COLORADO SPRINGS — The month of October has become a chance for people to give up alcohol for a month, known as Sober October - very similar to Dry January.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on addiction in general for multiple reasons. I spoke with three experts to talk about addiction, its impacts, how people can begin the journey to recovery and what people can gain from giving up their addiction – whether it be to alcohol or other substances.
Dr. David Mendez, MD, is an addiction expert with the UCHealth Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) [uchealth.org]. Dr. Mendez says that over the course of the pandemic, “We started to see a lot of people who were in recovery or attempting to get into recovery or sober lose a lot of their connections. We know connections with others is a big influence on helping people stay sober and get sober. We saw a lot of loss of that (personal connection) with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings stopping or going virtual and residential programs and substance abuse programs having to limit how many people they could have in person, access to services was diminished. There was a lot of stress around COVID, getting COVID, coping with COVID and with people dying. Stress is a common trigger for someone to relapse.”
Dr. Mendez defines addiction as, “Someeone who has an addiction, and the term we use in the medical community is a substance abuse disorder, is when someone starts using a certain substance, it comes with various behaviors. Those behaviors can damage relationships and work relationships. People start having what we call tolerance, or needing to use more and more of a substance to have a euphoria or a high from it.”
I also spoke with Patrick Cronin [patrickcronin.com], the Director of Business Development at Ark Behavioral Health, and is in long-term recovery himself since September 23, 2005, and has worked for 15 years counseling others. And Daniel Gasser, (Daniel G [quitthebottle.com],) says he has freed himself from years of drugs and alcohol use, has authored a book, and has become a for-hire, self-help life coach who offers to teach others the techniques he found so much personal success with and give them individual support, as wanted.
All three agree giving up alcohol and other addictive substances that you may even consider only a casual vice - even for a few days - can bring instant benefits.
Patrick says, “I have these conversations with people all the time whether it’s in recovery meetings or not. When someone puts down a drink or a drug, I’m not saying everything immediately comes back, but your life should get better and usually it’s better the day you put that down. There will still be outside stuff, but physically and mentally you will probably feel better the next day. When you see people continue that to more like 30 days, there are benefits health-wise, weight-wise, there’s a lot. Not being hung over is another positive, and I hope that when they do this (Sober October) they might see that, wow this is actually something to discuss. Your work productivity usually goes up and I’m sure there’s a lot of factors that go up and that is why I tell people all the time - right away you put down a substance whether you abuse it or not there’s effects that help you.”
Dr. Mendez says people with a serious substance abuse disorder who struggle to overcome cravings for even a day can find find those same kinds of life-improving benefits, even if it takes a more involved approach of getting help. “That’s one of the things that I find really fulfilling about my job. You get to see people transition through a cycle of using into recovery and seeing how their lives change and how they change as a person - is really powerful. You see people reconnect with family and relationships and get wherever they want to be with their work and really see people change their lives in a dramatic way.”
Daniel explained there were many changes in his life when he was able to quit drinking, but it took it took a horrible accident to finally convince him to make some drastic changes. “I was a heavy drinker for 30 years and it took a bad car accident to change things. For me to really think, ‘You have to change something, what if you didn’t just hit that wall, but a person or a mother with her baby.’ It was a horror story and I kept thinking, ‘how are you going to live with something like that?’ it would be impossible.”
When I asked Daniel how his life is different now, he replied, “Wow, how much time do you have, Ira? First of all my mental focus is better, I remember names, I remember phone numbers. Physically I sleep better but I need less sleep. My appetite is much better and I don't need to eat junk food anymore. Libido, I don’t go into that subject too much, but it’s really much better. The feelings I have for other people and my sensitivity about how other people feel is better. It’s not just about me anymore. When you’re drinking it’s all about me, and now it’s more about other people. Your senses come back, your intuition comes back and you become more complete and aware of what a human being can achieve and can do without substances.”
In our next story (CLICK HERE Your Healthy Family: The first steps toward sobriety and recovery), these experts talk about how to get help breaking an addiction to find these benefits in their life, and what stands in the way of many addicts who need help actually getting it.
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