mental health

Addiction: Changing Reward-Motivated Behavior

addictionAll of us make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions every day of the week. Most decisions are, for the most part, inconsequential. Such as which TV show you decide to watch tonight, or which route you will take on your daily jog. But there are some decisions that we make that can have grave outcomes, especially if you are in recovery for addiction.

Addiction is a mental health disorder that is typified by making decisions that result in actions that are damaging to one’s health. Even when one is aware that their decisions are in fact harmful, the reward or the expectation of some kind of reward (i.e. euphoria) is often enough to counter an alternative choice. Try as one might, breaking the cycle of addiction is extremely difficult and often times requires the assistance of detox and substance use disorder treatment centers. With the right tools and coping skills in place, one can avoid relapse down the road.

Reward-Motivated Behavior

In everyone’s brain there are several organic chemicals that act as neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine. When it comes to the latter, dopamine plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. And, it turns out that dopamine, and manipulating the level of dopamine in the brain could actually alter the decisions people make, Salk Institute reports. The findings from a study published in the journal Neuron, could have serious implications in treating people who have difficulty putting a stop to repetitive actions, like addicts and alcoholics.

The researchers say that by measuring the level of dopamine right before a decision, gives them [researcher] the ability to predict the outcome with accuracy, according to the report. In rodent models, the research team was able to alter the animals’ dopamine levels in the brain, using a process called optogenetics. The technique activates or inhibits neurons with light, thus increasing or decreasing dopamine levels, giving researchers the ability to dictate the choices the rodents made. Xin Jin, an assistant professor in Salk’s Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory and the paper’s senior author, said:

“We think that if we could restore the appropriate dopamine dynamics—in Parkinson’s disease, OCD and drug addiction—people might have better control of their behavior. This is an important step in understanding how to accomplish that.”

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction

Addiction is a mental health disorder; one that is progressive in nature. Every bad habit starts with a decision to do something. Such options, overtime move away from the realm of a choice and into the realm of need. Mind altering substances in effect rewire how you process and decide to do things, which is why one can make decisions that you know could be fatal—without having ideations of suicide.

Treating addiction is a process involving both time and hard work in order regain one’s ability to make decisions in one’s best interest. Without making a serious commitment to alter the course of one’s life, utilizing the support of a recovery program, the ends are typically the same. At Synergy Group Services our holistic treatment program is designed to draw from many evidence based therapeutic processes giving each individual access to the modalities that will be most effective for them. Blending evidence-based practices addresses the entire person, including their mind, body, and spirit.

Cures Act Funds Addiction Treatment

addiction treatmentAt this point, now in the seventeenth year of the most insidious drug epidemic the world has ever seen, many Americans are starting to think that the crisis may never be curtailed. It is a shared feeling, despite the fact that we know what is needed, greater access to addiction treatment. To be sure, there are thousands of addiction treatment facilities throughout the country, centers helping people break the cycle of addiction 365 days a year. Yet there are many Americans who need treatment the most, that are unable to access such programs. Those who do have a shot at getting a bed often have to wait well over a month for it, and in a number of cases that is dangerously long given the deadly nature of opioids.

Realizing that Americans are being forced to wait needlessly for treatment, there has been a huge push within the Federal government to increase funding for addiction treatment services throughout the country. It was a push that resulted in the passing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 (CARA), a bill specifically designed to combat the American opioid epidemic, including provisions for:

  • Expanding Access to Treatment
  • Increasing Access to Naloxone
  • Distributing Clean Needles
  • Education and Prevention Efforts

Unfortunately, there may not be enough funding to ensure that all the aforementioned initiatives are achieved. CARA was widely hailed as a perfect example of bipartisan governing, yet if it fails to accomplish what it was designed for then it is irrelevant. However, there may be hope yet for millions of Americans who are in need of treatment.

Congress approved the 21st Century Cures Act, new legislation that could channel $1 billion in new funding over the next two years for opioid addiction prevention and treatment programs, USA Today reports. On top of that, the Cures Act could fortify existing mental health parity laws, forcing insurers to cover mental illness the same way they would any other health condition.

“For far too long Americans suffering with mental illness have been stigmatized and left in the shadows,” said Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. “This bill helps stop Americans from falling through the cracks.”

Click here to watch a short video on the subject.

#StigmaFree: Mental Health Month 2016

mental health monthDo you know someone living with a mental illness? Perhaps you do, and is it someone close to you, i.e., family member or friend? The chances are that you probably do and, even if you do not, you can help them this May by taking part in Mental Health Month. Unfortunately, even in the enlightened times we find ourselves living, there are still stigmas surrounding mental health disorders—illnesses which include:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety Disorder (i.e. PTSD, OCD and Phobias)
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Depression
  • Schizophrenia

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is urging people to harness the power and reach out on their social media platforms for educating others, raise awareness and end the stigma of mental illness with hope. They ask that you take the pledge to be #StigmaFree this #MentalHealthMonth. While approximately 1 in 5 American adults experience some form of mental illness in a given year, less than 41 percent of them receive any form of mental health service, according to NAMI.

Mental illness that is left unchecked by therapy and medication can quickly spiral out of control—often times ending in tragedy. We can all have a hand in encouraging the afflicted to seek help for their illness without fear of being shamed. Recovering from mental health disorders is possible—people can lead normal and productive lives free from disgrace. But, in order for that to come to fruition, it involves a societal effort.

So, What Can You Do to help?

  1. Take the Pledge to Be #StigmaFree
  2. Record your Video
  3. Upload it to your YouTube channel and other social media accounts.
  4. Include #StigmaFree in the Title

Perhaps you have a story of your own that you would like to share with others who are still severely impacted by a mental illness. What you went through may empower others to seek the help they so desperately need. Let them know that they are not alone, share your voice.

“We know that mental illness is not something that happens to other people. It touches us all. Why then is mental illness met with so much misunderstanding and fear?” – Tipper Gore

Addiction Treatment Self-Policing

addiction treatmentIn recent years there have been a number of changes to American healthcare. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), in combination with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, has given people both coverage and access to substance use disorder treatment. While both bills have done a lot of good in a time rife with prescription opioid and heroin addiction, there has been some scandals associated with certain treatment providers.

In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) raided two treatment facilities in Palm Beach County, Florida. The two facilities were involved in rampant patient brokering, insurance fraud and kickbacks. Millions of dollars were pocketed by overcharging insurance companies for procedures that cost relatively nothing, collecting thousands of dollars for a single urine analysis.

Last month, at conference for addiction treatment providers in Naples, Florida, one of the main topics of discussion was about addiction treatment facilities self-policing so that the U.S. Department of Justice does not, The Palm Beach Post reports. In the wake of the 2014 scandal, the insurance company Cigna pulled out of the Florida treatment marketplace and other insurance companies now delay or refuse to compensate claims for substance use disorder treatment.

“I’m really scared that if we don’t do something to clean up our act we’re going to get hammered and there is a real possibility that we’re going to get shut down,” said Jim Bevell, owner of the Treatment Solutions Network in Fort Lauderdale. “Until we can put our egos aside and actually come together for the best of the industry rather than our own best interest … we’re all going to be out.”

While there was lot of negative discussion about both insurance companies and shady treatment facilities, there was some good that came out of the conference, according to the article. The conference attendees managed to come to an agreement about possible solutions to the Florida treatment conundrum, such as:

  • Establish clinical guidelines for how often and when recovering addicts should be tested with urine drug screens.
  • Create an industry coalition to develop ethical standards, police members and represent the industry in negotiations with insurance companies.
  • Sponsor and pay for research to prove the effectiveness of specific treatments — something insurance companies rely upon in determining coverage.

After reading this, we hope that you do not become discouraged about addiction treatment in Florida. A few bad apples are not representative of the whole, everyday people get the help they need and manage to turn their lives around – living a life free from drugs and alcohol. When looking for a treatment center that is a the right fit, there are a few tools we can provide you with that may help assist you in the decision making process.

Finding the right drug rehab should include the following criteria:

  • Find an addiction rehab that is licensed by the appropriate governmental agencies.
  • Find an addiction rehab that has a clear vision for creating an individual treatment plan for each client that is also creative and innovative.
  • Find an addiction rehab that has expertise in diagnosing and treating dual diagnosis disease.
  • Find an addiction rehab that has developed a family approach for a family problem

For more guidance, please click here.

Addiction is No Longer Invisible – National Recovery Month

recoveryRecovering from addiction is no small feat, it requires determination and perseverance. Learning how to live a life free from drugs and alcohol cannot be done alone, and for 80 years members of 12-step programs have helped each other recover from the debilitating disease of addiction. September is a special time of year for people in recovery, being National Recovery Month.

All month long events are being held across the country with the collective goal of breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health disorders. September is also a time to celebrate everyone who is actively working a program of recovery and the countless people who work tirelessly in the field of addiction and mental health services.

National Recovery Month events are open to the public. They are good opportunity for people, without substance use disorders and people who have loved ones active in their addiction, to learn about the disease and how they can assist people to find recovery. The nation is currently in the grips of a tragic opioid epidemic, with addicts needlessly losing their life to overdoses every day. Opening up the dialogue about addiction can go a long way in the fight against this epidemic, changing how the general public looks at addiction will result in more people seeking help for their problem – saving lives.

We encourage everyone in recovery to attend National Recovery Month events. Recovery is worth celebrating, and your success is a living testament that: “We Can, and Do Recover”. On Monday, the President made a Proclamation showing his support for National Recovery Month and commending everyone in recovery. Please take a moment to read the Proclamation.


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Every day, resilient Americans with substance use disorders summon extraordinary courage and strength and commit to living healthy and productive lives through recovery. From big cities to small towns to Indian Country, substance use disorders affect the lives of millions of Americans. This month, we reaffirm our unwavering commitment to all those who are seeking or in need of treatment, and we recognize the key role families, friends, and health care providers play in supporting those on the path to a better tomorrow.

This year’s theme is “Join the Voices for Recovery: Visible, Vocal, Valuable!” It encourages us all to do our part to eliminate negative public attitudes associated with substance use disorders and treatment. People in recovery are part of our communities — they are our family and friends, colleagues and neighbors — and by supporting them and raising awareness of the challenges they face, we can help eradicate prejudice and discrimination associated with substance use disorders, as well as with co-occurring mental disorders. Prevention and treatment work, and people recover — and we must ensure all those seeking help feel empowered, encouraged, and confident in their ability to take control of their future. Americans looking for help for themselves or their loved ones can call 1-800-662-HELP or use the “Treatment Locator” tool at

My Administration remains dedicated to pursuing evidence-based strategies to address substance use disorders as part of our National Drug Control Strategy. Seeking to widen pathways to recovery, our strategy supports the integration of substance use treatment into primary health care settings and the expansion of support services in places such as high schools, institutions of higher education, and throughout the criminal justice system. In the wake of public health crises related to non-medical use of prescription drugs and heroin in communities across our Nation, my Administration has pledged considerable resources to help Federal, State, and local authorities boost prevention efforts, improve public health and safety, and increase access to treatment in communities across the country. And the Affordable Care Act has extended substance use disorder and mental health benefits and Federal parity protections to millions of Americans.

Behavioral health is essential to overall health, and recovery is a process through which individuals are able to improve their wellness, live increasingly self-directed lives, and strive to fulfill their greatest potential. During National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, we reaffirm our belief that recovery and limitless opportunity are within reach of every single American battling substance use disorders, and we continue our work to achieve this reality.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim September 2015 as National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirty-first day of August, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.


At Synergy Group Services we offer individualized treatment plans for addiction recovery.

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