Gateway Director of Events Marty Cook and alum Nick Share Their Thoughts on Life After Recovery

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Photo Credit: Jason Marck/WBEZ

For WBEZ’s final Voice of Chicagoland’s Opioid Crisis segment, host Jennifer White spoke to Gateway Foundation Director of Events Marty Cook and alum Nick about young people in recovery.

To listen to the segment, click here.

“I just imagine that the power, particularly for younger people, to walk into a room and they think their life is over because they’ll never have fun again, and when they walk into a room, they see there’s 50 other people their own age that look just like them, who are young and who are laughing and having fun, but share the same common disease of addiction but are overcoming it and living life.”

Marty Cook talks about the importance of young people in recovery being able to see that they can still have fun without the influence of drugs and alcohol.

 

“It’s hard to connect definitely in high school. It’s already hard being a teen, and drugs and alcohol gave me that connection.”

Nick speaks about the struggles he faced during his teens and what led him to ultimately starting drinking and using drugs.

 

“The work we’re doing at Gateway is to create an added layer of support for our alums. When they leave treatment they get connected to other people.”

Marty discusses the work he does for Gateway Foundation and the events he plans for the alumni program to make sure alums have a support system in place post treatment.

 

“Recovery is possible.”

While reflecting on success stories and the various alums he encounters at his alumni events, Marty speaks to the change he’s seen in those that have left treatment and stayed engaged in the alumni programs.

 

“I enjoy exactly what I do and I think I’m in the right place and where I need to be.”

If you or a loved one are considering Gateway as a treatment option, click here to learn more.

John Oliver Brings Much Needed Attention to a Very Important Issue

On Sunday night, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver had a segment on the addiction treatment industry. During the segment, Oliver touched on many concerns that those within and outside of the industry have regarding addiction treatment providers.

At Gateway Foundation, we agree that there is not enough transparency or information available to the public about many of the treatment providers. People should be able to have access to the information they need to make a well-informed decision about where they or a loved one will receive treatment.

Oliver also made an assertion that there needs to be more expertise and oversight of the industry. At Gateway, we share his sentiment. There does need to be more oversight of the industry. This is why we are so pleased with all of the great work the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, NAATP, has done, including its Treatment Selection Guide and Code of Ethics 2.0. In addition, NAATP has also worked closely with Google and LegitScript to develop the qualification standards a treatment provider has to demonstrate in order to use Google AdWords.

In his segment, Oliver called for more treatment centers to provide evidence-based treatment options. We understand the importance of ensuring each one of our patients receives the treatment they need, which is why we utilize evidence-based practices, including medication-assisted treatment, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and many more.

Dr. Britton and Gateway Alum Discuss the Opioid Crisis

Gateway Foundation President and CEO Dr. Thomas Britton and Gateway alum Nick spoke to Niala Boodhoo on Illinois Public Media’s The 21st show to discuss the current opioid crisis and Nick’s journey to recovery.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

“It destroyed everything.”

Nick’s addiction had severe consequences. It damaged his relationships with family and loved ones. He found himself in legal trouble, and struggling to maintain any sense of normalcy in his life.

 “If we were to snap back 10 years ago, 5 to 10 percent of the people that we supported had opiates as one of their primary drugs and in a lot of the facilities that we treat today it’s as high as 60 percent.”

Dr. Britton speaks to the increase in the amount of people seeking treatment for opiates as the opioid crisis  continues to grow exponentially.

“An estimated 27 million people that require treatment for substance use disorders and 66 million drank in a binge fashion in the last 30 days so there’s this massive problem with all substances. Opiates are one of the smaller as a whole out of that, however, the consequences are so much faster and more intense.”

Dr. Britton discusses the current substance use problems facing the country, including excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking, which are often overlooked. Though alcohol use disorder affects more people than opioid use disorder, the consequences of opioids are felt much faster.

“[Addiction] is a brain disease; it is not an issue of moral failing or willpower.”

Dr. Britton speaks to the importance of treating addiction as a brain disease and ending the stigma around addiction.

“There is fun in sobriety.”

Nick discusses how becoming engaged in the Gateway Alumni program and attending the events helped him after completing treatment.

“I’ve been sober for two and a half years… I have a great job that has insurance and benefits and the whole works.. It’s a total turnaround from who I was to who I am today… I gave this thing a shot and I actually gave myself that chance.”

If you or someone you know would like to tell your Gateway recovery story, please contact us. We’d love to interview you and inspire others. 

Starting Conversations about Mental Health

 

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May marks Mental Health Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and reducing stigma. To start our month-long conversation about mental health, we started asking some questions:

Who is affected by mental health disorders?

Millions of people in the United States alone deal with mental health disorders. Yet less than half receive help. Chances are you know someone with a mental illness or someone who is affected by a person struggling with a mental illness.

According to recent studies, adults between the ages of 18 to 25 make up the highest percentage of people struggling with mental illness, but compared to other age groups, they also report the lowest rates of seeking treatment.

Why don’t more people seek treatment for mental health?

One of the main hurdles preventing people from seeking necessary treatment is the stigma surrounding mental health. Many people feel their mental health is not as important as their physical health or feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit they have a mental problem. As a result, some ignore their mental health concerns while others try to treat their symptoms by themselves.

What are some signs of a mental health disorder?

The signs of each mental health disorder are unique to that disorder, but here are a few to look out for:

  • Extreme changes in mood and behavior
  • Changes in work or school performance
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Prolonged feelings of anger or sadness
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Struggles with carrying out day-to-day tasks

What are some examples of mental health disorders?

Depression and anxiety are the two most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States; however, many Americans also live with obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorders, among others. The severity of mental health disorders also varies by individual.

Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

Nearly 80 percent of people with mental health disorders have substance use disorders. In an effort to cope with the symptoms from their mental health disorder, many people turn to drugs and alcohol. The most common substance people turn to for help is alcohol. However, alcohol and many other drugs can exacerbate symptoms.

How can we reduce stigma?

In the past few years, there has been a change in the conversation around mental health. Mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, have garnered more attention due to more celebrities, such as Mariah Carey, sharing their battles. If we continue asking questions and normalizing conversations about mental illness, then we can continue investing in and improving treatment for mental health.

Dr. Britton and Gateway Alum Broadcast Insights on Opioid Crisis

Gateway Foundation President and CEO Dr. Thomas Britton and Gateway alum Spencer spoke to Justin Kaufmann on WGN’s “The Download” about the opioid crisis, how we can combat it, and Spencer’s journey to recovery.

Biggest takeaways:

“A criminal problem rather than a public health problem

Dr. Britton mentions how more government funding is being allocated to law enforcement compared to treatment options. He says of the estimated 30-60 million people who need treatment, only 3 million get it, and those who do often don’t get enough to be successful. He advocates for a multi-pronged policy approach.

“A bridge to recovery”

Dr. Britton speaks to the importance of medication assisted treatment (MAT) and how it saves lives every day. However, he warns MAT is not the cure for addiction, but one of the methods used to help people with substance use disorders. Other measures still need to be taken.

“All my morals out the window”

In an effort to support his habits, Spencer talks about stealing from his parents, relatives, neighbors, and even kids to pay for drugs and alcohol.

“Mentally in love with the drug”

While in treatment for the first time, Spencer counted down the days until he could use again. This happens again while he is in his hospital bed following his heart attack, counting down the days until he could have a drink.

“The flu on steroids”

Spencer describes the withdrawals every time he tried to quit by himself: the muscle aches, nausea, suicidal thoughts.

“Learn my parents’ names again”

Following his heart attack at age 25, Spencer fell into a coma. After waking up a couple months later, he had to relearn the basics, like how to say his parents’ names, how to use a fork, how to use the bathroom.

“Like trying to swim against the current”

Spencer relates his experiences of quitting by himself to a person drowning. He needed a lifeguard, which in this case was Gateway’s support system, to help him to recovery.

“A silent killer”

Due to the stigma surrounding addiction, many people feel ashamed to ask for help and spend their lives hiding their struggle from their loved ones. Addressing this stigma could change the conversation and increase the number of success stories.

“I wouldn’t say [addiction] defines me; I’d say it definitely has taken a lot out of me… It’s like a soldier that has gone to war. You have the stories but you just gotta keep going forward. Now, I love volleyball. I’d say that defines me. I love my sister, my parents. I love life.”

If you or someone you know would like to tell your Gateway recovery story, please contact us. We’d love to interview you and inspire others. 

A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way

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Today is “Day4Empathy” in Chicago as the Ebert Foundation honors late, beloved film critic Roger Ebert on the fifth anniversary of his death. Coincidentally, it is also the 50th anniversary of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.

The day is more than an observance; it is a call to action to people across the city, and even across the country, to show more kindness and work towards more understanding with one another. Throughout the day in Chicago, ambassadors from the Ebert Foundation will pass out cards and bracelets to call on people to perform random acts of kindness for others. In addition, Roger Ebert’s wife, Chaz, will take an empathy truck around the city and stop to interview people about what empathy means to them.

On a number of occasions, Ebert spoke about empathy as one of the cornerstones of civilization. This is especially true when thinking about people who are facing difficult battles, like addiction. People fighting addiction who have the support of a strong community demonstrate much higher rates of success. Developing an understanding of where another person might be coming from is necessary to build such communities; it is critical in the journey of recovery.

In his reviews, Ebert talked about the ability of movies to bring about empathy. “When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes,” Ebert once said. “I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.”

That is what great movies do – they transport us to places and situations we never dreamed of experiencing, developing our understanding of the characters, others, and ourselves.

Today, remember to practice empathy more days in our lives.

Gateway Foundation’s ASPIRE Program Achieves Top, Dual Diagnosis Rating

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Gateway is proud to announce the ASPIRE program at Chicago Independence is the first in Illinois to be certified as a Dual Diagnosis Enhanced (DDE) site. This means ASPIRE is now officially able to treat co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. ASPIRE is the only women’s program that has met the DDE standard, as determined by an independent rater, and one of the only women’s programs American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) deems appropriate for clients who have severe or unstable mental health disorders and need residential treatment.

The ability to treat substance use and mental health disorders is extremely important, as 80 percent of individuals with mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, also have substance use disorders. In order for a person to have the greatest chance of a successful outcome, both aspects must be treated. When either disorder goes untreated, the probability of relapse is much higher.

In order to ensure the staff is thoroughly prepared for treating clients with substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders, Gateway hired employees who established many techniques to develop a training program to spread the knowledge. Ensuring the staff is properly prepared to treat both disorders allows for patients to have the best chance at lifelong recovery.

What is ASPIRE?

The ASPIRE program was first implemented six years ago and provides evidence-based treatment for women suffering from substance use disorders and co-occurring mental health conditions. While addiction does not discriminate based on gender, addiction has often been painted as a male issue. In reality, millions of women in the United States are also battling addiction. A program like ASPIRE helps bridge the gender gap of addiction while still ensuring women receive a tailored, personalized treatment plan for their individual needs.

“The program gives women everything that exists in the best non-gender specific programs, with the added benefit of women-specific programming that addresses how gender roles impact substance use disorders and related co-morbid conditions, such as trauma,” says Chicago Independence Clinical Director Gilbert Lichstein. “The program is a safe space where participants are not addressed in a confrontational manner or judged.”

ASPIRE is one of many Gateway initiatives that demonstrates our commitment to treating not only substance use disorders but the underlying causes of addiction.

Drug & Alcohol Use in Adolescents

Nearly 70 percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol, 50 percent have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20 percent have used a prescription drug for a non-medical reason, studies show. Research has found the majority of people are most likely to misuse drugs and alcohol during this transformative time.

Why is this the trend?

  • Underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex
    • The parts of the brain that process reward and pain first mature during childhood. However, the prefrontal cortex – responsible for controlling impulses, emotions, and decision-making – does not mature until people reach their mid-20s. Therefore, adolescents are motivated by the desire to feel pleasure and avoid pain, both of which are associated with drug and alcohol use.
  • Genetic factors
    • Certain genetic traits, for instance a low harm-avoidance personality trait, make individuals more susceptible to using drugs and alcohol.
    • Mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety also increase the likelihood an adolescent will turn to substances.
  • Social environment
    • Teens are more likely to try drugs and alcohol if their friends are also using.
  • Accessibility of drugs
    • Adolescents are at an increased risk of trying substances if they have easy access to them.
  • Family environment

Compared to adults, adolescents are much more likely to hide their substance use from loved ones. Adolescents are also less likely to show signs of a problem because they have a shorter history of use. However, there are still red flags.

What are the signs?

  • Loss of interest in school and hobbies
  • Sudden need for more money and unwillingness to explain spending habits
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, and an increased desire to be alone
  • Change in friends
  • Change in behavior or personality
  • Unresponsiveness to communication
  • Frequent rule-breaking, especially of curfew

While most adolescents who try drugs and alcohol do not have substance use disorders, the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greater for people who begin using in their early teens. According to a study, 15.2 percent of people who start drinking by age 14 develop substance use disorders, compared to 2.1 percent of those who wait until they are 21 or older.

What are the effects?

  • Difficulties with schoolwork
  • Relationship problems
  • Loss of interest in normal healthy activities
  • Impaired memory and thinking ability
  • Increased risk of contracting an infectious disease
  • Mental health problems—including substance use disorders
  • Increased possibility of partaking in unsafe sexual activities
  • Overdose
  • Death

The key in the battle against adolescent addiction is time: We need to involve adolescents in professional treatment programs as soon as possible. Adolescents are less likely to seek out help on their own, so it is crucial loved ones help them into treatment.

Bad Habits: Processing Addictions Beyond Alcohol and Drugs

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When people think of addiction, they think of substances like alcohol and drugs. They rarely think of addictive behaviors, but addiction goes well past substance use disorders.

In 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine included behavioral addiction in the broader definition of addiction. Behavioral, or process, addiction is the repeated compulsion to engage in a behavior, even when the behavior becomes harmful, because the individual cannot resist engaging in the behavior without intervention. Some of the most common behavioral addictions are eating, shopping, gambling, sex, and use of social media.

While process addictions have always been prevalent in the addiction community, they gained traction fairly recently in the larger medical community due to two big findings. First, people with substance use disorders tend to have more than one addiction. Second, the brain reacts to behaviors the same way it does to substances – this is why certain behaviors, like gambling, can be addictive.

Similar to substance addictions, there is no single cause of behavioral addictions. Addiction is complex, and so are the reasons why certain people develop them while others do not. However, research has indicated genetics play a major role in a person’s susceptibility to developing the disease. In addition, people who develop addictions often report high levels of impulsivity and sensation-seeking personality traits paired with low levels of harm avoidance traits.

Further, diminished control is common in individuals with substance use disorders and process addictions. Due to tolerance, people struggling with addiction experience less pleasure each time they engage in the behavior or consume the substance, so they become motivated by negative reinforcement (relief from withdrawals) as opposed to positive reinforcement.

Co-occurrence with substance use disorders is relatively common among individuals with behavioral addictions. People with a gambling addiction are 3.8 times more likely to struggle with an alcohol use disorder. (Correlation does not mean causation, however, and the relationship between the two is unclear.)

Oftentimes, process addictions are not regarded as dangerous or detrimental compared to substance use disorders. But job or financial loss and relationship issues with family and loved ones still accompany these disorders.

Process addictions can also be more difficult to diagnose, as the signs are usually not as clear as, say, a heroin addiction. Physical health does not immediately start deteriorating and individuals oftentimes hide and disguise their behaviors from people close to them.

One of the biggest challenges in identifying these disorders is the social acceptance and, in some cases, necessity – to a degree – of behaviors such as eating, shopping, and spending money. Others may not consider related addictions issues until it takes a tremendous toll on someone’s life, until it’s too late. Before addictions spiral, though, pay attention to the red flags.

Warning signs of a behavioral addiction:

Making lifestyle changes to accommodate the behavior
– Extreme mood fluctuations related to the activity
– Justifications or rationalizations for continuing to partake in the behavior
– Extreme excitement when discussing the behavior
– Debt and frequent money borrowing

Regardless of the type of addiction, societal stigma often casts addiction as a moral failing, a lack of willpower or motivation. Research shows sustained recovery is more successful when the addiction is treated professionally, so we must continue addressing the roadblocks preventing people with behavioral addictions from seeking and receiving professional treatment.

The Trump Administration’s Opioid Action Plan

valentino-funghi-276005-unsplashDuring the 2016 presidential election, then Republican nominee Donald Trump took a tough stance on the opioid crisis, declaring he would help solve the crisis if he were elected. President Trump often cited his personal connection to addiction as a major motivator, as his oldest brother passed away after a battle with alcohol use disorder.

The first step the Trump administration took was to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency last October. In 2017, Trump also donated his third quarter salary to the Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to combat the opioid crisis.

During a speech on Monday in New Hampshire, President Trump released his plan to combat the opioid crisis, which he called “The Crisis Next Door.” The plan is broken into the following three sections: enforcement and interdiction, education and prevention through a federal advertising campaign, and employment assistance for those battling addiction:

Enforcement & Interdiction

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President Trump has mentioned numerous times a desire to implement the death penalty for drug traffickers when the Department of Justice (DOJ) deems it appropriate, which has stirred controversy. During today’s speech, Trump officially called for the use of the death penalty for high-level drug traffickers.

The DOJ is now leading a task force on major litigation against drug companies at the federal level. Trump called for these companies to be held responsible for their actions. The administration plans to cut the nationwide opioid prescriptions by one-third. Trump also stated federal funding will be invested in the development of non-addictive painkillers. In addition, within two years at least half of all federally employed healthcare providers will adopt best practices for opioid prescribing, and within five years all federally employed healthcare providers will do so in order to prevent over prescribing.

Trump also emphasized supplying emergency responders and law enforcement with the overdose-reversing medication Narcan. Some cities, including Chicago, have already put forth this policy.

Education & Prevention

children-403582_1280A major initiative will be a federal advertising campaign targeting young adults and children. The administration plans to spend money on commercials that depict the devastating effects of drugs to scare children away from ever using them.

During his speech, Trump highlighted Adapt Pharma and its work with colleges and high schools. Adapt provided colleges and universities across the country with four boxes and high schools with two boxes of Narcan in an effort to reduce student overdose deaths. Adapt has also provided education on Narcan to school staff.

Employment

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Another focal point is helping inmates with substance use disorders get the treatment they need and, further, helping them secure employment after they are released. Trump referenced the country’s low unemployment rate and strong economy as being beneficial to helping inmates get hired.

Additional Takeaways:

Although no financial plans were discussed during the speech, in his latest budget proposal released in February, Trump called for an allocation of nearly $17 billion in 2019 to fight the opioid epidemic. The money from the budget will mainly go to expanding coverage of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and helping states monitor and track clinics that prescribe a large amount of opioids, which many public health officials deem necessary to resolving the crisis. Trump reiterated in his speech that the administration will dedicate resources to ensure the accessibility and affordability of medication-assisted treatments.

The administration will also waive a Medicaid rule that prevents treatment facilities with more than 16 beds from receiving reimbursements for addiction services. This initiative could prove instrumental for low-income individuals seeking treatment.

Shortly after the president’s speech, Congress released plans to introduce multiple bills to help end the opioid crisis. One of the bills is the Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms (POWER) act. This bipartisan bill aims to set up protocols for emergency rooms across the United States on best practices for discharging overdose patients, to ensure patients have the resources they need to succeed post-hospitalization. Measures of this act would ensure patients’ access to overdose-reversal medication and other medication-assisted treatments, as well as peer-support specialists and other types of treatment programs.

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