Functioning alcoholic. You may have heard the term before; you may even know one. However, there is a great deal of research—both scientific and anecdotal—that refutes the concept of functional alcoholism.
Let’s look at what we know and talk a little about why functional alcoholism doesn’t exist.
What is ‘functional alcoholism’? And is it any less serious?
We tend to think of an alcoholic as somebody who has lost everything – their spouse, their job, their friends, their savings, all gone. But, many alcoholics still manage to maintain a relatively productive life, both personally and professionally. This makes it very difficult to recognize the disease, not only for the people who care about them but for the alcoholic themselves.
This type of alcoholic often has great relationships with their friends, family, and coworkers. They may excel at their job and feel that they are quite successful. Some may be quite successful, which may lead others to overlook the drinking altogether.
He or she may not even drink every day and may instead binge-drink on the weekends when they have less to be accountable for. They may rationalize their drinking with statements like “I only drink expensive liquor,” or “I just drink wine.” They often feel that their drinking, along with everything else in their lives, is under control, when in truth, they are in deep denial.
In many cases, the alcoholic has people in their lives who help them hide their shortcomings, someone who makes it easy for them to evade the negative consequences of their drinking. These individuals, often close friends, spouses, or family members, are enabling the behavior, allowing it to continue and even supporting the idea that whatever the alcoholic gets up to, there will always be someone there to pick up the pieces.
Know the warning signs
If an individual doesn’t drink every day, if they manage to fulfill their responsibilities, and if they hold a position of power, it’s not easy to tell that there is a problem. However, some behaviors paint a telling picture.
For instance, drinking secretly, drinking alone, or drinking in the morning, using alcohol either as a reward or to mitigate stress or thinking that alcohol is needed to feel at ease. Drinking to the point of blackout, forgetting what’s been done or said while drinking, making excuses for drinking, and denying or hiding drinking – these are all clear signs that the drinking behavior is becoming dangerous.
Like any alcoholic, a high-functioning alcoholic often engages in risky behavior, such as driving drunk, promiscuity, and putting themselves or others in dangerous situations. They are also no less susceptible to chronic and life-threatening diseases related to their alcohol use, such as liver disease, brain damage, neural damage, diabetes, pancreatitis, and some forms of cancer. The risk of dying in a car accident, by murder, or suicide is significantly higher, as is the risk of violence, domestic abuse, and fetal alcohol syndrome.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism, reach out today. Roots Through Recovery offers many treatment options that can help you get your life back on track.
Addiction is an issue faced by many people. Addiction does not have prejudice; it can affect people of any age, any race, any walk of like. It doesn’t have a preference for age or gender. It doesn’t care where you live. Once it has taken hold of your life, you may find that your choices are no longer your own. Fortunately, addiction treatment in Long Beach is available at Roots Through Recovery.
Addiction treatment in Long Beach is within reach
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, seeking out treatment is essential. At our Long Beach treatment center, we take a holistic approach to every case, applying a multi-disciplinary focus to target the underlying cause while treating the symptoms appropriately.
Our team understands the nature of addiction. We genuinely care about our patients and take an individual approach to each case because we know that no two people are experiencing precisely the same issues. Our singular goal is to help you get your life back, free you from your addiction, and help you find happiness.
Treating the whole person
Our treatment programs are based on treating the whole person, not just the underlying addiction. In many cases, there are co-occurring issues that have either led to the addiction or exacerbate the situation. Without treating these aspects, we would only be masking the problem, making recovery much more difficult.
While many addiction programs focus strongly on detox and only provide support for the first two or three months beyond that, we have found greater success when extending treatment for an indeterminate period.
Recovery is an ongoing process
Returning to normal life and sober living is often difficult, especially when the addiction has taken up the better part of your life. For this reason, our addiction treatment doesn’t stop at three months or even six months. The challenges may last a lifetime, and it is our goal to give you the tools and intervention strategies you need to stay the course and never have to return to that dark place.
Everybody is different
How we approach your recovery depends on you, your situation, and your goals. Some of our patients are re-entering life from incarceration, and some need to mend a lot of broken fences on the road back to their family and friends. Some are mature, some are very young, but each has their own set of challenges as well as hopes and dreams for the future.
Ultimately, we want to ensure you achieve the freedom from addiction you seek. It may not always be easy, but the rewards are so great. Through it all, our doctors, counselors, therapists, and alumni will be here to support your success, every step of the way.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, it is critical that you seek help as soon as possible. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.
Drug and alcohol use often begins as harmless experimentation, but if it occurs over an extended period, it can lead to addiction and a lifetime of hurt, both for the user and their family and friends.
In Long Beach, there are resources for drug and alcohol rehabilitation, detox, and recovery, but if you don’t know where to start, it can be a frustrating process. In truth, the hardest part is getting started. Once you have decided to seek help, you will find plenty of helpful, caring supports that can help you get your life back on track.
The truth about drug and alcohol use in Long Beach
Of the nearly half a million people that make Long Beach their home, about ten percent use drugs or alcohol to the extent that they are considered addicts. The highest percentile in this group is using heroin or opioids, but cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs are also a significant factor.
Alcohol abuse often begins at an early age and can lead to long-term issues that affect the individual’s ability to finish school, maintain gainful employment, and lead productive lives as an adult.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost half of all Americans have a history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse in their family. About 27 percent of adults over the age of 18 engage in binge-drinking, and more than ten percent of children live with an adult who has a drinking problem.
Though there are many variables and just as many reasons why people use and abuse drugs and alcohol, the results are generally the same. Lives are destroyed, productive relationships are a challenge to maintain, and the addict often faces incarceration, hospitalization, or the potential for early death.
Hope for drug and alcohol use in Long Beach
If you are struggling with an addiction or if substance abuse has taken over your life, there is hope. It may seem like a monumental undertaking, but know that there are people out there who care and who want to see you get better. Reaching out to make that connection is the first step; once you have begun your walk down the path to recovery, you will never be alone.
Individualized treatment plans
Everybody’s circumstance is different, just as is every addict’s reasons for using. You may have been exposed to significant trauma throughout your life and began using substances to numb the pain. We’re here to tell you, you’re not alone.
Our approach, our treatment goal, is to heal the whole person, not just the addiction. After the initial detox, we will focus on addressing the underlying cause in an effort to ensure a sustained recovery. Whether it’s physical pain that resulted in an opiate addiction or long-standing trauma that you are trying to forget, our team of caring, compassionate doctors, counselors, and therapists will work with you to develop a program that works for you.
In past articles and our most recent article on trauma, we have mentioned the impact that Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, can have on an individual. While it wasn’t long ago that we figured it out, there is a great deal of research supporting the notion that one of the key contributing factors to substance abuse, mental health and other behavioral disorders is childhood trauma. Adverse Childhood Experiences, known widely as ACEs, are common and seemingly passive experiences that one may have as a child, that, when occurring repeatedly or in combination, have a devastating impact on a person’s development and long-term health.
When an Adverse Life Event takes place during one’s life in later adolescence or as an adult, the connection for the survivor to make between the traumatic experience and their future issues can be clear. Whether it’s a singular “Big T” trauma or a series of less severe “Little T” traumatic events, the link between these experiences and a person’s behaviors can often be made easily. For example, a 58-year-old man who recently went through a divorce, was laid off and then lost his house, might make the connection between these experiences and his increased drinking and isolation.
However, the link between ACEs and mental health or substance abuse issues that develop later in life can be more difficult, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the mental health or substance abuse issues often don’t surface until years, or even decades, after the Adverse Childhood Experience occurs. What starts as general family dysfunction, divorce, neglect, or abuse may seem relatively normal through childhood and even into adulthood. The early signs and symptoms of a greater issue often manifest themselves as isolation, lack of trust, avoidance and other social and emotional issues before they ever develop into substance abuse or severe mental illness.
What are ACEs?
The notion of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, began with the research of the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. The study was conducted between 1995 and 1997 and studied nearly 17,000 Kaiser patients in a San Diego Health Clinic. Patient health was studied through physical exams and surveys of current health and behaviors, while they also completed surveys about childhood experiences. What this groundbreaking study was looking at was the link – which was not understood at the time – between childhood trauma and physical, mental and emotional health later in life.
The ten childhood experiences they were looking at were:
1. Emotional Abuse
2. Physical Abuse
3. Sexual Abuse
4. Physical Neglect
5. Emotional Neglect
Growing up in a household were there was:
6. Substance abuse
7. Mental Illness
8. Violent Treatment of a mother or step-mother
9. Parental Separation/divorce
10. An incarcerated household member
Participants in the study were then given an ACE Score between 0 and 10, the total sum based on how many of the 10 types of adverse experiences they reported experiencing.
The Findings of the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study
The ACE Score, from 0 to 10, is used to assess cumulative childhood stress – now sometimes referred to as “Little T” trauma or by association with this study – a person’s “ACEs”. One of the clearest and most widely understood finding of the study was that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are more common than one might think, or thought at the time. More than half (52%) of the participants from the original CDC-Kaiser study reported having at least one ACE, and more than 1 in 5 (20%) reported exposure to 3 or more ACEs, while another 6.2% reported 4 or more exposures.
The most prevalent of the categories of childhood exposure was substance abuse in the household (25.6%); the least prevalent exposure category was evidence of criminal behavior in the household (3.4%). Another finding was that the susceptibility of a person’s exposure to multiple ACE categories, as the relationship between single categories of exposure was significant. If someone reported any single category of exposure, the probability of exposure to any additional category ranged from 65%–93%; and then not surprisingly, the probability of more than two additional exposures ranged from 40%–74%.
The key finding of the study as it related to health outcomes, and which changed the way we understood childhood trauma, was that as one’s ACE Score increases, so does the risk for serious diseases and conditions, including:
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
Illicit drug use
Depression and other mental health issues
Health-related quality of life
Heart and liver disease
Poor academic achievement
Poor work performance and financial stress
Risk for intimate partner violence
Multiple sexual partners
STDs and unintended pregnancies
Risk for sexual violence and intimate partner violence
The increased risk for these negative health outcomes and well-being are dramatic. Compared to someone with an ACE Score of 0, a person with an ACE Score of 4 or more is:
18 times as likely to have attempted suicide
Twice as likely to have had two or more weeks of depressed mood in the past year
Nearly 5 times as likely to have ever used illicit drugs
More than 11 times as likely to have ever inject drugs
More than 5 times as likely to be an alcoholic
How are ACEs Linked to Health Issues?
There is a large and growing body of research about how childhood stress and trauma affect brain development, brain chemistry and, thus, the regulation of the body’s emotional, stress and fear response systems are impacted. Repeated stress and activation of these systems of the brain dramatically alter the formation of myelinated axons and the amygdala, the part of the brain that activates the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and releases hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the body. If you’re walking through the woods and see a bear approaching, or you see a kid walking into oncoming traffic, the activation of this system is very effective in increasing your heart rate, opening your airways, and increasing blood flow to your organs and muscles, and away from certain parts of the brain.
However, if the stress response system is activated every night by the sound of your dad coming home, or the sight of your mom reaching for a bottle of alcohol, your body and brain are hit with the same fight-flight-freeze response. The repeated activation of this system take a toll on your vital organs as well as your brain’s ability to regulate emotions and responses to triggers. When the body produces too much of, or stops producing, the natural chemicals to sooth or excite you, it is very common for people to turn to external stimuli to compensate this: depressants like alcohol and benzodiazepines, stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, or even behaviors like gambling and sexual intercourse.
Exposure to abuse and neglect also impact the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for high level cognition and controlling impulse, and the nucleus accumbens, the brain’s pleasure-reward center which releases the body’s natural dopamine. The nucleus accumbens was first discovered in 1954 by two scientists when rats became addicted to pressing a lever that activated this part of the brain. The role of the nucleus accumbens and its connection to the amygdala and hippocampus have great implications in the study of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse and addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome, and more studies are being conducted.
The CDC-Kaiser study also found a “dose-response” relationship between ACEs and negative health and well-being outcomes across a person’s lifetime. A dose-response relationship is one where as the dose or intensity of the trigger increases, so does the intensity of the maladaptive behavior or response. For example, the more a person is exposed to abuse or neglect, the more severe the negative health outcomes will be.
Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris
One of the most notable cases of these results in action was the work of Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris, a pediatrician in San Francisco who was originally unaware of the CDC-Kaiser ACE Study. She noticed when she began working in a hospital in Bayview-Hunter’s Point, a low-income area of the city riddled with addiction and violence, that there was an abnormal number of children being referred to her for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). One of her colleagues made her aware of the ACE Study, which led her down a path of studying her patients’ exposure to trauma and how the brain and body were impacting their health. She subsequently started the San Francisco Center for Youth Wellness, where Dr. Burke-Harris made it routine to screen children for their ACE Score to better understand the risk factors of these youth across their lifetime.
See her TED Talk on How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime:
Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS)
In 2009, the CDC began collecting annual ACE data through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BFRSS) from voluntary respondents telephonically. It is now the longest-running phone survey in the world. The BFRSS asks questions modified from the original ACE Study, from people across 32 states, using randomly dialed numbers. The data collected from the BRFSS are:
All ACE questions refer to the respondent’s first 18 years of life.
Emotional abuse: A parent or other adult in your home ever swore at you, insulted you, or put you down.
Physical abuse: A parent or other adult in your home ever hit, beat, kicked or physically hurt you.
Sexual abuse: An adult or person at least 5 years older ever touched you in a sexual way, or tried to make you touch their body in a sexual way, or attempted to have sex with you.
Intimate partner violence:2 Parents or adults in home ever slapped, hit, kicked, punched or beat each other up.
Household substance abuse: A household member was a problem drinker or alcoholic or used street drugs or abused prescription medications.
Household mental illness: A household member was depressed or mentally ill or a household member attempted suicide.
Parental separation or divorce: Parents were ever separated or divorced.
Incarcerated household member: A household member went to prison.
The findings of the BFRSS are similar to that of the original CDC-Kaiser ACE Study:
More than two-thirds of the participants reported at least one adverse childhood experience
More than 1 in 5 reported exposure to 3 or more ACEs
Similarly, they also found a dose-response relationship with ACE Scores correlated to an increase in the following:
Lowered educational attainment
Coronary heart disease
Treatment of Childhood Trauma
Understanding the role that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) play in brain development and prevalence of addiction, mental illness and life-threatening diseases is a pivotal precursor to addressing these issues. Identifying and acknowledging the root of the issues is an important step in the recovery process, and only once a person can work through the lasting effects of exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences can they truly recover. Because of the way these experiences embed themselves in our brain and body, the process of resolving them can take months or even years, but even the most complex trauma can be resolved with enough time and commitment.
Despite the acceptance of this research in the medical field, behavioral health professionals have been slower to integrate the identification and treatment of trauma into practice. It is important for someone who has been exposed to these adverse childhood experiences to find help at trauma-focused treatment programs like Roots Through Recovery, who utilize evidence-based approaches like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Somatic Experiencing (SE), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), and expressive approaches like music and sound therapy, trauma-focused yoga, and art therapy.
The word “trauma” is used widely today to refer to an experience that is damaging to a person’s psychological health, and as we’ve mentioned in previous articles, the magnitude of this experience is completely dependent on the individual. What most people outside of the behavioral health profession don’t know is that trauma can be categorized into two classifications: what are known as “Big T” and “Little T.”
BIG T TRAUMA
In general, the Big T variation of trauma refers to a single, traumatic event that can leave a survivor of the event with symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. Experiences like sexual assault, serious injuries, violent attacks, and near-death experiences all fall under this category, and it’s now widely understood what kind of impact Big T trauma can have on a person’s life. People coping with the effects of a traumatic event, and may be suffering from PTSD, experience various symptoms including:
Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event
Arousal and reactivity
Being easily startled
Feeling tense or “on edge”
Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts
Cognition and mood
Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic event
Given the general public knowledge of trauma, you might find it surprising that it wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association recognized PTSD as a clinical diagnosis, when they added it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III). According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the diagnosis was both controversial and groundbreaking as it suggested for the first time that the cause, “was outside the individual (i.e., a traumatic event) rather than an inherent individual weakness (i.e., a traumatic neurosis)”. The introduction, research and development of the PTSD diagnosis has paved the way for more trauma-informed and trauma-focused care. You can read the latest criteria for diagnosing PTSD in the DSM-V below.
LITTLE T TRAUMA
Little T trauma is a very different thing though, because it includes virtually every other adverse life experience — each hardship and struggle that people deal with throughout life — that doesn’t fall under the Big T umbrella. Whether it’s a case of bullying, loss of friends or family members, or an emotionally abusive relationship, Little T trauma tends to be the tough situations that many people deal with on a daily basis that don’t necessarily result in a clear diagnosis of a lasting effect. Because trauma is subjective and depends entirely on a person’s resilience and perception, adverse life experiences include anything that could potentially result in trauma; not only the presence of a negative experience, but also the absence of a positive one.
Trauma is anything short of love.
Everyone handles trauma (in either variety) in different ways, and there is now a fairly prevalent belief — and the scientific backing to prove — that dealing with repeated Little T trauma can be just as significant as a single occurrence of its Big T counterpart. Much like experiencing a traumatic life event such as a natural disaster or surviving a serious car crash, experiencing repeated events that engage the body’s stress response system can alter the neural network, especially when these experiences take place in early childhood.
ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACE) STUDY
Thanks to a study conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente Health in the late 90s, we now know the impact the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, have on a person’s neurodevelopment and social-emotional-cognitive development, and as a result, their later in life health outcomes. In the ACE Study, seven categories of adverse childhood experiences were studied: psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; violence against mother; or living with household members who were substance abusers, mentally ill or suicidal, or ever imprisoned.
What the study found was that a person with a higher ACE score was at significantly higher risk for substance abuse, mental health issues, intimate partner violence, and a host of health issues. Before the study was conducted and accepted by the medical and behavioral health community, these experiences that know refer to as adverse life events, adverse childhood experiences or Little T trauma, had been considered a normal part of life. Much like combat veterans returning home from war and being shamed or dismissed as being weak are now being treated for PTSD, these seemingly common but potentially damaging experiences are starting to garner the attention, empathy, or treatment that a Big T survivor might receive.
WHY ARE THESE IMPORTANT?
As mentioned above and in previous articles, exposure to trauma — whether it be Little T or Big T — can cause psychological (and sometimes physical) pain that often leads to destructive coping mechanisms, behavioral adaptations and health-risk behaviors. As a means to escape or numb the pain endured during the trauma, and the recurring discomfort that follows, survivors often turn to self-medicating with controlled substances. As with many addictions, it then becomes a vicious cycle that is generally only broken through proper trauma-focused treatment.
In all likelihood, every person will deal with some type of Little T trauma in their lifetime, and many will be no worse for the wear. But now that it has become recognized as a legitimate cause of maladaptive behaviors that can lead to mental health and substance use disorders, it can finally be treated and viewed on an even playing field with its “bigger” sibling.
In 2015, Michael Botticelli, the director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy stated:
“Medication-assisted treatment saves lives while increasing the chances a person will remain in treatment and learn the skills and build the networks necessary for long-term recovery.”
So why is it that the use of medication-assisted treatment remains staggering and access is limited for those who need it?
When it comes to medication-assisted treatment, there is a whole host of misinformation and confusion surrounding its use and purpose, which leaves it rejected or ignored by the vast majority of treatment centers. Medication-assisted treatment is the use of legal, FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and behavioral services provided by treatment professionals and family and peer support (Source: SAMHSA).
But for those who don’t understand the benefits or its place in treatment, it can seem simply as replacing one drug with another. Of course, that’s not the case for any accredited medication-assisted treatment programs, which is often the best option for some people looking to achieve long-term sobriety.
Here are a few of the debunked myths surrounding medication-assisted treatment.
MYTH: If you take medications like Suboxone, you aren’t really sober.
TRUTH: While it’s true that opioid replacements, such as Suboxone which contains Buprenorphine and Naloxone, act on the same receptors as heroin or an opioid, the medication attaches to these receptors but does not activate them, and also blocks other opioids from these receptors. The combination of these two mechanisms helps control cravings in a person who is physically dependent on opiates without getting the person high.
MYTH: Medication-assisted treatment is for people who aren’t serious about their recovery.
TRUTH: In certain cases, even the most intensive counseling and behavioral treatments just aren’t enough to achieve sobriety and prevent relapses in the future. For these situations—particularly when opioids or severe alcohol use is involved—using medication-assisted treatment to neutralize the physiological effects may help someone attain this critical first step of recovery, allowing them to focus on the underlying issues and move forward in their recovery.
MYTH: It’s always better to just get people off of all drugs.
TRUTH: Although going “cold turkey” and just outright stopping the use of any substances is the ideal scenario for many, using medication-assisted treatment to ease the body away from its previous addiction can be both easier and medically necessary in some situations. “Ripping the bandage off” may seem preferable at the time, but it can also lead to complications, permanent damage, and even death if a person’s health is too fragile to handle the severity of the physiological repercussions.
MYTH: Medication-assisted treatment is just taking the easy way out.
TRUTH: If one accepts that addiction is a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension, then the use of medication should be understood to be a critical component of treatment in some cases. Like hypertension, if someone is able to address their condition by changing their lifestyle, such as their diet and physical activity, that is ideal; however, for some, that isn’t enough. We wouldn’t shame someone with hypertension for taking Beta-blockers or ACE inhibitors, and addiction should be treated with the same understanding and compassion.
MYTH: People using medication-assisted treatment are less likely to stay sober.
TRUTH: When utilized correctly, medication-assisted treatment carries with it lower risk, and higher probability of success than solely doing counseling and behavioral services for many people looking to address their addiction, stay in treatment, and remain sober for the long-term. One study found that patients who were still on an opioid agonist 18 months post-treatment, were twice as likely to be sober from opioid pain killers than those who were not (80% versus 36.6%).
Figure Below. Abstinence Rate Exceeds 60 Percent in Long-Term Follow-Up of Medication-Assisted Therapy for Dependence on Opioid Pain Relievers Dependence on pain relievers dropped below 20 percent at 18 months, and below 10 percent at 42 months, after patients were stabilized on, and then tapered off, Bp/Nx. At all three follow-up points, patients who were currently engaged in opioid agonist therapy had markedly higher odds of positive outcomes. (Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse)
Like any form of treatment, medication-assisted treatment isn’t for everyone, and the decision to start these medications is made after consultation with a treatment team, and a thorough assessment is completed. If you’ve struggled with relapse and traditional treatment hasn’t worked for you, contact Roots Through Recovery or another certified provider to consult on whether it would be an appropriate course of action.