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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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How to Manage Holiday Stress

Most of us have some stress in our everyday lives. Whether it’s anxiety from work, family drama, or worries about our health, there’s plenty of stressors to contend with. The holiday season, for all its magic, also comes with plenty of pressure. There’s the shopping, the travel, and the need to spend time with all the important people in our lives.

More serious types of anxiety, too, can resurface this time of year. Painful feeligs like grief about the past or loss of a loved one, or unresolved trauma caused by people we’re expected to see, can be difficult to navigate. For people who can’t be with their families, feelings of lonliness often accompany the holidays.

No matter the cause, feeling stressed is normal and learning how to cope with it will serve you not only through the new year, but for many years to come.

Stressed Man Image

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 the situation. Staying stressed, even after the underlying cause has been dealt with, can lead to chronic stress which causes health problems like:

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

Anxiety is what happens when the stress becomes out of control. 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
Relaxing Couple Image

Keys to Managing Holiday Stress

It’s important to recognize and take control of triggers that may lead to stress, especially during the holidays. The Mayo Clinic offers many helpful tips to help identify and stress and develop coping skills:

  • Maintain healthy habits — To keep up your energy and spirit, make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating as healthy as possible, and staying active. There’s lots of tempting treats this time of year, so make sure you have a plan.
  • Make a budget — Before you start buying gifts, set a budget that is realistic for what you can afford. Consider presents that allow you and your loved ones to spend time together, rather than lots of material items.
  • Set aside differences — Extra time with family members might mean more tension and the temptation to bring up past disagreements. Try to set boundaries and prepare to accept people as they are. 
  • Take a break — Set aside some time for yourself. While your schedule fills up with celebrations, make sure that you plan some quiet time for yourself or an activity you enjoy. This will give you time to clear your head and relax.

Taking care of yourself will help not only your mental health, but your physical well-being too. The holidays always bring lots of cheer and excitement. By following a de-stressor gameplan, you can give yourself the gift of peace of mind.

Get Help When You Need It

If stress is keeping you from enjoying the holidays or other parts of your 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’ll 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