Gateway Foundation Partners with myStrength

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What is myStrength?

myStrength is a digital behavioral tool that allows users to track and monitor their daily progress and mood. It is a great resource for users that provides them with tips and information on a variety of topics including addiction, anxiety, and depression. Each user is able to customize myStrength to fit them and their needs.

Why use myStrength?

According to research from the Journal of Medical Internet Research’s Research Protocols, individuals who used myStrength’s digital mental health tools had 18 times greater reduction in depressive symptoms within two weeks of use as compared to the control group.

“myStrength is a great tool for clients who are struggling with a wide variety of issues in their recovery. It gives them access to evidenced-based treatment materials outside of their group therapy sessions and allows them to build additional skills at their own pace,” says Brandon Underwood, clinical supervisor at Gateway Pekin. “It is also a great resource for clinicians to help further a client’s progress and growth outside the traditional therapeutic setting.”

Gateway led multiple training sessions for staff to ensure they would know how to utilize the tool and be able to incorporate it in counseling and therapy sessions.

Patients were also given a chance to test myStrength and afterwards were asked to rate the tool’s usefulness. The results were overwhelming positive.

“I think it (myStrength) is an amazing resource. If it helps keep just one person sober or gives them help, it is worth it. However, it will help many more than one person,” says one Gateway client after receiving the training.

How much is myStrength?

The tool will be free to current patients, their loved ones, and alumni, due to a generous donation from the family of a former patient.

Is it safe?

Privacy is often a concern with Internet apps, but myStrength is safe to use. There is no data-tracking and all user information is entirely confidential.

A Conversation about Being Sober and Becoming Happy with John MacDougall

John MacDougallDr. John MacDougall spent 30 years drinking and using drugs every hour of the day before he found sobriety in 1989. He worked at Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation for two decades as the director of spiritual guidance and now works as the spiritual care coordinator at The Retreat, a treatment center grounded in the 12-Step principles. He will present on June 23 in Northbrook and June 24 in Aurora based on his lectures and book, “Being Sober and Becoming Happy.” Gateway spoke with MacDougall about the lessons he’s learned through a life and career in recovery.

What is the “spiritual condition” for people recovering with substance use disorder?

Basically, spirituality consists of a set of three relationships: how well we’re getting along with our higher power, with ourselves, and with other people. You really can’t pull them very far apart. For example, I don’t think it’s possible to love God, be at peace with yourself, and treat other people like dirt. So any improvement in one of the three relationships improves the other two; any breakdown in any of the three relationships brings the other two down.

Before you found your sobriety, what was your relationship like with the “spiritual condition”?

My attitude was I’m the center of the universe and you exist only to the extent that you can help me get what I want.

What clicked for you, so to speak, when you found your sobriety, or what worked for you to strike a balanced “spiritual condition”?

I thought I was just a heavy drinker and used a lot of drugs and that I wasn’t an alcoholic because I had a job, an address, a wife, a car—what I now call “scavenger hunt recovery.” When I finally figured out I was an alcoholic and a drug addict, I carefully detoxed myself over a six-week period, I went to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), and I asked this guy to sponsor me. He said to me, Here’s “The Big Book.” He opened it and basically said, Here’s chapter five: it’s how it works. Here’s chapter six: it’s it in action. The 12 Steps are contained in these two chapters. If you read these 12 Steps and you do what they say, you will never drink or use again. And at that point, I had been drinking and using drugs every single hour of the day for 30 years in a row. I read them and never drank or used again. So I did a very literal application of “The Big Book.” The things it says to do are really spiritual in nature: honesty, hope, faith, courage.

What made you wake up one morning and say, I need to write my own guide?

I worked 20 years at Hazelden and I gave a lot of lectures. My wife said to me, You’ve got to write this stuff down. I said, No, no, I’m a talker, not a writer. And she said, No, no, you’re getting old. This stuff will be lost. You’ve got to write it down. So the lectures I’ve done made the basis of the book.

If someone could only hear one lesson from your book and from your lectures, maybe someone who is initially struggling with their sobriety, which lesson would you tell them?

I see guys relapse at my meeting after 10, 15 years, not because they’re not working the steps, but because they’ve been working them and every aspect of their life has gotten better—marriage, job, home, finances. They look at the fact that their life got better and they go, So I’m better.

Because this is a brain disease, our brain resets every night to alcoholic. So I need to take the first three steps of AA in the first minute of my day. My simplified version is this:

Step 1: Good morning, John. You’re an alcoholic. Pay attention.

Step 2: There’s a God; it’s not me.

Step 3: I need a fresh decision today to turn my world and my life care to God. And then carry step three all through the day.

MacDougall will speak from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. June 23 at Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center in Northbrook and on June 24 at Prisco Community Center in Aurora. For more information and to RSVP to the Northbrook event, click here; for the Aurora event, click here

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.

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. 

The Importance of a Recovery Community

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For many people, leaving treatment presents a whole new set of obstacles to overcome. One way to face these obstacles is to get involved with a recovery community. A recovery community gives people the opportunity to connect with others who have shared experiences and helps them build connections with one another.

Marty Cook, director of alumni events for Gateway Foundation, started a recovery community in the northern suburbs and continues growing that community in his role at Gateway.

“I’ve had the great fortune of seeing people who didn’t know each other come to events, get to know each other, and they’re best friends,” Cook says. “They go to 12 Step meetings together, they work out, they study together, and they support each other. But that’s not possible if there’s not a concerted effort by recovery groups or hospitals to add that extra layer of support for them.”

For younger generations, finding a support system may be even more challenging. Cook offers some insight into why a recovery community is critical for this age group.

“People get sicker sooner now,” Cook says. “Even 10, 20 years ago, people would maybe get into treatment in their 30s, 40s, or 50s, but they’re coming in in their 20s now and when you’re in your 20s, most of your friends are out on weekends, there’s not a spouse, kids, so what do you got? The social network you used to have is kind of cut off because it’s built around parties and bars and alcohol and drugs, etc.”

Following treatment, many young people feel there is nothing to do without alcohol or drugs, especially on the weekends. This can cause some people to isolate themselves and lose human connections and interactions, which can be detrimental to mental health; others may fall back into the same crowd of friends as before and start drinking or using drugs once again.

Although Gateway’s recovery events are usually open to all ages, the focus on young adults for some of these events, like the recent Chicago social on May 5, aim to connect young adults beyond specific treatment sites and beyond Gateway. Gateway’s recovery community has monthly socials in addition to a variety of other events that occur throughout the week as well as on weekends. The Lake Villa social takes place the first Saturday of every month and the Chicago social takes place every third Saturday of the month. To keep up with all recovery events, like us on Facebook and check out our event calendar.

Gateway’s recovery community is open to anyone in recovery.

“We’re not just saying ‘alumni,’ we’re saying if anybody is in recovery, come to our events. Because their experience could help us, just as our alumni can benefit from them,” Cook says. “Everybody wins.”

If you or someone you know would like to get involved with Gateway’s recovery community, please email Marty Cook at MrCook@GatewayFoundation.org.

 

 

What’s Been Going on at Gateway?

This year marks our 50th anniversary, and we are celebrating our accomplishments while working to improve and innovate. These past few weeks, we’ve looked back and forward:

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Gateway Aurora alumna Lucy Gabinski-Smith (left) and Lake Villa alumnus Nick Kanehl (center) visited our Gateway Chicago headquarters March 20 to inspire the board, including CEO Tom Britton (right), with their recovery stories*. They also shared how they have continued their connection to Gateway through our alumni programs.

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Chicago River North and Independence Clinical Director Gilbert Lichstein taught 36 participants about motivational interviewing at a Loyola University Medical Center Grand Rounds Training on March 22. Motivational interviewing helps clinicians to treat each patient as an individual.

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We’re over the Cupid Shuffle. A Gateway team ran with members of the recovery community for the annual Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K March 25.

*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. 

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.

“It’s All in Your Head”

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For centuries, addiction was viewed as a psychological problem, all just in someone’s head. To be “cured” someone simply needed to want to quit. Addiction is, in fact, in a person’s head, but not in the way many believed. It is in people’s heads because addiction alters the brain.

Addiction is a chronic disease that afflicts millions of people across the country and millions more around the globe. It does not discriminate against an individual’s socioeconomic status, gender, sexual orientation, race, etc. It affects people of all backgrounds across all generations. It collaterally affects the families and loved ones of those battling this disease.

Addiction is an extremely complex disease that is misunderstood by many people to this day. Though much progress has been made regarding the stigma around addiction, many still view addiction as a moral failing. Unlike many other diseases, there is a sense of blame that is placed on those that have addictions.  As a whole, society has demonized addiction and made it so that those who are battling the disease have a hard time speaking out and seeking out the necessary treatment for the fear of being ashamed and judged.

Addiction, however, is not a moral failing. It is, instead, a chronic disease that often requires medical and professional help. Much like other diseases, addiction can destroy relationships with loved ones, it can cause many health and financial problems. Even with all of the negative consequences, addiction is hard to break because there is no simple solution or cure.

While no one decides or chooses to have a substance use disorder, some are more genetically predisposed to addiction than others. Through various research regarding addiction, genetics have been found to play a role in the disease. Studies conducted on twins and adopted children show that about 40 to 60 percent of susceptibility to addiction is hereditary. While it is not clear why some people become addicted and others do not, there are some factors such as genetics and environment that increase a person’s susceptibility to having an addiction.

But what is clear is the use of alcohol and drugs alters the brain and makes it harder for those with substance use disorders to quit. The brain starts to rely on the substance. Though the initial decision to try a substance may be voluntary, after a while it becomes compulsive – people begin to lose the ability to say no.

After continued substance use, the part of the brain that controls judgment becomes impaired. Once the brain becomes impaired, the person struggles to have the control he or she needs to say no. Addictive substances flood the brain’s reward circuit with dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that signals pleasure. Once dopamine is released, the brain begins to associate the substance with that feeling of pleasure, the “high.” This leads to the individual wanting to use that substance over and over again to chase that same feeling.

However, the feeling of pleasure diminishes as the brain adjusts to the excess dopamine; as a result, more of the substance is required in order for the individual to experience the same amount of pleasure. This leads to individuals developing a tolerance, needing more to feel the pleasure they once experienced. In many cases, individuals begin to take more of the substance in order to achieve that high and it becomes more difficult to break the addiction. Long-term use of drugs and/or alcohol leads to sometimes permanent changes in the brain, depending on the frequency and amount the individual used. The repeated use of drugs and/or alcohol begins to affect functions in the brain like learning, judgment, decision-making, and memory.

In addition, this excess dopamine can also lessen the pleasure an individual feels when they begin to do other things that once brought them pleasure, such as spending time with friend or eating their favorite dessert.

After someone stops using, they face withdrawals. Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, shaking, fatigue, among many more effects. The only way to get immediate relief from the symptoms is to use the substance. Wanting a release from these unpleasant symptoms and to temporarily experience the “high” once again, the individual oftentimes turns to the substance. The brain has already associated said substance with pleasure and learned that this is the way to feel good. The brain is wired to seek pleasure, and once it has associated a certain action with pleasure, it is begins to seek out the source of the pleasure.

Since addiction affects learning and memory, people may be in danger of relapsing after seeing a beer bottle, for instance if they have alcohol use disorder. Because of conditioned learning, they will begin to crave the alcohol and feel compulsion try to take over – even if they haven’t had alcohol in a long time. The hippocampus and amygdala are the two parts of the brain that store environmental cues and even when an individual no longer wants to continue seeking out the source of their pleasure, the brain still associates the source with pleasure – they develop cravings when they are around the substance.

Many individuals battling addiction feel that they have to go through this fight by themselves, and to carry that burden solely on their shoulders. It is not an easy topic to discuss, but it is one that needs to be addressed differently. Instead of blame, empathy and acceptance needs to be shown towards those who are struggling. The stigma of addiction puts blame solely on those who have it. While breaking the vicious cycle of addiction does indeed take a lot of willpower and inner strength, it is not as easy as an individual deciding to quit.

Much like many other diseases, addiction can be treated and managed. It is important to remember that relapses do occur, but it does not mean that the individual cannot successfully manage their addiction. Having specialized treatment programs and seeking out professional help is the best way to start towards a life of sobriety. Attempting to go “cold-turkey” without professional supervision can be dangerous. There are instances of death and other life-threatening occurrences. Which is why seeking out professional help is the safest and most reliable way to begin the journey to recovery.

The Relationship of Substance Use Disorder and Mental Illness

suicide and substance abuse, gateway treatment centersAt Gateway, we recognize that mental illness and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) often coincide. In fact, the presence of a co-occurring diagnosis is more the “rule” than the exception. The terms “dual diagnosis” or “co-occurring” refer to an individual that is affected by two or more disorders or illnesses.

The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that 37% of individuals with alcohol use disorder and 53% of those with a drug use disorder also have at least one serious mental illness.

It is difficult to diagnose which came first – the SUD or the mental health disorder. Drug use can cause one to experience symptoms of mental illness. However, mental illness can also lead to drug use as a form of self-medication to manage symptoms. There are many overlapping factors that can make it difficult to detect the initial issue.

“There is no question that no matter which came first; both issues need to be addressed in treatment,” said Katie Stout, Executive Director at Gateway. According to reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the most common reason for relapse is an untreated mental health problem.

“The best chance of recovery is through an integrated treatment program that includes treatment of the SUD and the mental health illness,” said Katie Stout.

Evidence-based treatment for co-occurring disorders includes: motivational interviewing, mindfulness based therapy, trauma informed therapy and 12 step facilitation.

Gateway is a recognized leader among behavioral health care providers in offering substance use disorder treatment, as well as treatment for individuals that are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental illness. To learn more about our treatment programs visit us at RecoverGateway.org.

Stress on the Road to Recovery

April is Natiroadonal Stress Awareness Month. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), medical specialists believe that stress is the leading cause of relapse back into drug use. Research shows that the brain of those with substance use disorder is more hypersensitive to stress, which may provoke them to relieve their stress by returning to drugs.

 

 

For those in recovery, many stressors arise such as family/relationship conflicts, work, money and health concerns. It is important to pay attention to the signs your body is giving you to recognize stress.

  • Headaches
  • Neck or back pain
  • Stomach upset
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Change in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety

Stress is often unavoidable. However, you can take a proactive role in acknowledging and calming the stress to avoid relapse. There are many healthy and practical ways to reduce stress and increase your chance of staying sober. Among these are: Exercise, talking it out (or write about it), breathing with purpose (yoga/meditation), and of course good old laughter.

Most important is to recognize when you are experiencing stress and find your most healthy way to cope with it.

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