Man on Sunset

National Recovery Month Honors the Work of Those Dealing with Substance Use Disorder

It’s easy to deem addiction a lack of willpower. It is, however, a mental health condition called substance use disorder, or SUD.

The symptoms can range from moderate to extreme. The most severe symptoms are addiction — alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.

More than 3.7 million people over the age of 12 received some kind of treatment for SUD in the past year while another 21 million needed substance abuse treatment. Given these numbers it is likely we all know someone battling an addiction.

To promote and support evidence-based treatments of recovery practices and celebrate the dedication of those who work in recovery, September has been declared National Recovery Month.

How It Started

The recognition began in 1989 as Treatment Works! Month. It was a way to honor the work of addiction professionals. In 1998 it was renamed National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month to honor the individuals suffering from SUD and not just the professionals.

It didn’t become National Recovery Month until 2011. That change recognized the work done by people in behavioral health.

Besides celebrating the work of these professionals, it is also a way to educate the public about mental health and substance use disorders. The national opioid crisis, increased overdose rates, and the need for mental health resources have put a glaring spotlight on the connection between mental health and SUD.

Woman Drinking Alcohol

More Than Addiction

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, there is a co-occurring mental disorder in in about half the people who experience a SUD. These disorders could include attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, depression, personality disorders, and schizophrenia, among others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has more information in its report, Common Comorbidities with Substance Use Disorders.

Despite the co-occurrence, that doesn’t mean that one caused the other. There are several possibilities, according to NIMH, why they occur together.

  • Common risk factors — Mental disorders and SUDs may be genetic as they sometimes run in families. Environmental factors like trauma or stress could cause genetic changes that are passed down through a family.
  • Mental disorders can lead to substance use — Self-medication with drugs or alcohol for anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to an SUD. The temporary benefits, however, will make continued substance use more likely.
  • Substance use contributes to mental disorders — Brain structure and function can be altered using some substances which can lead to the development of brain disorders.
Group Therapy

Diagnosis and Treatment

It’s best to treat the mental disorder and SUD together. This requires evaluation by a health care provider for each disorder. It can be difficult to make an accurate diagnosis with overlapping symptoms. However, with an accurate diagnosis in hand, you can get the treatment you need.

Treatment can include:

  • Behavioral therapy
  • Community treatment
  • Family therapy
  • Medication

Getting Help

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator for finding substance use and mental health treatment facilities and programs. SAMHSA also offers for finding substance use disorder treatments and programs across the country.

For additional resources about finding help, visit:

NIMH: Help for Mental Illnesses page

National Cancer Institute: and their smoking quitline: 1-877-44U-QUIT (1-877-448-7848)

You Can Count on Us

AltaMed wants you to know that you are not alone. Our Behavioral Health team is available to provide short-term therapy to help you overcome any immediate challenges. We can also link you with mental health services if you need long-term therapy. There are licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish available in our Los Angeles County and Orange County locations.

To learn more about our services, call us today at (855) 425-1777.

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Stressed Man

Managing Stress Before It Becomes Anxiety

It feels like stress has been a frequent companion for the last two years. The pandemic has forced many of us to feel lonely and isolated. We may have lost loved ones or seen friends and relatives spend time in the hospital. Jobs have been lost and financial worries seem constant.

It’s normal, however. Stress is the body’s response to the unknown. Learning how to handle that stress can make you resilient. 

Woman Having Stress Problems

The Body and Stress

Your body releases hormones whenever you’re stressed. It is part of the fight-or-flight response that has developed over millions of years. You become more alert, your muscles get tense, and your pulse increases. The stress is meant to help you handle that situation.

Staying stressed, even after that stressful situation has passed, can lead to chronic stress which can lead to health problems like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Menstrual problems
  • Anxiety

Anxiety happens when the stress takes over. You are in a constant state of worry. Symptoms include:

  • Changes in appetite, energy, and motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling angry, frustrated, sad, scared, or worried
  • Headaches, body aches, stomach problems, or rashes
  • Nightmares
  • Use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco
  • Worsening physical or mental health
Mom and Daughter Looking the Lake

4 A’s of Stress Management

It’s important to learn productive ways to deal with stress because we deal with it nearly every day. Sometimes it’s good, like a wedding, birthday, or a new job. Sometimes it’s difficult, like a flat tire, an illness, or a pandemic. There are ways to get your body back into balance, so you’re not overwhelmed by stress.

The Mayo Clinic recommends four A’s to cope with stress: avoid, alter, accept, and adapt

  • Avoid — The news can be incredibly stressful so, avoid it. Being informed is important, but not at the expense of your health. Don’t engage with people who bother you. Learn to say “no.” If you have a “to-do” list, prioritize items on that list and forget the ones you can’t get to that day.
  • Alter — It may be worth having a talk with that bothersome person if they can’t be avoided. Communicate your feelings with “I” statements about how you feel. Tell people there are limits to your time and stick to those. Use your time more efficiently.
  • Accept — It can help to talk with a sympathetic friend. It might be time to forgive someone, which can be hard. Practice positivity. Don’t get down on yourself for mistakes. Remind yourself that mistakes happen to everyone. Learn and move on.
  • Adapt — Shift your thinking. You may want things to be “perfect.” That’s not necessary. Learn to stop gloomy thoughts. Look at situations from a different viewpoint. Find the positivity in each situation. Try to come up with at least three good things that happened each day. This will lead you to start looking for the good in your life as you look for different things to be thankful for.

Regular exercise, having a hobby, staying connected with friends, eating a healthy diet, and meditating are all ways that can help you keep the stress in check.

Get Help When You Need It

If stress is keeping you from enjoying life, it might be time to seek professional assistance. Start by talking with your primary care doctor. They may have some tips or advice for you, and they can also refer you to AltaMed Behavioral Health Services.

If you’re not sure if stress is your problem or if you should see a doctor, you can call AltaMed Behavioral Health Services directly at 855- 425-1777. We can help you find answers so you can get the care that’s right for you. Take a deep breath…together, we’ve got this.

Bottle With Pills

Understanding the Risks of Opioids

For the past six months, the nation’s attention has been focused on the coronavirus pandemic – but the opioid epidemic rages on. If you’ve heard the term before but aren’t sure what it means, it refers to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have become addicted, overdosed, or died from prescription pain medications.

The effects aren’t just physical: opioid addiction can cost people their jobs and their reputations. It can isolate people from their family and friends. Opioid addiction can lead even the most honorable people into a life of ill judgment, bad decisions, and even crime. Read on to learn more about the benefits, dangers, and what AltaMed is doing to protect patients.

What Are Opioids?

Underlining Word Opioids in a Book

Opioids are a general class of drugs naturally found in the opium poppy plant or created in a lab to produce the same effects. The main effect of opioids is pain relief, but many opioids also leave the user feeling incredibly relaxed, and even high.

Opioids are extremely effective for treating certain types of pain, especially pain that is acute, or short-term in nature.

You might be prescribed opioids if you:

  • Just had surgery
  • Broke a bone
  • Experience kidney stones
  • Have cancer
  • Or other cases in which there may be severe pain that is not expected to last more than a few weeks or even a couple of months.

Commonly prescribed opioids include:

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Endocet)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Morphine (MS Contin, Kadian, Oramorph SR)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Codeine (Tylenol with Codeine)

The street drug, heroin, is an opioid, though it is never used as a medicine in the United States.

What to Do If Your Doctor Prescribes You Opioids

Woman Choosing Pills

If you are a patient who has been prescribed opioids, always ask if there is another medication or therapy available to you. For example, if you have been prescribed opioids for back pain, ask if physical therapy, or a drug like aspirin or ibuprofen is a better choice. Pain patients may also benefit from alternative/complementary treatments such as trigger point injections, massage, and even behavioral therapy. If your doctor doesn’t want to discuss alternatives, get a second opinion.

However, if you and your doctor thoughtfully decide an opioid prescription is the most appropriate treatment, these steps can help make sure you are using them properly and not putting yourself, or anyone else, at risk.

  • Take your medication exactly as prescribed.
  • Educate yourself about the health risks, and signs of abuse and overdose.
  • Never lend your medication to anyone else.
  • Keep your medicine somewhere safe and out of reach of children.
  • Tell all of your doctors about the medications you’re taking.
  • If you have extra, contact your pharmacy to learn about safe disposal.
  • When it’s time to stop taking your prescription, talk to your health care team about making a plan to get off of opioids.

Why You Must Know the Dangers

Pills and Tablets

One of the things that makes opioids so addictive is how they affect your brain: they help produce endorphins, which block pain and make you feel good. Over time, your brain may stop producing its own endorphins, and so the only way to feel good is to take more drugs. And over time, opioids also become less effective at making the pain go away, so you’ll need more to get the same effects. This is called dependence.

Misuse is taking opioids in any way other than how a doctor prescribes. For example, taking a higher dosage, or, instead of taking them as pills, crushing and snorting them, or taking prescriptions that aren’t yours. Because opioids are so powerful, any one of these things can lead to an overdose or even death.

Addiction is compulsive drug use, no matter what the consequences are. Dependence and addiction often go hand-in-hand, and addiction can often lead to misuse, though not everyone who misuses a drug is an addict.

An overdose occurs when someone takes too much of a drug. Opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing, and during an overdose, breathing can slow down or stop, leading to seizures, respiratory failure, and even death.

Any one of these dangers can happen in a short period, even with a low dosage. This is why it’s critical for anyone with a prescription to work closely with their health care team.

The Benefits of Getting Your Care Under One Roof

Medicine Rack

AltaMed physicians and pharmacists take an active role in helping to prevent opioid misuse and addiction. When you get care in the AltaMed network, electronic health records let our physicians share information, so you’re never prescribed more than you need. Your AltaMed pharmacist will ensure your medications don’t interact with each other, and that you know exactly what you’re taking.

AltaMed also uses COMBAT, a comprehensive program that takes a proactive approach to identifying and monitoring potentially high-risk patients. The program’s goal is to provide physicians with tools to prevent misuse and overdose, and ensure the patient is still getting effective treatment for their pain.

If you are being treated for pain, the best way to protect yourself is to work closely with your doctor. Have an honest discussion about your concerns. We’re here for you to get the help you need, and support your mind and body on your journey to grow healthy.

National Recovery Month Honors the Work of Those Dealing with Substance Use Disorder