Myers Counseling Group is based out of Crystal Lake, Illinois, with the slogan “Counseling the whole person.” Their innovative holistic approach addresses areas of life including the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social to encourage wellness. They use all of the resources at their disposal to work with their clients where they are at and support them in their journey to recovery. Mark Myers has been in the helping profession for over 20 years and works with individuals, couples, children, and adolescents. He works within the community by presenting workshops and consultations to other mental health professionals and people who work in addiction, as well as schools, business professionals, and other interested community members. We were able to speak with Mark about the connection between our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, and more.
TestCountry: Mark, have you seen a rise in the number of prescription drug abuse and synthetic drug abuse in recent time, or has there just been an increase of awareness of these two issues in the media?
Mark Myers: It is really both. First, statistically, synthetic drug abuse has increased overall in all age groups. In the age group 18-25 for prescription drug abuse, there has been a slight decrease. All other age groups for prescription drug abuse has relatively remained the same. I believe we are seeing increases in treatment centers and therapists in treating this due to more awareness. For prescription drug abuse we are talking about different dynamic then synthetic drugs. There is some portion of that population that I treat that did not start seeking out a high from prescription drugs, as they would with other drugs. They started out taking the medication for legitimate medical reasons. They wound up addicted and faced similar challenges as others who sought it out for the high, but the starting point was different. These are individuals who may come forward more readily than someone who has sought it as a high.
I am not sure the general public has a true understanding of the popularity of synthetic drugs and prescription drug abuse. After marijuana, synthetic marijuana is the most commonly abused drug by teenagers. Nonmedical use of prescription and over the counter medication account for the next highly abused drugs by adolescents. This has been on the rise over the last few years. Unintentional drug overdose deaths for prescription drugs have also been on the incline; while drugs like heroin and cocaine have shown a decline or leveling off over the years. Prescription drug overdoses are still more than heroin and cocaine. Trends gathered over the last few years have certainly supported increased use and abuse.
Also, there are more prescription drugs being filled yearly now, than ever before. Since 1995 there has been a 72% increase in prescriptions being filled. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly increases the risks of abuse. Increased awareness and media attention have certainly influenced public perception of this issue. Schools are starting to include it in their drug prevention curriculum and policies, doctors are more aware of the abuse factor when they prescribe medications, and therapists and substance abuse counselors are becoming more aware of the importance of screening for this as well.
TestCountry: How does addiction impact the family?
Mark Myers: There is a wide range of emotions that the abuser experiences when on, coming down, and seeking out the drug. The emotions could include depression, anxiety, irritability, anger outbursts, euphoria, delusional thinking, paranoia, confusion, and worry, to name a few. These moods could be experienced on the same day. This is an extremely difficult environment to grow up in.
Families could be thrown into turmoil not only from the mood aspect but fighting between partners. Addiction could lead to arrests, family violence, divorce, and loss of income. All of this is part of the struggles families go through as well as denial (commonplace in addiction) and broken promises. Children of abusers could experience challenges growing up in this environment that could reach well into adulthood and their relationships. Children are often told to buy into one reality presented by a parent(s) that everything is okay, but they see a different reality (the reality of addiction). This is confusing for them and growing up with this discrepancy certainly takes its toll. Guilt, anger, mistrust, shame and fear are among the emotions experienced by the family.
TestCountry: What about the schools or the community?
Mark Myers: The community will see the impact through crime statistics. The crimes could be break-ins, robberies, thefts, forged prescriptions, crimes under the influence, domestic violence, car accidents, assaults, and trips to the emergency room for overdoses. Businesses will feel the effect as well through theft, increased medical expenses, and loss of valued employees. It is estimated by the U.S. Department of Health Services, 500 million workdays are lost annually from employee substance abuse. Substance abuse costs American businesses approximately 81 billion dollars annually in lost productivity, absenteeism and accidents.
Schools will feel the impact through behavior they see and the impact on grades. It does not provide a good and safe learning environment when there are drugs available. Peer influence and availability will make adolescents more tempted to try them. Also, despite school policy addressing this issue, a lot of teens do not see a problem in using someone else’s prescription. The temptation is also great for youths who believe Smart Drugs (drugs that increase attention and alertness) can aid them in their studies.
TestCountry: I see that you often lecture on anger management, communication skills, and stress management. Do these skills play into addiction and recovery?
Mark Myers: Most people do not start out wanting to be addicted. They start out experimenting with their drug of choice and finding some purpose it can serve (this could be a feeling, a certain emotion, or avoiding a feeling). As their addiction progresses, they are becoming more dependent on the drug to produce or avoid that emotion. They lose their own natural abilities to calm themselves down, manage their anger, and communicate effectively. Also, when addicts are under the influence, the ability to manage stress and anger is greatly affected. These are skills that need to be relearned by the recovering addict. Learning coping skills is an integral part of the recovery process.
The communication aspect is also important. Since lies and deception are a part of the addictive experience, trust and communication need to be repaired during the recovery process. This is also a learning process. For some, communicating could be challenging. Avoiding most types of communication is usually something an active addict works at. He/she want to continue to use and not get into dialogues about it. For an addict and family to have open communications is going to be new and different.
TestCountry: For people who are addicted, is there a disconnect between their thoughts and their emotions?
Mark Myers: Most definitely. Addicts rely on their drugs of choice to produce or avoid certain emotions. As they progress in their addiction, there is a loss of ability to master and understand your emotions. Drug use, over a period of time, affects brain chemistry. This alteration effects emotional stability and growth. If the drug itself is directly involved in producing emotions, individuals lose their own abilities for regulating moods.
Furthermore, as the drugs begin to take over their lives, they begin to make decisions based on their desire to get high. Morals and values are influenced. The drugs make the decisions for them and become the driving force for them. Not only is there a disconnect between thoughts and emotions, but some addicts welcome this. This allows them to continue to use without feeling guilty or remorseful. For addicts that start out earlier in life, abuse retards emotional maturity. These individuals are emotionally stagnated because they were never able to go through age-appropriate developmental challenges. Decision making, impulse control, reasoning, loss of value system, judgment and coping skills are all affected.
TestCountry: How do you work with your clients to reestablish that connection?
Mark Myers: The initial part of recovery is tricky. Since there is this disconnect, without drugs, they are going to experience a wide range of emotions they are unaccustomed to dealing. It is important to normalize these feelings and prepare them for it. They need to be encouraged that in time, it will be easier. Finding a support group that has other people going through this could help. Encouraging them to verbalize their struggles is also helpful. Sometimes, I have clients write down or journal their daily events and feelings. This helps organize their thoughts and sort out feelings. Getting them to get out of their own heads and put thoughts down in writing is extremely helpful.
TestCountry: Do you find that addiction occurs along with other disorders?
Mark Myers: It is commonplace to find another disorder (depression, anxiety, and attention deficit) to exist with the addiction. The term Comorbidity (describes two or more disorders occurring in the same person) is a word used in the professional field. In fact, according to a National Institute of Drug Study, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to suffer from mood and anxiety disorders.
A person may feel more compelled to drink or use to compensate for an emotion created by another disorder. In a harmful way, they feed off each other. For instance, a person who is experiencing social anxiety may turn to drinking when going out in public. Often times we discover this aspect when they stop drinking or using. The coexisting disorder would have been overlooked because of the more high profile substance abuse. That is why it is important to get a good history in evaluating addicts, one that predates their addictive patterns. Individuals with a family history of mental health or substance abuse problems should be carefully screened for this possibility. Sometimes, in the case of the more powerful drugs, use of the substance itself could trigger a psychotic reaction. It is a chicken and egg scenario. It is important to address both of the diagnosis in this case.
TestCountry: What do you see as the key to recovery?
Mark Myers: The first key is acknowledging that you have a problem with using. After recognizing that, the next step is being clear about the direction set forth in developing a recovery plan. Addicts cannot have any gray area regarding their recovery. It is either you use/drink or you don’t. It is not unusual for a person in early recovery to struggle with their commitment to sobriety and allow themselves a back door out of this commitment. If a person states they will cut back, slow down, or limit their use to special occasions, this is very difficult to measure and offers less accountability. Commitment to complete abstinence is the most productive way to go. Once that happens, everything else falls into place. The recovery plan is developed around that. Coping skills, addressing urges, rebuilding relationships, creating support systems, and other aspects of developing a sobriety plan, are not going to be helpful unless a clear goal is established. This goal should be a commitment to not using at all.
TestCountry: How can an addict continue to grow after recovery?
Mark Myers: There are some addicts who believe they have grown through their recovery process. The adversity leading up to their recovery has made them stronger and better. Just like the addiction experience, the road to recovery is a process. It is a lifetime pursuit for most.
The Alcoholic Anonymous program is a self-help group that offers a 12 step program to work on recovery issues. Each step builds on the other. As a person progresses in the program, they work their way up the steps. There are challenges a person faces that are addressed with each step.
Even if you are not in Alcoholic Anonymous, you can find other groups or organizations to be a part of. This includes other substance abuse support groups, religious institutes, community groups, and family. Recovering addicts often face a “what now “scenario once drug or alcohol use has stopped. The substances that played such a large part of their lives are no longer there. It is important to redefine yourself and in some cases create a new identity. If a person is not in therapy, it may be helpful to seek out a therapist who is experienced in addressing substance abuse. This could not only help in creating a plan to maintain abstinence but create a recovery plan that will help a recovering addict grow and prosper.
You can learn more about the Myers Counseling Group at www.myerscounseling.com.