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From Jan Williams, MS, JD, LCADC, site owner:

Online Addictions Services

Through this site, I offer free addictions information as well as professional services based on my 34 years of experience as a licensed addictions counselor and 36 years of personal recovery. My DUI alcohol evaluation, counseling, recovery coaching, and educational services are presented through email, telephone, and Skype sessions. Payment for services is done through PayPal and is secure, and encrypted. Please contact me at 443-610-3569 with any questions or concerns about my services. As you can see by reading my blog posts, I favor a spiritually based approach to recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, but recognize there are many paths to recovery and will support any rationally based approach to seeking abstinence. Out of respect for the Traditions of the 12 Step Programs, I strive to avoid any specific personal references to 12 Step Recovery.


Addictions Recovery Blog

I offer through the blog portion of the site an opportunity for discussion, by me and the public, of addiction, addiction treatment, recovery, support services, 12 Step Programs, and any other material relevant to addictions and recovery. Newcomers to recovery, old timers, addictions professionals, significant others of a person with a drug or alcohol problem, are all welcome. Registration is required to cut down on spam and other unsavory intrusions.

The rules for blog participation are simple:

  • You must register and login in order to activate the comment functionality
  • Be respectful in your comments
  • Do not use profanity.

Serenity Prayer: Tool for Emotional Health

The Serenity Prayer is a well known spiritual tool used in 12 Step recovery whose origins are unclear. Most attribute the prayer to the Christian (Protestant) theologian, Rheinhold Niebuhr (Karl Paul Rheinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971). Here is a long version of Niebuhr's prayer, with some Christian context:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen."

In any event, I heard an interpretation of the Serenity Prayer, I think from a Father Martin film (remember those things on reels?), that I have used for over 36 years as a tool for managing almost all life's realities. Here it is:

God (or other source of spiritual strength),
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change--Other people and many events;

Grant me the courage to change the things I can--Me, and how I react to other people and many events in my life.

In my experience, an individual always has the power to be in charge of how he/she reacts to life's problems. So, the goal is to seek the strength from God, a Higher Power, or other source of spiritual strength, to monitor one's emotional reactions and adopt a positive response, such as turning the problem over (Step 3 of the 12 Steps), sharing the problem with a trustworthy friend (perhaps a sponsor or other recovering person), or simply recognizing the problem or issue as one that needs to be accepted or put aside.

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 04/12/2014.

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Can Feeling Unloveable as a Child Be a Setup for Addiction?

In a summary published in ScienceDaily for March 20, 2014, researchers reported that persons who abuse alcohol and other drugs may do so because of an insufficiency in the amounts of a hormone called oxytocin present in their bodies from childhood. The study was published in the international journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior.

Oxytocin, called the “love hormone”, is thought to be responsible for producing feelings of bonding, fellowship, and wellbeing. The hormone is involved in helping “*** humans [to be] more trusting toward one another [and may be] crucial to how [they] form and maintain romantic relationships. A handful of new studies show that oxytocin makes [individuals] more sympathetic, supportive and open with *** feelings (Scientific American).

Research has also shown that oxytocin is involved in emotional pain, including development of anxiety and depression. “Oxytocin appears to be the reason stressful social situations, perhaps being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, reverberate long past the event and can trigger fear and anxiety in the future. *** If a social experience is negative or stressful, the hormone activates a part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increases the susceptibility to feeling fearful and anxious during stressful events going forward (ScienceDaily)."

In the current study under discussion here, a researcher stated: “*** some people's lack of resilience to addictive behaviors may be linked to poor development of their oxytocin systems."

"We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child. But our oxytocin systems aren't fully developed when we're born -- they don't finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences both external and internal***. “ The researcher theorized that: “***adversity in early life is key to the impaired development of the oxytocin system. This adversity could take the form of a difficult birth, disturbed bonding or abuse, deprivation, or severe infection, to name just a few factors.” These environmental influences can result in dysfunction of oxytocin development and production, which in turn can make the individual more vulnerable to addiction, perhaps in part due to the increased anxiety and depression, and a feeling of being unloveable.

So, we have more theories that may help explain why some individuals may be more prone than others to develop a drug or alcohol problem. It is important to emphasize here that while scientific theories may explain development of addiction, the individual seeking recovery from addiction must take personal responsibility for all of the pain and consequences caused by his/her behaviors while drinking or drugging. Failure to accept such responsibility can enable the individual to justify continued drug or alcohol use.

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 04/01/2014.

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A Recovery Paradox: Dependence on A Higher Power Promotes Independence in All Life Areas

Central to recovery from addiction using the 12 Step Programs (for example, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous) is the development of a relationship with a God of one’s understanding (a Higher Power) or other source of spiritual strength. As stated in AA’s basic text, Alcoholics Anonymous, called the “Big Book”, the experience of the early AA members makes clear three pertinent ideas:

“(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
c) That God could and would if He were sought (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 60).”

The 12 Steps suggest that the recovering individual decide to turn his/her “will and life over to the care of God” as the individual understands God to be, and are geared toward guiding the individual to a spiritual awakening. It is clear that the foundation for recovery in the 12 Step Programs is dependent upon the development and nurturing of an ongoing relationship with a source of spiritual strength. Again, as stated in the AA Big Book: “***The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 43).

Newcomers to recovery, as well as many researchers in the addiction field, have reservations about the spirituality of the 12 Step Programs, expressing concern that turning one’s life over to the care of God or a Higher Power may foster an unhealthy dependence on AA of NA and somehow prevent the individual from self-actualization and independence. In fact and in practice, the spiritual strength developed in 12 Step recovery enables the individual to set aside fear, insecurities, unhealthy attachments, including, of course, abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and to utilize all of the innate strengths and abilities that were hindered and distorted by addiction.

Thus, the Big Book lists a number of promises that stem from the process of 12 Step recovery: “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us (Alcoholics Anonymous, page 84).”

Indeed, the co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, directly addresses the erroneous notion that dependence on a Higher Power or other source of spiritual strength may produce and unhealthy dependence: “The more we become willing to depend upon a Higher Power, the more independent we actually are. Therefore, dependence, as A.A. practices it, is really a means of gaining true independence of the spirit (Step 3, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions).”

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 03/18/2014.

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Smoking Cessation in Early Recovery Need Not Be a Relapse Danger

Until recently, treatment professionals addressing disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse have tended to defer treatment of nicotine addiction until after the so-called primary disorder (anxiety, depression, substance abuse) has been stabilized. The thinking was that attempting to arrest nicotine use (smoking) would distract the patient from focusing on treatment of the more immediate problem of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse. In a study summarized in ScienceDaily on February 11, 2014, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have concluded that “ ***that quitting or significantly cutting back on cigarette smoking was linked to improved mental health outcomes. Quitting altogether or reducing by half the number of cigarettes smoked daily was associated with lower risk for mood disorders like depression, as well as a lower likelihood of alcohol and drug problems.”

The lead researcher of the study “***believes the serious health risks associated with smoking make it important for doctors to work with their patients to quit, regardless of other psychiatric problems."

"About half of all smokers die from emphysema, cancer or other problems related to smoking, so we need to remember that as complicated as it can be to treat mental health issues, smoking cigarettes also causes very serious illnesses that can lead to death. *** We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems. When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too."

There is abundant research that the benefits of smoking cessation not only result in improved mental health, as suggested in the study under discussion here, but also in almost immediate reduction of adverse effects associated with smoking, such as some forms of cardiovascular disease. So, this study perhaps removes an excuse recovering addicts or alcoholics may use to delay looking at addressing a serious, life-threatening addiction, namely, smoking.

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 03/03/2014.

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Role of Willingness in Spiritual Recovery from Addiction

The 12 Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, etc.) are a free resource available almost 24/7 to those seeking recovery from the disease of addiction. Even though much is made of the fact that the 12 Steps are only "suggested", it is clear from a reading of the AA basic text (called the "Big Book"), Alcoholics Anonymous, and the literature from the other 12 Step fellowships, that in order to recover an alcoholic (or addict) "... must find a spiritual basis of life..." (Big Book, p. 44). For many, the mention of spirituality triggers an emotionally violent, all or nothing, reaction that can effectively close the door to the recovery support available in the 12 Step programs. These individuals often have legitimate reasons for their automatic opposition to anything that smacks of God or organized religion. Indeed, there are a number of commercial treatment centers that appeal to those who have been harmed by experiences with organized religions by touting their programs as not being 12 Step based.

In my experience working with addicted individuals for over 36 years, regardless of the reasons for one's aversion to God and religion, any individual can, over time, come to believe in a Higher Power or other source of spiritual strength.

Willingness seem to be an essential key to beginning one's spiritual journey. Spirituality in the Twelve Step programs is a reality based approach, with simple, practical suggested steps an individual can take to arrive at his or her own personal brand of spirituality. In order to begin one’s spiritual journey in the 12 Step programs, one need only be willing to be open to the possibility that such a source of strength may be found and then begin to seek such a source. Belief in the existence of a spiritual source of strength is not a prerequisite to beginning one's spiritual journey. All one need do is to, of course, not drink or drug, attend 12 Step meetings, and reach out on a daily basis through prayer or meditation to a source of spiritual strength regardless of what that source may be or may be called. Over time, the individual will discover through his/her own experience that this regimen of prayer, meditation, and meeting attendance has produced a spiritual strength he/she has never before had, one which has become a solid spiritual foundation for recovery.

Where, you may ask, does one find the willingness to begin the spiritual journey I just described. I do not have a definitive answer to this question but will offer a few thoughts. Willingness often comes from the pain of loss and consequences resulting from alcohol or other drug use, as well as the opportunity to see the evidence, or reality, of spirituality in the other members of the 12 step programs who model in the meetings the result of applying spiritual principles in their lives.

There are a number of stories that may help newcomers to recovery to understand the reality based spirituality of the Twelve Step Programs. One is known as the "Eskimo story."

Two men were sitting alone waiting for a bus. One of the men wore the collar of a Catholic priest. The other man turned to the priest and said "I once prayed to your God to save my life and he failed me!" The priest smiled and said, "Tell me, my son, of your prayer." The man went on to tell how he had been lost in the arctic cold of Alaska, he had no food or shelter and was certain he was going to die. In his last breath, he begged God to save him from death. The priest smiled and said, "But son, God did not fail you. You are alive." The man replied, "God didn't do anything. Some Eskimos showed me the way out."

Basic to the concept of a higher power, God, or other source of spiritual strength, in the Twelve Step programs is the principle that this source works through people and that most people have "Eskimos" in their lives who have helped them. An intervention which may work to bring this point home to people new to spiritual recovery is to suggest they think about the "Eskimos" or people who have been helpful in their lives before they began recovery, making the point that, after all, they have lived long enough to have an opportunity to recover.

Another way of saying that God works through other people is: “We can do together what I can't do alone.” The Twelve Steps are phrased in terms of “We”: Thus, “We admitted we were powerless” (Step 1); “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” (Step 2) “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs” (Step 12).

Persons attending Twelve Step meetings can see and hear real people who have had spiritual awakenings and turned their lives around. They can see in these people concrete evidence of the spiritual power of the Twelve Step Program. They can feel the strength that comes from real people sharing real feelings with one another, with no ulterior motives other than self-help, that is, to help themselves through helping others—hence the description of 12 Step spirituality as “reality based.”

As always, comments are invited. Jan Edward Williams, www.alcoholdrugsos.com, 02/15/2014.

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