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Could a Joystick Help Alcoholics Avoid Relapse?

Could a Joystick Help Alcoholics Avoid Relapse?

Author: Shernide Delva

Over the holiday season, I acquired a part time job working as a virtual reality demo associate. It was amazing to see the impact gaming software could have on a person’s life. I saw people in wheelchairs enjoy the feeling of entering a different reality. I saw senior citizens enjoy the immersion of climbing a virtual mountain or sculpting a cat. Technology like this helps take our imaginations to a new realm.

Therefore, when I read about a company using a joystick to help with alcoholism, it fascinated me. An ongoing study in Berlin is using joysticks and alcohol-related images to help prevent alcoholic relapse.  Some of the participants have said that the image-related therapy helped keep them sober.

Miriam Sebold is the study’s lead psychologist. In the study, participants viewed images on a computer screen and were told to use a joystick to push alcohol-related images away. They were also instructed to engage the joystick and pull images of water and other non-alcoholic beverages closer to them,

Researcher Hanna Lesch visited Charité University in Berlin, Germany where the ongoing study took place. She described the parameters of the study:

“Every click of a joystick results in a new pair of images,” said Lesch. “Pushing the joystick forward makes an image grow smaller. Pull in toward you, and the image grows. Sebold’s patients react strongly to images of alcohol and that is the basis of her training.”

Images of alcohol can sometimes make an alcoholic vulnerable. In the same way that Pavlov’s dogs reacted to stimuli related to food, alcoholics can react to stimuli related to alcoholic beverages. Non-alcoholics do not respond any differently to a glass of orange soda or a shot of vodka.

Lesch spoke with a study participant named Freddy while she at the facility. Freddy discussed how after his divorce, he began drinking daily—consuming at least two liters of beer and a few shots of hard liquor per day.

“I’ve tried to take a break from it more than a few times,” said Freddy, “but it was two, three days at the most. Then, I did some rehab, and then I did some more rehab. I was even in long-term rehab.”

Time after time, Freddy kept relapsing. Lesch understand that this is one of the “greatest hurdles” in the alcohol treatment world. The attempt to rehabilitate an alcoholic is difficult, and nearly 85% cannot stay away from alcohol.

Sebold elaborated:

“What it really comes down to is that this addiction is such a powerful illness, that again and again, you have these cases where the patients say, ‘I was dry for 10 years, and then I treated myself to a beer because I figured I could treat myself to something.’ Then, they relapse right back into this very strong addiction, where they’re drinking a bottle of vodka every day. These are very strong mechanisms inside their head that they have very little control over.”

To control these thoughts in the brain, they must learn how to rewire their thinking. In the experiment using the joystick, the purpose was to rewire the way the brain reacted to alcohol stimuli. In the case of Freddy, he found that over time, it was effective in reducing the temptation to drink.

Lesch described Freddy’s experience:

“During the training, Freddy noticed no changes in his own behavior, but then, he did. Whenever he saw a bottle of alcohol inside a store, he was reminded of the images he’d seen during the training.”

Freddy found that the test helped him stay away from the dark days of active alcoholism.  He was able to avoid temptation easier, and best of all stay sober.

“Freddy has remained sober and the 64-year-old was proud to say he was even able to land a normal job,” Lesch said.

Now that the joystick experiment has shown positive results, the future for more studies like this is endless. The hope is to use this same procedure for other addictions and compulsions.

“As soon as they find out exactly where and how this therapy affects the human brain,” said Lesch, “the discovery could help lead to the development of new medicinal-based therapies. For Freddy, participating in the study has been worth it. Today, he’s doing his best to avoid even talking about alcohol.”

While this is not the first joystick study ever done, it is a positive contribution to the pursuit of finding proven methods to keep alcoholics from relapsing. What other ways could gaming be utilized to treat addiction?

Alcoholism is a serious disorder and there is temptation everywhere. Alcohol is difficult to avoid in a society that glorifies it as a social tool. However, a person who has alcoholism should avoid alcohol at all costs. Addiction is a serious disease that ruins lives and destroys families. Do not feel defeated. There is a way out. Call now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Should It Be Illegal to Deny a Pregnant Woman a Drink?

Should It Be Illegal to Deny a Pregnant Woman a Drink?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Shernide Delva

Until last week, bars in New York could refuse to serve pregnant women alcohol, or ban them from entering. Some restaurants even refused to serve raw fish to pregnant women. However, thanks for updated guidelines released last week by the city’s Human Rights Commission, pregnant women will now have a choice.

But should they?

The city’s Human Rights Commission aims to eliminate all forms of discrimination against pregnant women. Expectant mothers can now decide to eat or drink whatever they want, and establishments who deny them can be penalized. This new law raises an important question all throughout the nation: Should pregnant women be denied the right to drink?

For some, the answer might seem obvious. Of course, pregnant women should not be allowed to drink! After all, it has been proven that alcohol increases the likelihood of birth defects and developmental issues. Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can increase the risk of a premature birth and result in negative outcomes.

Risks of alcohol consumptions during pregnancy include:

  • Distinctive facial features. The newborn may have a small head, flat face, and narrow eye openings. These differences become more apparent by age 2 or 3 years old.
  • Learning and behavioral problems
  • Growth Problems: Children exposed to alcohol may develop slower than other kids of the same age
  • Birth Defects
  • Problems bonding and feeding

Despite these risks, the answer is not that simple. Some argue that denying pregnant women the right to drink undermines the right she has to choose what she does with her body. The argument points to Roe vs. Wade and pro-choice as reasons to why a woman should be able to make the personal choice of drinking or not drinking while pregnant.

“Judgments and stereotypes about how pregnant individuals should behave, their physical capabilities, and what is or is not healthy for a fetus are pervasive in our society and cannot be used as a pretext for unlawful discriminatory decisions in employment, housing, and public accommodations,” say the new guidelines.

The guidelines were created to help clarify a 2013 city law designed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. The law specifies that it is illegal to refuse to hire or promote someone because they are pregnant. It also states that it is unlawful to deny an application from a pregnant applicant.

“Accommodation of Pregnant women cannot be a favor,” said Azadeh Khalili, executive director of the Commission on Gender Equity. “It is a human right and the law in New York City.”

These two laws seem reasonable to the average person. After all, it would be a clear form of discrimination to stop a woman from working or living in a home because she made the choice to have kids. However, the new law is taking discrimination to a whole new level by stating that restaurant and bars should not have the right to refuse a pregnant woman a drink.

Still, the subject of whether a moderate amount of alcohol is “safe” for pregnant women to drink has been hotly debated for decades. While we mentioned some of the risks of drinking while pregnant, those outcomes typically come from heavy drinking consumption. No confirmed evidence shows that an occasional drink will do harm to unborn babies, especially after the first trimester.

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged sexually active women to stay away from alcohol unless they were on birth control. They stated that any amount of alcohol consumed during pregnancy could raise the risk of a fetus being born with developmental issues. Many women were not happy about these recommendations. Despite these warnings, studies show that 1-15% of women still drink a little alcohol during pregnancy.

Clearly, this whole topic is a controversial manner. Many argue that women are discriminated only once they look pregnant, meaning that women who are newly pregnant can make the choice to drink while those who are months along are denied alcohol. Since the most significant damage is done in the first trimester, denying pregnant women alcohol may not prevent as much harm.

Overall, study after study reveal drinking during pregnancy is not the best idea. It is always best to put the health of your baby first, rather than take the risk of any complications. Whether or not restaurants and bars should have a  say in the manner is a topic that is yet to be fully explored. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

The Two Types of Alcoholic Brains

The Two Types of Alcoholic Brains:

Author: Shernide Delva

There are two sides to every story, and when it comes to alcoholism, the same saying holds truth. A new study examined the changes in the brain that makes a person prone to alcoholism. What they discovered is that there are two types of alcoholic brains: anxiety-prone and impulsive.

Anxiety and impulse control issues are common among alcoholics and the difference between the two could lie in changes in the brain tissues. The brain tissue of alcoholics experience changes that are different from the non-alcoholic brain. Over time, the brain tissue changes from consuming alcohol.  Researchers have discovered that there are two types of alcoholic brains: anxiety-prone (Type I) and impulsive-depressive (Type II) and brain changes are exclusive to one type or the other.

Type I Alcoholics: Type I alcoholics typically become dependent on alcohol later in life. These types are prone to anxiety and use alcohol increasingly to resolve these issues.

Type II Alcoholics: These types tend to get hooked on alcohol at a younger age and exhibit anti-social impulsive behaviors.

The brain is a complex organ so not every alcoholic fit into these two categories, the researchers noted.

“From the viewpoint of the study setting, this division was made in order to highlight the wide spectrum of people suffering from alcohol dependence,” said lead researcher Olli Kärkkäinen. “The reality, of course, is far more diverse, and not every alcoholic fits into one of these categories.”

Regardless of what “type” of an alcoholic you are, there are similarities in the brain of all alcoholic.  All alcoholics have an increase of a steroid hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone that affects the central nervous system. This could explain why many alcoholics become tolerant to the effects of alcohol after chronic, long-term use.

In addition, all alcoholics showed decreased levels of serotonin transporters in brain regions. This means that alcoholics have difficulty with mood regulation. They tend to be seeking this happy chemical and have a decreased level of serotonin transporters in the brain. This could explain why many alcoholics experience social anxiety.

Researchers will be using the results from this study to come up with new treatments for alcoholism that take into account the distinct differences between Type I and Type II brains.

“These findings enhance our understanding of changes in the brain that make people prone to alcoholism and that are caused by long-term use,” said researcher Kärkkäinen. “Such information is useful for developing new drug therapies for alcoholism, and for targeting existing treatments at patients who will benefit the most.”

In Western countries, it has been estimated that around 10-15% of the population qualify as alcohol-dependent. Across the world, alcohol is causing as much damage as all illegal substances combined. It is important to note these differences so medical personnel knows how these cases can differentiate.

Most of all, it is important that those who have struggled with alcoholism to seek help as early as possible. People who drink large amounts of alcohol for long periods of time run the risk of developing serious and persistent changes in the brain. The damage could be a combination of the alcohol consumptions along with poor general health.

Often, alcoholics have deficiencies in their health. Thiamine deficiency is extremely common in those with alcoholism and is a result of overall poor nutrition. Also, it can be hard for those struggling to make staying healthy a priority. Thiamine is crucial to the brain. It is an essential nutrient required by all tissues, including the brain. Many foods in the United States are fortified with thiamine; therefore, the average healthy person consumes enough of it.

Alcoholism can cause major damage to your brain and overall health if left untreated. This article simply confirms the reason why it is so important that those struggling with alcoholism seek professional help. Trying to fix the problem on your own is not the best solution, especially when you are not aware of how your mind and body is functioning. We are here to help.   If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, don’t wait. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

6 Alcohol Abuse Related Diseases You Might Not Know

6 Alcohol Abuse Related Diseases You Might Not Know

Author: Justin Mckibben

Alcohol abuse is a problem more than common in our world today, and more often than not it results in disastrous forms of disease that can completely alter the quality of an individual’s life, sometimes bringing that person’s life to an abrupt end.

Most people are familiar with some of the risks associated with alcohol abuse and with the illnesses that can result from prolonged alcohol abuse, such as cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and kidney damage. But what about all the other issues that can be created with long-term alcohol abuse that people frequently wouldn’t think to connect to alcoholism or abusing alcohol?

There are several other health problems you might not know are directly linked to alcoholism, so here are 6 of those alcohol abuse related diseases you might not know.

  1. Anemia

Anemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin, which is a main part of red blood and binds oxygen.

Alcohol abuse can cause the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be abnormally low, thus causing anemia. Anemia can trigger a list of other symptoms, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness

These symptoms occur because organs in the body aren’t getting what they need to function properly.

  1. Cardiovascular disease

Binge drinking is a huge issue when it comes to alcohol abuse, and both can cause platelets to become more likely to clump together into blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke. In a landmark study by Harvard researchers in 2005, it was found that binge drinking doubled the risk of death among people who initially survived a heart attack.

Cardiomyopathy is a potentially deadly condition which can also be caused by alcohol abuse. With cardiomyopathy the heart muscle weakens and eventually fails, as well as heart rhythm abnormalities such as atrial and ventricular fibrillation, which creates chaotic twitching in the heart’s main pumping chambers (ventricles), causing rapid loss of consciousness and even sudden death.

  1. Dementia

Dementia is not a specific disease, but term that encompasses a varied range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

As people age their brains shrink. It is considered normal to happen on average at a rate of about 1.9% per decade.

However, alcohol abuse speeds the shrinkage of certain key regions in the brain, resulting symptoms of dementia. In addition to the nonspecific forms of dementia that result from brain atrophy, alcohol abuse can also cause nutritional deficiencies that elicit other forms of dementia.

  1. Depression

It may not be much of a surprise to some that alcohol abuse is often associated with with depression, because it is a depressant, but the debate about which came first, the drinking or the depression, still exists.

One theory is that depressed people turned to alcohol in an attempt to cope with emotional pain. But a large study from New Zealand showed that it was probably the other way around, meaning alcohol abuse actually leads to depression, with some research showing that depression improves when those who abuse alcohol actually sober up.

  1. Gout

Gout is an extremely painfully illness caused by the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints. It is a form of arthritis that is described as sudden burning pain, stiffness and swelling in the joint.

Although a lot of cases are largely hereditary, alcohol abuse and other dietary factors are also said to play a role in those who develop cases of gout. Alcohol also seems to aggravate existing cases of gout, so one way or the other alcohol abuse is a risk factor.

  1. Nerve damage

The nervous system is involved in everything the body does, from regulating breathing to controlling muscles and sensing heat and cold, so serious nerve damage is a pretty big deal. Damage can occur to nerves in your brain and spinal cord, but nerve damage can also occur in the peripheral nerves located throughout the rest of your body.

Alcohol abuse can cause a form of nerve damage known as alcoholic neuropathy, which can produce a range of devastating symptoms which include but are not limited to:

  • Painful pins-and-needles feeling or numbness in the extremities
  • Muscle weakness
  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Erectile dysfunction

Alcohol is toxic to nerve cells, so of course alcohol abuse will sometimes lead to alcoholic neuropathy. Alcoholic neuropathy also happens because nutritional deficiencies attributable to alcohol abuse compromise nerve function. So again, not only can alcohol abuse cause these issues, but heavy drinking can exacerbate pre-existing issues with nerve damage.

While physicians around the world can give you a laundry list of the diseases and other effects of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, it is still incredibly beneficial for individuals who have drinking or drug problems to seek specialized treatment for lasting recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

7 Elements of Alcoholic Liver Disease

7 Elements of Alcoholic Liver Disease

Author: Justin Mckibben

It’s pretty common knowledge that consuming alcohol takes a toll on your body, and especially the liver. If you’re a drinker the longer you drink will consistently up the chances of developing a serious liver disease, and there are other risk factors that come into play besides drinking alcoholically. Being aware of these factors can help you in trying to curb your chances of serious liver complications, and for those who are struggling these factors may ultimately assist you in understanding the best treatment options for you.

Stages of Alcoholic Liver Disease

There are different stages of alcoholic liver disease:

  • Fatty liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis (inflammation of the liver)
  • Cirrhosis (fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver)

Dr. Pam Peeke is the author of “The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction” as well as the senior science advisor to Elements Behavioral Health. According to this expert, fatty liver and alcoholic hepatitis are “fairly prevalent,” but cirrhosis is a very different problem. Peeke states,

“One in five people who are alcoholics develop [alcoholic] hepatitis, and one in four develop cirrhosis. You’ll be at higher risk if you also have fatty liver—it’s those people who tend to be at higher risk for cirrhosis if they continue to drink.”

Data suggests that:

  • About 90% of heavy drinkers develop fatty liver
  • 10 to 35% of heavy drinkers will develop alcoholic hepatitis
  • Up to 20% of heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis

The good news is, some elements of cirrhosis are reversible, but in order for this to be possible Peeke says there has to be 100% abstinence in order to facilitate this kind of recovery. In the experience of most alcoholics, abstinence from consuming alcohol is an essential part of recovery, period.

These are 7 elements of alcoholic liver disease, and it is important to take these things into consideration when evaluating your drinking habits, because for those struggling to stop drinking, this may open your mind to the risks you run.

  1. How Much You Drink

This one is pretty obvious. Alcoholic liver disease typically occurs after years of heavy drinking. Not all alcoholics will get it, but the longer you drink and the more you drink, the more your chances increase.

  1. Consistency of Drinking

Consistently drinking heavily on a regular basis is actually a higher risk than drinking irregularly throughout the week, or even binge drinking on weekends and holidays.

Research has found that five drinks or more per day raised the risk of developing cirrhosis according. The risk of both hepatitis and cirrhosis is increased when consumption for 20 years or more is around:

  • 60g or more per day for men
  • 20g per day for women
  1. Gender

The damage caused by alcohol happens more acutely in women, so women are more likely to develop liver disease. For women it is more severe, happens much faster, and takes less alcohol to develop.

Women are more vulnerable than men for various reasons, including:

  • Women secrete less alcohol dehydrogenase (which breaks down alcohol)
  • Have a greater proportion of body fat (alcohol is soluble in water)
  • Experience changes in fat absorption due to their menstrual cycles
  1. Genetics

Beyond gender, the full extent of the role genetics play in alcoholic liver disease is not yet understood, but more is being learned. It is believed that gene mutations actually predispose someone to both developing alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease. Some mutations in genes that may explain this genetic link are:

  • ADH (alcohol dehydrogenase)
  • ALDH (aldehyde dehydrogenase)
  • CYP4502E1 (one of the many cytochrome P450 enzymes)

This is also connected to individual differences in the metabolism of alcohol.

  1. Immune System

A stronger immune system will of course have a better chance at surviving and fighting off liver disease. However a compromised immune system cannot, and thus increases the risk factor of liver disease.

Research has found that people with HIV or hepatitis C, or both, have an increased risk of advanced liver disease. It is known that these diseases increase death rate of liver cells.

Drinking in excess only compounds this problem and accelerates the process of weakening the immune system.

  1. Nutrition

Anything that makes it harder on the body to maintain its health increases the risk for developing liver disease, especially for drinkers. 2 big ones are:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Many alcoholics have a habit of poor nutrition. Now more data on gut bacteria or the gut microbiome is just beginning to discover how these things are affected by alcohol, which can change gut permeability and lead to problems absorbing and digesting food.

Malnutrition also increases oxidative stress, which is known to promote liver disease by the depletion of circulating antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, and glutathione. Ultimately poor dieting and nutrition continues to weaken the immune system, which opens you up to infections and complications.

  1. Physical Fitness

In addition to abstinence, regular physical activity is an essential factor in the continued health or the required treatment for the recovery of the liver. On top of the mental and emotional fitness that goes into recovery for alcoholics, physical fitness can co-exist with nutrition in a way that helps to nurture recovery, and revitalize the immune system for someone whose body has been suffering.

So many things factor into the gradual development of liver disease through excessive drinking or alcohol abuse, and so many people ignore the signs that their life-style has exposed them to these risks. Alcoholism is deadly in many ways, and many find that in order to change their health and preserve their future, they must change their lives, today! If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

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