substance use disorder' Archives -
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Addiction Recovery Patients Often Suffer from Chronic Health Conditions

Addiction Recovery Patients Often Suffer from Chronic Health Conditions

Physical Health is Important to Lasting Recovery

There is no doubt that substance use disorder has a dramatic impact on health. Physical, mental and emotional well-being always suffer when an individual becomes dangerously dependent on harmful substances. Drugs and alcohol have a variety of adverse effects on the body, ranging from painful withdrawal symptoms to lasting impairment of vital organs. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that patients recovering from addiction often suffer from chronic health conditions.

Now, a new study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine suggests that more than one-third of people recovering from addiction continue to suffer from a physical disease.

Studying Chronic Health Conditions in Addiction Recovery

Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Recovery Research Institute are the first to examine the national prevalence of medical conditions typically created or magnified by chronic and excessive use of drugs or alcohol. The data in the study comes from a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 American adults. Each of these individuals described themselves as recovering from a range of substance issues, including:

Researchers then looked for the presence of diseases known to be exacerbated by drugs and alcohol, such as:

  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Cancer
  • Hepatitis C
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

What they found was that out of all the adults recovering from substance abuse issues, 37% of them had been diagnosed with one or more of these nine conditions.

Additionally, researchers conclude that significant reductions in the participants’ quality of life connect to these conditions. Not to mention, researchers note that each of these health problems is known to reduce life expectancy.

Trends Relating to Different Drugs

When looking at the details of the data, there are a few trends that stand out. For instance, when compared to the general population, individuals in recovery have much higher levels of:

  • Hepatitis C
  • COPD
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

And in many cases, certain diseases more often correlate with certain substances. For example:

Hepatitis C

Rates of this condition were significantly higher for those recovering from opioids or stimulants than those recovering from alcohol.

HIV/AIDS and STIs

Lifetime prevalence of these health conditions was significantly higher in the group of people recovering from stimulant abuse than in the alcohol group.

Heart Disease

The lowest rates of this condition were actually found in individuals recovering from opioid addiction.

Diabetes

This health problem was discovered to be least common for those reporting cannabis as their primary substance issue

Multiple Chronic Conditions

The odds of experiencing two or more chronic physical diseases were increased by 4%- 7% due to certain factors, such as:

  • Each additional substance used 10 times or more
  • Older age at onset of diseases
  • Resolving alcohol or drug problems later in life

Reduced Rates of Disease

Researchers also note a few elements that appear to coincide with reduced rates of physical diseases. In general, such factors include being:

  • Younger
  • Female
  • Hispanic

There were also social stability and economic factors linked to lower rates of physical disease for those recovering from substance abuse, including:

  • Having a household income greater than $50,000
  • Higher education
  • Being Employed
  • Married or living with a partner

Some of these may be a bit of a surprise, especially considering that women are typically considered more susceptible to serious health problems associated with substance abuse.

Highlighting the Importance of Health in Recovery

According to the researchers, this study is important to a larger conversation about the quality of life for those in recovery from addiction. The lead and corresponding author David Eddie, Ph.D., research scientist at the Recovery Research Institute is an MGH clinical psychologist and an instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School. He states,

“We’ve known for a long time that chronic and heavy substance use can cause a multitude of diseases directly and indirectly – The extent to which these diseases and health conditions continue to persist for the millions of Americans who achieve recovery remains to be clarified, but this study highlights the fact that these negative impacts may continue to affect quality of life even when people achieve addiction recovery.”

Eddie believes it is important to appreciate that even those who overcome their issues with substance use disorder and drug dependence still face real physical diseases. In some cases, men and women who manage to finally make progress away from abusing drugs or alcohol still have to live the rest of their lives with other life-altering conditions. If the evidence points toward a better chance at young people and those with a shorter history of drug use being able to avoid chronic illness, then, of course, more effort should be put toward early intervention. Eddie adds,

“In addition, addiction treatment needs to be more seamlessly integrated with primary health care, and more research is needed to explore the complex relationships between alcohol and other drug use and physical disease.”

Moreover, this would further support the idea that we must address addiction as a public health issue. If we want to effectively address not only substance abuse but the long-term adverse effects of drugs and alcohol, we have to offer more comprehensive treatment options.

Part of building a healthy and effective foundation for recovery is a personalized treatment plan. Every individual is unique, and each person struggling with substance use disorder faces different challenges. That is why Palm Healthcare Company believes in providing customized and comprehensive care to every client. From medical detox resources to medication management and nutrition, we believe better health and well-being make lasting recovery possible. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Breakthrough Ruling on Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Insurance Coverage

Discrimination Through Denial of Coverage

Breakthrough Ruling on Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Insurance Coverage

Health insurance is probably going to be one of the great debates of this period in American history. There is already plenty of contention about how to properly provide coverage for those who need it. Some claim the changes made in the last decade have gone too far. Others argue it has not gone nearly far enough. Healthcare reform is a hot button issue in our world today. Needless to say, a big part of this conversation has to do with parity coverage for mental health. Now a new landmark court ruling is going to make a monumental difference for mental health and addiction treatment insurance coverage.

Simply put, the largest behavioral health care company in America has been denying coverage to some of its most vulnerable members to save money. And now, a federal court decision may put more of a spotlight on insurance companies.

Wit v. United Behavioral Health

The case was brought in front of a federal court in Northern California against United Behavioral Health (UBH). UBH is a company that manages behavioral health services for UnitedHealthcare and other health insurers. The court found that UBH denied claims of tens of thousands of people seeking mental health and substance use disorder treatment. The company was using defective medical review criteria in order to reject claims.

In Wit v. UBH, over 50,000 individuals were reportedly denied coverage based on the flawed review criteria. 11 plaintiffs sued UBH on the behalf of these victims. One victim, in particular, is Natasha Wit. Natasha had been seeking treatment for several chronic conditions, including:

Wit was repeatedly denied coverage for her treatment, despite the fact she did have healthcare benefits that should have offered coverage. Her family ended up paying out nearly $30,000 for treatment. And they are just one of the thousands of families to face the same discrimination.

Looking at the Marks Against UBH

According to recent reports, United Behavioral Health has been failing its members in more ways than one.

Federal courts determined that UBH developed internal guidelines that were “unreasonable and an abuse of discretion” and “infected” by financial incentives designed to restrict access to care for those who should qualify for coverage. Essentially, UBH was manipulating internal guidelines to avoid providing coverage that members had every right to under the law.

  • Internal Guidelines

For many of those struggling with substance use disorder, defective criteria for coverage can equate to a death sentence. When looking over the requirements set by UBH, it is no wonder why the courts say they are illegitimate.

Firstly, their medical-necessity criteria fail to provide coverage to those chronic and comorbid conditions. Generally accepted standards of care state these conditions should be effectively treated, even when those conditions:

  • Persist
  • Respond slowly to treatment
  • Require extended or intensive levels of care

However, UBH set guidelines that only approve coverage for what they labeled “acute” episodes or crises. For example, only individuals who were actively suicidal or suffering from severe withdrawal could be considered for coverage.

In other words, for someone who struggled with substance use disorder or mental illness, you had to be knocking on death’s door to get a chance at treatment. The court found that these guidelines were not acceptable.

  • Levels of Care

Furthermore, UBH fails to use national evidence-based guidelines for covering different levels of care for mental health and substance abuse treatment, such as:

These are guidelines that have been developed by clinical specialty nonprofit organizations.

Additionally, UBH’s guidelines improperly required reducing the level of care, even if the providers who were treating them recommended maintaining a higher level of care. So patients would be removed from more intensive residential treatment programs and pushing into some form of outpatient therapy, even if the specialists argued that they were not ready.

This is a big deal. Most recovery advocates and healthcare providers agree that insurance companies should not be the ones telling treatment providers how to care for their patients.

  • State Mandated Guidelines

Furthermore, some states have mandated specific guidelines for evaluating the medical necessity for behavioral health services. UBH was also found to have violated these requirements for reviewing substance use disorder claims as well.

  • ERISA

The case against United Behavioral Health was filed under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). This is a federal mandate that governs group health insurance policies through private employers. More specifically, ERISA requires insurance plan administrators to function in a fiduciary capacity when overseeing employee benefit plans. This includes coverage for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

In Wit v. UBH, the court determined that UBH was in breach of its fiduciary duties by developing and employing faulty medical necessity criteria for behavioral health services. Therefore, the court alleges that UBH is in violation of its obligations under this federal law.

What Does this Mean for Addiction Treatment Insurance Coverage?

This case is exposing insurers for refusing care to people at serious risk of death by overdose or suicide. It is important to remember that UBH is not the only insurance provider trying to find ways around federal and state coverage guidelines. Given the nature of these violations, advocates believe that regulators should immediately start examining the market conduct of all healthcare plans across the country.

Judge Joseph C. Spero in Wit v. UBH also points out that the company was circumventing the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008, also known as the Federal Parity Law.

Parity law actually requires insurers to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression or addiction, the same as illnesses of the body, such as diabetes or cancer. In his ruling on Wit v. United Behavioral Health, Judge Spero highlights an abundance of evidence that guidelines created by the UBH were designed to diminish the impact of the 2008 Parity Act in order to keep benefit costs down. In other words, it is clear that the company was actively trying to work around federal law in order to avoid providing coverage to people with mental illnesses and addictions.

For those in the mental health and addiction communities, this brings new awareness to the discriminatory practices of treating mental health conditions differently than physical conditions. The new hope is that insurance providers will understand the consequences of discrimination against those who need help. With so much going on in healthcare, the Federal Parity Law must be protected.

Far too many people suffering from mental health and substance use disorders never get the help that they need. The last thing we need in a country devastated by an opioid crisis and rising overdose death rates is to create more roadblocks to treatment resources.

Palm Healthcare Company believes that if our country is ever going to overcome the damage of the opioid epidemic, we have to offer more comprehensive treatment options to those who still suffer. Insurance companies should not be keeping people from the care they deserve. Prevention is important, but we also believe in taking care of those who are already in the grips of substance use disorder by offering compassionate and effective care. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

National PTSD Awareness Month: Talking Trauma and Addiction

National PTSD Awareness Month: Talking Trauma and Addiction

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

In 2010, the United States Congress declared June 27th as PTSD Awareness Day. In 2014, the Senate designated the entire month of June as National PTSD Awareness Month. The purpose of this observation is to raise public awareness of PTSD and promote effective treatments to help those who suffer.

So what is PTSD? And how can all of us help?

Understanding PTSD

PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is a mental disorder that can develop when someone is exposed to a traumatic event. Some of the most common experiences that cause PTSD include:

  • Warfare
  • Sexual Assault
  • Traffic collisions
  • Life-threaten events

Sometimes people can experience post-traumtic stress disorder even if they are not directly affected by the event directly. According to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • 5% of adults in the United States have PTSD in a given year
  • 9% of people develop it at some point in their life

Signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder can include:

  • Dreams, thoughts, or feelings related to traumatic events
  • Mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues
  • Attempts to avoid trauma-related cues
  • Shifts in how a person thinks and feels
  • Increase in the fight-or-flight response

Statistically, most people who experience a traumatic event will not develop PTSD. However, some people are more susceptible to certain forms of trauma.

Women and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Women are more than twice as likely to develop PTSD.

  • 10% of women experience PTSD in their lifetime
  • 4% of men experience PTSD in their lifetime

This is largely attributed to sexual assault because women are more likely to experience sexual assault, and sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than many other events. Women are also more likely to experience things like:

  • Neglect or abuse in childhood
  • Domestic violence
  • Sudden loss of a loved one

Sadly, women may be more likely to blame themselves for their traumatic experiences than men.

When it comes to how that trauma manifests, some symptoms are more common in women. For example, women are more likely to:

  • Be jumpy
  • Have trouble feeling emotions
  • Avoid things that remind them of trauma
  • Feel depressed and anxious

Men are more likely to have issues with anger and controlling it when dealing with PTSD, but both men and women struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder can develop physical health problems.

Veterans and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Of course, one portion of the population at an elevated risk of PTSD is military Veterans. According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, 20% of Veterans who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. Combat is one of the most traumatic situations a person can be in. Witnessing death and violence, while also being exposed to life-threatening situations can easily lead to PTSD.

However, something that most people may not realize is the amount of military sexual trauma (MST) that Veterans also experience. MST is a form of sexual harassment or assault that occurs while in the military, and it happens to both men and women during training, peacetime, and in war.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs:

  • 23% of women reported sexual assault while in the military
  • 55% of women in the military experience sexual harassment
  • 38% of men in the military experience sexual harassment

Because there are more male Veterans than female Veterans, over half of all Veterans with military sexual trauma are actually men.

Sadly, one of the most troubling statistics about mental health when it comes to the men and women who serve our country is that according to a SAMHSA study, only around 50% of Veterans who need mental health treatment will receive it.

Post-Traumatic Stress and Substance Use Disorders

Another heartbreaking side-effect of PTSD can be drug and alcohol abuse, which often leads to substance use disorder (SUD).

In some cases, people who experience a traumatic event that causes a physical injury will be treated with powerful painkillers. This is one way that prescription opioids have contributed to the current opioid crisis in the country. Prescription opioids often increase feelings of pleasure and calm inside the brain, which can lead to those struggling with PTSD abusing these medications in order to numb themselves to both their physical agony and their emotional trauma. In fact, prescription opioid addiction is most commonly found to correlate with PTSD.

When it comes to Veterans, developing a substance use disorder with post-traumatic stress disorder is not uncommon. According to studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):

  • 23% of Veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan showed signs of SUD.
  • In 2008, active duty and Veteran military personnel abused prescription drugs more than twice the rate as the civilian population.
  • In 2009, the VA estimated around 13,000 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans suffered from alcohol dependence syndrome and required mental health treatment.

Meanwhile, those who experience sexual assault are also extremely likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to cope with their trauma. According to a report by the American Journal on Addictions, 75% of women who enter addiction treatment programs report having experienced sexual abuse. Many studies over the years also report a prevalence of traumatic abuse in childhood.

Ultimately, we find that PTSD can feed into substance use disorder. Many people who struggle to control their emotions and suffer from the residual effects of their experiences try to self-medicate with both legal substances and illicit narcotics.

National PTSD Awareness Month: Call for Better Treatment

For National PTSD Awareness Month we can all do our part to help raise awareness of the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder. The National Center for PTSD is urging people to:

Learn- PTSD treatment works

Connect- Reach out to someone

Share- Spread the word

Online you can get educational materials, support information and resources to help spread awareness. The National PTSD Awareness campaign encourages everyone to work together to promote effective treatment for those who are suffering.

For those struggling with PTSD and substance use disorder, Palm Healthcare Company believes in providing innovative and life-changing treatment opportunities that help people struggling with trauma and addiction to overcome adversity and build a better quality of life. Our comprehensive programs use a holistic approach to help heal the whole person, and our facilities are specially designed to create lasting change. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help. You are not alone.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

5 Most Common Co-Occurring Addictions and Mental Health Disorders

5 Most Common Co-Occurring Addictions and Mental Health Disorders

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

It is not so far-fetched to be told that someone whose life is consumed with drug or alcohol dependency can find themselves facing the emotional and mental fallout. When dealing with mental health issues, it is not rare for people to also struggle with substance use disorder. Co-occurring conditions such as these tend to feed off of each other, or even help create one another.

It is almost like when someone has high blood pressure, we are not surprised when they develop heart problems. Sometimes side effects and symptoms of one condition can nurture new ailments.

According to so researchers, there are some more common combinations of co-occurring disorders with addictions. So which addictions are most likely to co-exist with each mental health condition?

Here are 5 of the most common co-occurring disorders with addictions (not in any particular order):

  1. Schizophrenia with Marijuana Addiction

    Schizophrenia with Marijuana Addiction

One disorder that commonly co-exists with a substance use disorder is schizophrenia. The American Journal of Psychiatry released a study that suggests approximately half of all people with schizophrenia also have a substance abuse disorder.

But one substance stands out the most when looking at people living with schizophrenia- marijuana.

The exact cause of schizophrenia is unknown, but many suspect a combination of environment, genetics and altered brain chemistry and structure to all play a part. So it is unclear why people with schizophrenia would abuse marijuana. Especially since this drug typically produces many of the same symptoms these people experience when in the midst of a schizophrenic episode. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Short-term memory problems
  • Delusions
  • Unusual or dysfunctional ways of thinking
  • Difficulty beginning and sustaining activities
  • Impaired executive functioning

While not all symptoms are the same for everyone, some of these more common symptoms definitely overlap between the two. While it may not be obvious why, research suggests it is pretty obvious that marijuana is most popular for people with schizophrenia.

  1. Alcoholism and Anti-Social Personality Disorder

    Alcoholism and Anti-Social Personality Disorder

You might be surprised with this one because most people assume alcohol is most commonly matched with depression.

Anti-social personality disorder is easier to understand when one explains the concept of personality disorders in general.

To put it simply, a personality disorder is an enduring pattern of personal experience and behavior that deviates noticeably from the expectations of the individual’s culture, which leads to personal distress of impairment. So antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) is characterized by a tendency to disregard and even violate the rights of others. Symptoms can vary from egregious to outright dangerous. They include:

  • Irritability
  • Aggressiveness
  • Lack of remorse
  • Consistent irresponsibility
  • Recklessness
  • Impulsivity
  • Deceitfulness
  • Lack of stability in a job and home life
  • Disregard for society and laws
  • Violation of the physical or emotional rights of others

Often the more intense cases earn the titles of sociopathic or psychopathic.

Alcohol abuse very frequency co-occurs with other mental health disorders. However, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the disorder with the closest connection to alcoholism is anti-social personality disorder.

In fact, people who drink to excess on a regular basis are 21 times more likely to deal with ASPD when compared to people who don’t have alcoholism.

The NIAAA also states that both of these disorders typically develop early in life. However, alcoholism can actually make the underlying mental illness worse. Intoxication can lower an individual’s inhibitions, which makes their antisocial behaviors more prevalent. This may also lead to more dangerous manifestations of the disorder.

  1. Anxiety Disorders and Cocaine Addiction

Anxiety Disorders and Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine is an extremely powerful narcotic stimulant, which gives users feelings of intense euphoria. However, the tradeoff is a very steep price to pay considering how dangerous this drug really is. Continued cocaine use typically leads to symptoms that essentially mirror an anxiety disorder, including:

  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Aggression

Because cocaine is a stimulant, it speeds up and amplifies activity of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters at higher levels induce anxiety. So anxiety is actually a symptom of cocaine use already. Cocaine use also has the potential to create psychotic episodes. Some people even experience severe mental symptoms as a result of use.

As a long-term effect of cocaine use, brain circuits are more sensitive while struggling to respond to natural stimuli, and the results are often related to mood and mental health. Statistics show that there is a very high risk of anxiety and cocaine abuse occurring together. Then if you already have an anxiety disorder, the risk becomes even higher that you will develop a severe emotional problem when using a drug like cocaine.

While the adverse effects of cocaine use can eventually fade for those able to achieve a long-lasting sobriety, sometimes the damage lingers. Those unusual thoughts and behaviors can continue even long after someone has given up the drug.

  1. Prescription Opioid Addiction and PTSD

Prescription Opioid Addiction and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental illness that takes hold in the aftermath of an intense and traumatic experience. Often, people who survive tragedies, war and other dangerous or life-altering events will experience PTSD.

In some circumstances, people will leave their experience with serious physical injuries, and often, those injuries are treated with prescription painkillers. This is just one way that prescription opioids have contributed to a huge epidemic that has been hurting America for the past several years.

Prescription opioids often boost feelings of pleasure and calm inside the brain, and sometimes people who have PTSD end up abusing these medications in order to experience euphoria and numb themselves to not just their physical agony, but also their emotional trauma. This can become an endless cycle of self-medicating. This is especially true with veterans. In fact, some research indicates that veterans with pain and PTSD are 3 times more likely to receive opioids compared to those without any mental health disorders.

It is true that having effective pain medications is very important to improve the quality of life for those with physical pain, especially chronic pain patients. However, mixing powerful opioids like prescription painkillers with PTSD can lead to tragic outcomes. With increasing rates of veteran suicides over the past several years, one can only image what impact the surging opioid crisis may have had on those struggling with PTSD.

  1. Depression with Heroin Addiction

Depression with Heroin Addiction

Throughout one of the worst drug epidemics in American history, heroin has been a driving force behind countless overdoses and skyrocketing death rates. Heroin isn’t just devastating physically, but also mentally and emotionally crippling. The connection between these adverse effects and depressive disorders is remarkable.

The allure of heroin is that is can make users feel an overwhelming sense of pleasure for a short time. However, long-time use of heroin can burn out the portions of the brain responsible for producing natural signals of pleasure, leaving them incapable of feeling good on their own without the drug. The drug alters brain chemistry and creates mood changes.

Advances in Psychiatric Treatment estimates that 48% of opioid users have experienced depression at some point in their lives.

Extended use of heroin can eventually cause a form of brain damage that leads to depression. Users can become physically incapable of feeling happiness unless the drug is present. Withdrawal symptoms from heroin can also exacerbate symptoms of depression. Many of them are actually overlapping symptoms, such as:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Slow thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Loss of interests
  • Sleep problems
  • Physical pains
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite

The combination of depression and heroin addiction is incredibly common. Sometimes it can be difficult for people to tell which issue came first, but ultimately they can both be exceedingly debilitating, or even deadly.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis means that a person is dealing with two medical conditions that are co-occurring. In regards to the field of drug addiction, dual diagnosis specifically means that someone is struggling with both substance use disorder and another mental or behavioral health issue. Sometimes it is because prolonged drug use has contributed to developing a mental health issue, while other times it is because someone has tried to self-medicate when facing a mental health issue.

Dual diagnosis treatment is so important because it provides the opportunity to treat both co-occurring disorders simultaneously. For those suffering with more than one disorder, it is not nearly as effective to focus on treating one while ignoring the other. Holistic healing is all about addressing every aspect of each individual to help them find success in every part of their life.

 

 

Palm Healthcare Company believes in providing holistic addiction resources to help treat not just the addiction, but also any other issue that could be holding you back from achieving a full life of lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.

CALL NOW 1-888-922-5398

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being: by Thomas Beley

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being: by Thomas Beley

Maintaining Mental Health and Well-Being

by Thomas G. Beley, Ph.D., LCSW

Executive Director of Palm Healthcare Company

     We hear a lot about the importance of mental health.  However, exactly what is mental health. If one looks at the research literature there is not very much written about what constitutes mental health.  Often times, by default, mental health has been referred to or alluded to as the absence of a mental illness.  To complicate the situation further, the literature seems to be overly ripe with how to treat various mental disorders as well as how to reduce the specific symptoms a person may be experiencing. Unfortunately, our society has become overly preoccupied with treatment focusing on the reduction of a person’s symptoms as an indicator of a mentally healthy person. Although treatment and symptom reduction are important facets of a person’s mental health, neither treatment nor symptom reduction guarantees a sense of well-being.

In examining the various disorders as outlined in the DSM IV and the plethora of research that has been conducted on how to treat these disorders, there appears to be a common thread that seems to exist between all of these disorders and conditions.  The common thread appears to be an on-going interrelationship between the biological or neuro-chemical make-up of a person;  the existing stress factors that may be presented in a person’s life; and the actually coping skills or mechanisms that a person uses as a way of dealing with everyday life. Furthermore, it appears that all three of these influences have the ability to impact the other for the better or for the worse. This article will examine these various influences on a person’s mental health and how these influences are involved in maintaining a person’s sense of mental health and well-being.

Stress

     Stress is a constant in everyone’s life.  Hans Selye, the father of the stress response, defined stress as “any change.”  So the fact of the matter is that stress is a constant in one’s life.  In essence, the moment a person opens their eyes in the morning, that’s stress.  The moment that same person gets out of bed, that’s more stress.  And, the moment that person jumps into the shower, even yet more stress.  In most instances, our bodies are able to handle this stress much of which is attributed to a person’s balanced neurobiology and neurotransmission.

Much of this can be explained through the “fight or flight response” of a person. This mind-body connection, which has been a part of human evolution, has worked the same way over hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years, the same way. Any time a person’s brain, either conscious or unconscious, senses any type of danger whether real or not, there are a whole host of stress hormones that are being released into the body (neurotransmission) gearing the person’s body up to do one of two things, to run away from that danger or to fight that danger.  In either scenario, the body has to be an efficient machine.  Although a person doesn’t necessarily have to hunt for their food any longer per se or run away from man-eating animals, a person is still faced with the everyday modern dangers of life such as unemployment, finances, marital problems, parenting, etc. The list is endless. The important point, here, is that regardless of what that perceived danger, the mind, and body via neurotransmission, kicks into action.

A problem that arises, however, is that once the mind and body have turned it up a notch to deal with the stress, it takes the body a longer time to calm down.  The mind or more specifically the neocortex (the thinking part of the brain) is able to easily dismiss stress and false alarms of stress in a relatively short manner.  A person can become instantly alarmed at the prospect of their electric being shut off from a notice received in the mail, however, instantly “feeling” a sense of relief realizing that the notice is not meant for them but for the neighbor.  Although the mind has dismissed the danger, the stress hormones have already been released to key parts of the person’s body.  Studies have shown that these stress hormones or the signaling of the mind to the body to calm down can take anywhere between six hours to seventy-two hours for the body to receive the signal of no danger.  So what can actually happen is that a person can be walking around “feeling good” and the least little thing can happen, the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, that can send a person into a stressed or panic state.

    There are three key points that need to be remembered about stress.

The first key point is that stress is a constant in anyone’s life by virtue of the constant change a person is going through from the moment they wake up in the morning to the time they go to bed at night.  All too often a person thinks of stress as “nothing bad has happened to me lately.”  It is irrelevant to ask the question whether a person is stressed, it is more appropriate to think in terms of whether that person’s neurobiology is handling that stress in an appropriate manner.

    Secondly, the body doesn’t really know the difference between “good stress” and “bad stress.”  It may be more relevant for a person to think in terms of how much and to what extent has that person experienced change during the course of the week or the month regardless of whether that change has been “good” or “bad.” The more change the person has experienced, the more stress that has been absorbed into the body.

And, finally, the third key point is that the body is a very slow responder.  It takes the body a much longer time to calm down than the cognitive processes that are occurring in the brain.  A person needs to be mindful that just because they are “feeling relaxed” doesn’t necessarily mean that their body is relaxed.

It is not always feasible to assume that lowering the stressful situations in one’s life is the answer since many people may be unable to avoid a stressful lifestyle.  Firefighters, police officers, emergency room medical staff, are all faced with potential chronic conditions of stress.  It is not fair to say these individuals will be excluded from feeling a sense of well-being because they are in constant stressful situations.  It is important for a person to be aware of trying to lower stress in their life where they can, but for those individuals who are in situations where stress is a constant, it will be more important for that person to develop the necessary coping skills to deal with stress such as exercise, nutrition, yoga, or meditation.

Neurobiology

     Research in the neurosciences in recent years has continued to shed new light on a person’s brain chemistry and how neurotransmission impacts a person’s sense of well being as well as behavior.  There have been numerous studies conducted on certain neurotransmitters of well being such as serotonin, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), dopamine, and others to suggest the necessity of these neurotransmitters for the person to function at an optimal level.  This is where the explosion of new prescription drugs has come on to the market to solve the ills of the world.  Needless to say, pharmaceutical companies have long since been proponents of this neurobiological research due to the ability to develop newer and more efficient drugs to attempt to balance a person’s neurochemistry.  An important aspect that has evolved over the years, however, is the recognition of, not only the importance of a person’s neurobiological chemistry to be in balance for a sense of well-being, but also the fact that a person’s biochemical makeup can be extremely delicate and subject to a whole host of outside influences such as stress, medical conditions, nutrition, and behavior that can throw a person’s neurochemistry off creating a variety of symptoms.  As a result, there continues to be a growing movement toward alternative methods of treatment to address brain chemistry issues such as acupuncture, nutrition, or chiropractic intervention to intervene and/or to enhance a person’s brain chemistry.

Regardless of whether you are a proponent of Prozac or a devotee to acupuncture, the important point to emphasize is that a person’s neurochemistry plays an important role in a person’s sense of well-being and contentment. Furthermore, the imbalance of neurotransmission in the brain can interfere with that person’s overall level of functioning and well-being.

Coping

    Coping with everyday life situations is another area which is an important influence on a person’s ability to achieve a sense of well-being.  A person needs to feel a sense of satisfaction about how they handle given situations that confront them whether if it is with themselves or with others.  However, in order to do this effectively, a person needs to have a repertoire of coping mechanisms to choose from.  All too often, a person doesn’t develop or change the necessary coping skills needed to deal with life situations.  An interesting point to make, here, is that the human species, which is supposed to be at the top of the so-called food chain of life, is the only species that will continue to do the exact same behaviors to problem solve a situation despite the fact that these problem-solving behaviors may have repeatedly failed in the past.  For a variety of reasons, it appears that change is often difficult for a person to make. In order to effectively cope with a situation, it is of vital importance for a person to maintain a degree of flexibility, adaptation, and a willingness to change regarding any given situation.

In a sense, a person’s self-esteem can be viewed as being borne in a series of “failures.”  Once a person makes a decision to do something, it is usually followed by a series of behaviors or actions. Often times these initial behaviors and actions are not going to be a success since doing something for the first time often leads to a number of miscues or possiblefailures.” However, if a person is willing to persist at following through with these behaviors and actions or be willing to try something different in an attempt to reach their goal, there is a greater likelihood the person will develop a sense of competence in that area. Once that person achieves that level of competence, a person’s self-esteem will increase.  Once a person’s self-esteem has increased, the easier it becomes for that person to make decisions and take action in other areas of life and the cycle begins all over again.

The important part of coping is that both coping mechanisms and skills need to be constantly reviewed and refined by a person.  There is no guarantee that a particular coping skill or mechanism is going to work in all situations.  As a person begins to adapt to the various complexities of life, the greater the need for a more complete range of coping skills to maintain that sense of well-being.

The Systemic Relationship of Neurobiology, Stress, and Coping

    In considering these various influences on a person’s mental health and well-being, it is vital to understand the interrelationship that exists between them.  One must comprehend that all three of these influences are constantly impacting one’s functioning and a person cannot focus on one of these areas without taking into consideration the ramifications it will have on the other areas.  There is a cyclical force that each area has on the other areas and vice versa.  For instance, if a person is experiencing an inordinate amount of stress, whether it is “good stress” or “bad stress,” the neurochemistry of the brain is going to be impacted.  If the neurochemistry of the brain is affected, there is a greater likelihood that this imbalance is going to affect the neurotransmission which can result in symptomatic behaviors such as panic, anxiety, depression, or other symptomatic behavior.  As a result of the symptomatic behavior the person may be experiencing, the person’s coping mechanism and problem-solving abilities are probably going to be compromised at least to some degree.  If the person is unable to cope with a given situation in an effective manner, there is the potential of the stress level increasing again. As a result, there is a cyclical process of impact.

Balance and Well-Being

    It appears that a key factor for a person maintaining mental health and a sense of well-being is the ability to monitor and balance the areas of neurobiology, stress, and coping.  The challenge, however, that confronts a person is the ability to maintain this balance on an on-going basis.  One of the difficulties stems from the fact that it is not always clear as to what a person needs to attend to at any given time.  For instance, let’s say that a person’s depression may simply be stemming from their genetic make-up.  If this is the case, it would probably be more prudent for that person to be prescribed the appropriate anti-depressant medication to correct the neurobiological issue as opposed to getting involved in therapy or attempting to reduce stress.  Although the latter two methods can be extremely effective in the long run, the more effective and efficient intervention may be from a pharmacological approach.

On the other hand, let’s say a person is depressed as a result of a great deal of existing stress that is occurring in their life, let’s say from being fired from their job,  or the person has limited coping skills to deal with real-life traumas like the death of a loved one.  In this scenario, a pharmacological intervention may be of little value, since the depression may be more a product of “normal” life situations that would be better addressed through support and the development of better and more appropriate coping skills for that given situation.  In these situations, yoga, meditation, and exercise may be extremely efficient in addressing stressful situations whereas psychotherapy can be effective in developing better coping skills.  In many instances, it is not necessarily the fact that a person’s anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication is not working, the fact of the matter is that the person’s life is still a mess and they need to begin to put it in order.  Unless the person is able to address these matters, the likelihood of a person responding effectively to a pharmacological intervention is going to be minimal.It is safe to say that one’s mental health and sense of well-being is not a given in anyone’s life.  Just because a person has a positive outlook on life, doesn’t mean that their genetic make-up couldn’t play a factor in that person’s level of functioning.  Or, the person who has savvy coping skills in dealing with incredible amounts of stress, doesn’t mean that the accumulative effects of those stressors will not take a physiological toll on that person via heart disease or cancer.

Maintaining mental health and well-being needs to be worked at on an on-going basis, not too different than an athlete needs to train to maintain peak performance.  In the arena of mental health and well-being, a person needs to monitor and train how they are performing in the areas of neurobiology, stress reduction, and the development of more effective and positive coping skills.  The ability of a person to attend to these areas through the use of yoga, nutrition, exercise, diet, meditation, stress reduction techniques, psychotherapy, hypnosis, just to name a few approaches, the greater likelihood the person will maintain that sense of well-being.  A question that a person needs to ask themselves is what is it they are doing to ensure the balance of these three key areas of their life.

For over 25 year, Thomas G. Beley, PhD, LCSW has worked in the field of addictions and mental health. Over these two-and-a-half decades of helping people who struggle with mental health and substance use disorders, he has proven to be an expert clinician and innovative and compassionate leader. Palm Healthcare Company is proud to have an executive team with experience and incredible commitment to helping others. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.

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