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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Burnout — Is Stress Affecting My Health?

2020 might be remembered as the Year of Stress. Pandemic fatigue, COVID-19 stress, and other issues with mental health have increased throughout the year, but there may be a silver lining: less stigma around therapy and tighter communities.

Stress is the body’s natural fight-or-flight response. It’s necessary for our survival, but when it’s triggered constantly, it can develop into any number of mental health disorders. 2020 has been ripe with stressors that cause anxiety, grief, and trauma. 

2020 Stress

As we wrap up the year, let’s evaluate: How has stress affected our mental health?


For many, the pandemic began with anxiety—we didn’t know much about the incoming coronavirus, and many of us were afraid of what could happen to us, to our family, to our way of life.

As the year went on, the pressures of the election, social unrest, and the unpredictability and fear of COVID only amplified feelings of anxiety. Anxiety might even continue at its peak as we near the holidays, with the pressures of gift-giving and family gatherings.

This constant worry is a source of stress, which can strain mental health, especially if you were already prone to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety or depression.


In 2020, people will experience grief and loss in ways we haven’t seen for a long time. And the grief isn’t just for those we have lost—that grief can already be unbearable—but also the loss of jobs, special events, travel plans, and routines. Each time people encounter aspects of their lives that have changed due to the pandemic, this triggers a sense of grief that builds on the 2020 stress.


Anxiety and loss develop into stress. But other situations arising from the pandemic can also cause stress, like watching others who don’t follow COVID restrictions. Observing family and friends acting in an unsafe manner can evoke particular stress if you are an essential worker doing all you can to protect your loved ones from the virus.

Furthermore, if you’re a parent or a student, online school is likely to cause stress and lead to burnout. Parents have to deal with their own workload and fulfill the role teachers once filled when checking on their students. Students have lost the socialization that they got from school and the positive attention they received in person from teachers. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness understandably settle in.


Many people are experiencing constant trauma during 2020 and aren’t even aware of it. The body internalizes chronic stress, and the result is that we are stuck on high alert. Symptoms of trauma can include emotional numbness, persistent avoidance of reminders of the trauma, difficulty sleeping and concentrating and feeling jumpy and irritable.

Effects of Stress

Stress itself isn’t an issue, but over time it creates a buildup of cortisol in the brain, which can have long-term effects on your health. When you experience chronic stress, your body produces more cortisol than it can release. High levels of cortisol in your brain can wear down its ability to function properly. This can lead to less socialization, loss of brain cells, and a shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for memory and learning. However, chronic stress might increase the size of the amygdala, making the brain more receptive to stress, creating a feedback loop.

Stress can also lead to effects on your body. Increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure are a few common effects of chronic stress. Stress can also affect other parts of your body, like your reproductive and digestive systems, while also damaging your immune system and worsening any illnesses you may already have. 

Silver Lining

Although we have lived through an especially difficult moment, 2020 has taught us some important lessons.

We have learned how to maintain connections with loved ones. Having honest conversations is necessary for our mental health, and we have learned how to have them, even if it’s through the phone.

Many people have begun to consider therapy to improve their well-being. Those with financial and social means have been more likely to reach out for help and work on themselves, which is overall a good thing. Hopefully, this will lead to less stigma surrounding therapy.

Onward, 2021

It’s important to look toward the future with optimism. If you’re feeling stressed about the pandemic, job loss, or any other issue, and you’re worried that it might contribute to your relapse, The Haven at Pismo is here to help. We provide individualized therapy and aftercare support that reaches to the core of your needs and develops your strengths to help you manage the stresses of 2020, 2021, and beyond. 

Connect with us today to learn how we can help you on your recovery journey.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Surviving the Holidays: Pandemic Edition

Planning for the holidays can be a stressful time with figuring out which friends or family you will go see if you are hosting, and when you will travel.

Now the Coronavirus has turned up the dial on these concerns and added its own problems along with it.

Changing Traditions

Affectionately held traditions may not be happening, in the same way, this year, and you are possibly wondering how to navigate this holiday season with both safety and celebration in mind. Understandably, you want to be able to be in the spirit of the season, but there might be a few things you want to consider before your holiday gathering. 

Ways to Make Connecting Over the Holidays Safer

  • Go Virtual. Though this has been the answer to many COVID concerns, it continues to be a good option over the holidays. This could allow you to expand your circle of people who you include to those who normally aren’t a part of your tradition.
  • Get Creative. Swap family recipes to enjoy your favorite dishes. Mail goodies or gifts to one another. Plan a group activity to watch a movie or a sporting event at the same time to enjoy time together in a different way.
  • Be Outside. If you are doing events in person, it is suggested to be outside if the weather permits. There could be a new holiday tradition of taking a walk together to look at decorations or have a distanced event in the backyard.
  • Follow the Guidelines. The CDC has given a wonderful guide for the holidays to consider keeping the season safe. Remember the basics of hand washing, wearing a mask, and keeping a distance if you are having any gatherings.

Set Expectations

It is important to remember that each person’s view of “safe” for the holidays could be very different. Conversations with family members about what the plans are this year are crucial to help this season go smoothly.

Before talking with family, it may be helpful to consider the level of risk you are comfortable taking. If your boundary is to celebrate in-person with the members of your household exclusively, make that clear from the beginning and have some suggestions prepared on how to connect in other ways. Some may feel strongly to keep the traditions the same but remind yourself that you do not need to give in to peer pressure.

Along with this, consider those other people may not feel comfortable with your plans. Maybe you designed an outdoor celebration with masking and someone you invited does not want to participate in person. Respect the decisions of others and do not take these actions as personal but as a measure of safety. Consider making portions of events virtual to include all parties. 

Loneliness, Grief, and Cravings

The holidays were a challenging time for many people pre-pandemic. It can be a reminder of the loss of loved ones and a time that most do not want to be alone. People may be grieving the loss of travel plans or their hopes for this past year, and this season there are families experiencing their first year without someone.

Loneliness and grief can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or even suicidal thoughts. When experiencing these difficult feelings people can fall back to old coping mechanisms that are threatening to sobriety.

Don’t be surprised if you are feeling more triggered to drink or use drugs, as this is quite normal. What’s essential is recognizing that risk and caring for yourself.

Tips For Staying Sober Over the Holidays

  1. Set-Up Support: Make sure you are not keeping difficult emotions only to yourself. Call a loved one and let them know how you are feeling and take time to connect. There have also been virtual AA and NA meetings to provide a space to share struggles. You are not alone in this experience.
  2. Find Meaningful Activities: Take time to do the things that are special for you. Do you have a favorite cookie recipe or a movie you always watched with your family? Do the things that matter to you for the season or just in general. Taking this time will help build peace.
  3. HALT: If you are considering thinking about HALT (are you hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?). If you, then make a plan to address that need. Such as taking a nap, calling a friend, getting take-out, or going for a walk. Listening to your needs will help you feel more centered.
  4. Seek Help: Therapy is an option every step of the way to learn new tools, brainstorm ideas, and be a space to share. There is no wrong time to ask for help.
If you are needing support to deal with the emotional toll of the holidays this season - The Haven is here to help. Reach out today to talk about how we can support you or your loved ones.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Six Foundations of Recovery

At The Haven, we believe that recovery rests on six important foundations: motivation, coping with cravings, managing emotions, nurturing relationships, lifestyle balance, and finding purpose in life. Each is integral to the recovery process, so read below to learn more about what comprises a successful recovery.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

What You Need To Know Before Detox

Detox is often a person’s first step into their recovery journey. Cleansing the physical body of drugs and other toxins is a crucial step towards true healing. In fact, little progress can be made until the process of detox has done its work. Without first stabilizing things physically, we cannot truly be ready to do the work required of us in recovery.

Many recognize this as the turning point in their lives and know that things will not go back to the way they were before, and it’s true, the process of recovery does involve significant change. Unfortunately, many people allow their fear of change to lead them to hit “rock bottom” before they consider going to detox.

Others fear entering this first big step of their healing process due to being unsure of what it will entail, and what it means for them to begin this “recovery journey”. However, armed with accurate information, they may be more able and likely to take the needed steps towards recovery. 

Who Needs Detox?

Not everyone who uses substances in a problematic way will need a detox. More than anything, the necessity of detox is determined by the body’s physical reliance on alcohol or other substances, marked by tolerance and dependence.

Tolerance refers to the need to take more of a substance in order to achieve the same effect. While this demonstrates that the body has grown accustomed to the presence of the substance in the system, it is not always enough to warrant detoxification.

Dependence in this case means that the body has adapted to having a persistently elevated level of the substance present. When we ingest substances, they release particular neurotransmitters that mimic the processes of the brain’s reward center. Over time, the body adjusts its own production to account for the increase in externally-fueled neurotransmitters.

This results in a need to take the drug to feel as if we are functioning normally. When we stop taking the drug, we will face instant withdrawal symptoms, both mental and physical, that are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

This is the benefit of a medically-supervised detox, where we are able to cleanse our bodies and reset from the effects of the drugs on our system. 

Drug Detox Must Be Completed Before Rehab

Many treatment and rehab centers require guests to complete the detox process before being admitted to their program. To truly benefit from treatment, to gain insight, and be able to focus on the emotional and psychological parts of overcoming addiction, we must not continue to be under the influence of the substance.

Both for your own sake and the others in the program, it is helpful when you are able to think clearly and have goals that are aligned with the goals of recovery rather than continuing in any drug-seeking behaviors and mindset. This can also be very triggering for other individuals if someone has not completely detoxed before entering the treatment facility. 

Should be Under the Care of Medical Professionals

Although it is possible to detox on your own, it is not recommended. The process can be very uncomfortable and painful even, but when you’re medically supervised, the health professionals responsible for your care will do their best to keep you comfortable.

During withdrawal, several complications can arise depending on the substance and the severity of physical addiction. This fact alone should have you convinced of the importance of seeking medical attention, along with your specific physical and mental health considerations.

Intense cravings and discomfort from the withdrawal process may weaken your resolve to quit and put you at risk of relapse, just as your recovery journey is starting out. But, detoxing with medical professionals can help you manage and treat symptoms. 

The Process Can be Uncomfortable

The process of withdrawal is often accompanied by several symptoms:
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea, stomach upset, and gastrointestinal distress
  • Appetite changes
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Depression and hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Disorientation
  • Strong cravings
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Duration of Detox Can Vary

There is no set time frame for detox, and it is highly dependent upon a number of individual factors. For some, it may take weeks to clear the body completely from the drug. While it may be frustrating to not have a clear idea going in how long you will be detoxing, you can feel assured that they are very much taking your individual needs into account.

These factors include:
  • The drug of abuse
  • Potential poly-substance abuse
  • Typical rate, dose, and duration of use
  • Goals of the patient
  • Previous treatment attempts
  • Co-occurring health conditions

First Phase Of Recovery

Detox is just the first phase of treatment. Many people believe that detox is all they need, but in order to break the cycle of drug addiction, rehab and treatment should follow. It is important to try and move from detox right into a treatment facility to limit the chance of relapse.

One of the most beneficial things about detox at The Haven is the comprehensive treatment options that will allow you to move from detox at The Pines to phase one treatment, and on to phase two as you work through the program. 

At The Haven, there is no fear of not knowing what comes next, as our case managers will work with you to map out your journey through recovery at The Haven and beyond. Contact us today!

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

4 More Reasons Online IOP is Better

Despite many of our society’s growing concerns with technology, this year especially, we have come to rely on our devices to connect us with others and serve an even greater role in our lives.

In truth, we may have surprised ourselves this year in our ability to battle with our technology and come out victorious. Many of us have likely had the experience of trying to sort out connectivity issues, learning how to set up a zoom call, or even to make the printer succumb to our will. 

Last month, we reviewed the newcomer on yet another technological frontier: Virtual IOP for addiction treatment.

We explored many of the benefits of a Virtual IOP program that is related to the length and frequency of meetings. Participants meet via zoom for 9-12 hours of therapy a week, be it an individual, group, or family sessions. This program framework allows for greater flexibility for participants, while still providing the needed structure and access to treatment providers during their crucial transition back to the community.

Today, we’ll take an even closer look at the benefits when treatment of this nature is delivered online.

You Can Stay Home

The best thing about a virtual IOP program is that you can participate right from the comfort of your own home. While we may be familiar with this phrase, and the “comforts of home,” let’s take a minute to unpack what that really means.

When you are at home in your own environment, the first benefit is that you know you will be comfortable. You have the option to choose where you’ll sit, where you’ll participate, and have the benefit of being within reach of your favorite blanket, a sweatshirt if it’s cold, and an environment, in general, that is particularly soothing to you.

When you’re in your own home and are not directly face-to-face with the others in your group you may feel more comfortable sharing when you are aided by the physical distance between you. You can also feel assured that there will be greater privacy and that you are not going to be seen walking into the treatment center.

Of course, there are many other intangible benefits of participating in recovery from home that plays out in the day-to-day activities of life as well as through the general idea that learning is better stored and recalled based on location. This means that you may be more able to access and implement what is discussed in session back into your everyday life when objects and places around your home serve as treatment reminders.

You Are Demonstrating Commitment to Your Recovery

Another important factor is that taking part in an IOP program that requires multiple hours of your time and attention a couple of times each week requires a certain level of commitment. In this case, your actions demonstrate your commitment. Because the brain has difficulty holding two opposing ideas at once, this sends an implicit message to your subconscious that you value the work that you are doing. In fact, this often leads to greater patient responsibility than for someone who is only engaged in treatment for one hour each week.

You Are Saving Time and Money

When compared to higher levels of care, like residential and partial hospitalization, IOP treatment is a lower-cost option, while still providing the structure and support needed for those who need it.

Virtual treatment also opens the door to those who cannot easily access standard treatment. It may be that you do not have a car or there is no reliable public transportation system available to you. Or, you may live in a rural area where quality treatment is not accessible.

Without having to drive across town, grabbing a meal in between sessions is as easy as taking a walk to the fridge. That said, you’re also saving money on your commute and have more time back in your day to invest in things that support your recovery lifestyle.

You Are Setting Yourself Up for Long-term Success

Through virtual treatment, you will become better accustomed to receiving support in a virtual environment and more prepared for today’s technological world.

In addition, because this is a more structured program and there are opportunities for both group and individual sessions, you have more opportunities to connect with others in the recovery community and establish relationships that will outlive your time in treatment. These relationships are also key to keeping you engaged and committed to the entirety of the treatment process. This, in turn, has shown to lead to better recovery outcomes.

Virtual IOP at The Haven

The Haven’s Virtual IOP program may be right for you if you have successfully completed a higher level of care, or if you’re looking for more support than what a traditional outpatient therapist may provide. You can take part in our program right from the comfort of your home and may be able to find all the support that you need, delivered right in your living room. 

Speak with one of our admissions representatives to learn more about if IOP is the next right step for you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Video Games and Addiction

When you think of video games, depending on your age, the image of yourself as a child innocently playing Mario kart may pop into your head. Or you may think of the latest Fortnite dance your nephew showed you, or of the new game your granddaughter is begging to have you get her for Christmas. 

However, these days, many video games do not have the same innocent appeal. Rather, they are being targeted for adults with mature content. Over the last two decades, there has been an increase in violence and drugs featured in video games. Many of these new games have adult themes of sex, violence, and drugs. 

Though it may feel as though these games are harmless, the content of these games shapes our perspective of substance abuse and can contribute to both the stigma surrounding those who use substances and the later experimentation of those who play them. Too much screen time devoted to these games can also affect our behavior, thoughts, and emotions in a way that will also make us more susceptible to substance abuse. 

The Role Drugs Play In Video Games 

Through evaluating the current most popular games, interesting trends have revealed that many video games feature both fictional and real drugs such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, LSD, magic mushrooms, and painkillers. Even just this exposure and normalization can affect our perception and attitudes towards substances.

Many games take it one step further and incorporate drugs directly into the gameplay. Players learn to use them for a couple specific purposes: as a power-up, a specific health power-up, or as a tool to disorient the game player. In some games, you may find that when you eat a mushroom, you gain energy and strength, or in others, you may be subject to vibrant hallucinations after finding and injecting the sought-after substance. Some games such as grand theft auto glamourize drug use and dedicate the game’s storyline towards building cocaine, heroin, and marijuana-dealing empires.

Some games seek to incorporate a more realistic and informed portrayal of substance use by giving players short-term rewards at the expense of long-term consequences. Others also seek an honest portrayal of drug use by manipulating gameplay to demonstrate the concept of physical dependence as in the Bioshock series.  Aptly named, one particular video game, Narc, gives players points for killing drug deals and references several illegal substances.

This wide array of drug use in popular video games can lead to muddled and confusing messaging about substance use as a whole. Teens who identify with their game character may find themselves more easily tempted and more willing to experiment with substances when offered the opportunity. They may not be fully prepared to handle the risks associated with drug use when in real life, they find they are playing without the guarantee of unlimited lives. 

Continued exposure to violence and risky behaviors such as substance abuse will soon impact their beliefs about these behaviors. This is especially true for teens drawn to mature-rated games. The themes in these video games are psychologically powerful and may lead to unhealthy beliefs about drugs and addiction, and may impact their brain development in these formative years.

How Video Games Contribute to Substance Abuse 

If we’re looking to understand the impact of video games on those who struggle with addiction, it’s important to look beyond the content of the games that they’re playing. 

When people expose themselves to too much screen time or video games, they may lose out on developing other areas of their life that builds their resilience and contributes towards positive well-being. Gaming, even online with others, often gives people a false sense of connection and belonging which can contribute to the development of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Video game use can become problematic in our lives when it comes at the expense of our other responsibilities and relationships or when it becomes our only coping skill to “get lost” within the world of our video game. It’s at this point that we might consider our gaming to be a “behavioral addiction” as it reflects many of the characteristics of substance addiction.

The link between the self-reinforcing behaviors found in video game addiction and substance abuse is thought to be a primary contributor to developing addictive patterns. 

When playing video games, certain brain pathways are impacted, including the dopamine or “reward” circuits of the brain. This same system is lit up when someone engages in other self-rewarding behaviors, including drug use. For this reason, gaming and substance abuse can exacerbate each other. 

This means that those who suffer from a video game addiction are also more likely to use substances. Research confirms this link between gaming disorders and substance abuse as well as between other co-occurring disorders like depression and anxiety.  

Some gamers will use substances while playing video games, both as a means to relax or out of habit. They may also use different stimulant drugs to help improve their performance or help them stay up all night to finish the campaign. This combination of gaming and the use of drugs can make these individuals much more susceptible to drug addiction.

Addiction Recovery at The Haven at Pismo

While at The Haven, our focus is not on treating behavioral addictions like video game addiction, the truth is that many of these underlying patterns are the same. At the Haven, we teach our guests a new way of living life, of breaking these cycles of substance addiction and being intentional about both the way they spend their time, and what they allow to influence them. 

If you or someone you love is stuck in a cycle of addiction, reach out to us today to learn about how we can help!


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Your Physical Health Can't Afford Another Drink

Just one drink should be fine, right?

At one point or another, we all may be guilty of typing “Is alcohol healthy?” into the search bar. With fingers crossed, we hope to find some justification for our use.

For those of us in recovery, we wonder something similar, “can’t I have a healthy relationship with drinking?” and “will one drink really be so bad?”

As Mary’s story reminds us, for those in recovery, there is no “off” switch. Once we start drinking, it really feels almost impossible to stop. It is one of the most cunning tactics of addiction to convince you otherwise.

The truth is, alcohol impacts your body from the moment you take the first sip. Although an occasional glass of wine or beer when balanced with an otherwise healthy lifestyle will not have a lasting impact, for many in recovery there truly is no “just one drink”. In fact, the cumulative effect of drinking can take a serious toll. Over time, there are some serious consequences on your brain and body

How Drinking Affects the Body

The body has to work hard to remove alcohol from the system. When you drink more than the body can process, you will feel intoxicated as the alcohol builds up in the bloodstream and distributes throughout the body. Over time, this build-up of alcohol affects not only the digestive system but can also cause permanent damage to the body's other vital systems. 

Digestive System

Damages in the digestive tract are often not apparent until it is too late. In addition to the well-known effects of alcohol on the liver, excessive drinking can also cause inflammation of the stomach and pancreas and may be a risk factor for several types of cancer, including mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.

Once ingested, alcohol is converted to acetaldehyde and damages the mouth, throat, and esophagus cell tissue as it metabolizes on its way through the system. As your body prioritizes eliminating the alcohol from your system, it increases the rate of the digestive process. This prevents your intestines from fully processing food and absorbing vitamins and nutrients, also leading to gassiness, bloating, diarrhea, or painful stools. The digestive system, in general, becomes more prone to ulcers, hemorrhoids, and even internal bleeding. 

Central Nervous System

A primary effect of alcohol is its ability to alter the communication between the brain and body. In the moment of intoxication, slurred speech, difficulty balancing, and lack of coordination are the first signs that you have had too much to drink.

Over time, the impact on the brain's frontal lobes affects your ability to form long-term and short-term memories. It also negatively affects your ability to think rationally and to make appropriate choices. This area is also associated with emotional control, judgment, and other vital roles of executive functioning.

Chronic and severe alcohol abuse can also cause permanent brain damage and a brain disorder called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is a neurological disorder that can also be described as alcohol-induced dementia. 

Immune System

Your immune system serves a vital function in fighting off germs, viruses, and other illnesses in the body. The primary effect of alcohol on the immune system is in slowing down the white blood cells, rendering them less efficient and less effective at fighting off bacteria. This makes you more susceptible to illnesses, including pneumonia, among others. 

Circulatory System

Heavy drinkers are at greater risk of heart-related issues than people who do not drink.

Common symptoms include:
    • Irregular heartbeat
    • High blood pressure
    • Anemia
    • Fatigue
    • Difficulty moving blood through the body
    • Heart attack
    • Stroke
    • Heart Disease
    • Heart Failure

Reproductive and Sexual Health

Although our classic understanding of alcohol may lead us to believe that it will help lower inhibitions and make it easier to have fun in the bedroom, the reality is often very different. Men who have too much to drink often experience erectile dysfunction. Excessive alcohol use can also lower sex hormones, which in turn lowers the libido.

For women, drinking too much may cause them to stop menstruating, affecting fertility. Heavy drinking during pregnancy puts one at high risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, and stillbirth. Also, children born who are exposed to alcohol in utero are at risk of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FASD). 

Skeletal System

Long-term alcohol use can affect your bones by reducing their strength. Thinner bones can put you at risk of fractures if you fall. It can also lead to muscle weakness, cramping, and eventually atrophy.

Overcome Alcohol Addiction at The Haven

Reviewing the consequences of heavy drinking is not intended to cause you more shame, but to make you more aware of the damage alcohol can cause your body. Learning to take care of yourself and to nourish yourself is part of your healing journey.

Often the damage that alcohol causes to the body is not felt until it is too late. However, it is never too late though to get help. Remember, although alcohol can create damage, we are resilient and able to heal. We are also capable of making different choices now that will help protect our future selves from the physical consequences of our drinking.

If you or someone you love are looking to overcome an addiction to alcohol, reach out to us today to learn about our treatment programs, and our virtual IOP that you can take part in right from the comfort of your own home!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Beginners Guide to the 12 Steps

We have all heard about Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-step groups, and understand it to be a community-based self-serve treatment for overcoming an addiction to alcohol and other drugs. For many years, these groups formed the backbone of treatment in this country for alcoholism, and thus, still in operation today, their wisdom has certainly spanned the test of time.

However, many of us have certain ideas about what 12-step groups look like, some that are rooted in truth, and others that do more harm than good to continue to believe. 

So, what are the 12 steps? Are they full of hundred-year-old wisdom? Or a sign that addiction treatment is out-of-date and could use its own recovery?

History of 12 Step Groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) founders Bill Wilson and Bob Smith originally created the 12 Steps to demonstrate how they and hundreds of others obtained sobriety. The 12 steps and their counterpart, the twelve traditions are read at each community meeting and offer an outline of the emotional steps involved in the recovery process.

Since then, variations of the 12 Steps have been developed and incorporated in many other groups and programs including Narcotics Anonymous, Eating Disorders Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, etc. Again, due to its success, many substance use facilities also incorporate the 12 steps into their treatment program

What are the 12 Steps?

The 12 Steps, as written in the Alcoholics Anonymous text include:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

How do the 12 steps work?

Traditionally in Alcoholics Anonymous, someone seeking sobriety works through the steps with a sponsor. In the program, you’ll want to align yourself with a sponsor who regularly attends AA, is sober, has gone through all of the steps themselves, and ultimately lives the type of life you desire for yourself.

A sponsor guides the individual seeking sobriety, also known as their sponsee, through the steps. This often includes daily phone calls, meeting individually, and going to AA meetings together. The sponsor can share from personal experience about the challenges and rewards of recovery, as well as provide individualized instructions and guidance for each step.

The twelve steps are unique to each individual and can be tailored to what a person needs. This also means there is no set time limit or expectation to work through them. You could finish all of the steps in a matter of months, or spend years on one of the steps. You may need to go through the steps multiple times or start over if there is a lapse.

It is important to note that the 12 Steps are not the only way to recover, but have been a life-changing process for many individuals. Ultimately, it can be a great way to get plugged into the recovery community and fill your time once leaving a more intensive treatment environment.

How do the 12 steps help?

12 Step programs not only provide guidance on how to heal from addiction but also provide a support network of individuals who are also in various stages of healing.

Those struggling with addiction often describe a void in their life —or a hole in the soul—that existed long before the addiction started. This emptiness can lead them towards using alcohol or drugs in an effort to fill that void, but ultimately lose control of their life. The 12 steps offer another solution to fill this void: a connection to a higher power, inner peace, and meaningful relationships with others to establish a successful life in recovery.

Addiction can be incredibly isolating, and the connection within the fellowship of AA and 12 Step programs provides guidance and encouragement. The 12 steps require one to accept responsibility, make amends, and give to others. This fosters healthier and healed relationships and a community of individuals dedicated to recovery.

The 12 steps pave the way for individuals to recognize and build connections to others and their higher power, and to trust their higher power in guiding them towards recovery and hope.

Twelve Step Programs and The Haven

12 Step programs are not just about cutting alcohol or drugs out of your life but to change the way in which you see the world, and develop a new lifestyle. As these goals are perfectly aligned with our philosophy of treatment at The Haven, we encourage our guests to develop a schedule of mutual recovery support groups according to their preferences.

Recovery requires a life of humility, honesty, and integrity. This takes practice and is often a new way of thinking and living. If you have any concerns about your or a loved ones drinking or drug use, reach out to an intake coordinator to determine the resources available to you and to learn about treatment options.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The Effects of Addiction on Your Body

In addition to affecting the quality of our relationships, emotional processing, moods, judgment, learning, decision making, and memory, addiction has a hugely detrimental effect on our bodies. 

Whether it’s dealing with a hangover after a night out, or the drowsiness that accompanies pain medication, it’s clear on the most basic level that using alcohol and other drugs takes a physical toll on our bodies. Even when taken as prescribed, there is no substance without consequence. This is true not just in the short-term, but also over time with long-term use. 

Different drugs have different effects on the body, some more damaging than others. As we can see with the opioid crisis many people are overdosing due to a complete shutdown of the body. Our bodies can only handle so much before they eventually give up. Understanding the impact of drugs on our body can help us to manage this risk and hopefully protect ourselves from long term harm.

Addiction in the Body 

There are several short-term and long-term effects of drugs on the body. These effects depend on the type of drugs, how the drugs are used, how much is taken, how long the drug is used and the person's health, and additional factors.

Over time drugs can harm the vital systems in the body that can result in health issues such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, liver function, mental health disorders, infectious diseases, and even death. We are not made to consume so many substances that are often toxic to us.

Brain Changes

Introducing drugs into the body impacts the way the brain’s neurons send, receive, and process signals via their neurotransmitters. Some drugs mimic the brain's own chemical processes by attaching to and stimulating particular neurons—such as those involved in the brain’s dopamine or “reward” circuit— but they do not do so in the same way our body would naturally. 

This unnatural activation can result in abnormal messages being sent through the system, and ultimately the brain’s confusion about whether or not to continue producing those neurotransmitters naturally. This results in impaired cognitive functions, impaired memory and learning, and changes in brain connections, and brain cell death.

Cardiovascular system

Most substances create some sort of negative effect on the heart, ranging from increased heart rate to full-on heart attacks.

Stimulants in particular, such as cocaine or amphetamines are very hard on the heart. This includes an increased risk of stroke, inflammation of the heart muscle, as well as deterioration of the ability of the heart to contract, and aortic ruptures. Long term stimulant use can cause heart disease and failure. Intravenous heroin or opioid use over time can also result in the veins collapsing which can lead to an infection in the blood vessels of the heart.

Kidney Damage

Each substance you ingest passes through your kidneys. Many of the damage the kidneys and contribute to kidney failure which can be life-threatening. Some other specific concerns include dehydration, dangerous increases in body temperature, and muscle breakdown.

Liver Damage

Many drugs also affect the way the liver functions and can cause damage to this important member of our exocrine system whose main role is to help filter out toxins. Symptoms of liver harm do often not show until there has been serious damage. Often the damage is more severe when drugs are combined with alcohol. In some cases, one’s liver will eventually give out liver failure which can be life-threatening.


Over time drugs can cause damage to the stomach and intestinal lining. This often results in increased vulnerability to serious concerns like ulcers, gangrene, or internal hemorrhaging. Even casual users will likely experience dehydration from a combination of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which also indicates a weakened immune system. 

Physical Recovery from Substances

While drugs can trigger lasting changes in the brain and body, there is still hope. Neuroplasticity makes it possible for the brain to recover and adapt to functioning without the presence of drugs in your system. This process begins with detox and is built upon a foundation of developing healthy practices. 

The Pines Detox Program at The Haven

The goal of The Pines detox residence is to stabilize your physical health, cleanse your body of toxins, and lay the groundwork for long-term sobriety success. The road ahead of you will no doubt be difficult, but supervised detox provides the support, resources, and camaraderie you need to pursue a motivated, fruitful recovery.

As you rid your body of addiction-related substances, you may experience side effects that require holistic or pharmaceutical intervention. Trust our team to safeguard your health, manage withdrawal symptoms, and provide compassionate care when you are at your most vulnerable.  Staffed by a trained team who sets you at ease and provides round-the-clock assistance, our detox program cleanses your mind and body and prepares you for the committed pursuit of sobriety. 

Reach out to us today to begin your recovery process.  Call now: 805.202.3440.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Benefits of Virtual IOP in Addiction Treatment

In the last ten years, we’ve seen a massive shift in our world towards the virtual. In this last year alone, this process was accelerated, and our lives have turned online in more ways than any of us might have imagined. Out of necessity, technology has become the platform where we work, play, learn, exercise, and socialize.

Technology for Recovery

As our solution for safety during this pandemic, for many, technology has risen to become our sole source of entertainment, only means of connecting with others that live outside our home, and for those in recovery, it has become our lifeline. 

In the past, treatment was limited by what could be accomplished within the four walls of the program, whether you had to drive across town or fly across the country to access its specialized care.

Today, there exist many creative ways to receive the support that you need, no matter where you are on the recovery journey

Virtual IOP

Where online 12-step and alternative meetings have been increasing in popularity over the years, and traditional outpatient therapy has been moving in a similar direction, the most apparent newcomer on the virtual scene is Intensive Outpatient (IOP) treatment offered online.

Intensive outpatient treatment exists on the continuum of addiction treatment services as the middle ground between live-in residential treatment and traditional once or twice-weekly outpatient therapy. Typically this means anywhere from 9-12 hours of “programming” a week, including group, individual, and family sessions. 

3 Benefits of Virtual Intensive Outpatient Treatment

There are many benefits to providing treatment in this format, and with the added ability to access services online, (and insurance providers agreeing to cover services) it has never been easier to get the help that you need. 

Some important things to consider:

  1. IOP Gives You the Structure You Need

In addiction treatment, IOP works best for those who have successfully completed a higher level of care and are transitioning back to their family environment, or for those who require more structure than what traditional outpatient can provide. 

Although it may sound idyllic to graduate from a residential or PHP program and move directly to once or twice-weekly sessions, it’s important to be realistic about the support and structure that you may actually need at this vulnerable stage in your recovery. 

While you may have been able to be successful in higher levels of treatment, it’s important to consider the supports you had in place to make that possible, and the isolated nature of a live-in program, away from many of your specific triggers. 

Returning to your family and community environment comes with many challenges, however, they can be successfully navigated when you have the right support system set up. 

  1. IOP is Flexible and Accessible

Even in-person IOP is praised for its ability to offer flexibility for those who need to continue to meet the demands of work, school, or other responsibilities. Similarly, virtual IOP follows in the same suit. 

With programming offered at convenient hours, and without having to travel across town, while in an IOP program, you are still able to maintain everyday routines and responsibilities that support your recovery in the long term. 

  1. IOP Offers Real-World Opportunities to Practice Skills

One of the greatest benefits of intensive outpatient treatment (in contrast with residential treatment) are the real-world opportunities to apply the skills learned in the program and to have timely feedback from clinicians. 

The best example of this is when you feel especially triggered one evening after a fight with a family member. Working with your therapist, or within your group, you can have the opportunity to process what happened during the argument, how you were able to manage your urges, and how you might choose to respond differently in the future. 

Having this chance to talk through what happened with others in your recovery community soon after it occurs is important so that these experiences can be used for growth rather than contribute towards a relapse. Establishing this sort of practice is especially important when considering your long-term recovery needs, and the initial process of building a solid foundation.

Virtual IOP at The Haven

As the world progresses, it is important to have treatment options that are also reflective of those changes. Virtual IOP represents an important step in continuing to make treatment available despite the global challenges we face. 

The Haven is committed to continuing to provide treatment that meets your changing needs, whether that’s working, going to school, or adjusting to the new family structure required for homeschooling the kids. Speak with one of our admissions representatives to learn more about if IOP is the next right step for you!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

What Comes Next? How to Maintain Recovery After Residential Treatment

Whether outpatient, residential or any level in between, leaving treatment often brings mixed feelings. Graduating from a substance use program can be exciting and produce a sense of accomplishment and pride. It can also evoke fear and anxiety. 

It is normal to question and doubt— Am I ready to leave? Do I want recovery? Can I say no to drugs and alcohol? How will this affect my family, friends, job, etc? 

While you may experience a range of emotions, you do not have to stay in a state of doubt or anxiety. Knowing what to expect, what options are available, and creating a plan for success are all important ways to make the transition from treatment smooth and successful.

What to Expect when Leaving Treatment

When leaving residential treatment, it is normal to experience some ambivalence about recovery. Old thought patterns easily creep back in and we can rationalize or convince ourselves that we have everything under control and will have no problems using our drug of addiction again. It can be easy to think about using, or even feel like it is “deserved” after spending so much time free of substances

We might also experience intense cravings, which is common in early recovery. While these cravings feel intense and consuming, they do pass —to act on them will only continue to make the cravings worse. 

After being in a controlled and safe environment for a length of time, our old triggers can easily catch us off guard. This could be receiving a call from a using buddy, driving by an area that brings up memories from being in active addiction, or even just now having access to freedom and money. These triggers can also lead to relapse. However, by being aware of the potential emotions, cravings, and triggers, we can better anticipate and prepare for them. 

What are the Options to Continue Care?

The levels of care available for substance use treatment are like a spectrum —someone can move up or down depending on their needs and progress in treatment. When leaving residential treatment, the different treatment options for aftercare include:

  • Intensive Outpatient - Intensive Outpatient consists of group therapy for three hours a day, three to four days a week.

  • Outpatient Therapy - Outpatient therapy can be as often as twice a week or once a month. This allows one to attend individual sessions to work on specific goals. 

  • Recovery Support Groups - Community based meetings that are run by people in recovery. This includes Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, and more. One can attend multiple times a day, multiple times a week but no commitment is required.

  • Transitional Living - Sober living options like a Halfway house provides a stable living environment with a curfew, mandatory drug screens, and a schedule. Many find that this is helpful to combine with substance use treatment for added accountability and structure.

Set Yourself Up for Success

While in a substance use program, it is important to think about what life after treatment will look like. Where will I live? Where will I work? Are there people I need to cut out of my life? Are there people I will need support from? 

By thinking through and planning for a life in recovery after treatment, these plans are much more likely to be followed through on. It is much more manageable to deal with triggers, cravings, and overwhelming emotions when in a safe, supportive environment like treatment. To return to the same people, places, and things while in early recovery experiencing all of these struggles is proven challenging. 

Making plans to still have some level treatment and recovery support is crucial for long-term sustainable recovery. This could mean asking clinicians for referrals to a step down in the level of care, asking peers about recovery support groups in the area, and setting up an appointment for shortly after you graduate residential treatment. 

Not only is it important to make a plan for treatment, but also to communicate with the people in your life about needs and expectations for returning home and being in early recovery. This may include family, partners, and friends. By communicating what your new life in recovery will look like, the people in your life are more likely to adjust expectations, respect or engage in the healing process, and provide support. It may also be important to communicate with your employer if there need to be any changes to the schedule or work expectations in order to attend treatment or meetings.

Recovery Through the Phase Program at The Haven

At the Haven, we recognize that recovery is a life-long process that goes far beyond abstinence to healing and skill-building to ultimately developing a fulfilling, meaningful, and joyful life. Above all, we are here for our patients for the long run and recognize that treatment needs change over time as patients heal and grow.

Whatever your circumstance, it is important to know that you are not alone. You can live a life of sobriety after residential treatment, and we offer multiple avenues and resources to support you on your journey. Reach out to us today to learn more!