Mindfulness is a meditative practice, a moment-by-moment awareness of what’s happening in our environment and within us in the present moment. By focusing wholly on the present, we avoid obsessing on events in the past or stressing about what might happen in the future.
We all have the ability to be mindful. It doesn’t take great skill or a lot of schooling to master. You can do it anywhere, anytime; at work, at home, or while walking down the street. It does not ask us to change who we are.
Anybody can do it, and there are vast bodies of evidence that suggest that it can help us overcome a lot of issues.
Wherever you go, there you are
Addiction, anxiety, and mental health conditions are things that typically take us away from the present moment. When we are in the throes of one of these disorders, we are consumed with trying to escape the present because it represents discomfort, agitation, and pain.
Paradoxically, by focusing only on the present—on the things you feel within your body and what’s going on around you—it is possible to change how you respond to the discomfort of addiction and mental health issues. Learning how to deal with these feelings can encourage a different way of behaving, too. For example, it may prevent you from reacting impulsively to a stressful situation, helping you trade neutral, non-judgmental thoughts for those that trigger addictive behavior.
This principle is the core of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient meditation technique that goes back thousands of years. Though it is practiced in many cultures and religions, the type of mindfulness used in addiction and mental health treatment is most closely related to Buddhist practice. In this culture, it is described as “paying attention purposefully, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
In terms of addiction and mental health, the non-judgmental aspect is key as much of the angst we feel is a direct result of a judgment we have made. Thoughts and sensations themselves do not have judgment attached to them. It’s how you decide to respond to those thoughts that create the judgmental aspect.
If you do not respond to those thoughts, if you choose instead just to notice the sensations without any further acknowledgment, you do not pass judgment. Without judgment, there is no need for anxiety, self-deprecating, or harmful thoughts.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Meditation is used by people from cultures all over the world to bring a sense of peace and calm and to improve various aspects of their lives.
There are meditative aspects in many of the things we do every day, from doing the dishes to enjoying your favorite music. In fact, you may already be practicing mindfulness meditation on some level, even if you don’t realize it.
There are many different types of meditation, but mindfulness meditation places a particular focus on the awareness of oneself and the immediate surroundings.
All types of meditation have a few things in common. In any case, the way you approach it is much the same:
Find a quiet, calm environment where you are unlikely to be disturbed
Settle yourself in a comfortable position, usually seated
Relax your body and mind and release stressful thoughts
Use deep breaths to oxygenate your blood
In mindfulness meditation, you are also asked to be fully present and aware of yourself and your surroundings.
You will notice your thoughts, your breath, the temperature of the cool air as it enters your nostrils and the warmth of it as you exhale.
Open your mind to accept thoughts as they come to you.
As thoughts enter your mind, as you feel the sensations on your skin and within your body, you will observe them without judging them. You will accept these thoughts, choosing not to linger on them. Your thoughts are neither good nor bad, right or wrong. They simply are.
During this meditation, you will take inventory of each part of your body and notice how it feels, the sensations as the air passes over it, the pressure of the chair beneath you. You will notice the smells and sounds of what is going on around you and, in many cases, the anxiety and worry that you typically experience will ease.
This is the essence of mindfulness.
Our mind, when left to its own devices, will instantly judge a person or situation as good or bad, fair or unfair, important or unimportant. In many cases, this happens so quickly that our responses are reactive and can sometimes lead us down a dark path.
When we practice mindfulness, we do not allow judgment. We can gain perspective on our thoughts and find the freedom to choose how we proceed.
If the concept of mindfulness meditation is new to you, it might be helpful to start with a guided meditation, like this one:
Mindfulness meditation for mental health conditions and addiction
Though mindfulness may not replace frontline therapies for some of these conditions, it can significantly improve clinical outcomes, reduce symptoms, and help to establish coping behaviors that allow other treatments such as mental health treatment, etc… to work more effectively.
One of the other benefits of mindful meditation is that it doesn’t interfere with other treatments and can actually enhance long-term results. It can be practiced at home, at work, or with your therapist. Once you have learned the techniques, you will be able to apply it to any situation, anytime you need it.
Mindfulness for substance abuse and addiction
In recent years, mindfulness training has been studied extensively as an intervention for addictions and addictive behaviors that include smoking, drinking, and various forms of substance abuse.
The outcomes of these studies show that mindful-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce cravings and substance misuse. Better still, approaches like Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention can also work to prevent relapse in the future. Mindfulness staves off destructive thoughts that have the potential to derail your sobriety.
By focusing on the present moment rather than allowing your mind to obsess over a craving, you will effectively, and immediately deflect your response. Continue to practice, and this could be a sustainable method of achieving your recovery goals.
Getting started with mindful meditation
When learning mindful meditation, you may work with a therapist who can guide you through the process. Whether you pick it up quickly or if it takes some time to feel a level of comfort with the process, the results are immediately noticeable. With patience, perseverance, and commitment, the rewards will come. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can incorporate them into everyday life to reduce stress and help you cope with “slippery” situations.
You can begin practicing mindfulness right away simply by taking notice of where you are, what you are doing, and what’s going on around you. The key is to accept these things without judgment and without becoming overwhelmed. If you need a guide, you can find great guided meditations like the YouTube video above, and there are also great apps and podcasts available.
There’s no need to buy anything, and you don’t need a doctor to show you how. Keep in mind that your mind will wander and attempt to hijack your serenity with judgmental thoughts. When these thoughts arise, just go back to your breath; breathe in, breathe out. Just breathe.
If you would like to learn more about mindfulness for addiction and mental health, we would love to help. Reach out today to get started.
The idea of music as a healing force is not new. The ancient Greeks put Apollo, one of their gods, in charge of both music and healing, suggesting that there has long been an understood connection between the two. There are many theories as to why music therapy works. Some studies support the idea that music helps the brain make new connections between nerve cells, and helps organize the firing of nerve cells in the part of the brain responsible for higher functions. Others look at the rhythms of music and feel that we respond to rhythmic repetition, much like our heart, breathing, and brain waves.
What can music therapy do?
The healing power of music is well-documented. It has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression, and also to lessen the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, and many other psychological disorders.
Additionally, music therapy has been found to improve motor function, communication skills, emotional stability, and the ability to focus. It is considered to be an evidence-based therapeutic approach to mental health treatment, and there are plenty of mainstream studies to back it up.
For example, according to the American Psychological Institute, music therapy should not be thought of as an “alternative therapy” due to the weight of clinical studies that can back the results. These studies prove that music therapy can help patients in the areas of physical health, emotional health, mental health, and also in a social manner.
How music therapy is applied
Depending on the diagnosis and the approach decided on by your therapist, music therapy might involve singing along to music or simply meditating and relaxing as you listen. Various exercises or movements might be performed with music as the catalyst, supporting outcomes that range from improving self-image to improving memory and physical coordination.
At Roots, music therapy not just something we offer, it is woven into the fiber of our program, with several groups a week tapping into the power of music and healing. David Hickman, a UCLA-trained Music Medicine Facilitator, provides a Drumming for Healing group, in which clients are able to use Native American and African drumming rhythms to communicate internal feelings, and support for the peer group. This extremely powerful group has become one of the cornerstones of our program.
Rock to Recovery, founded by veteran guitarist, Wes Geer, employs song writing, and performing and recording as a “band”, to focus on creating a sense of belonging and increasing self-esteem. “…It was when I was in treatment that I realized how much music could help [me] get through those tough emotions that run so rampant, especially in the early days. Being totally sober and dealing with the bottom I had hit, strumming the guitar was the only thing that would bring me peace,” says Geer. The group of professional musicians, who are also in recovery, brings fun into treatment and recovery by offering a natural escape from the fear-based mind.
Music therapy for pain
Music therapy has also proven helpful in managing pain. In one study, cancer patients were split into two groups; one group received talk therapy while the other received music therapy. In the talk therapy group, there was no noticeable reduction in pain, while the music therapy group showed a “statistically significant reduction” in pain scores.
The findings supported the theory that music therapy is a safe and nonpharmacological alternative to pain reduction, even in cases of severe and chronic pain.
Music therapy for depression and anxiety
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can help patients with a wide range of psychosocial needs. In cases where patients are resistant to other treatments, it has enabled them to develop relationships, communicate emotions, and express ideas that they may not be able to address with words alone.
The stimulation that music provides tends to provoke responses that stem from familiarity, comfort, and feelings of security associated with the music itself.
Drum circle set up for the Drumming for Healing group with David Hickman.
Other mental health outcomes that have been observed through music therapy include:
Improved personal relationships
Decrease in anxiety/phobias
Increase in verbalization
Safe emotional release
Reduction in muscle tension
In conclusion, music therapy can be highly beneficial in addressing a range of disorders. It is a safe and evidence-based practice that is effective when integrated into a multidisciplinary approach and supporting other modes of healing therapy like yoga, nutrition, and art therapy.
If you would like to learn more about whether music therapy might be right for you, reach out today to get started.
Gabapentin, also known by its brand name Neurontin, is a prescription drug initially marketed as an anti-seizure medication. Recently, however, it has shown great promise in the treatment of nerve-related pain from shingles, diabetes, and other types of neuropathy. Some of the other complaints that gabapentin can be prescribed for include restless leg syndrome and alcoholism.
Widely considered non-addicting and a low risk for abuse and overdose, gabapentin has been touted as an alternative to opioid for the relief of chronic pain. However, studies have shown that the use of gabapentin for chronic pain without neuropathy comes with a high risk of side effects. There is no current evidence to prove its efficacy in reducing chronic pain, whether taken on its own or with opioids.
The dangers of combining gabapentin with opioids
When combined with opioids for chronic pain, a potentially life-threatening interaction can occur. The combination of opioids with gabapentin has been responsible for an almost 50 percent higher risk of a fatal overdose. This is largely because it acts as a CNS depressant, amplifying respiratory depression.
Side effects from gabapentin include dizziness, fatigue, changes in visual acuity, memory lapses, and impaired mental function.
Higher risk, no significant difference in pain reduction over opioids alone
Though many patients who struggle with nerve pain find gabapentin very effective, a recent study concluded that patients whose pain was non-neuropathic did not find any more relief than they did using opioids alone.
For patients with low back pain, for example, there is no discernible benefit to taking gabapentin, either alone or in combination with opioids.
If the pain was neuropathic in origin, its use could be justified. Lacking this diagnosis, taking gabapentin for non-neural chronic pain would carry far more risks than benefits.
How gabapentin works to control pain
As an anti-epileptic medication, gabapentin takes aim at the dysfunctional release of pain-controlling neurotransmitters, decreasing or stabilizing irritated nerve membranes to soften their response.
As not all pain is nerve-related, this action would not be likely to deliver the desired analgesic effect. Pain that stems from musculoskeletal injury, osteoarthritis, or any idiopathic pain (in other words, pain that can’t be attributed to a specific source) should not be treated with gabapentin as a frontline intervention.
Weighing in: gabapentin pros and cons
Even though the FDA has only approved gabapentin for epilepsy and seizure disorders, plus pain from spinal cord injuries, diabetic neuropathy, fibromyalgia, or for other neuropathic pain, doctors continue to prescribe it judiciously for chronic pain.
In recent years, gabapentin has become one of the top ten most prescribed medications in the United States. While it has proven itself to be highly effective in treating patients with very specific nerve-related pain issues, its application in chronic pain management is limited. At this time, most medical experts agree that not enough research exists to justify taking on the additional risks associated with its use.
Are you taking gabapentin for chronic pain, or would you like to learn more about holistic alternatives? Reach out today to speak to us about chronic pain recovery.
In recent years, the incidence of chronic pain has reached epidemic proportions. Unfortunately, there is a long history of discrimination related to pain, which has not only spurred controversy, but it has also changed the way we—and our doctors—approach its treatment.
Pain: the fight or flight effect
Pain, in and of itself, is a necessary part of life. Pain warns us about danger. It prevents us from doing things that our bodies were not meant to do. It signals injury and illness and, ultimately, it keeps us from doing more harm.
In this sense, pain is a good thing. We need it to survive. It is imprinted on our DNA and, like an animal, we instinctively know that when we feel pain, we’re doing something wrong.
This model, however visceral it may be, is no longer the only construct of pain. In today’s society, we are increasingly sedentary. In many cases, we live in environments that are filled with airborne pathogens, we consume highly-processed foods, and put other things in our bodies, like drugs, that are not meant to be there. This situation has led to widespread nutritional imbalance, an epidemic of disuse syndromes, and a general decline in health due to inflammatory and immune conditions.
The global pain epidemic: where it really hurts
Without getting any more technical, these are contributing factors to the worldwide pain phenomenon, and it’s not going to get better any time soon.
For the pain sufferer, this is a mitigating issue that often drives them to seek relief. Some may attempt to self-medicate, and some may seek medical intervention, but in many cases, the exact cause of the pain is unknown.
Though there have been significant advances made in the medical profession in terms of how we understand pain and what treatments work best, those who suffer from the worst kinds of pain often receive little or no relief; this sort of approach, in itself, is a product of the modern age.
As doctors have become better acquainted with new philosophies on pain physiology, the various subtypes of pain, and options for treatment, they are confronted with an ever-increasing regulatory framework that continues to strengthen in response to the fallout of the pain epidemic – namely, overprescribing of pain medications and the resulting addictions that can, understandably, be seen as a state of emergency.
Whereas once, pain was an issue to be taken seriously, it is now often dismissed by the very people who have the power to heal it.
What is chronic pain?
There are, in general, two types of pain. Acute pain is the kind that is felt when we injure ourselves, from a burn, a fall, an injury, a strain – something tangible. It is a situation where you can say “I did this, and it hurt.” The pain can be attributed to something specific. Usually, if you look after it appropriately—set the broken bone, put ice on it, take a Tylenol—the pain will subside, and eventually, the hurt will heal.
Chronic pain is different than acute pain. For anyone who does not suffer from it, it may be challenging to understand. Chronic pain lingers even after the injury has healed. Sometimes, it has no connection to an injury at all, but even when it does, it is often seen as vague and unbelievable, a stigma that is neither new nor modern, at all.
Take, for instance, the case of “railway spine,” a 19th-century phenomenon that was related to injuries sustained (you guessed it) on trains. In this situation, patients presented themselves with multiple pain issues and complaints, but since no visible injuries could be found, doctors were hesitant to treat the pain. The railroads, of course, were then reluctant to provide compensation for the victims. After all, if you can’t see what’s causing it, maybe it doesn’t exist.
How we approach chronic pain today
Sadly, in many cases, this perception has not changed. People who suffer from legitimate pain, such as whiplash from a car accident, or spinal injury, will often be disregarded, leading the patients either to suffer needlessly or seek other alternatives, some in the form of physical therapy and alternative treatments, and some in the form of drugs, like opioids, that provide at least some relief.
The opioid conundrum
The unfortunate thing about opioid painkillers is not that they don’t work, but that they are not meant to be used for an extended period. For acute pain, they can be very helpful, such as in the days following a bad injury, or while recovering from surgery.
However, opioid tolerance builds up quickly, and pretty soon, the user will find they aren’t doing nearly as good a job as they once did. The pain from the injury might be gone, but the brain continues to tell the body that it still exists, resulting in cravings for more drugs and eventually turning into an addiction.
Some of the ways we approach chronic pain today include:
As stress, anxiety, and depression are chronic pain triggers, evidence shows that counseling helps to mitigate pain. Through techniques such as mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and self-hypnosis, many lifelong sufferers of chronic pain have found relief.
In many cases, chronic pain was precipitated by an injury. Once the injury healed, the pain continued. Physical therapy can help by strengthening the joints and muscles around the area of pains, leading to better support and less pain. For example, many who suffer from lower back pain have found relief through core-strengthening exercises like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates.
Increased physical activity
Beyond physical therapy, increased physical activity has also proven to be very helpful for chronic pain. The simple act of walking for 15 to 20 minutes a day can vastly improve both the pain response and general mood. When your mood is better, the pain decreases as well.
Changes in diet
Eating a lot of highly processed foods and sugar can exacerbate an array of chronic diseases, including diabetes, obesity, and conditions that are related to inflammation, like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, lupus, uveitis, and Crohn’s disease. Studies show that changing the diet to eliminate processed foods and substitute fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can reduce chronic pain and inflammation.
The role of medications in chronic pain intervention
Chronic pain is a complex subject. No one solution can be applied to its relief, and medicine still plays a vital role.
Depending on the cause of the pain—if one is identified—tens machines, nerve blockers, steroid injections, stem cell treatments, and medications that target neural receptors should also be considered as front-line therapeutic options.
If the objective is to live independently without pain, there may yet be a long road ahead. However, working closely with a care team that includes alternative practitioners such as chiropractors, acupuncturists, physical therapists, massage therapists, and psychologists, relief is within reach.
There is no question that the perception of chronic pain in the medical field must change. With access to the latest research and a multitude of proven intervention options close at hand, there is no reason why we can’t all get better.
Recovery from drug and alcohol dependency is never easy, and no one treatment is going to be appropriate for every patient. For this reason, we take an individual approach to each case to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to immediate needs and designed to bring about the best possible results.
Medication-assisted treatment Long Beach
Medication-assisted treatment, also known as MAT, is just one of a combination of approaches we use in our Long Beach, California Center. To get past the most challenging stages of detox and recovery from opiates/opioids, benzos, and alcohol addiction, medication is very helpful in providing additional support when needed.
Though we advocate complete abstinence and always work toward that goal, responsible use of medications can make a significant difference in recovery. All medications are strictly controlled, monitored, and administered by our doctors to ensure that it is helping and not contributing to difficulties in other areas of treatment.
As a component of a recovery program, MAT is combined with intensive therapy, behavior-based therapy, group therapy, and family therapy, with the ultimate goal of abstinence as soon as the patient is ready.
Types of medication-assisted therapy
There are several types of medications that have been approved for use in MAT. In determining a course of treatment, we take a whole-person approach to ensure that every aspect of recovery is addressed appropriately.
MAT for opioid and alcohol addiction
Opioid MAT can include drugs such as methadone, suboxone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, but they all work a little differently.
For example, methadone is a synthetic opioid that has long been used as a frontline intervention in treating opioid addiction. The dose is then gradually tapered until there is no physical dependency. Today, methadone is no longer a preferred therapy in opioid treatment as many patients find it as difficult to stop using it as they do the opiates they were addicted to in the first place.
Suboxone or naltrexone are often preferred in MAT as they relieve the symptoms of withdrawal but do not produce the same euphoria that the patient was getting from the drug of choice. This has been found to reduce the risk of relapse, and it helps the patient take full advantage of the therapy they will receive in recovery. Naltrexone is effective in blocking the sedative and euphoric effects of opioid intoxication. Naltrexone has also been effective in MAT for alcohol dependency.
Suboxone is a combination of naltrexone and buprenorphine. While both of these substances inhibit the “high” addicts experience from opioids and alcohol, they still can cause physical dependency. As a result, it is important for us to monitor their use to be sure they are supporting, rather than hindering, recovery.
Accessing medication-assisted treatment in Long Beach
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, we encourage you to reach out right away. Along with providing comprehensive counseling, individualized therapy programs, and medication-assisted treatment, we are committed to helping you find hope as you regain control of your life.
Benzodiazepines, also known as benzos, are commonly prescribed to combat anxiety and sleep disorders like insomnia. In the last fifteen years, benzo use has been steadily rising, and along with it have come higher death rates, notably when these drugs are used in combination with opiates or opioids.
One in four people who are prescribed benzodiazepines will abuse them
According to a study published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 30.5 million American adults use benzodiazepines, representing between four and six percent of the population. Of those, about 17 percent overuse, or take them for uses other than they were intended.
A short-term solution
Generally, benzodiazepines are never recommended for long-term use, and rarely without an adjunct therapy, like psychiatric counseling or cognitive behavioral therapy. If taken as prescribed, and only for a short duration of treatment, they help address issues such as anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. They are also used in conjunction with treatment for alcohol addiction to ease tremors and other symptoms.
Some commonly prescribed benzos include:
Because they are not as strictly controlled as opioids, they are often easy to obtain from a doctor. However, in about 20 percent of cases that result in benzo abuse, users get them from a friend or family member.
Because they are so effective at relieving anxiety, they can become highly addictive, leading some to look no further for a solution to their problem.
Benzo use is on the rise
As life becomes more hectic, fast-paced, and stress-filled, benzos can become a quick fix that eventually turns into a habit. While many doctors recognize that there are many non-drug interventions that can be more effective over the long term, the fact remains that prescriptions for benzodiazepines have doubled over the past 20 years.
Living in the age of anxiety
Anxiety, panic, and fear are very real in this day and age, and not just to those with a diagnosed mental illness. The pressure to perform at work, to engage in social media, or to over-achieve in school can be enough to drive anybody over the edge.
If an individual is not encouraged to seek an alternative treatment, taking a pill now and then may seem harmless enough. If it helps us cope with the constant barrage of noise we are faced with every day, it might seem like a godsend – at least, at first.
Ironically, the symptoms of benzo overuse are much the same as the symptoms for which they are prescribed. Anxiety, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, weakness – all of these can manifest as a result of benzo withdrawal. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to several months, and prolonged withdrawal is not uncommon, sometimes years after the drugs have been discontinued.
Getting help for benzo dependency
Recovering from benzo dependence is not something you should attempt on your own. With the right interventions and treatments, it is possible to put it behind you and take back control of your life – and learn how to cope with your anxiety.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a benzo dependency, we can help. Reach out today to get started.