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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 Or a sign that addiction treatment is out-of-date and could use its own recovery?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!