MDMA PTSD: Recovering from Trauma




So many women have dealt with trauma. Trauma is often the underlying contributor to substance abuse problems. In an interesting turn of events, there’s research currently looking at the possibility of MDMA PTSD treatments. Researchers believe MDMA could be a potential treatment for past trauma, yet it’s also a mind-altering drug, raising some questions. With that in mind, below, we talk about what MDMA is and how it could help with trauma and severe PTSD in MDMA-assisted psychotherapy or MDMA-assisted therapy. 


What is MDMA?

MDMA is a synthetic recreational drug with hallucinogenic and stimulant effects. Also known as Molly or ecstasy, MDMA comes as a capsule or tablet. Along with being energizing, this substance can create distortions in perception and time. Some people who use it recreationally find it enhances their sensory experiences, which they find enjoyable. The synthetic drug is also an entactogen. Entactogens are drugs that increase empathy and self-awareness.

When someone uses street drugs like recreational Molly or ecstasy, along with being illegal, it’s also dangerous. Molly contains contaminants in many cases when it’s purchased on the streets. When the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seizes Molly from the streets, they often find it has other drugs and no MDMA at all.

As one example, researchers in Washington State and Florida analyzed substances being sold as Molly a few years ago. Those substances were primarily methylone. Methylone is a synthetic stimulant in bath salts. People who buy illegal Molly often have no idea what they’re using.


The Effects of MDMA

If you take MDMA, you might begin to feel effects within 45 minutes of the initial dose. Then, there’s a peak on the effects anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes after you initially feel the drug. These effects, on average last for three hours.

In the short-term, effects include:

  • An increased sense of well-being
  • More extroversion
  • Empathy and emotional warmth toward others
  • Willingness to talk about emotionally charged memories
  • Enhanced sensory perception

These effects can sound positive and compelling, but adverse events can occur as well. Fatal overdoses are rare with this drug but possible. Acute adverse effects of using ecstasy or Molly include high blood pressure, panic attacks, and feeling faint.

One of the most significant but rare adverse effects of this substance is hyperthermia, which is a rise in body temperature. Even moderate amounts of the substance can impact your body’s ability to regulate temperature, which can lead to harmful side effects, especially in warm or hot places.


The Effects of Trauma

So many women are affected by trauma in their lives. Trauma can occur from any number of events, including rape or sexual assault, physical or verbal abuse, or exposure to something extremely frightening.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a highly negative event. Experiencing short-term trauma is a normal reaction to something terrible. Longer-term trauma can impact your daily life and functionality, at which point it might mean a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Signs of trauma include anxiety and panic disorders, depression, and even suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

Following the event, trauma can manifest days, months, or years later.


Treating PTSD

There are various options available to treat PTSD conventionally. Examples include:

  • Therapy: Like cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy is beneficial for people with a history of a traumatic event. When you participate in a psychotherapy session, you can learn how to cope with feelings in your life, boost your self-esteem and improve your symptoms. Psychotherapy for people diagnosed with PTSD often helps improve daily functionality. 
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing: EMDR allows you to focus on something your therapist is doing, like flashing a light. Then, you are encouraged to replace your trauma memories with positive thoughts.
  • Medications: When you have PTSD or traumatic memories, your brain often perceives and processes threats differently. Your brain chemicals may be imbalanced, so you might constantly feel on-edge or jumpy. Medications can help you with these symptoms and regain a normalized perspective.

The nature of MDMA being a “Club Drug” means that many women, and people, associate its use with traumatic experiences. Panic attacks, sexual assault, overdose, being drugged, or triggering pre-existing conditions are just some of the MDMA-related scenarios that have caused PTSD, but there is help available.

If you, or someone you love, is experiencing club drug-related trauma, or MDMA PTSD, let the team of brilliant women at Anchored Tides Recovery help. Calling 866-600-7709 will put you in touch with a care coordinator who can go over some options and provide you with some helpful information. Help is just a phone call away!

Living with Chronic Pain

living with chronic pain

living with chronic pain


Researchers estimate that around 50 million adults in the United States are living with chronic pain currently. This burden is tremendous on people as individuals, families, and even the economy. For example, pain contributes to $80 billion in lost wages annually. There are vast effects of pain and related medical conditions on quality of life and the ability to do daily activities. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and current medical evidence, around 20% of Americans may be living with long-term pain at any given time. This type of long-lasting pain is often associated with other chronic conditions, further affecting someone’s life. 

Due to the devastating effects of opioid medications, doctors are always looking for natural treatments for chronic pain in addition to medical treatment. There are some promising alternative pain treatments for chronic pain patients, some of which we talk about below.


What is Chronic Pain?

Chronic pain lasts for 12 weeks or more, whereas acute pain is shorter-term. If you’re in an accident or experience an injury, you’ll typically recover. For someone who doesn’t heal properly, you may have a diagnosis of chronic pain. Long-term severe pain can also stem from other health issues you have.

Chronic pain conditions can include diabetes, arthritis, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Rheumatoid arthritis and cancer may cause long-lasting adverse effects. Ongoing physical pain such as back pain may occur because of years of bad posture or incorrectly carrying heavy items. Being overweight can lead to pain because it leads to excess strain on the knees and back. Wearing heels for years and aging of the spine are all contributors to pain, especially back pain and neck pain.

According to University of North Carolina research, around 84% of adults in the U.S. will experience different types of pain during their lifetime.

  • Chronic headaches are another issue, with around 50% of adults likely to report headaches during a year. Chronic headaches occur for at least 15 days per month, for no fewer than three consecutive months.
  • Chronic joint pain and arthritis pain can be due to aging, infection, or injury. Osteoarthritis is common in older people and usually involves larger joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder affecting the joint spaces, causing swelling. Degenerative disc disease can lead to ongoing low-back pain similarly. 
  • Chronic nerve pain, also known as neuropathic pain, affects one out of ten people in America. Your nerves could be damaged or compressed. Diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and carpal tunnel syndrome are health conditions related to nerve pain. 

Unfortunately, long-lasting pain interferes with daily functionality and contributes to addiction, anxiety, and depression for many people. Other complications include fatigue, insomnia and sleep disturbance, and mood changes, which can end up making your pain worse. 


Is Chronic Pain a Disability?

Suppose you suffer from a chronic pain syndrome that makes it hard for you to work. In that case, you might be able to apply for Social Security Disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. It’s challenging to prove pain in this capacity, however.

You have to prove to the SSA that your pain’s cause is a mental or physical impairment they recognize on their official listing of impairments. You’ll also need a variety of evidence.


Treatment Options

Traditionally, if you’re a chronic pain sufferer, your health care provider will try to identify the underlying cause to treat that. The source may not be identifiable, so at that point, the focus is on pain management rather than treatment.

Some of the medications used in treatment plans for pain relief include:

  • Anticonvulsants for nerve pain
  • Antidepressants
  • Corticosteroids
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Topical pain relievers
  • Sedatives to help with complications like insomnia or anxiety
  • Medical marijuana

Opioids are also a possible treatment to manage pain levels, but there’s been intense scrutiny and limitations on prescribing these drugs in recent years. 

  • Opioids change the way pain signals transmit between your brain and body, but they also have a strong potential for addiction and dependence.
  • When you take an opioid, even with a prescription, it can create euphoria and trigger your brain’s reward response. These effects on the reward cycle in the brain lead to addiction.
  • Physical dependence also occurs, so that if you stop taking an opioid, you might experience withdrawal symptoms.
  • The most considerable risk of opioid pain medications even outside of addiction and dependence is overdose. 
  • Opioids slow the central nervous system down. When you take them, your essential functions, including breathing and heart rate slow down significantly.
  • When you take a higher dose than what your body can handle, you may experience respiratory depression that becomes dangerous or deadly.

Due to the side effects of many traditional medication-based treatments for pain and the high risks of opioids, you may be looking for natural treatments for chronic pain management. People in a recovery program may also need to explore living with chronic pain without the use of addictive substances.



Natural Treatments

If you’re living with pain symptoms and looking for natural treatments, there are many available options. Some of these are below.


Lifestyle Changes

Living a healthy lifestyle can help you manage your pain without the use of possibly harmful drugs.

  • Reducing and managing your stress is important because stress and anxiety likely play a significant role in pain. 
  • You can experiment with healthy stress reduction strategies until you find something that works for you. For example, deep breathing and meditation are two options.
  • You should try to get physical activity every day for at least 30 minutes. Low-intensity exercise like swimming or walking may be good if you have pain. 
  • Exercise also helps relieve stress and boost your mood.
  • Eat foods that will combat inflammation and help your brain stay healthy. Avoid foods that are known to trigger inflammation, like processed carbohydrates.
  • Make sleep a priority in your daily life too. 



It may sound odd, but therapy helps many people who are living with chronic pain. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one helpful type. When you participate in CBT, you can learn how to recognize harmful thought patterns, and you can think differently about your pain. You can also explore effective coping mechanisms.

Along with talk therapy, occupational and physical therapy helps many people. A physical therapist can help you regain mobility and teach you things you can do on your own at home to help your symptoms. Massage therapy has beneficial effects too. 


Alternative Therapies 

There are a wide variety of alternative treatments and complementary health approaches for persistent pain. You should speak to your health care providers about which of these could be an option for you.

  • Acupuncture is excellent for pain. An acupuncturist will use tiny needles on pressure points throughout your body to help alter nerve signals and reduce pain. Acupuncture is also suitable for stress and anxiety.
  • Biofeedback is a process to learn how to change how your body works. With biofeedback, you can start to control things like breathing and muscle tension.
  • Reiki therapists use touch to shift the energy in your body.
  • Many people find relief in pet, art, or music therapy.
  • Join a support group of other people who are dealing with something similar to you.
  • Limit drugs and alcohol, which can not only worsen pain but can also affect you mentally.
  • Various herbal remedies and alternative medicines could help reduce your experience of pain, such as anti-inflammatory herbs. 

If you’re living with a pain condition that contributed to a substance use disorder, please reach out to Anchored Tides Recovery by calling 866-600-7709. You aren’t alone, and we can work with you on a treatment plan that takes into account not only your addiction but also your underlying pain.

Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps

Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps

Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps


If you’re a woman struggling with a substance use disorder, different options are available for getting help. The most important thing is to find what works for you. For many women, what works is a 12-Step program. If you’re addicted to drugs, the Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps might be something you consider participating in.

Often when you attend a drug treatment center, you’ll start working on the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous while you’re there. Then, when you return home from treatment, you can continue that work you started. So how do Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps work, and how might it improve your quality of life if you struggle with the disease of addiction?


What is Narcotics Anonymous?

Narcotics Anonymous is also called NA, and it’s the second-largest 12-Step organization. Someone named Jimmy Kinnon or Jimmy K. founded the program. NA began after Alcoholics Anonymous. Alcoholics Anonymous started in the 1930s, while NA was founded officially in 1953 in Los Angeles. Now, the program is available in thousands of cities around the world. Narcotics Anonymous follows the same model as AA, but it’s for people addicted to drugs rather than alcohol.

When you participate in an Addicts Anonymous group, there’s no distinction between the type of drug you use. You can also join in NA if you also have a co-occurring alcohol abuse problem. There are some drug-specific programs, too, like Cocaine Anonymous, but NA isn’t specific. These programs recognize polysubstance addiction and dependence, meaning you abuse more than one substance, whether it’s drugs or alcohol addiction. If you want to recover from substance abuse, you’re welcome to participate. That’s the only requirement for membership. 

The goal of participation in this 12 Step program is to help in your recovery from drug addiction so you can reclaim your life or find a new way of life free of addictive behaviors or destructive behavior. NA is a nonprofit community fellowship of men and women, and you can find single-gender meetings if that’s what you prefer. You meet with other recovering addicts, all of whom share the goal of staying clean and sober. When you participate in a 12-Step program, you are abstinent from all substances.

There’s no affiliation with any other organization, no dues or initiation fees, and you don’t have to sign anything or make any promises. There’s no particular religious affiliation, nor is this support group politically associated. You can join a 12-Step program like Narcotics Anonymous regardless of your race, age, sexual identity, religion, or lack of faith.

The program is spiritual, even though it’s not religious. You don’t have to believe in God to attend initially, and the model of the program is that addiction is a disease, and you can treat that disease by staying abstinent from all substances and working the program.

Fundamental principles of NA and Twelve-Step groups include:

  • You’re committed, one day at a time, to not using drugs or alcohol as part of twelve-Step programs. 
  • Programs often follow a set format, including a serenity prayer or acceptance prayer. 
  • Regularly attending meetings is essential. Meetings typically last for an hour and are held around the world. Meeting schedules vary, and some are closed meetings, but most are open to anyone. 
  • When you participate in a 12-Step program, you might get a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who can help you stay on the path of sobriety, again, one day at a time. They work you through the 12 Steps.
  • You apply the principles you learn in your everyday life and personal recovery. 
  • 12-Step attendance is a chance to fellowship with other addicts in recovery and create a support system of sober people.
  • 12-Step fellowship groups tend to be a lifelong commitment rather than something you do for a brief period. 



What Narcotics Anonymous Isn’t

We wanted to clarify that participation in a 12-Step recovery program isn’t the same as going to detox or participating in rehab. No licensed addiction specialists are running the programs. Many members of these programs are licensed counselors or therapists, but this isn’t their role in meetings. While they’re in meetings, they’re just sharing their own experiences and sense of hope. You’re not receiving treatment for your actual addiction or symptoms of addiction like you do in a treatment center in a 12-Step NA Recovery Program. 

For someone who requires detox and addiction treatment, you should go to a formal program first. Then when you’re ready, you can find a 12-Step program in your community to continue the work you do while in treatment.


What Are the Narcotics Anonymous 12 Steps?

The 12-Steps Narcotics Anonymous follows include:

  • Step One: Admitting that you’re powerless over your addiction and that your life isn’t manageable is the first of the 12-Step concepts. 
  • Step Two: A belief in a Higher Power that can restore you to sanity.
  • Step Three: Deciding to turn your life and will over to God as you understand Him.
  • Step Four: Search and make a fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  • Step Five: Admitting to God, yourself, and others the nature of your wrongs.
  • Step Six: Being ready to have God remove your defects of character. 
  • Step Seven: Humbly asking God to remove your shortcomings.
  • Step Eight: Making a list of people you’ve harmed and been willing to make amends to them.
  • Step Nine: Making direct amends to people when you can as part of your recovery from addiction. 
  • Step Ten: Taking a continued personal inventory and, when you’re wrong, admitting it promptly.
  • Step Eleven: You seek through meditation and prayer to make conscious contact with God as you understand Him and pray for the knowledge of God’s will.
  • Step Twelve: Having a spiritual awakening as a result of the previous Steps, and then carrying your message to other addicts while also continuing to live the above principles in your everyday life, including complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol. 


Who Does Narcotics Anonymous Aim to Help?

Even though the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous tend to focus on God, they also specify that it’s as you understand Him. You don’t have to be religious or even believe in God to participate in NA. If you have a substance addiction, you can participate. There are a few things to keep in mind with NA and 12-Step meetings. While it’s helped millions of people to participate in this nonprofit fellowship, it isn’t for everyone.

Some of the possible drawbacks of participating in a 12-Step program include:

  • There’s no attention to the physical elements of substance dependence or drug abuse in 12-Step fellowship programs. You need to go to a detox program for this.
  • You do have to be involved socially with the group, and some people don’t prefer that. There are virtual options if you want to socially distance.
  • Not everyone believes an abstinence program is the best path forward.
  • You have to identify as an addict fully, and that can become an ingrained part of how you see yourself. For some people, that’s a positive of a 12-Step program, but it’s not for everyone.
  • You must adhere to the belief that you are powerless over your addiction as part of the 12-Step program elements. There are alternative programs that position you as being empowered and able to overcome your drug use and signs of addiction through your own will, which some people prefer.
  • It’s time-consuming to participate in 12-Step groups regularly. Weekly meetings are usually around an hour long but can be as long as two hours each.

Overall, there are many benefits to the 12-Step model. Before you can get to the point where you’re participating in regular meetings, you need to undergo substance abuse treatment for active addictionOnce you’ve received treatment for your addiction and underlying mental health disorders, participation in a support group can help you remain sober, following a 12-Step philosophy. 

If you’d like to learn more about detox and addiction treatment centers and what programs we have available for women struggling with drug addiction, please contact Anchored Tides Recovery by calling 866-600-7709

Downgrading From Hard Drugs

Downgrading from Hard Drugs

Downgrading from Hard Drugs


If someone considers downgrading from hard drugs, it may be one specific approach to dealing with substance abuse that they feel will work for them. Unfortunately, as a society, we tend to view hard drugs as bad and so-called soft drugs as not so harmful. The reality is that a hard or a soft drug can lead to addiction, health problems, and many adverse effects.

The distinction between a hard and soft drug for many people is legality. Even this isn’t necessarily a good way to think about things.

For example, alcohol is legal if you’re 21 and older, yet it can be one of the deadliest substances. There are also states such as Oregon that are focusing efforts on decriminalized hard drugs. Under new legislation in Oregon for decriminalized hard drugs, you can’t be arrested for having small amounts of drugs like heroin or methamphetamine, both of which are dangerous, deadly drugs. The best option for most people who struggle with drug abuse is to be entirely drug-free rather than downgrading from hard drugs. Many in the recovery community don’t believe any drug use is conducive to a healthy lifestyle if you deal with addiction. 

Below, we go into more about the differences between hard and soft drugs and what you should know about the concept of gateway drugs as well.


Hard vs. Soft Drugs

There are different ways you might view the differences between hard and soft drugs. For example, in some countries, there is a legal distinction made between the two, with soft drugs theoretically being less harmful to people’s health than harder ones. In the Netherlands, soft drugs are not considered harmless, but they have less severe effects. Sedatives, marijuana, and sleeping pills are soft drugs under this model.

Hard drugs in the Netherlands include heroin, amphetamine, and cocaine. The penalties for drug possession of a hard versus soft substance vary from one another. In the United States, we have controlled substance schedules that guide our federal drug laws and laws surrounding drug possession.

A controlled substance is one with a high potential for abuse or addiction. The Controlled Substances Act puts all substances regulated under federal law into one of five schedules. Along with the abuse and addiction potential, whether or not the substance has a medical use is also a consideration.

  • Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, with no current, federally accepted medical applications in the United States. There is no safe use for these substances. Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and GHB. Interestingly, marijuana is Schedule I in the U.S., yet it’s legal for medicinal and recreational use in many states across the country. We talk a little more about marijuana and its legality below. 
  • Schedule II drugs have high abuse potential but with some accepted medical uses. These illegal drugs include cocaine, methadone, morphine, PCP, and methamphetamine.
  • Schedule III drugs have a lower potential for drug addiction than Schedule I or II substances, with medical uses in the U.S. Schedule III substances are hydrocodone, codeine, anabolic steroids, and barbiturates.
  • Schedule IV substances have a relatively low potential for abuse than Schedule III, with accepted medical uses. Schedule IV drugs include prescription medications like Valium and Xanax.
  • Schedule V substances have the lowest potential for dependence compared to substances on the other Schedules, and cough medicines with codeine are an example of these.

While drug Schedules are one way to distinguish the risks of substances, there’s not a particular scientific or legal distinction that we can point to when we talk about hard and soft drugs.

  • For some people, it’s not about the legality or the impact on criminal records for something like simple possession. Instead, it might be about how socially acceptable it is to use a substance.
  • For example, it can be more socially acceptable to use prescription pain medicines rather than heroin in some people’s eyes, even though both have similar effects and risks. Both prescription pain medicines and heroin cause dry mouth, slurred speech, and potentially deadly short-term effects, yet one category includes FDA-approved medications. 
  • A list of hard drugs for a lot of people might include heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. For others, since cocaine isn’t as addictive as heroin, they might not have it on their list of hard drugs.

There are a lot of gray areas when making distinctions like these between substances.



America’s Deadliest Drugs Are Legal

Again, legality and the classification of drug crimes aren’t always an excellent way to separate a hard and soft drug. In the United States, the three deadliest drugs are all legal.

  • The first is tobacco. More Americans die from smoking-related health problems than drug overdoses, car accidents, and homicides combined.
  • Cigarette smoking may lead to one in five deaths in America every year.
  • The U.S. has seen tobacco use go down significantly in recent decades, but it’s still a top killer.

The next-deadliest drug is alcohol.

  • Alcohol-related health problems kill tens of thousands of people every year, which doesn’t factor in causes like homicide and drunk driving. 
  • Alcohol-related deaths have been steadily going up in the U.S. over the past few years, and official death toll numbers may be significantly undercounting alcohol deaths.
  • There are so many ways that alcohol can be one of the deadliest drugs. The health effects of excessive drinking are just one type of risk. There are injuries, crime, and violence, for example, that make alcohol use particularly dangerous and deadly.

The third deadliest drug is opioid pain killers.

  • Since the 1990s, drug companies have been pushing opioid pain medicines on doctors who gave them to patients. 
  • These substances were part of marketing campaigns, and patients got addicted, and many ultimately died as a result.
  • In the past decade, policymakers have been putting more restrictions on prescription opioid pain killers, but it remains a deadly problem in the U.S.

Hard drugs, while dangerous, are linked to far fewer deaths than the three legal substances above. You also have to consider things like bath salts, which can be a highly dissociative drug but are also a common household item. 


Are There Gateway Drugs?

When talking about a hard or soft drug, the idea of gateway drugs also comes up. The theory is that so-called soft substances like marijuana might lead to harder drugs because the gateway drug affects the brain’s pathways.

In some cases, with the use of soft substances, the brain may be more vulnerable to the abuse of other substances, including illicit or harder drugs. These risks are more significant the younger someone is when they start experimenting with substances.

Marijuana is frequently, as was mentioned, what we think of like a gateway drug, and it’s also federally illegal on its own. Much of the prison population is serving time for a criminal offense related to marijuana possession, even as it becomes legal in many states around the country. The criminal justice system hasn’t yet caught up, and there are many drug convictions not yet overturned for the possession, use, or sale of marijuana. 

Drug offenders who got jail time for marijuana and are still behind bars often question why they’re being treated differently by the legal system than legitimate businesses in states where recreational marijuana use is legal. Some are currently serving life sentences in prison for drug crimes related to marijuana and felony drug possession. All of this underscores the fact that legality doesn’t always dictate whether or not a drug is harmful. 


Is Downgrading from Hard Drugs Possible?

Some people think they can downgrade from more problematic substances and only use soft substances like alcohol or marijuana. While everyone is different, this may not be a practical approach to addiction issues. You may find that you cannot use just one type of drug, and as we highlighted, soft substances have genuine adverse effects.

Sobriety is often the best option for someone with a history of substance misuse because casual substance use might not be something they can maintain. Drug treatment and treatment for any co-occurring mental illness can help you avoid facing a felony offense for using hard substances. 

If you or someone you love is dealing with substance use, we encourage you to call Anchored Tides Recovery at 866-600-7709 to learn more about a treatment program that will work for you.

How to Heal the Brain After Drug Use

how to heal the brain after drug use


Learning how to heal the brain after drug use and improving brain function after drug abuse takes time and patience. There are things you can do during addiction treatment when you’re working with your therapist and treatment team, and on your own, that can help heal your brain. Below, we’ll explore how the use of psychoactive substances affects your brain initially and what you can do to help the process of improving brain function after drug abuse.


How Drug Use Affects Your Brain

Our brains are our most complex organs, containing gray and white matter; the human brain allows us to do everything in our lives. 

  • Our brain regions regulate essential functions and determine your behavior and your feelings. 
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, your brain is who you are, what you think, and how you feel. 
  • Your brain includes various neural circuits and brain cells, all connected and working together on your cognitive functions. Neurons are responsible for transmitting signals to one another and other parts of the brain. These neurons also relay messages to the spinal cord and nerves through your body.
  • When a neuron sends a message, it releases a neurotransmitter into the gap between the following brain cells in the chain. The neurotransmitter attaches to receptor sites on the other neuron.

So what does all this mean as far as a substance use disorder? 

  • Drugs interfere with how your neurons send and receive signals using neurotransmitters, creating addictive behaviors. 
  • With some drugs, like heroin or marijuana, neurons activate because the drug’s chemical structure is similar to a natural neurotransmitter. As a result, the drug attaches and then starts the neurons. 
  • Opioids are an example. Opioid drugs, including heroin, mentioned above, and prescription pain medicines, activate opioid receptors. Over time, opioid addiction can occur because of this activation. 
  • The drugs might be replicating natural neurotransmitters in the human brain, but they aren’t activating neurons the same way as natural rewards. 
  • Abnormal chemical messengers are sent throughout your brain and body, increasing the potential for addictive behaviors to take hold. 

Drugs, including cocaine and other stimulants, lead neurons to release large amounts of neurotransmitters or prevent the chemicals’ recycling. These effects also disrupt communication and brain circuits. 


Dopamine and Addiction

The high you get from drugs is likely because of a surge of chemicals these substances can induce. 

  • Neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia, also known as your brain’s reward circuit, are a big part of this. 
  • The surges of neurotransmitters when using drugs occur at much higher levels than what happens with natural rewarding activities like eating or social engagement.
  • One neurotransmitter drugs release is dopamine.
  • Our brains want us to continue repeating pleasurable activities, so when you use drugs, and there’s a dopamine release, it can trigger addiction to the substance.
  • Dopamine causes changes in the brain reward cycle and neural connections, making it easier to repeat habits in an ongoing way through reinforcement. 

Over time, with addictive drugs, you get stuck in a cycle of extreme highs and lows. If you’re not using the substance you’re addicted to, you may feel severe depression because your dopamine levels require the drug at that point. The same is true with alcohol addiction. Addiction is technically a brain disease. 

If you stop using the drug, you go through emotional, physical, and mental side effects in the short term. These effects are withdrawal symptoms. You might have intense drug cravings, anxiety, and physical symptoms similar to the flu, depending on the drug you’re addicted to.



Longer-Term Effects of Drugs on the Brain

Long-term effects on your brain structure and function, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can include:

  • Impulse control issues and behavioral effects, making you more likely to engage in risky behaviors. 
  • Emotional control, so you might feel numb, or you could have too strong emotions, leading you to lash out or experience problems in relationships.
  • The effects of drugs impact the brain’s hippocampus, which helps you learn information and make memories. You may struggle with memory issues if you have substance use disorder.
  • Overtime for drug-addicted subjects and people with a substance use disorder, it can be more challenging for the brain to process new information or maintain executive functions. You may be less flexible in your thinking or behavior.
  • There are numerous possible mental health disorders and effects of drug addiction, whether it’s an illicit drug or a prescription. For example, you might have sleep problems, experience anxiety, or be more likely to develop depression.

So, what can you do?


How to Start Healing

The first step of improving brain function after drug abuse relies on quitting the substance you’re addicted to. 

  • You’re likely going to need a managed detox program as you go through symptoms of withdrawal. 
  • During managed or supervised detox, you have medical care as you go through withdrawal symptoms. 
  • The medical care providers can keep you safe and help improve your comfort level, making it less likely you’ll relapse during this time.
  • When you detox, this is an integral part of how to heal the brain after drug use. Detox is a time when although you might have uncomfortable symptoms, your brain is restoring itself to a sense of balance.
  • Your brain chemicals can start to get back to the way they’re meant to be, and you can begin to adjust to what it might look like to function without drugs in your daily life.

From there, other things you can do to help with improving brain recovery after drug abuse include:

  • Participate in behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is an effective treatment as you recover from an addiction. When you participate in CBT, it can help you identify and change your harmful thought patterns. CBT can also encourage the growth of your brain’s neural network. Neural networks affect your thinking, feelings, and worldviews. Brain scans show CBT increases activity in the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. You can learn to control impulses and emotions, reversing some of the damage from drugs and restoring standard brain functionality. Most treatments for drug addiction include extensive talk therapy and behavioral treatment. 
  • Meditate or learn to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness and meditation aren’t just soothing at the moment. Research shows us that they help strengthen brain connections. You want to learn how to refocus your thinking, and then you can work on having more control over how you take in outside information. Meditation and mindfulness can reduce your risk of relapse and increase the grey matter in your brain. You may be able to improve the function of your hippocampus, helping you with memory and learning. Meditation can decrease the cell volume in your amygdala, helping with anxiety, stress, and fear.
  • Consider your diet and exercise routines. Your brain may be lacking vital vitamins and nutrients from when you were in active addiction. Work on repairing it with a healthy, nutritious diet containing things like healthy fats. Engaging in physical exercise can help your brain rebuild connections, and it’s an excellent natural dopamine booster. Physical activity can help you manage stress and reduce anxiety levels. 


Treatment for Drug Addiction 

Anchored Tides Recovery encourages you to contact our team by calling 866-600-7709 to learn more about how to heal the human brain after the effects of drugs and how to get treatment initially. It’s never too late to receive substance use disorder treatment and start making positive changes in your life and your health and wellness. Long-term recovery can help reverse some of the chronic effects of drug use. 

Is Gender-Specific Treatment Actually Gender-Specific?

Gender specific Treatment

Gender specific Treatment


In a yearly national survey of treatment centers in the United States, in 2019, more than 7,800 of 15,960 centers reported offering treatment for women and individuals who identify as females. That, on its face, sounds great as far as the availability of gender-specific treatment, right?

Maybe not so much. 

There may not be a genuine consideration for gender-specific differences and gender issues in the treatment for substance abuse. Even when it’s not mixed-gender treatment, a program might still not be entirely speaking to the needs of women and gearing treatment to women. We are finding as time goes on that the definitions of what truly gender and women-specific treatment can vary significantly between centers and programs. 

When a center reports the availability of programs just for women, it might mean they have a weekly meeting just for women, for example. The broad terminology can mean there are some offerings for women, but they aren’t specific to the needs of women, particularly within the societal and individual context of their situation. There’s a scarce availability of truly gender-specific treatment programs. 

Understanding how our language impacts treatment is essential to deliver that genuinely women-centric focus in treatment. We have to learn more about the roots of treatment and the philosophies it’s built on because those continue to drive how we speak about and treat women. We also have to learn to be more curious in our questioning of what’s brought you to the place you’re in now, rather than simply assigning you a label.

All of this is challenging work because it requires that we reframe what treatment is and the concepts it’s built on. This reframing of the philosophy and language of treatment is a top priority for delivering women-centric addiction treatment for drugs and alcohol. This approach is different from programs that simply offer a gender-specific tract or discuss some gender-specific issues. 


The Male-Centric Treatment Framework

The concept of treating addiction goes back to the early 1900s

  • Courtenay Baylor is one of the names that come to mind as a pioneer in addiction treatment. 
  • Baylor essentially wrote the first textbook on how to be a substance abuse treatment counselor.
  • Baylor’s work is vital in how we do things even today. He based his treatment approaches primarily on men, which continues to influence substance abuse counseling in a larger sense.
  • In his book, Baylor only had one chapter on the treatment of women.
  • Samuel Ashwell was similarly a thought leader in this area, yet he spoke that men didn’t want to treat hysteria, linking it primarily to women. 
  • The idea of women struggling with addiction as being hysterical is one that’s stuck around, even if we don’t realize it.
  • The Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book includes language primarily for alcohol-dependent men.

So, where does this leave women? What are the lingering negative consequences for females who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, such as an opioid use disorder? Much of this reinforces some of the primary reasons women don’t get help in the first place—namely, shame is a big one, as are relationships and family commitments. Women-focused treatment and women-only programs need to realize what their shortcomings are to address differences in treatment outcomes. 



Why Aren’t We Asking More Questions?

At our gender-specific treatment center, we are rethinking the traditional ideas of addiction and how we can best treat it.

  • Many women who have a history of substance abuse also have a borderline personality disorder (BPD) or similar co-occurring disorders. 
  • A diagnosis of BPD is closely associated with a history of trauma, yet for men, we might diagnose them as having post-traumatic stress disorder instead of a personality disorder. 
  • As a woman with this diagnosis and a substance use disorder, the message becomes “you are the problem,” rather than talking about what happened to you to get you to this point.

Using labels is the prescriptive language often found in outdated gender-specific models not considering sex differences. 

  • When prescriptive language is part of your treatment program, you become your label, even in a gender-specific environment. 
  • You may internalize that label as who you are, which again goes back to the idea that you’re the problem rather than the concept that you have a problem that needs treatment.
  • Often, the labels created as part of prescriptive language models in a rehab program prevent the actual problem from being treated.

Another issue with prescriptive language and labels?

  • There’s no sense of curiosity on the part of your mental health providers, which ultimately leads to unfair treatment. 
  • A treatment provider may believe that because you have the label of BPD, to go back to the above example, they know all of your problems and how you should be treated. 
  • That eliminates the questioning and curious element of treatment. Therefore you’re not receiving addiction treatment as the individual you are.

With this problem of prescriptive language in mental health status, providers aren’t asking relevant contextual questions.

Labels lead to the same treatment for everyone, yet we know that what’s most effective for addiction is to treat everyone with an individualized treatment plan.

  • Treatment language doesn’t tell us what we need to know, as it stands currently. 
  • Instead, we say the person needs to “be fixed.” 
  • When we don’t account for context and experience in the treatment process, we also don’t consider how society influences substance use disorders.

For example, women in treatment are often victims of trauma, violence, sexual abuse, and inequality, which play a pivotal role in mental health and substance abuse disorders. Trauma-informed care and specialized treatments should be an integral part of treatment for individuals, leading to differences in the addiction recovery process. 


Moving From a Deficit to Strength-Based Perspective

Along with taking out prescriptive language and labels, our rehab center’s treatment of substance use moves from a deficit perspective to one of strength. So what does this mean?

Using the borderline personality disorder example, we build you up based on your inherent strengths. With BPD, you may have a focus on your alliance with others. In our approach, we might want to ask what continues to give you strength and a sense of resilience despite your past. We also consider the social context that you’ll return to in our treatment method. Other treatment options that aren’t genuinely gender-specific programs or women-specific might help with job placement and rebuilding family relationships. Still, they don’t consider broader societal elements that will affect your recovery.

  • What societal messages will you receive? 
  • What power differentials will you experience, and how can we internally empower you to deal with those? 
  • Are you returning to a supportive environment, or is it one where something like domestic violence could be an issue? 
  • What is your marital status, and is there a history of abuse? How can we create a foundation despite the traumatic events you’ve dealt with for complete treatment effectiveness? 

Individualized mental health care is about asking what your story is rather than creating stories we believe are relevant to you.

  • We work to exchange labels for curiosity in the addiction community and our mental health settings. 
  • We want to ask questions instead of making assumptions or adding a label where we see a problem. 
  • We also strive to externalize the situation outside of who you are to help you take accountability differently.



Our treatment team will move away from the perception of “I am the problem” to dealing with the problem for our female patients. We can look at core issues and gender-associated differences in patients and how particular situations such as physical abuse could have led you to where you are. 

So with all of this in mind, if you’re seeking treatment or looking for something individualized to who you are, you want to ask whether a program is a gender-specific treatment or if it just has a gender-specific tract.

Anchored Tides Recovery’s ongoing commitment to ensure that gender-specific treatment in all ways means we avoid outdated language in treatment that doesn’t consider the unique elements of what it is to be a woman and how that plays into your individualized treatment needs. Anchored Tides Recovery believes there are tremendous benefits of gender-specific treatment when looked at in the ways above, improving clinical outcomes and retention in treatment. If you’re interested in learning more about how we offer a truly inclusive gender-specific approach to treatment, call our helpline today, 866-600-7709