How to Start Building a Life After Addiction

For those of us who walk the path of getting sober, rebuilding your life can seem overwhelming and intimidating. It may be that you feel you’ve done too much damage to ever dream of getting your life back, or that you feel so out of your element that you don’t know where to begin. 

Even so, it is possible to reconstruct your life. It just takes time and patience, both of which can feel like obstacles. If you’re just starting out, here are a few helpful tips. 

1. Start with the small things.

The reality is that you can’t change your life overnight. Sometimes the realization of this is difficult because it’s natural to want to fix things once you’ve begun the process of recovery. But think about it this way: you likely spent a lot of time — years, probably — getting your life to the point it’s currently at. It’s not realistic to be able to undo that type of damage quickly. Instead of focusing on all of it at once, pick something small each day and give that your energy and attention. It may not seem like a big thing, or seem like it makes much of a difference overall, but with time you will likely find that the small steps you are taken have made big differences in your life. 

2. Focus on relationships

So much of our lives revolve around our relationships with others, and these can be some of the hardest things to repair when it comes to rebuilding life in recovery. It’s likely that some of the people in your life are wary of trusting you completely or believing that you are truly trying to change. And if you think of it from their point of view, they probably have their reasons for those feelings. So instead of getting frustrated, work on communicating that you understand their position and don’t expect an immediate improvement in the relationship. Make it clear that you know you will have to work to regain their trust and that you are open to doing what it takes. 

3. Engage in constructive conversations

It can be difficult to talk to those in your life about what happened while you were drinking or using, and many times it can bring up an array of emotions. It’s natural to want to shy away from those emotions of guilt and shame, but it’s healing to talk through them instead. If your family members or friends want to have a conversion with you, take them up on it. Sit down and hear them out. Though you may remember things differently and want to interject, let them have their say. Their feelings are completely valid and they likely have held a lot inside over the years. If you want to move toward a positive relationship, this is a step in the process. 

4. Establish a daily routine. 

One of the most difficult parts of getting sober is figuring out what to do with all the time. Whether you realize it or not, being in active addiction is time-consuming. Once removed from that lifestyle, you’ll likely find yourself unsure what to do. This is where it becomes important to develop a hobby or interest. There are so many healthy outlets out there to pick up, whether it be writing, reading, working out, crafting…the list goes on. Think about something you’ve always wanted to do or try, and go do it. Even if you don’t like it, you’ll be able to check it off the list and move on to the next thing. This is the perfect time in your life to start discovering what fills you up in the best ways. 

5. Don’t let your recovery fall to the wayside. 

Even though you are focused on rebuilding your life, you still have to focus on getting and staying sober. If you attend 12-step meetings, this means continuing to build them into your schedule. If you rely on other forms of support, build those in as well. Another aspect important to recovery is seeking out peer support. No matter how much support family or friends may offer, they probably haven’t walked in your shoes. It’s important to find people you can connect with who relate to what you are going through and can offer advice and support. At points, you may find yourself feeling good and solid in your recovery, and this can make it easy to push it to the side rather than focus on it. But in reality, it will always need to stay a point of focus in your life. 

When it comes down to it, rebuilding your life can be a slow process. It has to be taken moment by moment rather than all at once. Thinking about it as one big thing to accomplish isn’t effective and you will likely end up overwhelmed. Instead, focus on each day in itself and remind yourself what small steps you can take to move toward the better version of you. 

The Increasing Rates of Overdose in the Pandemic

Many aspects of life are being affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — and the rates of overdose are seemingly included. 

Despite some progress in recent years, the overdose rate in the United States is again climbing. And the culprit, according to various experts, is likely the pandemic and its effect on everyday life. 

Current overdose rates 

Though the year is not yet over, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that the U.S. is already seeing increased rates of overdose when compared to last year. 

In June, the White House released an analysis noting that overdose deaths had increased 11.4% during the months of January through April, when compared to the same months in 2019. 

If that number continues to climb, according to the New York Times, 2020 could potentially see the highest increase in overdose deaths since 2016. The Times goes on to say that in the past, those who have researched the topic have found a connection between economic recessions and drug use and overdose rates. 

According to the American Medical Association, recent reports from more than 35 states show an increase in overdose deaths. 

“The AMA is greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports from national, state and local media suggesting increases in opioid-related mortality—particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” the Association said in a statement.   

How COVID may affect overdose rates

So what exactly is it about a recession — and COVID-19 in particular — that leads to seeing increased overdose rates? According to experts, it’s likely a combination of stress and isolation. 

“We have two things colliding: the stress of the uncertainty of what’s going to happen with [Covid-19], and also the uncertainty of what’s going to happen to you, (with high levels of) unemployment, or if you are studying, what will happen to your education, Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Advisory Board. “And then the social distancing and isolation that makes the whole process much worse.”

Dave Quisenberry is a 48-year-old West Virginia man and is in recovery. He tells the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that he has had to check in with himself often due to isolation. 

“Being alone five days in a row can get to you, can make you anxious and depressed,” he said.  “Back when I was using, I would just take care of that [with drugs].”

“I know a lot of people in my support groups who have lost their jobs, which is completely miserable,” he added. “It’s a really bad deal right now for a lot of people who are trying to avoid drugs.”

During the pandemic especially, drug use can be more deadly than normal. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, this is because existing drug chains have been affected and those using may have had to turn elsewhere, without knowledge of what type of drugs they may be using. 

“We’re seeing more overdose cases going straight to the morgue rather than to the emergency department,” Daniel Buccino, clinical manager of the Johns Hopkins Broadway Center for Addiction, told the Association. 

Another factor that comes into play is how COVID has affected those seeking treatment for substance use disorder. Advisory Board notes that some in-patient facilities, as well as needle-exchange programs, have had to temporarily halt services. 

“Way too many residential programs just shut their doors and left patients with no safety net,” Percy Menzies, president of Assisted Recovery Centers of America, told the Times. 

However, those programs have seen the need to adjust their services, and and are feeling more confident moving forward. 

“For a while, providing care during COVID felt like flying a plane that’s held together with string and chewing gum,” Aaron Greenblatt, MD, medical director of the University of Maryland Drug Treatment Center, told the AAMC. “Now, we’ve actually managed a major re-imagining of how we deliver addiction services…I just hope some of the positive developments we’re seeing in treatment will continue once the pandemic is over.”

Is COVID solely to blame?

Despite the factors connected to COVID, some experts note it is important to acknowledge that the overdose rate was increasing again even before the pandemic. 

According to Natalia Derevyanny, a spokesperson for the medical examiner’s office in Cook County, Illinois, the pandemic has been front and center in the media. If that were not the case, she notes, overdose deaths would be at the forefront. 

“If it weren’t for [Covid-19], these opioid deaths are all we’d be talking about right now,” she told Advisory Board.

In the end, experts say, the pandemic has just added to an already existing and growing problem in the country. 

Covid just makes it a bit worse,” Dr. Dan Ciccarone, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Times. “It’s a small wave riding on top of a tsunami that continues to devastate.”

7 Misconceptions About Recovery

This month, Beth Leipholtz celebrated 7 years in recovery. She is here to share 7 misconceptions about recovery.

When I think back to early recovery, the thought of reaching a month, 6 months, a year seemed insurmountable. I had so many images in my head of what recovery was sure to look like, and why I would definitely hate it. 

But over the past 7 years, it’s become obvious that many of those images in my mind were misconceptions. Here are a few of the biggest ones. 

Misconception #1: People who are sober don’t have a social life. 

I, like many in early recovery, feared for my social life. I was sure no one would want to spend time with the sober version of me. But in reality, it was the other way around. Most people liked the sober version of me much better than the intoxicated version, and for good reason. It was me that had to learn to like that version. As I became more comfortable without alcohol in my life, I realized two important things: 1) I was more of an introvert than I thought and 2) I could be around alcohol without wanting it. Being an introvert meant I was more than okay with a limited social life by my choosing. But at the same time, when I chose to go out, I was okay with being around people who drank. 

Misconception #2: You have to be religious to get sober. 

This one had me hung up for a long time. I was so hellbent on the idea that the 12 steps were centered around God and I wasn’t necessarily religious. For a very long time, I couldn’t move past that fact. But eventually, one of my counselors told me that as long as I didn’t believe I was the center of the universe, as long as I believed there was something more powerful than me, that it was time to move through the steps with that in mind. Over the past 7 years, I’ve come to realize that I’m a spiritual person, and that means that certain things look different for me than they do for religious people. And that’s okay. My sobriety isn’t lessened because of that. 

Misconception #3: You won’t ever repair the relationships you ruined. 

In my mind, some of my friendships were just goners based on what I had done or said while intoxicated. For a while, it didn’t even occur to me that some of them could be repaired. But today, some of the most tumultuous relationships from when I was drinking are the strongest ones. In fact, one of the bridges I was sure I had burned is now an incredibly close friend and was even my midwife through my recent pregnancy. Changing your own behavior is all you can control, and if you’re lucky, many people will meet you there. 

Misconception #4: No one will truly understand what you going through. 

When you’re in the thick of it all, it’s easy to see yourself as the victim or be sure you’re the only one who has ever been in such a difficult position. But when you give into the process and allow yourself to make connections with peers, you’ll come to realize that there are so many people out there who truly do understand the turmoil and frustrations that come along with recovery, as well as the celebrations. No matter how alone you may feel in a specific moment, there is always someone who has been in a similar position. You just have to be willing to make those connections with other people and not hold back out of fear. 

Misconception #5: You have to identify as an alcoholic. 

To this day, I hate the word alcoholic. To me, it carries so much stigma. People have a very specific idea of what an alcoholic is, but many people who are in recovery don’t fit that image. You don’t have to have lost everything and be homeless in order to seek help for your relationship with alcohol. You just have to have lost enough that you know it’s time to surrender and seek a fuller life. This point is different for everyone and there is no one size fits all.  

Misconception #6: You’ll be looked down upon. 

Early on, I was so worried what people would think about me if I told the truth about getting sober. But on the flip side, I hadn’t worried what they thought when I was making a fool of myself while intoxicated. It’s funny how that works. When I finally came up with the courage to admit that I was sober and in treatment, I was met with so much kindness and encouragement. No one made me feel like less of a person or like I had something to be ashamed of. Instead, they made me feel proud of the steps I was taking to better my life, and that’s continued to be the case over the past 7 years. 

Misconception #7: You will always miss alcohol and wish you could drink. 

I was so, so sure that I would spend every day for the rest of my life wishing I could drink like a “normal” person. And for a while that was true. But when you do something long enough, it becomes normal. Today, I can go days without even remembering that I don’t drink. It doesn’t occur to me on a daily basis anymore because I am so content with where my life is today, and it is where it is in part because I don’t drink anymore. I am able to be a better version of myself without alcohol and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

How Recovery Shapes Fatherhood: Dads in Recovery Tell Their Stories

For these three fathers in recovery, the best Father’s Day gift is the ability to be present for their children.

It’s no secret that being a parent and having a substance use disorder do not go hand-in-hand. The ability to stay in recovery and be a father is not an easy feat and not something to take lightly.

For these three fathers in recovery, the best Father’s Day gift is the ability to be present for their children.

How recovery shapes fatherhood

For some, getting sober comes before fatherhood. Brian List, of Arizona, was in his 18th year of recovery when he found out he was going to be a dad. Still, the news was overwhelming.

“I had a tool kit and I was well equipped to handle the massive amount of feelings I was having about becoming a father,” he said. “I always had this belief that I didn’t have enough selflessness to be a dad…I was filled with love and anxiety and wondered if I was father material. I couldn’t wait to meet him but I was so scared. Will I break him? Will he like me? I was scared of this whole new responsibility.”

Sam Kratzer of Minnesota was also sober when he became a father, but that didn’t stop an influx of emotions.

“My first feeling when I found out I was going to be a father was honestly terror,” he said. “I was over 2 years sober at that point but I didn’t feel prepared for the responsibility. I guess nobody really is. Then there was another shot of terror a couple of weeks later when we found out it was twins!”

For others though, fatherhood is the catalyst for making the choice to get sober. Nate J, of Minnesota, is a father of two. However, he did not get sober until after his second child, a daughter, was 6 years old. It has now been more than three years since he stopped drinking.

“My son and my relationship was bad,” Nate said. “I always felt he loved his mother more than me, so being the dad I thought I should be never materialized. I continued to drink and blame all my failings with my children on everyone but myself.”

After choosing to stop drinking, Nate says fatherhood becomes a different journey.

“My father was not there a lot so I made the choice to be different than him.”

“Being sober, being a father took on a whole new meaning,” he said. “There’s a lot more time to do what my kids want to do. My father was not there a lot so I made the choice to be different than him.”

For Kratzer, being in recovery has given him the opportunity to truly be there for his children in a positive way.

“Being sober has shaped the way I father basically by allowing me to be present,” Kratzer said. “When I was drinking, by the end of the line I was usually either angry or absent – not the kind of person who would have been a fit father. Being sober has given me the tools to engage with people in a healthy way and be present and contribute to my relationships, including those with my kids.”

The path to recovery applies in other aspects of life as well, List says, as he tries to live by the 12 steps in his relationship with his son.

“I try to practice the principles of the 12 steps in my relationship with Easton,” he said. “I realize I can’t control him. I dont own him. He is his own being so I must let go and just be. I can be reliable so I must be present. I can love so I must love him. I get resentful at him so I must be willing to walk through that skillfully. Sometimes I handle things unskillfully so I can make amends to him. Trust me, that is humbling. Because of recovery in my life, Easton has a safe place to call home.”

“Being sober has shaped the way I father basically by allowing me to be present.”

Advice for sober dads

When it comes to sober parenting, struggles are to be expected. However, they don’t have to be faced alone. For Kratzer, connecting with other fathers in recovery has been vital.

“Make friends with other sober dads,” he said. “One of the things about being an alcoholic is that you’ve got this idea that nobody understands your struggles, and I found the same to be true with being a sober dad – especially a dad of twins. Find people in the same situation you’re in and support each other.”

List recommends acknowledging the fact that love alone will never be enough to mend a broken relationship with your children, and recovery has to be the solution.

“Make friends with other sober dads. Find people in the same situation you’re in and support each other.”

“All the love in the world for your little one won’t fix the problem,” List said.  “It can move you in the right direction but that’s not the cure-all. I know this because I’ve seen it. I’ve watched fathers welcome their newborn into this world then go and get high. I’ve watched men sober up for their son or daughter then relapse and go to jail, or die”

For List, recovery came by way of a 12-step program, which he recommends for anyone wanting to get and stay sober.

“We can talk about the messy situations that we’ve gotten ourselves into,” List said. “We can talk about our struggles and fears. We can talk about hopelessness and unmanageability. Then we can talk about wanting to change and what we need to do to get to a better place. As an addict and alcoholic in recovery, I can share with you what I did to get free from the struggle.”

In the end, Nate says, it comes down to being honest with yourself and with your kids.

“Wake up,” he said. “See the damage you are doing to your kids and yourself. You have a problem, and your kids see it. You are hurting them and others, and it is not fair…Your kids will understand and support you as long as you are trying.”

Sober as a Mother: In Celebration of Sober Moms

This Mother’s Day, four mothers, all in various stages of life and sobriety, are celebrating what recovery has given them.

As my first Mother’s Day approaches, I often stop and stare at my son in wonder, thinking to myself, “Would you even be here if I’d not gotten sober?” And truthfully, I don’t think he would. My life just wouldn’t have played out the same way had I not made the decision to stop drinking 7 years ago. I owe many accomplishments to my sobriety, but he is by far the one I am proudest of.

And I know I’m not alone. For many women, children are their driving force in getting sober, and for some, in staying that way. This Mother’s Day, four mothers, all in various stages of life and sobriety, are celebrating what recovery has given them.

The road to sobriety

Jennifer Aldrich, 44, is a California mother of two — a 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. She first got sober at age 20, and maintained that sobriety for 17 years before relapsing. She drank for about two years before getting sober for a second time, and has now been sober for more than four years.

“I appreciate my kids so much more being sober,” she said. “When I went back out after the 17 years and my kids were young, I thought I was the fun mom. Yet sadly they missed out on so much because of my hangovers or not wanting to take them out due to being intoxicated. Being sober I can get up everyday knowing my kids have the very best of me.”

“Being sober I can get up everyday knowing my kids have the very best of me.”

Miranda Olson, a 25-year-old from Minnesota, recently gave birth to her first child. She stopped drinking in 2017, after a particularly bad blackout. She found that even throughout her pregnancy, alcohol was often brought up.

“A lot of people made jokes that I would really want a drink after my pregnancy, or that I deserved a drink after birthing a baby,” Olson said. “But I was growing a human, and that was cool enough for me.”

Olson says she realizes that in some cases, mothers can drink and balance motherhood in a healthy way. But she doesn’t feel that’s the case for herself.

“I am a better version of myself, and a mom, because I choose to not drink,” she said. “I choose to not embarrass myself in front of others, to not be groggy in the mornings because too many drinks the night before, and I will always be able to drive and come to the rescue if my daughter were to need me.”

Michelle Caron, a 36-year-old mother of three from Colorado, says being sober has allowed the love she has for her children to evolve.
“When I was still drinking, I beat myself up every minute of every day for being a ‘bad mom.’ I mothered from a place of guilt rather than from an outpouring of love. Being a sober mom has allowed me to fully feel all the love I have for my kids,” Caron said. “I’ve always loved my kids—so very much—but alcohol numbed even the good feelings.”

Erin Doyle, a 39-year-old mom of two from Illinois, found herself as a single mom a few years into her recovery. For Doyle, who now has nearly 17 years of sobriety, 12-Step meetings were a saving grace.

“I made sure that I still went to meetings and tried to stay on top of my emotional sobriety,” Doyle said. “It meant my friends and family watching Ronan so I could go to meetings. I had to bring an active 2- or 3-year-old with me when necessary. At one point, I moved in with another sober woman who helped me maintain a stable and fun house for Ronan. Seeing her adult sons made me hopeful for my son.”

Being a single mother prior to meeting her current husband was eye-opening for Doyle, but she says other women in recovery were the ones who led by example.

“In the story of my life, I never expected to be a single mother,” she said. “I fought with the shame and letting go of the stigma of being a single mother. Other women in the program of AA showed me that I could be a dignified and respected woman and mother. My ability to parent to the best of my ability hinged on my sobriety.”

“My ability to parent to the best of my ability hinged on my sobriety.”


Paving the way

Any of these women will admit that it’s hard to get sober, especially in a world where motherhood is infiltrated with wine glorification. And the statistics show it — according to a study from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, there was an 83.7% increase in high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder in women from 2002-2013.

But for these women, taking a stand against that portrayal of motherhood has been refreshing.

“For some reason, it is implied that because motherhood is harder than singlehood, we deserve to compensate with alcohol,” Olson said. “I mean just walk through Target and look at all the women’s apparel that has some reference toward drinking or wine. It feels exclusive to the people that don’t associate motherhood with alcohol.”

For mothers who are trying to get sober, the best advice Doyle can give is to keep your children at the forefront if they are a motivator for you.

“People say not to get sober for other people, but I have stopped myself from harboring the thought of drinking because I knew the pain it would bring my children,” Doyle said. “If it takes getting sober for your children, use them as the inspiration.”

For Aldrich, a good reminder of why she is sober comes from checking in with her kids and having honest conversations about her drinking.

“It is incredibly difficult in the beginning, yet so gratifying knowing you are living and available.”

“I would tell them (other moms) to check in with their kids and ask them how they like not-sober mom,” Aldrich said. “My kids were so honest and told me how scared they were watching me puke each night and sad that I was not there for them. It is incredibly difficult in the beginning, yet so gratifying knowing you are living and available.”

Olson notes that for some mothers, social media can be a helpful tool.

“Three weeks after I decided to quit drinking, I posted on Facebook and Instagram, and I found a lot of support, and a lot of skepticism,” she said. “But it held me accountable. I believe that social media is a community, and I was relying on that community to hold me accountable. And what I found, that instead of being alone with my struggle, I had friends and family jump to support me.”

In the end, the women say, it all comes down to connection and the acknowledgment that you don’t have to do it alone.

“You will be amazed at the ripple effect healing yourself will have on your entire life and those around you,” Caron said.

“If you struggle, know you are not alone and many women are here for you,” Doyle said. “You are worthy of love. You are worthy of the life you want for yourself and your family.”

Simple Ways to Keep Working Out Even When Gyms Are Closed

When I first got sober, I threw my extra time and energy into working out, and the passion I have for fitness and CrossFit has continued to grow since. When I’m having bad days or weeks, my gym and its community are always constant. 

For many who are sober, this is the case. Working out is a healthy form of stress release. For us, having a gym and an accompanying community is a pillar of life in recovery. 

So, though understandable, the announcement that gyms in many states would be closing due to COVID-19 still came as a blow. Many, including myself, are facing extra anxiety at this time and do not have our typical places to turn to when it comes to releasing that anxiety and stress. 

But gyms being closed doesn’t mean that working out can’t still be a priority. In this time of closures, there are various alternatives. It can even be fun to try a few new things out when it comes to getting your exercise in. Here are a few methods I’ve found helpful for still working out even when my gym is closed. 

  1. Do some good old running/walking.

    When I started CrossFit, I stopped running as often. I got my cardio in other ways and it just didn’t seem necessary. But in the past month or so, I’ve run more than I have in years. The beauty of running is that you really don’t need anything apart from shoes and maybe some tunes. It’s been fun to try and push myself to get faster miles and to explore the areas around home on foot. There are some great apps for tracking your distance, like Map My Run and Run Keeper. If you don’t have the equipment to do more in-depth workouts, or you feel intimidated by them, take 30 minutes, and just walk. Simply moving can do wonders for your mental state. 

  2. Hop into some virtual classes.

    Just because gyms are closed doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve stopped providing their members with services. Many gyms are offering at-home programming to their members, or are holding virtual classes with an instructor and other members so the community feel isn’t lost. Even if your own gym isn’t offering this, there are many others that are and that would welcome you. For example, Blink Fitness offers a virtual class via Facebook Live every morning. Planet Fitness is hosting daily “Work-Ins.” A quick Google search can turn up many others. Check with small, local gyms in your area, too. 

  3. Take advantage of video workouts.

    Though it’s not quite the same as working out with other people at your gym, there are many resources out there with video workouts. Some have always been free, while others have been paid or member-only. But now, a number of those are offering their content for free. For example, the YMCA is offering free access to video workouts to members and non-members. Amazon Prime has a number of fitness videos in their library. YouTube is a great resource as well. If you aren’t sure where to look, try Googling the type of workout you’d like to do along with the word “free.”

  4. Invest in some at-home workout equipment.

    Before you panic, this doesn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need barbells and benches and crazy machines in order to get a good workout. Certain equipment is pretty versatile and inexpensive. A jump rope, yoga mat, and dumbbells/kettlebells can go a long way and can be used for various movements, such as squats, lunges and overhead presses. If you don’t feel like dropping the cash on any equipment, you can get creative and look for everyday household items, such as milk jugs (fill them with sand for heavier options), bags of pet food (similar to a sandbag carry), towels in place of bands, etc. Once you start shifting your mindset, you’ll see new ways to use the items you already have.  

  5. Try something new.

    Since many in the fitness industry are using this time to offer their programming for free for a limited time, or are extending their trial periods, it’s the perfect time to try something new without losing money. The app Down Dog is offering their yoga content for free, as is CorePower Yoga. Some people may be used to yoga, but for me it was a new experience. While I felt out of my element, there was no one to see me struggling and it was a good way of pushing my comfort zone. I discovered that I actually enjoy it, to an extent, and I wasn’t out anything in the process! 

Of course, we’re all eagerly awaiting the time that we can get back to our normal workout routines. But it’s important to recognize that during this time, we are still capable of moving and keeping ourselves healthy, both emotionally and physically. It may be tougher than normal to feel motivated or excited about working out, but that’s okay. All that matters is that we make the effort and make the best of this situation at the current time. 


The Staggering Effect of Opioids on New Jersey

Anyone who has been paying attention to national news in recent years knows that the United States is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, with approximately 400,000 deaths as a result  and New Jersey hasn’t been spared, as the state has lost an increasing number of lives annually. 

But to really understand the growth and roadmap of the epidemic in New Jersey, it’s important to step back and address how it began and what it looks like today. 

The crisis is rooted in the over-prescription of legal painkillers. The National Governors Association reports that from 1999 to 2014, the number of prescription opioids just about quadrupled even though Americans were reporting the same amount of pain. This led to an increased amount of such medications being sold in the black market, creating a supply for patients who had become dependent on prescription painkillers after being prescribed them. 

However, over the past decade, many more deaths were being attributed to heroin, and now, synthetic opioids. The American Society of Addiction Medicine has estimated that of those who become heroin users, 4 out of 5 had previously misused prescription painkillers. While the exact reason for the shift from prescription medication to heroin is unknown, it’s believed that it has to do with heroin often being a cheaper option and being easier to obtain. The shift from heroin to synthetic opioids like fentanyl has to do simply with the availability of such synthetics, which are much stronger than heroin and now, are often mixed with it. 

The Epidemic in New Jersey 

Despite being small geographically, New Jersey has a population of 8.8 million and has not been spared during the epidemic. In fact, each year the state is seeing a growing number of deaths associated with the opioid epidemic. 

The State of New Jersey Department of Health reports that in 2017 (the most recent year with data available) 2,737 people died as a result of drug overdoses. The counties hit hardest that year were Cape May, Atlantic and Camden. When the data is broken down into deaths per 100,000, the county most affected has been Atlantic, averaging 75 deaths per 100,000 in 2016. 

Data shows these numbers are only growing. In 2012, New Jersey as a whole was facing 13.8 deaths per 100,000 people. In 2017, that number had more than doubled to 30.8 per 100,000. Though official data isn’t yet available, the State of New Jersey Department of Health estimates that there were 3,118 deaths in 2018 and 3,021 deaths in 2019. 

In January 2019, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told that despite attempts to curb the epidemic, the efforts were not proving successful.

“I think we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, all of our efforts aren’t having the impact we want to see yet,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we stop. I’m optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction. I have to be.”

One reason for that, Grewal notes, is the entrance of fentanyl and other synthetics.  

Though the opioid epidemic originated with prescription drugs, the landscape seems to be shifting. At the forefront of recent year’s opioid-related deaths are heroin, fentanyl, and fentanyl analogs, according to the New Jersey Reentry Corporation. In Ocean and Atlantic Counties, recent years have seen deaths at the hands of these drugs increasing greatly. This is reason for concern, as NJ Reentry claims “such trends suggest that the crisis has entered a newer and deadlier phase in which deaths are driven by synthetic opioids as opposed to prescription drugs.”

In addition to the emotional toll, the crisis is creating a financial strain on the state. NJ Reentry reports that annually, over $635 million is spent on inpatient and emergency room visits related to overdoses, and at least $145 million is spent for inmates incarcerated due to drug-related crimes. 

Access to treatment is also costing the state, and data shows that such treatment often isn’t effective the first time. Data suggests that 90 percent of treatment costs are being spent on individuals who have already sought treatment without success. Employers are feeling the effects of the crisis, as New Jersey loses about $1.2 billion annually due to members of the workforce dying or being in treatment. 

However, there are signs of hope amid the loss. Preliminary numbers for 2019 show a slight decrease in the number of deaths in the final months of 2019.  

“These numbers are a reminder we must stay vigilant in our work,” said Murphy. “Each resident lost to the epidemic is a loved one gone too soon. This crisis requires us to pursue smart and compassionate policies laser-focused on solutions – increased availability of medication-assisted treatment, greater access to naloxone, education and outreach to residents in need, and enhanced social supports for those on the path to and working to maintain their recovery, like housing and employment services.”

As such, the state is continuing to allocate financial resources to curb the opioid epidemic in New Jersey. In early 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced that $1.67 million worth of County Innovation Awards would be dispersed in order to fund projects related to opioid use disorder prevention, treatment and, recovery.


How to Handle Coronavirus Anxiety

It’s no secret that the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is quickly making its way across the world. The virus’s quick spread is leading to the cancellation of large gatherings, online schooling, social distancing, and, in some cases, quarantines

For anyone, this could lead to heightened levels of coronavirus anxiety and fear. But for those in recovery, many of which already struggle with managing anxiety, it can be especially taxing. Pair that with a lack of face-to-face connections with others — a touchstone of recovery — and the combination has some on edge. 

Managing early recovery 

While those in long-term recovery have likely found their footing in the world of sobriety, it can feel a little rockier for those new to it.

Faith Lusk lives in Minnesota and has been sober for one year. For her, talk of the virus and the surrounding actions have brought up many emotions, but at the forefront is fear. 

“All my life I have been driven by fear,” she said. “Fear of things I don’t know and have no control over. My behavior with situations like this is a lot like my drinking, I obsess over it all day and I can’t stop. I get so consumed by my fear that I just lose sight of rational thinking.” 

For Peter Rohr, who has been sober a little over a year, anxiety is rooted in his financial well-being, much of which comes from coaching high school track. 

“Coaching track is the key to me being financially stable throughout the year,” he said. “The only way I’ve found to try and manage my anxiety is to continue my normal workout routine and try to stay focused on work as much as possible. When I’m at home, it’s a struggle because I haven’t found anything to do to keep my mind off the uncertainty.” 

Though social media has a place in times of the unknown, it also has a tendency to perpetuate fear and spread inaccurate information. For this reason, Lusk has decided to take a social media break for the time being.

“I did not set a time limit for how long I’m going to be off,” she said. “With me deleting the app, I reached out to my beloved father who I trust very much and asked him to keep me informed on this situation if he felt we were becoming more at risk and to only share facts with me.” 

Maintaining a connection 

When it comes to living a life in recovery, one of the most vital pieces is the ability to connect with other people and avoid isolation. But now, social distancing may have an effect on people’s ability to do so. 

Social distancing is a way of “flattening the curve,” a phrase that has become familiar to many in the past few weeks. In short, flattening the curve means taking precautionary measures to minimize the number of people who become infected with the virus so that healthcare systems can continue to care for those who need it. Without taking measures to flatten the curve, the healthcare system will become overwhelmed, which is currently happening in Italy

“I think it’s a hard time because many of the recommendations we’re making are about increasing the distance between people, but of course, being close to people is what makes life a pleasure,”  Carolyn Cannuscio, the director of research at the Center for Public Health Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Atlantic.  

For those who often attend 12-step meetings or other support groups, the lack of those face-to-face meetings may feel threatening to recovery. However, there are a plethora of resources available online, and phones and the internet still provide the ability to connect with others. 

“This is definitely not an excuse to relapse,” said Nancy Carr, who lives in California and has been in recovery for 16 years. “There are also online meetings and so many online resources available. This is a time to go within and love ourselves and others more now during this stressful period.”

Practicing wellness

Sarah Roberts has been in recovery for 18 years. She resides in British Columbia and works in the wellness field. During this time, she encourages people to keep their health and wellness at the forefront. 

“It’s a challenging time,” Roberts said. “It’s rife with panic…the best thing we can all do is to protect our health. Boost our immune systems. Realize the value of our health…What we need is to reduce stress, drink water, eat nourishing foods, get our rest and exercise. Boosting our immunity means we give ourselves the best chance of fighting the virus if we catch it.” 

Roberts adds that now more than ever is the time to focus on health and to practice activities like deep breathing, stretching, talking to a friend, walking in nature and meditation. 

“We must become vigilant about protecting our health,” she said. “Keep in mind that drinking/using doesn’t make coronavirus go away…it just dampens your immune system and puts you right back on the hamster wheel.”

For Lusk, putting her wellness first comes down to the same thing as sobriety: simply taking it one day at a time. 

“As for today, I am practicing fact over fear to help cope with all the scary information floating around in my head,” she said. “I’m proud of myself for continuous improvement in my life and facing these fears. Even when it seems like I can’t do it, I do it just a little bit more.”


What to Do When You’re Not Sure You’re Ready to Quit Drinking

Even if you’ve been throwing the idea around for a while, actually quitting drinking can be daunting.

You may find yourself with more questions than answers about what an alcohol-free life looks like. What will your friends think? How will you fill your free time? Won’t it be awkward at social gatherings? Truthfully, it may never feel like there is a right time, or you may find yourself trying to bargain, to convince yourself you don’t actually need to quit. 

But the reality is that if you have considered quitting, there is likely a valid reason for that. The key is just getting to a point where you are ready to take the plunge. And for some, that takes more time. If you are considering quitting but haven’t quite hit that point of readiness, here are a few actions to consider in getting you closer to that step. 

  1. Talk to people you know who have already made the commitment to quitting drinking. 

If you feel comfortable, spark up a conversation with someone you know who no longer drinks. Talk to them about why they chose to stop and when they knew they were actually ready to take that final step and stop completely. They may be able to offer some valuable advice and some viewpoints you hadn’t yet considered. And even if it’s not enough to convince you it’s time to quit, it’s still a step in the right direction. Over time, you’ll likely find yourself coming back to conversations like these and replaying the words in your mind. There is always something to be gained from a good, honest conversation, even if it isn’t the tipping point. 

  1. Take an alcohol-free test drive. 

Big changes are less daunting when they don’t feel permanent. Rather than thinking about quitting drinking forever, just consider trying one evening out without it. Tell your friends you’re just not in the mood to drink, and see how the evening goes. Sure, it may be awkward. But awkward isn’t the end of the world. You’ll survive and likely realize that quitting drinking isn’t quite as scary as you have convinced yourself it is. 

  1. Pick up a new hobby. 

Once you stop drinking, one of the scariest things you’ll run into is free time. It’s hard to know how to fill the time that used to be filled with alcohol use, and sometimes this can even lead to relapse. So before you quit, look into some new hobbies. Start doing something you’ve always been interested in or curious about and make a commitment to stick to it. Whether this is writing, working out, hiking, exploring new places….it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are filling time in a healthy way and making it less tempting to return to drinking to fill that time. 

  1. Start tracking your drinking. 

If you’re still drinking fairly regularly, start a journal and write down each time you drink, what you drink, what happened, and how you felt the following day. This can be an incredibly eye-opening activity. There is something about seeing your drinking put to paper, along with the accompanying feelings, that makes it very clear whether or not alcohol is a problem for you. Once you’ve done this for a few weeks, take the time to read through your notes and reassess your relationship with alcohol. 

  1. Find someone to hold you accountable. 

Yes, at the end of the day you are the one who has to hold yourself accountable. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some help along the way. If you feel like you could benefit from some accountability, ask someone in your life to help you curb your drinking or stop completely. Sometimes when we know we have to report back to another person, it makes it easier to make the right decisions along the way. 

  1. Determine your “why” for quitting. 

This is perhaps the biggest motivation of all to quit drinking. Determining your why gives you a reason and something to return to when you’re tempted to drink. Your why can be that you want to be healthier physically, or you want to stop making drunken mistakes and bad judgment calls, or that you simply don’t like who you are when you drink. But whatever your why, take the time to really examine it. Consider what your life would look like without alcohol. If that’s a type of life you want to explore, it may be time to truly implement some changes to quit alcohol for good. 

No matter your reason for wanting to cut back on the alcohol or stop altogether, each person is different when it comes to what works and when the time comes to get serious about your relationship with alcohol. For some, it takes various attempts, and for others, the first one sticks. It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong way to quit. Comparing your journey to the journey of others will only bring frustration. So, when you’re ready to quit, try to remember to focus on your own decision and why you made it in the first place.