Emotional Management: A Skill For Mastering How You Feel

Developing skills to manage your emotional states is crucial if you want to develop long-term sobriety. While the initial phase of recovery is often met with a ‘Pink Cloud’ or Honeymoon period, it is very likely that once the newness of recovery wears off the newly sober addict or alcoholic will encounter depression, mood swings, confusion, memory loss and an inability to regulate their emotions due to brain chemistry that has yet find homeostasis. In this article I offer concrete and specific ways you can approach your “emotional mess” and posit solutions for managing feelings that are distressing to you.

If we take the position that addiction is largely the result of brain chemistry, it makes sense to me that we would approach a medical problem with a medical solution. Make an appointment with your medical provider to discuss the possibility of being assessed for anti-depressants. The effect of chemical use tends to create an experience where your world can feel very small. I suspect this is due to your brain’s inability to produce the required brain chemistry for normal cognitive and emotional functioning. A lack of the appropriate neurotransmitters can make you feel like you don’t have the needed emotional bandwidth required to face the day-to-day challenges. Utilizing available pharmacology and today’s research can go a long way in helping you develop a sense of ease in your recovery.

Developing skills to reframe what you are thinking is crucial if you want to stay sane. One of the biggest lessons we learn in recovery is that we need to come to a place where we don’t personalize everything. There’s a host of information available on the web if you’d like to do further study, but I would like you to consider the following ideas:

1) Take responsibility for your distress. While negative events happen, it is important to realize that you are only responsible for your part in the situation. Make an effort to talk to a trusted friend to get clarification on your part in a situation as well as where your responsibility ends.
2) Remind yourself that you cannot control the timing, the outcome, or how you feel. You are only responsible for what you think. By focusing on what you think you can change how you feel.
3) Try to see the good in every situation. My grandparents lived through four years in a Nazi concentration camp. When something negative happened to my grandmother after she and grandfather were released from Auschwitz, she would talk about “seeking the gift” in every situation. She suggested there were three reasons people were unable to seek the gift: 1) the problem (or opportunity) doesn’t come wrapped in the package you’re used to seeing, 2) sometimes the opportunity doesn’t happen on your time table, and 3) sometimes the problem doesn’t happen for us, it happens for someone else, and we are merely the conduit. My grandmother made sure that every time I was upset that I remembered that a gift existed in every situation

Realize that bad stuff happens. My wife has Cancer. I do not see this as karma nor do I believe that ‘everything happens for a reason’. I see ‘everything happens for a reason’ as a trite way to wrap your brain around something you do not understand. My wife has a family history of Cancer on both sides of her family. It was very likely that no matter what she did, she would have contracted this horrible disease. I do not spend a lot of time thinking about why bad things happen, they just do. Recognizing that bad stuff happens regardless of what we do or believe lets me remember that bad stuff happens, and it’s okay

When I worked for the Department of Corrections we offered various forms of therapy to the offenders to support them to challenge their thinking patterns. One such intervention was MRT or Moral Reconation Therapy. Two tidbits from MRT stick with me years later: 1) we need to learn to live justly in an unjust world, and 2) we need to give up the way we think the world should work. I like both of these interventions as it is a reminder that I only have so much power in terms of what happens with an outcome.

To continue:

Focus on what you want versus what you don’t like. Be mindful of what you think and how you feel. Get clarity on a situation.

Find a therapist. While you might feel like you can be objective, I would suggest that it is likely that there are places where you get stuck in your thinking. By following through on therapy you can find a confidant, get impartial feedback, learn to become more objective, develop compassion for yourself and your situation, and give yourself a gift of greater clarity. My sense is that therapy is one of the best ways to take care of yourself. Talking to a mental health professional can be the first step in supporting yourself if you have a sense that you might have a mental health condition which requires additional attention.

I’m sure that when I mention exercise you’ll nod your head in agreement as I won’t be surprised that you’ve heard this suggestion before. Exercise does a few things. 1) It’s a form of meditation as in my view meditation is the act of focusing on one thing at a time. While you might be thinking of other things when you exercise, there is a likelihood that you’re engaged in an activity that requires your attention and supports you to be mindful of the task at hand. 2) Exercise is known to lower stress in that it helps diminish the levels of Cortisol. Cortisol has an immunosuppressive effect, meaning that if your body constantly has high levels of this compound you are more likely to be susceptible to illness, infection, stress or disordered thinking.

Gratitude List?? I am not going to suggest a gratitude list as I do not believe that forced gratitude is helpful. If you feel bad and I tell you that you need to feel grateful, the benefit of developing a gratitude is lost. Instead, I would invite you to focus on what makes you feel good and then think about all of the good stuff in your life, however small.

Work on developing goals. Following through on both long and short-term goals can help reduce distress as you are faced with the idea that you have control of the future and your place in it. When you develop a list of goals, try to think of them in terms of a time frame (no time frame, no goal – without a time frame you are giving yourself an out) and then ask for help if needed. Very often I like to page through magazines and place a picture that represents each goal on a piece of butcher paper so that I can be reminded of what I want and why it’s important.

Developing friendships are important for obvious reasons. I know the times that I reach out to my friends I am better able to handle the hard stuff. I have learned that it is okay to ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are less of a person for needing help, it simply means you are human.

Focus on possibility and options versus issues and problems. I am reminded of a client who didn’t want to leave his house as he had a warrant for his arrest for not showing up for court. He was very concerned that he would get picked up for not following through on his obligations. My suggestion was to remember that “many things are possible but not likely”. What feels better?

Practice, Practice. Practice. While I do believe that sobriety is a gift and that the people in our world are better for it, nothing worth doing is easy. It takes concerted effort and focused discipline to get what we want. When you begin to understand that you are not a victim and that you have power in a situation, you begin to make changes that support better emotional management.

Lastly, I would STRONGLY encourage you not to continue to label things as addictive or alcoholic behavior, rather, it is important to remember you are human. Is it addict behavior to want to drink, or are you simply human because you want to feel better and less distressed?

How Students Can Deal with Stress to Avoid Alcohol or Drug Dependence

The high-school and college years can be incredibly stressful. Students are going through a number of developmental changes, learning about who they are and who they want to be, navigating relationships, and dealing with more “grown-up” problems — all while facing academic pressures and challenges. While they’re trying to figure out what they want to do with their life, they also have to balance a full course load, extracurricular activities, and entrance exams.

For many, the pressure can become too much. Many turn to over-the-counter drugs like Vivarin or No Doz — caffeine pills and “energy supplements” that fuel all-night study sessions but also foster a dependency on chemical stimulants. Others turn to even more damaging coping methods, such as abusing alcohol or illegal drugs to either deal with the stress or to enhance performance.

There are a number of healthy coping mechanisms that students can use instead to deal with stress or study more efficiently in order to avoid alcohol or drug dependence. Here are a few ideas:

Time Management
Students often try to do too much. Many who already have a full course load will then try to join a few clubs, start volunteering (for the resume boost), work a part-time job for extra cash, maybe even hold down an internship and maintain an active social life. Having too much on your plate can make it hard to focus on your studies and can cause you to feel overwhelmed and to fall behind. Effective time management is one way to get a handle on these responsibilities. Make a schedule of all your obligations, and then prioritize your responsibilities. Eliminate what can be eliminated, and then prioritize the remaining tasks and schedule them appropriately. Then stick to the schedule. It may not be easy, but if you have set a realistic schedule, it will be possible to accomplish what you need to without resorting to help from stimulants and all-night study sessions.

Exercising is a great way to relieve stress, and it’s a natural performance enhancer. Regular exercise can give you more energy and can make it easier for you to focus, process new information, and remember what you have studied. It can also help you blow off steam when you are feeling overwhelmed or upset. You don’t have to work out in the gym every day for an hour. Just taking a brisk walk around your neighborhood for a half an hour a day can be enough to give you the boost you need. Instead of reaching for those “energy supplements,” call up a friend and walk a few laps around the block. You’ll feel energized and clear-headed and ready to tackle your work.

Get Plenty of Sleep
This may seem counterintuitive to meeting your goals of getting more done in your already cramped schedule. However, getting enough sleep will help you to manage stress better, will give you the energy you need to take on your demanding schedule, and will help you to focus better in class and during your study sessions. On the other hand, if you are sleep-deprived from too many late-night study sessions, it will be harder for you to concentrate, to process new concepts, or to retain information that you learn in class or study sessions. You should be getting no less than 7 hours of sleep per night. However, it is ideal for you to get at least 8 to 9 hours a night.

Get Support
Everybody needs a little help sometimes. A good support network can be there for you when you need help or when you just need someone to lend an ear when you are feeling upset or overwhelmed. Build a good network of friends and family who can offer you that support when you are feeling stressed. Instead of drowning your sorrows in alcohol or booze, you can call a friend instead.

Don’t overlook the support network you can find in a study group. Your fellow classmates can support you in your academic studies, providing help when you need it or just a listening ear.

Plan Breaks
All work all the time can make anyone hit a breaking point. Well-timed breaks can help to relieve stress so that you can recharge and refocus. Head outside for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, or take in a good movie. You don’t have to plan elaborate weekend getaways to get the benefits. Just taking short time outs can help your peace of mind immensely.

Good self-care, including stress management, is important in preventing the abuse of alcohol or drugs (even over-the-counter drugs like Vivarin or No Doz). Students, especially, must learn good stress management techniques in order to cope with the unique pressures that they face. These tips will get you started, but you should also work to find stress relief techniques that work well for you as an individual.
How do you cope with stress? Share your tips in the comments!

Chloe Trogden is a writer and manager for CollegeGrant.net, where she has recently been researching student resources. In her spare time, she enjoys camping, swimming and playing her guitar.

Sober and on Pain Meds??

Dear Todd,

I have been clean for over 37 years, Now my health has deteriorated from chronic illness to such a degree that I require painkillers to do even simple functions like writing, dressing myself and walking. So far I have managed my intake of oxycodone to no more than absolutely necessary (half the prescribed dosage) to alleviate the actual pain, but i can already see the point of no return in my future where physical pain relief will turn into mental pain relief and addiction. And here is the horror: at this time in my life, addiction does not seem like such a big deal when compared with the life I lead now. Any thoughts?


I know plenty of folks who use pain meds because they have a medical need. Too often in the addiction community we hear people being forced off of their meds as taking meds in recovery is seen as relapse. To me this is simply absurd – I suspect many of these same folks have used pain meds at some point in their life and wouldn’t see their use as relapse. As we know many things are not black or white, there are shades of grey. You didn’t mention anything about wanting to quit taking meds so I won’t even go there. If you’re simply asking me what I think, I will let you know that it sounds like you have a legitimate medical need. I know a few pharmacists who would say that addiction or relapse isn’t an issue if pain is a recurrent factor.

My sense is that we can do what we want as long as we go in with our eyes open.


Addiction Treatment for Homebound Clients

For over 27 years as an addiction treatment professional I have applied various treatment approaches in various communities.  In helping my clients find success I have learned that treatment approaches should vary not only by community, but also by client experience and milieu.  Many clients find success as a member of a community mental health team.  Homebound clients are not only mobility challenged they experience uncontrolled and unexpected occurrences that negatively impact long-term success.  Their case specific needs require different treatment approaches to support long term recovery.   In this article we will explore various reasons for this lack of success and posit some suggestions about the best way to engage homebound clients.

I have been fortunate enough to support client success in many environments, but I find additional compassion for the homebound and concern for their long term success.  Most of my homebound clients are unable to make it appointments outside of their home due to conditions such as chronic illness, a lack of social/familial support, diffuse mental health problems, lack of transportation or clinician resistance.  A focused team of health and social welfare clinicians can coordinate client specific treatment approaches.

As clinicians we can be easy become set in our ways and become numb to the strife of others.  We travel from place to place being creatures of habit.  It takes conscious effort and new situations requiring our attention to change.  Out of the items I mentioned above the last two items (lack of transportation or clinician resistance) can be overcome by education and community research to assist a homebound client.

The lack of personal or immediate access to transportation need not be a limitation to treatment for homebound clients.  Many communities have numerous community transportation programs.   In Seattle clients have options such as Access Transportation, Hopelink, Community Transportation, Taxi Script, or even subsidized bus passes.  The surrounding cities also have transportation assistance for community members.  I would also recommend checking with an area’s Chamber of Commerce. Some of these programs require that a medical practitioner verify that a client is disabled by completing an assessment and signing a form that a client can being to a transportation provider.

Visiting a client at their residence or at a community site can be very helpful, especially when a lack of transportation is a result of conditions beyond his or her control.  The idea of having a private and personal visit can instill not only client investment, but also a sense of control.  Many homebound clients are mentally ill and have manifestations which make it impossible for them to leave their home.  For example, schizophrenic clients can be plagued with command hallucinations that tell them to jump off a bridge or in front of traffic.  These clients stay home because the outside world is not safe.

Home visits can be very beneficial to health and social well-being when handled properly.  Providing clinical work at the client’s place of residence or a community site can be accomplished by hiring a counselor that specifically completes visits out of the agency, or by setting aside a percentage of a clinician’s time for travel and home visits.

Assuming homebound clients are resistant because they do not want to leave home misses the point and suggests this the counselor does not understand mental illness and sees everything as a manifestation of chemical dependency, without considering any outside source or etiology.

As a clinician working one-on-one with homebound clients it may be difficult to recognize resistance; this is where a well-informed team of health and social care providers can be beneficial.   A well informed counselor of homebound client’s can be taught to realize that clients are not resistant because they are unable to make it to group, rather, they have very real, concrete and specific illnesses which prevent them from fully participating in treatment and in life.

Ultimately, working with homebound clients that have limits beyond their control can be very rewarding.  It’s an opportunity to reap very personal and professional benefits in an environment you may never have the opportunity to experience again.  The efforts made by chronically ill and significantly  challenged homebound clients should be recognized for what they are and celebrated as small successes.  It is important to remember that recovery looks different for everybody.

Developing Juicy Goals For Recovery


It is likely there are a few things you’d like to accomplish in your sobriety.  The reality is that the machinery that helps your goals manifest is the same no matter the subject, time-line, or importance.

I would like to posit that in order to reach your goals there are specific ways of thinking about them that can help.  I would like to outline a few ideas and then show you to a system of goal-setting that I have found to be very helpful.

Motivation – I would like to introduce the notion that people aren’t lazy, rather, they have impotent goals.    Is your goal in your life juicy enough to get you out of bed? Are you focused on what you need to do to? Were your goals created for yourself or to simply please someone else?  With proper motivation, the pride and excitement provides fuel to work towards the completion of the goal.  Very early in my career I wanted to be Nationally certified as an Addictions Counselor.  I wanted the certification, but I wanted to pass the test before the requirements increased to sit for the exam. Eventually my focus changed from completing the exam to passing the test as a tangible recognition that I knew my stuff.  When my motivation was correct the goal was easy to complete.

Passion – I like to make ‘passion’ a separate category from motivation.  The way I think about it, motivation helps me follow-through on whatever goal I have set for myself.  Passion is different from motivation in that when I think of what I want to do, passion is the “juice” that supports me to feel connected to a goal, energized by the possibilities, and alive that this goal will have a positive impact on the people in my life.  I have been a clinician since 1984.  I believe the reason I continue to do this work is my passion for affecting change.  About 12 years into my career I took a break from clinical work to drive a limo for six months.  While I met a lot of neat people (some celebrities as well) I was not connected to my job and did not feel engaged by my time behind the wheel.  I was not affecting change and I was certainly not passionate about this job.  I received a lot of compliments about my customer service skills which didn’t surprise me as I know how to relate to people.  Truth be told, the third day away from clinical work, I was dying on the vine.  Passion is nothing if you’re not engaged by what you do.  I met a lot of drivers who loved their job, and they were really good at it.  They had passion and they felt like they were contributing.  I did not.

Intention – My sense is that many people are not aware of their true intentions when they set goals.  I don’t believe that people just want “a lot of money”, they want what they feel like the money will give them.  While I believe that a relationship can enhance your life, I would suggest that the intention (while subliminal or unconscious) is that you want what you believe the relationship can give you: connection, passion, intimacy, and friendship.  When I talk with many clients I like to remind them that what their partner or husband or child really wants is their time.  Getting clear about your intention will make it easier for you to get what you want.

Commitment – I like to think of this as the juice that propels me to follow-through even when I want to quit.  I know myself pretty well.  There is a part of me that has either quit when things were difficult in the pursuit of my goal, or I simply did not start a project fearing it would be difficult.  I know this is wussing out, but I want to be honest and I imagine that there are some readers that would be able to relate to this.  You’re familiar with the adage of people ending a relationship because they’re afraid of commitment. You can probably imagine two people sitting together and one person plays armchair counselor and suggests that the other person wants to leave because they are afraid of commitment.  I remember going on a date with a woman I had met and after dating for a while she asked me why I ended a relationship.  Shared I couldn’t get on the same page with the woman I was dating, she shot back: you’re afraid of commitment.  Not so much.  I have been sober over 32 years. I have worked as a clinician for over 28 years. I have been involved with the martial arts since I was four – fear of commitment has never been an issue- commitment is commitment, no matter the manifestation.  What I tried to convey to this person is that our culture believes that everything can be worked out.  The reality is that some things simply can’t be helped or fixed.

There were many times during my martial arts practice that I wanted to quit.  There were several occasions in my recovery that I wanted to drink.  There were various times in my career that I wanted to find another job.  I didn’t leave any of these things as when I stepped back I realized all of these activities were essential to the fabric of who I was.  I was frustrated and could not figure out how to fix the frustration so I thought that I would stop doing what I loved BECAUSE I was frustrated.  Can you relate??  The best way to improve your commitment is by doing three things:  1) remember why you started in the first place, 2) get your ego involved (tell other people your plans), and 3) enroll other people into your cause.  If you want to lose weight find a walking buddy.  If you know that you don’t study as much as you should, find a study partner.  If you want to quit smoking, join a support group.  While I like to believe that human beings are very powerful, we all need support, we can all be reminded, we can benefit from getting a kick in the butt.  If something isn’t working we either need to change our perception or our procedure. Be able and willing to accept support.


Now that I’ve outlined the qualities that I believe are essential to obtaining your goals, I want to introduce you to a goal setting system that can be quite helpful in giving you a steering wheel to follow-through. The Acronym for this model is S.M.A.R.T :

▪   S = Specific

▪   M = Measurable

▪   A = Attainable

▪   R = Realistic

▪   T = Timely

S) When you think about the goal are you just writing something down for the sake of having a goal, or are you getting clear with what you want?  If you say that you’d like more money and you find ten cents on the ground, you have reached your goal.  Get specific: I would like to increase my salary by $5000 per year by the end of the year.  The last goal has a steering wheel versus the first way it was written; flimsy and indirect.  Which goal are you more likely to receive, and which goal will make you feel more content?? What are you going to do, how are you going to do it?  Be mindful to use action words when you write out your goal.  Specific is the what, where, why and how of the SMART model.

M) I remember reading somewhere that if you can’t measure the success of your goal you certainly can’t manage it.  How do you know when the goal has been reached?  Are you changing the marker for completion? Choose something measurable and establish criteria: I will read three chapters of a book every evening.  I will walk for 20 minutes every day after work.  I will assign my family three different chores from the chore board.  I will recite 20 affirmations every night before I turn in.  By making sure your goals are measurable, you’ll know when you have reached your mark.

A) By identifying goals that are important to you, you will start to find ways to make them happen. Suggesting that you will love yourself in one week or that you will lose 30 pounds in two weeks is likely not to happen.  Make the goal attainable to yourself.  Attainable goals will help you identify skills, attitudes and abilities.   When you set attainable goals you’ll also find resources to help you along the way.  Assure your resources are appropriate. If you want to lose weight and need support, you might talk to an athletic trainer. They will have ideas about how you can reach your goals and can help you with the needed push.  If the goal to lose weight wasn’t attainable, you’d likely meet failure again.  By focusing on an attainable goal you connect with other people who weren’t in your corner previously.

R) Realistic is not synonymous for easy.  In this instance I am talking about goals that are do-able.  Realistic goals fit into a category that do not resemble a vertical slope.  Suggesting that you will win the lottery 20 times in the next six months isn’t reasonable –  there are far too many things out of your control for this to happen – the odds of that happening make it impossible and will set you up for failure.  A better goal would be suggesting that you would like to learn to play poker with your 12-step friends and understand the rules enough to win a hand or two.  See the difference?  Be sure to set the goals high enough that it takes effort to reach them.  Remember, realistic means do-able

T) Timely.  This generally refers to setting limits and deadlines on your goals.  No deadline, no goal.  Without a specific timeline attached to the goal you are essentially giving yourself an out.  If you don’t set a time the commitment is weak and vague.  If your goal is important, you’ll attach a timeline.


I think the S.M.A.R.T model is an excellent way of looking a goal setting.  It is a natural extension of commitment and follow-through. Grandparents are very good goal setters and I imagine there were times they gave you very clear goals. Remember this: if you don’t clean your room by 5 pm then you will not be able to go to the dance on the weekend.  Or the shorter version: if you clean your room you’ll get to watch your favorite show.  I think grandparents are natural goal setters.

While I did not include ‘deadline’ in the model outlined above, it’s worthy of mention.  When I don’t feel like following through, a deadline has been helpful to me.  I finished this article because I had a deadline.  In school I was successful because I had deadlines.  When the other parts of the S.M.A.R.T model aren’t enough to motivate me, having a deadline is a sure way to remind me that I have a commitment that needs to be met.


Rewards for completing your goals are always helpful.  Be sure to reward yourself along the way. A reward system helps you keep your eye on the prize when you start to feel that you want to give up.  Essentially, completing the goal IS the reward.

My goals for the next few years: complete some private practice work, read more books, adopt a large dog, and feel healthier.


What are your goals???






Guest Post: Not. My. Kid. from Interventionist Kelli Athas

Not. My. Kid.

Advice for Desperate Parents about your Child’s Addiction, from a Former Homecoming Queen Turned Drug Addict

by: Kelli Athas

Personal Interventionist

Intercept Interventions


High school homecoming queen. Cheerleader. I was beautiful, bright-eyed, popular, and had every advantage.  I came from a good, solid family who loved me. I had friends with the same goals and morals I had been taught and I loved being with them. I could see a future that shined bright with opportunity. Then I made a choice that changed my life forever.

I am a recovering drug addict.

I have walked the streets with prostitutes. I have been kidnapped, burned with cigarettes, and came very close to death due to the demons I couldn’t understand and couldn’t control. I lived the nightmare you fear for your child. I have done things to get high that I am deeply ashamed of. I understand desperation…hopelessness. I have been to hell, and by an unfathomable grace I not only survived, but today I’m thriving.
If you feel or fear your child is a drug addict or addicted to anything (including alcohol, sex, or even an unhealthy, dangerous relationship) you are in a desperate place right now.  I understand. I have breathed inside your son or daughter’s skin. I have been consumed, eaten alive, with a force that was a thousand times greater than me…a force that, right now is consuming your child’s body, heart, mind, and soul. Inside every hour of every day I was addicted to drugs, my mother and my family tried to help me; they hoped, cried, prayed and lived a frantic existence of worry and fear. If you are the parent of an addict you likely feel just as out of control as the addict you so desperately want to help. You want to cure your baby. Unfortunately you cannot cure this person you love.

Perhaps accepting the fact that there is no cure, no quick fix that will make everything go back to your “normal” family life is the first step toward strength and clarity for you. There is an overabundance of well-intentioned (and many non-well-intentioned) people advertising quick methods that will change your loved one’s life, make them get off drugs and become whole again.  The reality is there is no one that can cure addiction.  But there are ways to bring them to a place where they can see the destruction and chaos they are creating for not only themselves, but their loved ones. An addict must first face up to their addiction and admit they need help. And many times they need help getting to that place. They will need to find a support group that best fits their needs and stick with it.  Recovery is a journey not a destination. The insanity and chaos that is imbued in addiction toys with emotions, and feelings become erratic and unpredictable. This is one of the reasons it is vitally important to seek an objective point of view from someone who’s been in an addict’s shoes, in their skin, someone you trust to give you and your family hope and guidance.

I am still so saddened when I remember the pure exhaustion and desperation on my mother’s face when she would look at me during my struggle.  She wanted so much for me to overcome this disease, but it would be a long road to recovery for me.  I’ve been in treatment several times.  I got out of my first rehab in 1996 and my mom thought the nightmare was over and life would go back to “normal.”  No one explained this is a lifelong journey, a battle for me and for her. Honestly, the greatest lesson I learned in my first stint in rehab was that I needed to hide my addiction better. I never thought of myself like the others in rehab; they were failures that I perceived as low. Some whored their bodies to get money in order to buy drugs; others stole from their parents and kind-hearted friends. I was nothing like this…then.  But after leaving the recovery program and turning back to my toxic patterns, I realized in the blink of an eye that I was lying to myself – I was exactly like them. And everything I’d heard that disgusted me at the time were only “yet’s” for someone like me who refused to become open-minded and lose the superiority complex.

Addiction manifests itself in many ways. Manipulation and deception are huge indicators of trouble to come.  Parents, be vigilant – teens know how to manipulate. In my senior year of high school I was voted “Miss Smooth Talker”…I considered this an accomplishment. However, the title should’ve been “Miss Manipulator” because that’s exactly what I had become. I thought “just one time for fun” would be just one time for fun – but instead it kick-started an all-consuming lust to chase that first high. It’s an indisputable fact that a high rate of teens begin their alcohol & drug use at this pivotal age in their life, as a parent it is an excruciatingly frightening scenario. No one can predict it and no one knows what they’ll do unless they’re in it themselves. It’s common to want to give your child the benefit of the doubt. Praying it’s only a phase, and for many it may be just that. But if your child has been experimenting and because of it they receive some adverse consequences, such as being suspended from school and they continue to use, that is when serious action should be to be taken. If you don’t seek help your taking the risk that they will fall into the vicious cycle of addiction.

Educating families & kids about addiction is not easy. My advice to you: get in their face.  Ask them the uncomfortable questions, and if they try to blow you off, if they try to justify their reasons or manipulate you, do not budge. If you’re not talking to your kids about drugs, someone will. Find out who their friends are. Find out where they hang out, what they do after-school. Protect them when they don’t know enough to protect themselves.

The social stigma of “not my child, they’re smarter than that” is not enough and will not help you help them. If your son or daughter has a problem with addiction my advice to you is dig deep for strength, draw it from your love for them, and walk beside them through their journey toward recovery without expectation and without judgment. Be their parent, their cheerleader and the person they can trust most in the world. And no matter how dark it gets and how much they struggle to run away from you, never let them go.


Kelli Athas and her husband Nick are certified national drug and alcohol interventionists.  She and her husband are the founders of Intercept Interventions, a program which helps families through the intervention process.  Kelli is a highly sought after drug and alcohol recovery expert and works with churches, courts, child protection services’ case managers and school administrators to mentor teens struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. They also speak regularly about drug awareness, prevention, and education. They have created a unique curriculum for their interventions and a workshop entitled “Not.My.Kid.” in order to spread the message that addiction can happen to ANYONE.  To contact Kelli and Nick Athas please visit www.interceptinterventions.com or contact their toll free number 877-744-3578.


Anatomy of a Relapse

A random poll among newly sober clients, recovery counselors, and people who have achieved years of clean time would probably produce a varying consensus about the most pressing need for successful recovery.   Most respondents, however, would likely agree that relapse is often an indicator of stress.

The process of recovery, like the process of grief, is fluid and dynamic.  Exploring relapse before it happens is a good way to identify potential problems so you can be prepared for them.  Thorough preparation can help you minimize or even avoid issues may hinder your recovery.

Most people don’t think though the actions which eventually bring them to the point of relapse .  They simply had a desire to drink, and acted upon that without any thought for the consequences.  If they did indeed have any thoughts and feelings about the consequences of use, those thoughts and feeling were ignored or rationalized away.

In the recovery process, your recognition of that lack of forethought and insight should be a powerful lesson.  You can learn that anticipating the ultimate results of your behaviors will help you make much better choices.

With that in mind, try to see your past drinking/using behavior as a learning experience. Guilt and shame are a waste of time.  Having negative feelings about relapse (or anything) is can be very instructive in that you are reminded that your actions are in conflict with your values, and with the lessons you have gained from your experience.

When we talk about relapse we’re looking at the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that precede a using episode, and what we can do to minimize or avoid their effects.

Let’s explore a model of relapse and break it down into manageable steps.  We’ll assume, for the purposes of this discussion, that you have committed to recovery and are facing a relapse into using.  While there are many models of recovery, the focus of this article is total abstinence.

Step one – People around you may mention that your behavior is weird or dysfunctional, or that your priorities have reverted to those of your “using” days.  Our natural tendency is to brush off such comments.  You may not even be paying attention to the signs or symptoms of relapse.

Step two – You start to feel restless and agitated, irritated and discontent. Your focus shifts from internal to external, from you to someone else.  Your focus shifts to blaming others  and feeling like a victim.   You find yourself thinking that outside forces affect your actions, rather than taking responsibility and looking at your own behaviors.

Step three – These “victim” thoughts may surface and manifest in destructive ways.    You may start to isolate yourself.  You seek emotional and physical withdrawal, avoiding friends or failing to return their calls.  You become very self-centered and dismiss any outside suggestions.  As you become isolated, you may find yourself discounting recovery, or even seeing it as impossible.  You may seek to understand your situation by magical or “if only” thinking.

Step four – You find a way to rationalize a justification to resume using.    You may even feel that you can give yourself permission to have one or two drinks a day.  One or two drinks quickly turn into three, then four or more, and so on.  You ease back into your old, using lifestyle while you revert to your former views of yourself and the world.  Often, life events accelerate this process and demonstrate that your behavior is no longer subject to your own control.

It is important to understand that the process of both recovery and relapse are separate things.  Sustaining recovery takes an ongoing concentrated effort which can be a difficult habit to build.  Part of a sustained recovery requires the ability to look at your behavior with an unbiased opinion, inclusive of the ability to not only identify the stages of relapse, but the ability to change your behavior.  These tendencies  do not come naturally nor are they gained without effort.  The anatomy of relapse tends to be a part of recovery, but it doesn’t have to be.