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Specialist Drug and Alcohol Rehab center in Spain

Opioids, trauma and addiction

Endogenous opioids naturally occur in the body and play a vital role in our emotional health. It is a system of neurons that produces three opioids – endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins. These opioids act as neurotransmitters and neuromodulators and they regulate our pain response. For example, a runner may feel pain towards the end of a long run, but the exercise also produces endorphins that reduce the pain and make the person feel uplifted. However, in people with trauma disorders such as PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), opioids function differently.

PTSD puts people at risk of developing addictions due to the biological behaviour of opioids in a body and mind that has suffered trauma. In Judith Herman’s book ‘Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence’.she says endogenous opioid regulation is altered significantly by trauma and that “traumatized people who cannot spontaneously dissociate may attempt to produce similar numbing effects by using alcohol or narcotics.”

The effects of dissociation

What does she mean by dissociation? It’s a tool the mind uses to protect us from the effects of distressing events. Children are at high risk of developing dissociative disorders after trauma, but adults may also suffer from dissociation. When the traumatic event is occurring, then dissociation is a good and helpful human response, but the problem comes when the traumatised person can’t disconnect from the dissociative state and continues to live in a kind of suspended reality.

Some sufferers describe it as a feeling of being disconnected from themselves and from the world. Someone who is dissociating may be unable to move or speak. Other symptoms include amnesia, confusion about their personality and taking on different identities.

Opioids create a dissociative state where emotional responses are altered and pain is numbed. For example, when scientists tested stress responses in already-stressed animals, they discovered that the animals became desensitised to the stressors, because endogenous opioid production automatically kicked into high gear.

It is important that we recognize the relationship between addictive disorders and trauma so that we can adjust treatment programmes to include regulation of the body’s endogenous opioid production. This will help the person to heal faster.

What is co-dependency?

What is co-dependency?

Though not as common a term as depression or anxiety, co-dependency is a far more common problem than you might think.

When we aim to treat addictions to drugs, alcohol or other substances we have to look at the emotional background that very often acts as the trigger to substance dependency and many other types of personal problems.

Co-dependency is a common cause among them, and it is at the heart of problems that emanate from a poor sense of self-esteem. Since a great many of the people we treat suffer from poor self-esteem it is important to get to the root of the problem.

Self-esteem and Co-dependency

We all like validation from other people – to be liked, be told we’re beautiful, smart or fun, but ultimately you can only be truly contented in life when you are content with yourself and accept yourself for who you are, recognising your strengths and your weaknesses.

The idea that we should somehow be perfect and live up to impossible expectations – our own, or those of others – is not only damaging but unrealistic. Everyone is fallible and endowed with their own strong and weak points, and it is the latter you have to accept as a normal part of being human.

Too many people, however, fall prey to living their lives in the shadow of real or perceived expectations from others, criticising themselves for not being perfect and/or defending themselves against unspoken criticism from those around them. Many think they are talentless, ugly or somehow undeserving, but fail to see that most people around them – including very happy and/or successful ones – are just the same in most ways.

When your self-esteem is low in this way you inevitably seek the approval of others to validate yourself and somehow feel like a whole person. People in this situation align their personalities and actions to receive validation, but they can just as easily become defensive and overreact when faced with criticism. We should all be able to deal with criticism and setbacks, but people who are co-dependent are too easily swayed emotionally by the reactions of others.

Living your life in the shadow of others is never good, be it your parents, friends, colleagues or partner, and as it doesn’t make for good, evenly balanced relationships it only serves to lower your self-esteem further. Moreover, the emotional swings and inherent dislike of themselves makes co-dependents more vulnerable to substance abuse as a means of escape and dealing with the results of unhealthy interpersonal relationships.

Co-dependent people are also more prone to becoming fixated on others, harming themselves, committing acts of extreme desperation or using alcohol or drugs to enhance their personality and effectively become the person they want to be. In essence they are desperately trying to send a message that they just want to be loved and accepted. But whereas others might be willing to do this, the co-dependent is very often the actual obstacle to breaking the cycle, as they are locked in the wrong dialogue with themselves.

Overcoming co-dependency

The first step to overcoming co-dependency is to stop making someone else your facilitator – the person you blame for your drug abuse, behaviour, lack of energy or ambition, or any of the other factors that stop you from being a whole and contented person. Having the strength to recognise this takes you to the next, all-important step – the process by which you stop rejecting yourself (for it is you and not others who do so) and begin accepting yourself for the normal human being that you are. Complete with good and bad sides.

Look around you and realise that you are, after all, not so different from the rest of the world, many of whom battle with the same insecurities. You have to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and be proud of your strengths, learn to look at yourself in the mirror and not shy away but be able to love yourself. It is only once you feel contented with who you are that you can truly love others. Friends and family can support you but it has to come from within, for only you can recover your self-esteem and become whole.

Loss on the road to recovery

Loss Recovery

Loss on the road to recovery

Everyone experiences loss during their lifetime, but for the addict in recovery, loss, and the grief that accompanies it, is more complex and multilayered. However, going through loss recovery is an essential part of the road to rehabilitation.

An addict may encounter loss in two ways; there is loss caused by addiction, for example; loss of family, work or home, and there is a sense of loss that drives the person to become an addict in the first place. In this case, an addicted person uses alcohol or other drugs to numb the pain of sadness, grief or anger aroused by life events. It is a vicious circle that amplifies the pain in a life of addiction, making the need to remain addicted a necessity. It is difficult to break out of this behaviour and the addict newly in recovery often finds the early days especially tough, because they become aware of a multitude of losses. This is the time when people are most likely to relapse into addictive behaviour again.

The avoidance of distressing emotions is only ever a temporary relief measure. These feelings need to be acknowledged and talked about, otherwise they tend to come out through other behaviours. When we express feelings through behaviour, we often do it unconsciously and that means we have no control over them. As a result, they can be damaging and self-defeating.

Feeling loss is therefore a natural part of the recovery process. It may involve losing certain friends, giving up a lifestyle or a career, and relinquishing any possessions that trigger a desire for addictive behaviour. The grief of the loss of each of these has to be expressed and worked through in order to achieve and maintain recovery.

Another type of loss the addict experiences is that of the addictive substance or behaviour itself. Despite the fact that alcohol or drugs may be causing chaos in many dimensions of a person’s life, he or she will miss the comfort that the addictive substance brings. Addicts also have an intimate relationship with their preferred substance and this is a tough bond to break; it is like being in a bad divorce and has the same emotional effects. This loss is one of the most misunderstood aspects of recovery and the one least adequately treated in addiction centres.

Loss recovery and addiction

The addict also loses their certainty about daily life during recovery. An addicted life’s day is mapped out clearly in fixed routines, but in recovery every day is an unknown and the distress of strongly suppressed emotions emerging after years is an enormously challenging part of recovering. However, the most powerful way to stay on the road to recovery is by developing the skills to deal with and manage these emotions so that a new life can be built. That is one of the skills we help you develop at Villa Paradiso.

Healthy eating helps addiction recovery

Healthy eating helps addiction recovery

Once an addict is in recovery, what you now put in your body can make a significant difference to your progress. In the past there was a belief that the recovering addict should feel free to indulge in sweets, cakes and fatty comfort foods, but research now shows that these are exactly the things an addict should avoid and that healthy eating is a powerful tool that can help recovery.

During the addiction recovery the recovering addict faces a two-pronged nutritional dilemma. First, the alcohol or drugs affect the body’s capacity to assimilate nutrients. Also, many addicts do not eat enough to maintain good health. Second, the addict’s lifestyle often means that the food choices they do make are not healthy. Alcoholics, for example, may intake as much as 50% of their daily calories in the form of alcohol. Plus, the need to eat, or the money required to buy food, is often sacrificed for the need to buy alcohol or drugs.

It is logical then that an addict arriving at a recovery centre needs to have their nutritional status, and their eating lifestyle, assessed and addressed. Nutritional therapy is now acknowledged as a significant help on the road to recovery so that the person feels physically and mentally stronger as soon as possible, and so better able to handle the challenges that recovery brings.

Addiction Recovery

Good nutrition provides energy, repairs damaged organ tissue and boosts the immune system. These are all things a recovering addict is in need of, and repairing the physical damage is as important a part of the process as handling the emotional hurdles. We know that certain foods are mood enhancers and healthy foods alter the brain chemistry to give a more positive outlook. Feeling better physically lowers the risk of relapse, as does relearning the signals of hunger, something that is often lost during addiction. Eating regular, healthy meals is a key to recovery we take very seriously.

Controlling sugar intake and boosting amino acids are key elements of using food to help recovery. For example, fish and meat are high in phenylalanine, which deals with the effects of the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, the neurotransmitter that provides a feeling of pleasure. Addiction damages the production of amino acids until the body can’t produce them naturally. That’s why the recovery is so physically as well as emotionally painful in the first withdrawal stages.

Having a professional nutritionist on hand is essential to ensure the success of this part of your recovery. Assessing each client individually and planning a tailor-made diet plan that can be adapted as the person progresses is one of the most effective ways of building the foundations of a future without addiction.