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Key Factors in Recovering From Substance Abuse Disorder, Addiction

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By Michael Gold

Substance use disorder in Westchester and Putnam counties is still leaving its mark.

Christina Feola, a certified recovery coach with Mountainside Treatment Center in Chappaqua, explained that substance abuse is continuing to increase with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing more people coming in,” she said.

Part of the problem with substance abuse is that many times it seems to occur with mental health issues. 

“Addiction can combine with a mental health issue or trauma from the past,” Feola said.

She has seen many co-occurring issues, from anxiety to depression.

“Drugs are a temporary solution to the problem,” she said.

A person with an addictive personality “always wants more, needs more. They lack self-esteem and they want instant gratification,” Feola explained.

“I try to get people in recovery to find those passions they once enjoyed. I tell them to go on a bike ride, go for a hike. They can do arts and crafts. Those are the tools they need when they’re stuck, as well as the healthy coping skills they learn in outpatient counseling.”

Feola’s superpower seems to be empathy.

“They (those suffering from substance use disorder) need a strong-knit support system,” Feola said. “I can walk them through that urge to drink or use. I offer a listening ear, with no judgment. They need to know they’re not alone. I share my experience, my strength and my hope with them. Kindness can be the saving grace for a lot of people.”

Feola walked me through three case histories of substance use disorder. The first one she talked about became severely addicted to alcohol in college.  Let’s call them Alpha.

“Alpha was drinking so much, particularly when alone, that it became their life. They ended up in the hospital with potential liver failure, “at a very young age,” Feola said.

“There are a lot of people who drink themselves to a place that has medical consequences. I’ve seen it happen – people between 20 and 30 years of age who have serious medical issues because of drinking or drugs,” Feola pointed out.

Alpha was fortunate in a way because they had a supportive family. Feola helps with that, too.

“I help family members help the addicted person,” she said. “That makes all the difference, that they have someone in their corner.”

Alpha spent 30 days at a treatment center, then joined a 12-step program. They’re now looking for work.

“Their compulsion to drink lifted because they can now experience the joys in life.”

The second case history was more difficult. Let’s call this one Beta. Beta became addicted to nitrous oxide.

“It’s more popular than people think,” Feola explained. “You can buy whippets at the local smoke shop, in a cannister, with an adapter.”

Whippets come from whipped cream cans, which is how they got their name.

“This person was using hundreds of canisters per day.”

Beta’s goal was to escape from reality, but their whippet usage induced neuropathy in their legs.

“Their nitrous use caused their nerve endings to not work,” Feola said. “They couldn’t feel the pedals in their car. They had to go to rehabilitation to learn how to walk again.”

Beta’s mother was an alcoholic, which hindered Beta’s recovery. The mother and Beta argued a lot. Feola pointed out how critical it is for a person in recovery to have a supportive living environment. The last Feola heard from Beta, they had gone back to using nitrous oxide.

“This person is stuck in addiction. It’s sad to watch,” Feola explained.

“Recovery is all about the willingness to work, to want it,” she said. “If you’re not committed, it’s not going to work. This person wasn’t ready to stop.”

The third person she talked about was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, which they started doing in college. We’ll call them Gamma. Gamma had family trauma in early adolescence, yet they found a good career.

Gamma started gambling, in addition to their alcohol and cocaine usage.

“They were severely addicted,” Feola said.

Gamma was doing all their gambling online, playing the slots, poker, and blackjack, which indicates the potential dangers of these sites.

“It’s a game, but you’re playing with dollars,” Feola explained. Gamma “was taking out credit cards to gamble. They were tens of thousands in debt.”

With Feola’s help, Gamma has been sober and has not gambled in 10 months. Gamma bought a new business and “is happier than they have ever been. They love to exercise. They really value the idea of being structured and disciplined. It’s a testament to their dedication,” Feola said.

“My job is recovery coaching,” Feola explained. “My job is to understand and motivate and be that cheerleader because they may not have that at home. I want them to know that they’re valued. I am that compassionate, kind, motivating person in their corner.”

Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers, and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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