How Long is Medication Assisted Treatment?

man and woman sitting discussing medication assisted treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment or MAT in the United States typically blends therapeutic counseling with medication management. MAT was most often used for opioid addiction in the past. More recently it has also proven effective for alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders (SUDs). The results achieved by MAT patients are impressive. Patients in MAT programs are up to 3 times as likely to remain in treatment and recovery. (1)

Understanding MAT

While MAT is a valuable and effective treatment tool, there are some misunderstandings about how these programs work and what their purpose is. There are a number of goals with an MAT program and which ones are emphasized will depend on the patients needs. For example, someone who has been abusing heroin for 10 years and engaging in dangerous behavior has different needs than a pain management patient who has been addicted for less than a year might. An elderly alcoholic will need a different program than a young person abusing benzodiazepines.

For a chronic relapse patient engaged in dangerous behaviors, harm reduction may be at the forefront of their treatment. At least in the beginning, it’s about getting that patient away from immediate danger. They may remain in an MAT program for a year or much longer perhaps. A patient with a milder use pattern and more stable recovery may only participate in MAT treatment for a few months. Ultimately the length of Medication Assisted Treatment is determined by the needs of the patient. The clinician will evaluate them and a treatment plan will be crafted to give them the best possible chance for success in recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment is Not a Cure for Addiction

Medication Assisted Treatment should not be seen as a cure for addiction. Rather it is a means to an end. Changing one’s lifestyle to include and practice the principles of recovery for life is the desired outcome. MAT is a tool to help people achieve this by controlling cravings and other unpleasant symptoms which often lead to relapse in early recovery. A sound MAT treatment plan should include counseling and therapy with goal setting. It may include medications for a co-occurring disorder such as depression or anxiety along with medications to abate cravings or withdrawal symptoms. The amount and frequency of therapy may change over time. Medications will usually be adjusted as well.

It may be helpful to understand Medication Assisted Treatment as part of an overall plan for managing a substance use disorder. The most robust treatment plans usually include several elements. Most patients will want to complete MAT after a period of time they have discussed with their care provider. No one should ever be shamed for using MAT as a tool in their recovery. The best way to approach MAT for most patients is with an open mind. Rely on the specialists to advise you on how to proceed rather than beginning with a pre-conceived notion of just how long you’re going to participate in the program. MAT can be a valuable tool in your recovery if you have not yet begun treatment. It can provide essential “breathing room” to give you time to build a solid foundation for a lifetime of sober living.

If you have any questions about how Medication Assisted Treatment works, you are invited to give us a call or jump on the chat. We will be happy to explain all of the treatment options for you and how MAT may fit into your recovery plan.




Are Opioids Inherently Dangerous?

white opioid pills on a blue surface

Humans have been using opioids for thousands of years. The oldest evidence of opium production discovered dates back to 3,400 BC in lower Mesopotamia. (1) A multitude of wars have been fought over access to opioids in all their forms. It’s also safe to assume that the phenomenon of opioid dependence is just as ancient. Overdose deaths were a bit less common with opium in its raw natural form, but this is not the way most modern people encounter opioids today. The majority of opioid use begins with prescription medications.

These synthetic and semi-synthetic compounds are a far cry from the opium of the ancient world. Their purity, increased bioavailability and route of administration make overdose and abuse much easier. These risks are exponentially greater when we look at street drugs like heroin (diacetylmorphine). Not only is the potency of street heroin unpredictable, but there has been an explosion in the amount of heroin adulterated with fentanyl or carfentanil in recent years. The move by organized crime to increase profits by folding fentanyl compounds into heroin has caused overdose death in the U.S. to skyrocket. Fentanyl in its purest form is so powerful that a fatal dose will fit on the head of a pin and it sometimes even proves resistant to the Narcan (naloxone) doses traditionally given to try and reverse a fatal overdose.

Dangers of Opioids

So, what is it exactly that makes opioids inherently dangerous? There is a combination of factors that in combination, make opioids one of, if not the most dangerous category of drugs of abuse in the world.

Analgesic Effects – Up until recently, opioids have been the only truly effective pharmaceutical treatment for moderate to severe pain. This has led many pain patients to inadvertently become dependent on opioids. Over time they build a tolerance requiring more of the drug to get the same effects or become psychologically dependent upon them too.

Euphoric Effects – Opioids act on the brain’s pleasure centers directly. The same part of the brain that reinforces positive behaviors with ‘reward chemicals’ is short-circuited by opioids in a sense. They cause these chemicals to be released without the usual stimuli. Eventually the drug can come to take precedence over even basic necessities like food, water, self-care.

Respiratory Depression – Opioids slow the body down. They slow breathing and this is one of the most dangerous qualities they have. Overdose deaths are most often caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. People literally stop breathing. What’s worse is, it is impossible to predict the dose which will be fatal and the respiratory depression effect is compounded exponentially when other depressants like alcohol or benzodiazepines are used in conjunction with an opioid.

The very nature of opioids makes them dangerous. The potential for physical dependence and addiction spares no one. If you use an opioid regularly for any significant amount of time, you will become physically dependent upon it. Period. You will experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings when you stop unless you do so in a medical treatment environment where these can be alleviated. Not only is physical dependence a risk, but psychological dependence is incredibly common.

In addition to these risks there is the risk of overdose, which is far easier to encounter by accident than most people realize and prescription opiates do not protect you from that risk. The key points to remember here are that opioids are in fact inherently dangerous. This does not mean that they don’t have a legitimate medical use. What it does mean is that anyone who chooses to put an opioid in their body, whether prescribed or otherwise, owes it to themselves to understand the facts and the risk involved.

If you’d like to learn more about treatment options for opiate addiction, feel free to call us at Harmony Treatment and Wellness.



What is the Difference Between Alcohol Misuse and Abuse?

man in a hooded sweatshirt drinking alcohol outside

Although many people use terms like ‘addiction,’ ‘abuse,’ ‘problem drinker’ as though they were interchangeable, they can mean different things. This can lead to a variety of difficulties– especially when considering an intervention– so it is imperative that everyone understand these nuances of meaning. Toward that end, this post will discuss alcohol misuse vs. abuse.

The Drinking Spectrum

While there are certainly large areas of overlap, any discussion of alcohol misuse vs. abuse should begin with specific definitions of the two terms. However, before we can do that, it will be helpful to summarize the symptoms of alcohol use disorder. Here are the criteria the DSM-5 has established for diagnosing someone with an alcohol use disorder:

  • Consuming more alcohol for a longer period than intended
  • Making failed attempts to stop drinking
  • Excessive time and energy to facilitate drinking
  • Alcohol cravings or preoccupation
  • Repeated neglect of important responsibilities due to alcohol use
  • Person continues to drink excessively despite negative social, legal, or interpersonal consequences
  • The drinker becomes so preoccupied with alcohol consumption that formerly important recreational, social, and work-related activities are neglected
  • Continued use of alcohol in dangerous environments or situations
  • A person who has a physical or mental health condition that was brought on or worsened by alcohol continues to drink excessively
  • A significant increase in alcohol tolerance
  • The drinker begins to experience withdrawal symptoms when they go too long without drinking, typically symptoms that can only be alleviated by more alcohol

As you can see, these are not the reactions of a social or moderate drinker. Social or moderate drinkers typically do not experience more than an occasional negative consequence because of their alcohol consumption. If one or more of these are present in you or a loved one’s behavior, the only real question is whether you are dealing with alcohol misuse or abuse.

Alcohol Misuse Vs. Abuse: How to Tell the Difference

It might seem a bit overly clinical, but the best way to discern between problem drinking and alcohol abuse is to use the symptoms listed above as a barometer. These tendencies just don’t show up in the temperate drinker. So how do you use these symptoms to differentiate between the two higher levels of drinking?

Here is the short version. Alcohol abuse applies to anyone who has experienced two or more of the above symptoms over the course of a year. If these symptoms manifest with less frequency, you are probably dealing with a case of alcohol misuse.

Obviously, the discussion of alcohol misuse vs. abuse involves fluid categories that can make it difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. Fortunately, you can look at other factors as well. The amount of alcohol someone consumes is a great indicator of where they stand on the drinking spectrum:

  • For men, drinking more than an average of two drinks a day is considered alcohol misuse. Treatment may be necessary at this point.
  • If a man consumes an average of 4 or more drinks a day, he is engaging in alcohol abuse and needs immediate treatment.
  • For women, drinking more than one drink a day is considered alcohol misuse. Depending on how their drinking affects their lives, these women may or may not be in need of treatment.
  • A woman who consumes more than 3 drinks a day is abusing alcohol and should seek help immediately.

This is an incomplete guide to the alcohol misuse vs. abuse debate, but it is certainly a great place to start if you’re concerned about someone’s drinking. Please consider treatment options if you or a loved one falls into the misuse or abuse category.

What Does Alcohol Abuse do to the Body?

alcohol being poured into a glass

Excessive drinking– whether it’s the occasional binge or an everyday occurrence– has a profoundly negative effect on a variety of major life areas. One of these areas that are often ignored is the alcohol abuse effects on the body. Needless to say, this lack of attention can lead to life-altering or even fatal consequences.

This post is intended to draw the problem drinker’s attention to the health problems associated with chronic alcoholism. Read on for a detailed look at alcohol abuse effects on the body.

Moderate vs Excessive Drinking

How much is too much when it comes to alcohol consumption and its effects it has on your body? Obviously, the answer to this question depends on a variety of highly individualized factors. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website contains a very revealing discussion of the differences between moderate and heavy drinking.

Here’s a quick summary of these differences:

  • Anyone who drinks less than one or two drinks a day (the number is usually lower for women than men) is considered a moderate drinker.
  • It’s important to remember, however, that moderate drinkers sometimes increase their consumption and begin to drink excessively in a relatively short amount of time.
  • Both binge drinking and chronically heavy drinking are considered excessive and can lead to profoundly negative health outcomes
  • Binge drinking is defined by consuming more than 4-5 drinks during a single day or session
  • A man who regularly consumes more than 15 drinks a week is considered a heavy drinker, while a woman who consumes over 8 drinks a week qualifies.
  • While this type of heavy drinking does not make someone an alcoholic, it can still lead to a number of health problems.

Alcohol Abuse Effects on the Body

Contrary to a once-popular belief, alcohol-related health problems don’t stop in the liver. Yes, excessive drinking can do permanent damage to the liver, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the rest of your body. Here are some of the ways that heavy or alcoholic drinking can negatively affect the body:

Brain functioning

Excessive drinking can lead to speech problems, depression, erratic behavior, and cognitive dysfunction.

Heart problems

Not surprisingly, heavy drinkers often experience heart conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, and arrhythmia.


Study after study has shown researchers that there is a strong correlation between high levels of drinking and several different forms of cancer. Cancers of the neck, head, and liver are commonly associated with problem drinking. Heavy drinkers are also more likely than the average person to develop breast and esophageal cancers.

An Important Reminder

The purpose of this post was twofold. First, we wanted to provide a detailed account of the physical dangers of excessive drinking and help drinkers remain self-aware. Obviously, this is potentially life-saving knowledge for the true alcoholic.

However, it’s important that excessive drinkers and their families understand that you don’t have to qualify as an alcoholic to experience alcohol abuse effects on the body. Keep this uncomfortable fact in mind when you find yourself drinking more than you’d like and you’ll have a much better chance of avoiding alcohol-related health problems.

Treatment Options for Opiate Addiction

man sitting in chair suffering from opiate addiction

The United States has been in the midst of an opioid addiction epidemic for over a decade. Heroin addiction was once limited primarily to cities and narrow segments of society. Today, addiction to a myriad of opioid substances has impacted communities from coast-to-coast. If you aren’t addicted to opiates, chances are you know someone who is or who has been impacted by opiate addiction. Fortunately, the medical field has risen to the challenge and there is a broad array of treatment options for opiate addiction now. Here is a breakdown of the choices for addiction care:

Medical Detoxification

Most patients will begin treatment for opiate addiction with medical detox in an inpatient facility. It takes only five days to become addicted to opiates, so the demand for detox is great. (1)

The medical detox phase of care is designed to get a person through physical withdrawal symptoms as comfortably as possible. The opiate detox process has become both more sophisticated and more effective with time. The latest protocols involve a combination of medications. Short-term treatment with Buprenorphine is designed to directly target the most severe opiate withdrawal systems, including body aches, chills, nausea, and cravings. An array of other medications can complement it to address tertiary symptoms like anxiety and depression. During this period a patient will be assessed to develop a treatment plan. Clinicians will want a full picture of what they are dependent on, how much has been used, and for how long. It is also important to assess the patient’s overall health at this time. Any other serious health concerns must be identified and addressed. Ideally, a psychological evaluation will also be conducted during this time. Co-occurring mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety will be diagnosed if present. All of this information goes towards building the most effective treatment plan possible, even if secondary issues aren’t tackled until after the detox phase.

Inpatient Treatment

Following the detox phase, many patients will opt to either remain at the same facility to undergo other levels of care or transfer to a facility that offers further treatment. Studies have shown markedly better outcomes and longer sobriety for people who undergo at least 28-30 days of treatment or more. (2) Depending on a person’s diagnosis, they may remain at the inpatient level for a week or more. Commonly, patients will move on to the Partial Hospitalization (PHP) phase relatively soon and may move to Intensive Outpatient (IOP) a couple of weeks after that. The length of time and levels of care varies from patient to patient. Many programs now offer a hybridized form of care where patients can receive PHP, IOP, or even Outpatient-style care while living in a sober living environment. This model provides more structure and security than attending an outpatient program while living at home possibly can. It can also be a more affordable option for many people with or without insurance.

Sober Living Environments.

Sober living homes, sometimes called ‘halfway houses’ aren’t usually thought of as a treatment option by themselves. They are, however, often an integral part of a solid treatment plan that follows medical detox and inpatient care at a medical facility. Certified and vetted sober living homes act as a bridge between treatment and a return to ordinary life. They provide a safe place to live and grow new relationships with people in recovery. More importantly, they are a safe space within which one can put new behaviors into practice. Many recovering people will choose to live in a sober living home for the duration of their PHP, IOP, and OP treatment. It’s often recommended that a recovering person lives this way for as long as a year, if possible. They can return to work or school and much of their daily life can be as it was before opiate addiction, only they have the safety of a place to live where they have accountability and structure.

If you’d like to learn more about treatment options for opiate addiction, feel free to call us at Harmony Treatment and Wellness.



5 Of The Most Common Signs of Late-Stage Alcoholism

man suffering from end-stage alcoholism with his head down on a table

Alcoholism is the layperson’s name for alcohol use disorder. It is a disease marked by excessive alcohol consumption and, eventually, dependence. Alcoholism affects every bodily system, including the brain and a person’s decision-making abilities. Alcohol use disorder is not necessarily considered a disease by most people, but no one would deny that it has disastrous effects.

Late-Stage Alcoholism

This is especially true of late-stage alcoholism. Late-stage alcoholism (or end-stage alcoholism) is the final stage of alcohol use disorder. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive condition that tends to get worse and worse over time. It typically starts with social drinking and then worsens as the person starts to need alcohol in order to feel normal. If this continues long enough, it becomes alcohol dependence. This means that the drinker begins to experience withdrawal symptoms when alcohol isn’t available.

Finally, the addiction to alcohol progresses to late-stage alcoholism. This is when the drinker starts to experience shattered relationships, financial hardship, and a variety of grave physical ailments. The immune system becomes compromised, for instance, a situation that leaves the victim open to a number of serious illnesses. Brain, heart, and liver damage can also occur during this final stage of alcohol use disorder. Eventually, if left untreated, it can also lead to premature death.

Five Common Signs of Late-Stage Alcoholism

Because of the inherent dangers of late-stage alcoholism, the ability to identify it is critical to any possible recovery. Contrary to many opinions, it is never too late to treat alcoholism and begin to reverse its negative effects. Here are five signs that can help you identify when you or a loved one has entered late-stage alcoholism.

  • Risky behavior. Because alcoholism affects decision-making abilities, an addict might take dangerous risks. Drinking and driving, or binge-drinking are examples of this behavior.
  • Damaging relationships. Alcohol abuse can cause a person to neglect important relationships and responsibilities. They might miss work, or lie to loved ones. This also isolates the addict.
  • Severe withdrawal. By the final stage of alcoholism, the brain is dependent on alcohol. Trying to stop drinking might cause reactions such as tremors, anxiety, and even seizures.
  • Physical changes. Late-stage alcoholism can cause physical symptoms. Extreme weight changes, puffy face, low energy, red eyes, shaky hands, and lax hygiene are all serious warning signs.
  • The development of alcohol-related illnesses. Over time, alcohol scars the liver, causing cirrhosis. Brain damage is also possible, leading to blurred vision, or trouble walking. Late-stage addiction can also cause heart attacks, strokes, and various types of cancer.

Recognition is Key

Alcoholism progresses through different stages, eventually leading to dependency and addiction. Late-stage alcoholism is the final stage of alcohol use disorder. People at this stage often suffer great mental and physical hardships as a result of their addiction. If not treated, late-stage alcoholism may even result in death.

Late-stage alcoholics are dangerously dependent on alcohol, making alcohol withdrawal very uncomfortable and painful. Because of this, it is hard to stop drinking without help. Luckily, alcohol addiction is always a treatable condition. This is why it is important to recognize the signs that late-stage alcohol brings with it. The five red flags we’ve discussed can detect when ‘simple dependence’ has become an emergency.

Is Alcoholism a Disease or a Choice?

man pouring beer from a tap

Humanity’s relationship with alcohol is almost as old as civilization itself. Almost as soon as people discovered fermentation, it became apparent that some people could become dependent on alcohol. In 1784, physician and father of the American temperance movement, Benjamin Rush, identified an “uncontrollable and irresistible desire to consume alcohol” among certain people.(1) For most of human history, however, alcoholism was seen as a moral shortcoming or a lack of discipline.

People suffering from alcoholism were said to be “unable to hold their liquor”. This misconception has stubbornly persisted into the present day, unfortunately. Why laypeople might view alcoholism this way is somewhat understandable. Most of us are still conditioned to think of disease only as an acquired infection like influenza or an illness like cancer. Others see the disease model as a “cop-out” or an attempt by the addict or alcoholic to shirk responsibility. Mental illness in general, is still widely misunderstood and unfortunately can carry a certain stigma.

Alcoholism is Classified as a Disease

Some may be surprised to know that the debate over whether to categorize alcoholism and addiction as a disease was largely settled in the medical and scientific community more than 60 years ago. In fact, the American Medical Association formally recognized alcoholism and addiction as a disease as early as 1956. (2) The AMA’s position was even cited in the U.S. Supreme Court case (Budd v. California, 385 U.S. 909 (1966) (3). Dr. William Silkworth of New York City’s Towns Hospital is widely recognized as the first clinician to study and endorse the disease model of alcoholism. His pioneering work in treating alcoholics and advising the founders of Alcoholic Anonymous was directly responsible for transforming the way the medical community viewed alcoholism.

As Alcoholics Anonymous grew as a new resource for people struggling with alcohol, clinicians and scientists began to study the phenomenon of alcoholism and addiction from a different point of view. In the past, most chronic relapse patients were seen as “lost causes”, destined to be institutionalized for what was left of their lives. Following the work of Dr. Silkworth and others, they recognized that medical treatment combined with social intervention and therapy was yielding more promising results than anyone had seen with traditional methods alone. Today alcohol dependence is understood as a disease and listed as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Treatment for Alcoholism is Still Evolving

Thanks to the revolution in gene research, we are beginning to unravel the genetic component which makes some people so much more susceptible to chronic alcohol abuse. Two genes related to alcohol metabolism, ADH1B and ALDH2 have shown the strongest correlation with the risk of alcoholism. (4) The greater scientific understanding of the roots of alcoholism paired with a more data-driven approach to treatment has brought a new era in addiction treatment to fruition. Perhaps more than ever, the medical and recovery communities are working as partners and the long-term efficacy of treatment for alcoholism is the focus. It’s widely accepted that recognizing alcoholism as a disease was the essential sea change that needed to occur for more effective treatment to begin to be developed.


How to Protect your Sobriety on the 4th of July

Celebrating 4th of July Sober

As one of America’s booziest holidays, the Independence Day can be a major trigger for people in recovery. How can I still enjoy the holiday without risking my sobriety? We asked some sober friends for their tips on navigating the 4th of July while in sober. 

1. Don’t Pressure Yourself to Do Something

This year may be a bit easier to sit out than usual. With COVID-19 case numbers spiking across the country, big parties and gatherings for the holiday are less common. But if someone you know is having a party, and you feel unsure, you can always skip it. Don’t pressure yourself.

Mike, founder of I Will Not Drink With You Today, says “Holidays come and go, there’s no reason you can’t sit this one out. If you feel like going somewhere may trigger you to drink, ask yourself: ‘Is it worth risking my sobriety?’ The answer is always no. Camp at home and watch how nothing is different afterward.” 


2. Prepare your Coping Skills and Bring Them With You

If you are going somewhere, be prepared. Think about ways in which you can cope with any triggers that may arise. Amanda Gist, mental health and addiction speaker, suggests “excusing yourself for a ten minute walk, doing some deep breathing in the bathroom, or applying lavender essential oil to your neck and wrists to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. Another option would be to have a friend you can reach out to via text with the agreement that they’ll help you untangle the thoughts you’re struggling with in the moment of the trigger.” Keep a list on your phone of the various portable coping skills you can use if you find yourself in trouble. 


3. Prepare Yourself for Questions, and Have Answers at the Ready

When you’re sober, being offered a drink at a party can be uncomfortable. Do you tell them your life story? Do you clam up? Amanda suggests having a verbal response prepared, so you won’t be stumbling around for words. “Have a few reliable one-liners. You could use the simple, but effective ‘No thanks, I don’t drink.’ Or the grateful but stern, ‘I appreciate the offer, that’s so thoughtful of you but I’m not drinking.’ Or you can always offer an alternative by saying ‘I don’t drink alcohol but I’d love a lemonade if you have one!’”


4. Bring a Substitute

Speaking of alternatives, Megan Kioulafofski, owner of Sol and Spirit, has a remedy for the sometimes awkward feeling of not having something in your hand whilst mingling. She says bringing a safe, non-alcoholic drink helps to avoid the awkward “you’re not drinking?” comments and also helps her feel like she isn’t missing out on anything. “I love to mix Kombucha with soda water, it has a nice bite to it,” she says. 

If you are going the substitute route, try to make sure your non-alcoholic drink choice avoids triggers. 


5. Be Ready To Remove Yourself if Needed

Joanne Ketch, of Chrysalis Counseling says, “Have your ‘outs’ ready and be willing to use them. The out can be physically leaving but it can also be a smaller ‘out’ such as a text, phone call or video chat with someone who can talk you through what you’re experiencing.” Planning ahead will help protect your sobriety in the event that the situation no longer feels safe.



Ultimately, we hope you have sober fun this 4th of July, in a way that feels safe to you. Whether it’s spending time at home with a pack of sparklers and a close friend or getting out and going to a party, a bit of planning will keep your sobriety safe. Thinking things through and preparing for different scenarios will mean you aren’t caught off guard or putting yourself at risk. 

And if you find yourself struggling or in need of support, we’re always here for you. Call us anytime. 

What is the Vagus Nerve and How Could it Support Addiction Treatment?

Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Addiction Treatment

Vagus Nerve Stimulation is showing promise as an addiction and Substance Use Disorder treatment. While still in early stages of research, animal studies have found that Vagus Nerve Stimulation results in a reduction in drug-seeking behavior and cravings. 

What is the Vagus Nerve? 

The Vagus Nerve runs from the brainstem through the face and down to the colon, winding through various organs along the way. It is the longest and most complex of the 12 cranial nerves. 

The Vagus Nerve provides both sensory and motor functions for various parts of the body. Sensory information in the esophagus, larynx, lungs, heart and digestive tract come from the Vagus Nerve. It also affects various motor functions in the body. The Vagus Nerve stimulates muscles in the heart, where it lowers resting heart rate. It also stimulates muscles in the intestines to move food through the digestive tract. 

Vagus Nerve Stimulation 

VNS has had FDA approval for treatment of epilepsy, depression, and chronic inflammation for years. Researchers are also exploring VNS as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. However, VNS has been trending in wellness circles lately due to its ability to pacify the Central Nervous System (CNS). When we stimulate the Vagus Nerve we can bring the nervous system out of the Sympathetic Mode (“Fight or Flight”) and into the Parasympathetic Mode (‘Rest and Digest”). 

Harvard Health says, “Stimulating the vagus nerve activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.” One of the reasons deep breathing is so effective at calming the body is because it stimulates the Vagus Nerve, albeit to a lesser degree than the electronic stimulation seen in research studies. 

Now, researchers are looking at the Vagus Nerve’s connection to brain plasticity as a way to reduce drug-seeking behaviors and cravings among people with Substance Use Disorder and addiction. 

Vagus Nerve Stimulation to Support Addiction Treatment

In a 2016 study at University of Texas at Dallas, rats were taught to press a lever to receive a hit of cocaine, became addicted, then were weaned off the drug. Later, when the lever and associated cues were re-introduced, the rats exhibited severe drug cravings and relapse into drug-seeking behaviors. 

However, rats that received VNS therapy engaged in these behaviors at a much lower rate. In fact, the VNS some rats pressed the lever as much as 50% less than their non-treatment counterparts. These results show that they were experiencing less cravings. VNS was found to alter plasticity in the brain to facilitate “extinction learning”. This refers to the gradual reduction of a conditioned response. In the case of the addicted rats, VNS was able to create new reward behaviors. 

After the study concluded, Dr. Sven Kroener, the study’s lead researcher, said “VNS treatment may reinforce abstinence, eventually weaning patients off the drug-related behavior and protecting them better from cravings.” 

Currently, a study is underway at an undisclosed university, wherein they are testing the effects of VNS on people with Alcohol Use Disorder. More studies are necessary to determine how best to implement VNS in addiction treatment but preliminary results are very promising. We will look forward to learning more about VNS as a treatment for Substance Use Disorder and addiction. 


7 Don’ts for Discussing Someone’s Addiction With Them

How to not to Talk about Addiction with a loved one

All loved ones of addicts reach the point where they need to discuss the problem with the person directly. In doing so, you have a chance to convince them to get them the help they need. But you also run the risk of pushing them away and further isolating them in their addiction. Learning to talk to your loved one about their addiction in a way that feels safe is the best way to get them the help they need. 

Avoiding saying or doing these important “Don’ts” will help you create a safe space and help get the best possible result for your loved one. 



1. Don’t Berate, Belittle or Blame


Accusatory tactics like these will likely result in your loved one feeling defensive, angry, and even storming out. Addicts are in a fragile state and are quick to emotionally spiral, which typically drives them to use in order to soothe their pain. Avoid these three B’s to maintain a safe and constructive environment. 



2. Don’t Make It All About You


Your experience of their addiction is part of this, of course, but right now the goal is to get your loved one the help they need. Try to make sure you’re focusing on them. Have you noticed they seem unhappy? Do they look different than they used to? Is their health declining? Rather than focusing on how you’ve been treated, focus on them. Your relationship to their addiction can be discussed later, once they are safely in treatment.  



3. Don’t Attempt to Know What They are Feeling or Experiencing


It is best not to talk to your loved one as if you know what it is like to have an addiction (unless of course you actually do). Every addict’s struggle is unique. Instead of trying to assume what they are going through, ask them. Opening the dialogue creates a space for honesty, transparency, vulnerability and ultimately, change. 



4. Don’t Pass Judgement


In creating a safe and open space, you may learn things you didn’t expect. If they are telling you things that make you  feel inclined to judge their behavior. Don’t. Whatever you do, do not judge them. Support them, listen to them, offer to help. Know that addiction is a disease that takes people away from their true selves. Their addict behaviors are not indicative of them as a person. 



5. Don’t Raise Your Voice


This is a surefire way to create a heated argument, which is very unlikely to end in a positive outcome. Sometimes a person in active addiction will feel accused by any discussion of their substance abuse. Keep your voice level, even if your loved one does not. Do not engage with any outbursts, stay calm, and maintain the safe space. 



6. Don’t use this as an opportunity to air all your grievances 


You might be angry or hurt over things that have happened during their active addiction. It’s understandable and ok to feel these things, but now is not the time to raise them. For now, do not criticize, express anger, or bring up the past in a negative way. The only things you should be talking about are your concerns for their safety and wellbeing. Again: safe space. 



7. Don’t Lose Sight of Your Goal


Keep reminding yourself of the purpose of this conversation: To get your loved one into treatment. Before speaking ask yourself, will what I’m about to say bring us closer to this goal? If the answer is uncertain, don’t say it. 


We hope this helped you learn how not to talk to a loved one about their addiction. However, if you feel you need more help or would like guidance on how best to get your loved one in to treatment, our expert team at Harmony Recovery Group can help. Call us today. We’re here to support you.