if it has negative consequences, it might lead the characters into an adventure. Smoking is often a trait given to cool or tough characters. The use of illicit drugs is usually portrayed differently, but something like marijuana is often used for comedic effect or associated with positive characters. Drugs might be portrayed in positive ways and the negative consequences are not shown or downplayed. This can create association for the drugs that are more positive.

 

  • Even negative depictions of drug use can be appealing

However, to counter the above depictions, there have also been many negative portrayals of drugs or the characteristic of drug use is given to villains or antagonists. However, this doesn’t mean that the positive associations are not there. Villains or negative characters can also be perceived as cool or appealing, especially if they have desirable things, like status or money. For example, Scarface from the movie of the same name is often taken to be a cool character despite his flaws and, ultimately, his fate.

 

  • Media impacts real life

It is clear that media has an impact on real life. The portrayals of different things and behaviors in the media does impact what people choose to do. For example, after the release of the 101 dalmatians, more people wanted to have dalmatians as pets. After the release of media reports on publicized suicides, there is a spike in suicide rates. So, it cannot be said that media depictions are harmless because they might impact real-life behaviors. This could happen because they expose individuals to the idea of drug use, because they normalize the idea of using a drug (especially alcohol), and because they might show this behavior as desirable or associated with desirable traits.

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Against the impact of media:

  • The impact is not absolute

Still, the impact of media depictions is not associated with brainwashing. It impacts some people more than others and it might have no effect on individuals at all. The impact of media might be greater for people who are more vulnerable to the influence in general and especially on those who are younger or lack critical thinking. For example, children could be more vulnerable to the ideas in the media than adults. So, the impact of media is not universal.

 

  • The impact may depend on the portrayal

As mentioned, many portrayals make drugs out to be more fun and enjoyable while not focusing as much on the consequences.  Some portrayals may go in the opposite direction and portray drugs as pure evil, which could have the opposite effects. Many PSAs that take this approach are frequently mocked online for their inaccuracy. However, more nuanced and realistic portrayals can be deterrents from drug use. For example, something that shows effectively the consequences of drug abuse and avoids glamorizing it can have a positive impact on real-life substance abuse.

 

  • Drugs are a part of life

Ultimately, media is something that reflects the human experience, and drugs are a part of that experience. Banning depictions of drug use completely is unlikely to be effective and might not have the desired effect. Instead, it would be important to encouraged varied, nuanced, and accurate depictions of drugs, being especially careful in relation to the media aimed at younger audiences.

 

So, what about drug depictions and addiction? For some people, media might have encouraged their addiction, so it would be best to avoid media portrayals that are too graphic, positive, or appealing, especially for people struggling with rehabilitation. If you or a loved one needs help and would like to explore next steps in the recovery process, please call one of our professionals at Valley Spring Recovery Services. To learn more general information about sober houses or about Valley Spring’s sober living NYC see the hyperlinks. Feel free to read our previous blog about the pros and cons of AA.

 

 

The  Pros and Cons of Alcoholics Anonymous

Take what works and leave the rest

Alcoholics Anonymous and its sister programs are among the most recommended services for addiction support across the country and in many other regions of the world. The program has a lot going for it, and many believe that this is a strong service with many benefits for recovering from substance abuse problems. However, there have also been some criticisms leveled against the program, and it has been suggested that it might not be for everyone. So, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Alcoholics Anonymous and consider who might benefit from this program and who might not.

Pros:

  • It’s easily accessible

One of the biggest advantages of AA is that it is easily accessible. First, it is available in a lo of different countries  across the world and in many cities and small towns as well. This means that there are likely chapters of the organization available for someone looking for support. If there are no meetings near the person, it is possible to organize them. Secondly, AA is for everyone and people are not required to pay to access the services, even if donations are encouraged. This might make it a more affordable option for those who might struggle financially.

 

  • It creates a support network

AA’s main draw is that it helps create a support network between people who face similar challenges. They encounter others struggling with similar things and can find understanding and informed advice. Additionally, the AA system contributes to forming strong bonds between the attendants and encourages them to take responsibility for each other through the sponsorship system. Having social support can be highly beneficial, especially in cases where the person with addiction has become isolated from others or has been rejected by their other contacts. In some situations, the person might feel that others in their don’t understand them as well.

 

  • It offers structure

AA has a lot of structure. It has the 12-steps system, structured meetings, and other features that help make the person’s life more structured. This creates an additional support for those struggling with substance abuse and helps them rely on this structure to make their lives more organized as well. It also has a clear set of guidelines and protocols that are followed in different groups, so the person might move and still benefit from the structure they are accustomed to.

 

However, the AA has also been criticized for some aspects. It’s worth noting that many people find that AA is helpful even if the system is not entirely aligned with their ideas, however, for some the cons may be more significant.

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Cons:

  • It has religious undertones

AA was born as a Christian organization and the echoes of this origin can still be felt today. For instance, one very cited aspect is the  need to acknowledge a higher power, which is a part of the proposed steps. While the steps do not specify the higher power, this focus on the spiritual might be a turn-off for people with atheistic religious beliefs or those whose beliefs conflict with the ideas.

 

  • It might create a dependence on the system

Something that has been criticized in relation to AA is that it might foster a dependence on the system instead of on the substance. Some people become excessively involved in AA and it becomes the center of their support system to the expense of other aspects of their lives and development. AA promotes a view of addiction as something that is never overcome fully. While this view might be important to promote responsibility and accountability, some have argued that it also limites the options of the people who are part of the group and makes them dependent on AA throughout their lives.

 

  • It can vary by group

AA is a group ran by the people within it, so its effectiveness and support can vary significantly depending on where it is and how it is handled. For example, there are groups with those who attend AA by court order and are not significantly invested in being where, which might hurt the overall atmosphere if not properly addressed. Some AA meetings also are used unethically by people looking to sell drugs or for vulnerable people to hook up with. In many groups, this is effectively addressed but not always.

 

Overall, AA has helped a lot of people but, as anything, it has its pros and cons. For some, the cons may be more significant but it’s worth giving it a shot anyway. If you need help getting plugged into support groups or may be thinking about the idea of a sober house, call Valley Spring to find out exactly how they can help you get sorted with different recovery services and sober living in nyc.

 

Feel free to read our previous blog about if alcohol should be banned