Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Five Ways to Prevent a Holiday Heart Attack

Always a timely post for this time of year.  While the holiday season is associated with the indulgence of food, spending, festivities and the "spirit(s) of Christmas" (i.e. something involving frequent visits to the liquor store), it can have its downside as well... a little cheer disturber called stress. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say the "stress of indulgence".

According to the alcohol industry watchdogs, 25% of the annual profit for liquor sales occurs between late November and January 1st, between American Thanksgiving and the New Year (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, 2007).

That's right, one quarter of the annual sale of alcohol occurs in just over a month's time. Perhaps even more disturbing is the increase of cardiac arrest that occurs within this window of time as well.

In fact, coronary deaths are 33% higher between December and January than they are from June through September (L.A. Times, December 17, 2007). While this spike of heart attacks during this time period has been known in the medical field for years, it was at first attributed to people who would possibly overexert themselves by shovelling snow and have a cardiac event. Not so, as folks in southern and warmer regions (no snow available) are equally effected.

The two riskiest days for heart related deaths... Christmas day and New Year's (December 25 and January 1).

Such things as: alcohol, increased intake of rich (salty and fatty) foods as well as the all too often Christmas rush of getting from one social obligation to the next; not to mention the family tension and concerns that occur, for example, when you might wonder if "uncle Fred will go off at the mouth again" after having too much of the spiked eggnog, are all contributors to making the next party, possibly your last.

Your Five Holiday Heart Attack Survival Tips:

1) Avoid excessive eating of salty foods

2) Avoid excessive eating of rich/creamy/fatty foods (avoid excessive eating period!)

3) Avoid excessive alcohol consumption (depends on age, weight, gender, history etc.)

4) Maintain some level of physical exercise or activity throughout the holidays i.e. go for a walk, take the stairs vs. elevator etc.

5) If social obligations require you to be around difficult family members, have a boundary of how long you will stay at the event, take your own car if you feel the in-laws will act up again and/or have another "out" in terms of being able to leave the event.

Perhaps the most important tip: if you or someone you care about feels a shortness of breath, chest pain and especially for women, symptoms such as indigestion, sleep disturbances, or weakness in the arms, etc. Don't just ignore it and think "another drink should fix that".

Listen to your body and get medical attention. This information could save a life.

Do take care over the holidays. Be mindful of excessive drinking, eating and over exerting or stressing yourself with too many social "obligations". The greatest "obligation" you can have is to a long and healthy life where you are there for your loved ones for years to come.

Season's Greetings, best wishes and best of health!
Paul Radkowski



Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Promising Practice- The Life Recovery Program: Web-based Support for Addiction & Mental Health Issues

The internationally awarded Life Recovery Program is  featured in the new Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH’s) “Fundamentals of Addiction” textbook and cited as the example of an effective online program in a chapter called “Digital Future.” 

The book details are as follows:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Fundamentals of Addiction: A Practical Guide for Counsellors (4th Edition)
With over 30 chapters, this edition provides the most essential, updated information for counselling professionals and students. Chapter authors are national and international experts on a variety of topics in the addictions field.  Foreward by Dr. Gabor Mate.

The Life Recovery Program was also featured  in CAMH's (eenet.ca) "promising practices" segment and reposted in this blog

The Life Recovery Program: Web-based Treatment and Support for Addiction and Mental Health Issues 

Today, there is increased awareness about addiction and mental health issues– people are starting to be more open about their experiences with depression and anxiety.  But there still is much stigma attached to these and other mental health diagnoses, and many don’t seek treatment for mental health issues, either for financial or access reasons, or because they’re afraid of the stigma associated with treatment.
One U.S. study found that the delay between the first onset of symptoms of a mental health issue and when people seek and receive treatment can be as long as decades.1  The study found that because 75 percent of lifelong mental illnesses start before age 24, many people adopt unhealthy coping strategies, including using substances. This means that addiction issues are high among this population group. This can lead to other problems, such as loss of a job and home, destroyed relationships, and even death.
Research is increasingly backing the use of online programs to provide treatment for mental health and addiction issues. Such programs are easy to access, avoid the stigma associated with in-person treatment, and let the individual make progress at their own pace. Cunningham and colleagues (2010)2 affirm that trials of computer-based interventions for different health behaviours and interventions provide “significant evidence for their efficacy” (p. 1). A meta-analysis also suggests that minimal contact computer-delivered treatments that can be accessed via the Internet may represent a cost-effective means of treating uncomplicated substance use problems and related issues (Rooke et al., 2010).3
Web-based Treatment and Support
The Life Recovery Program website is found at: https://liferecoveryprogram.com/
The Life Recovery Program (LRP) www.liferecoveryprogram.com is an internationally-awarded, online, video-based program that provides trauma-informed psycho-education and support to people with addiction and mental health issues, as well as to their friends and family.
The program is aimed at persons with such issues as substance use, behavioural or process addictions, self-cutting, disordered eating, gambling, toxic relationships, anger, managing chronic stress, trauma, and impulse control issues.
It’s informed by the latest research and integrates materials and resources used by many inpatient addiction treatment centres. It also takes a holistic approach to the individual’s needs, and looks at the biological, spiritual, and psychosocial influences of addiction.
Paul Radkowski, CEO/Clinical Director of the LRP, came up with the concept of an online recovery program while working as a psychotherapist in the Northwest Territories, where traditional support for mental health and addiction issues was very difficult to access.
How the Program Works

The Life Recovery Program defines addiction as any behaviour a person can’t stop, resulting in destructive consequences. This can mean substances as well as behaviours or processes, such as self-cutting, disordered eating, gambling, toxic relationships, even anger.  The program is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches and other evidence-informed modalities that have been proven to reduce symptom severity. This includes the use of various self-regulation skills training resources, all of which are foundational for recovery.
The web-based format allows people to access the program anytime, when they need it, wherever they are.  Throughout the program, clients download homework that allows them to practise and review new coping strategies for their mental health and addiction issues. They also receive weekly e-mails that encourage actions such as finding an accountability partner (e.g., AA, a friend, counsellor, pastor), summaries and reminders of key messages from the latest lesson, and videos.
They can also join an interactive peer-support forum that allows participants to interact anonymously with others in the program. This clinician- moderated forum is a way for people to find support and resources for the mental health and addiction issues they’re facing.
The program uses the most recent research findings in the field of neuroscience and neurobiology to help explain to clients the effect that addictions, stress, and impulse/control issues have on thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.
Challenges: Misconceptions about the program
There’s a misconception that LRP is providing e-counselling and live video exchange with a counsellor. But this online program doesn’t aim to replace traditional treatment options. It’s designed to fill current service gaps —not to replace existing treatment approaches.
The Life Recovery Program can be used by a variety of people for many different purposes, such as support for someone waiting for treatment, those who want anonymity, or who are unable or not ready to have face-to-face treatment. It can be used to prevent relapse or as support for someone coming out of treatment.
The outcomes
A content analysis of the LRP peer support forum revealed that more than 80 percent of participants were able to view their lives differently, regulate their moods, and developed new ways of coping to stop or decrease their addictive behaviours. Among active members, 27 percent chose to sign up and pay to go through the entire six month program (which remains available for one year) for a second time, decreasing their likelihood of relapse.  Participants also noted that they increased their use of alternative resources, such as support groups and therapists.
 The Life Recovery Program has been peer reviewed and recognized in 2008 for its comprehensiveness and innovation by the International Association of Addictions and Offender Counselors’ with the  Outstanding Addictions Professional Award. The program also received the first Outstanding Mental Health Award from the Ontario Association of Counsellors, Consultants, Psychometrists and Psychologists, in 2011.  It will also be featured in the upcoming textbook by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Fundamentals of Addiction , in a chapter called “Digital Future”.

For more information about the Life Recovery Program contact Paul Radkowski at https://www.liferecoveryprogram.com/
Wang, PS, et al. Failure and Delay in Initial Treatment Contact After First Onset of Mental Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005;62(6):603-613. Available at: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=208684
Cunningham JA, Wild TC, Cordingley J, et al. Twelve-month follow-up results from a randomized controlled trial of a brief personalized feedback intervention for problem drinkers. Alcohol Alcohol. 2010 May-Jun; 45 (3):258-62. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agq009. Epub 2010 Feb
Rooke S, Thorsteinsson E, Karpin A, Copeland J, Allsop D. Computer-delivered interventions for alcohol and tobacco use: a meta-analysis. Addiction. 2010 August; 105(8):1381–90. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02975.x

Thursday, April 18, 2013

If the Earth Was a Landlord & We Were Her Tenants....

If the Earth was a Landlord and we were her Tenants, would you renew our lease?

If you had a Tenant, who lived in your Home,
Who had no regard for maintaining your Environment,
From stripping it of its resources,
From making it an uninhabitable place to live,
Would you renew their lease?

If you had a Tenant, who lived in your Home,
That polluted your water source,
That filled your space with sewage and toxic waste,
That filled your air with poisonous gases,
Would you renew their lease?

If you had a Tenant, who lived in your Home,
Who destroyed and disrespected nearly every aspect of your Habitat,
Who had little regard or wantonly killed others living within your Environment,
Who burned your gardens to the ground and abused you for your resources alone,
Would you renew their lease?

As Tenants of the Earth, how would we rate ourselves? 
Would your lease be renewed or would you soon be evicted?
We are all members of this Home we call Earth.  
We can all choose to either hurt or heal.
As part of a Global Family, we all have and only have this one Home, Planet Earth.

Happy Earth Day!  Here's to being the healthiest Tenants we can be.

Best of health for now and to future generations,

Paul Radkowski


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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Supporting One Another & Lessons from Nature

As spring rolls around and as various birds, geese and wildlife awake and return from their winter, I'm inspired by the sight and I wanted to take this excerpt from ``Lessons from Geese`` (based on the work of Milton Olson) as it applies to the community of support and recovery.

FACT 1: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the birds that follow. By flying in V formation, the whole flock adds 72% greater flying range than if each bird flew alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of flying alone. It quickly moves back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front of it.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose we stay in formation with those headed where we want to go. We are willing to accept their help and give our help to others.

When the lead goose tires, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies to the point position.
Lesson: it pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership. As with geese, people are interdependent on each other`s skills and resources.

The geese flying in formation honk to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our `honking` is encouraging. In groups where there is encouragement, the production is much greater. Their power of encouragement (to stand by one`s heart or core values and encourage the heat and core of others)is the quality of honking we seek.

FACT 5: When a goose gets sick, wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of the formation and follow it down to help and protect it. They stay with it until it dies or is able to fly again. Then, they launch out with another formation or catch-up with the flock.
Lesson: If we had as much sense as geese, we will stand by each other in difficult times as well as when we are strong.

From the smallest of creatures to the greatest of human achievements, we can learn and grow from the experience of others and the examples of life around us

Best of health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski
Please join our community and share your voice…

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SPECT Scans & Your Brain on Drugs- Part 2

In our previous post we shared what some of the most commonly abused substances will do to your brain.  This post will continue with other substances that are much abused as well as the amazing regenerative power of the brain to heal itself.

                            Effects of Long Term Alcohol

38 y/o – 17 years of heavy weekend use

Alcohol Abuse and Brain Trauma


         Effects of Heavy Nicotine & Caffeine Abuse

45 y/o — 27 year history of heavy use
Smoking 3 packs of cigarettes and drinking 3 pots of coffee daily

Now at this point, if I’m showing these images to a substance using client in my office I’ll often ask “So what stands out most for you seeing these images?” (usually the client is a bit wide eyed with jaw dropped).  I’ll then see if I can pick an example of what the client’s brain might look like, for example.

“So you’re in your late 20’s and you say you smoke pot really “just on weekends”.  Oh, here is an image of what a late 20 year old’s brain looks like who smokes just on weekends….

...is this what your brain looks like? Client, still a bit wide eyed with jaw dropped often with a response of "Whoa". "I guess maybe you hadn't heard the concentration of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is way more potent now than it was in "hippy days".
I will often leave the client hanging with the reality and consequences of their choices for a little bit and then segue way to something a bit more optimistic.
The brain is quite adaptable and “plastic” and will regenerate once healthier (non-substance) choices are made. For example, here are some images of what the brain looks like while still using (left image) and when not using a year later (image on the right).

Hope for Healing Alcohol, Drug Abuse, Cocaine & Meth On and Off Drugs and Alcohol

Effects of drug abuse and alcohol abuse vs one year substance free

There is hope!  The brain will regenerate given the proper conditions.  These images are often a powerful motivator for a person to realize the consequences of their choices and begin to think twice the next time they use.  I usually get a comment of...
“I DON’T want my brain to look like that!”
Best of health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski
Please join our community and share your voice…



Thursday, March 14, 2013

SPECT Scans & Your Brain on Drugs- Part 1

It is often a big wake up call is to see the visual impact and images of what drugs can do to the human brain  (part 1 of 2).

This is some of the latest functional brain imaging available called SPECT scans (short for Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography).

You’ll see in this first image a SPECT scan view of a healthy human brain. Notice the smoothness of the surface area, looks like everything is connected and intact and the bright yellowish colour means greater brain activity throughout

Now, this is where we get into “darker” territory (literally).

Effects of Smoking Marijuana

Now compare these last few images to a healthy brain scan (as seen with first image).  Notice the darkened colour of the image of the scan and perforations (holes) of the tissue area (appearing as if someone poured acid on the brain).  Now these images are not actually photographs of brain matter, but are showing the holes or gaps in functioning of brain activity.  The holes you are seeing is where connectivity is impaired and reduced brain volume and activity results.  All these substances are “vasoconstrictors” i.e. they shrink brain cells! 

It’s been said, you blow your brain, you blow your life because your decision making, emotional world, social relationships etc often all take a turn for the worse.

Here is an overview of the effects of other substances.

Long Term Effects of Heroin & Methadone

Long Term Effects of Cocaine & Methamphetamine

Stay tuned for more images of various substances and the remarkable capacity for the brain to heal and regenerate.

Best of health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Saying "NO"- Can Save a Life

Recovery and mental health is about having healthy boundaries. Sure we can all be emotionally impacted by the people we spend time with and the moods of others. It is a problem when you feel helpless, hijacked and taken over by the requests and moods of others.

Here are some signs of NOT so healthy boundaries-

1. Having one’s self-esteem and mood decreased and negatively affected by other’s anxieties and worries

2. Measuring self-worth by outside validation.

3. Being controlled by thoughts such as: “What will they think? Am I doing it right? Do they like me?”

4. Reacting (often unconsciously) out of childhood conditioning/teachings/trauma: sudden, unexplainded flashes of intense hurt, anger resentment, shame.

5. Fear that is unequal to current reality. Fear of “hurting other’s feelings” by sharing truth.

6. Seeing the world/people as “doing it me” rather than seeing our part and exercising our power.

7. Constantly needing to soothe others, or needing others to constantly soothe you.

We need boundaries for every part of our lives. Yet when you attempt to set a boundary for the first time it can feel quite uncomfortable. You may even feel a bit ashamed or afraid to hurt someone else’s feelings when setting boundaries.

Do it anyways! Why? Because often times the people around us have no idea that they are trespassing on your feelings, thoughts, core beliefs, personal space or even your big toe unless you say something.

When a stranger bumps into you most often they will say, “Excuse me.” Why? Because they recognize that they have stepped over the limit, they have touched you without asking permission. That’s someone recognizing that they have crossed your boundary.

Often times the people who are closest to us, may not recognize or even know what your boundaries are so it’s important for you to share that with them. Otherwise you may find yourself feeling used, resentful, angry or hurt.

Did you know that nobody respects a person whom they can use? People use people they can use, and respect people they can’t use. So, setting boundaries means letting people know what your limits are so that they don’t end up accidentally or purposefully using you. It becomes win-win and a satisfying relationship for you both. Both of you will experience a sense of personal worth, value, respect and trust as you now communicate your needs more honestly and directly.

Saying "NO"- can save a life.
Find out how this mom learned to say "no" to her drug abusing son and not only saved his life, but their family as well...

This week take time to pay attention and think about and practice setting boundaries with people in your life. Start by simply learning how to honour your needs by saying NO, rather than yes every time someone asks something of you. Write them down, jot down your feelings about setting boundaries and why it’s important for you to do so. Practice this until it becomes a more natural and comfortable feeling.

Best health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski

-Saving and transforming lives and families 24/7


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Boundary is Like Your Skin- Don't Leave Home Without It!

People will often experience stress, depression, anxiety and/or addiction as a result of what’s going on in their relationships. Often this is due to a lack of a healthy boundary between ourselves and our own needs and the needs and expectations of others. Poor boundaries will often lead to unhealthy relationships, stress, depression, anxiety and addiction, not to mention poor self esteem!

So, what is a boundary? The simplest and most common analogy that clarifies what a boundary is and the importance of having boundaries …is one of the most obvious and easy to remember….your skin!

Our skin is a boundary. It keeps our insides protected from the outside environment. Imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have any skin? Life would be quite difficult if all of our internal parts were exposed to our external environment, the scorching heat, cold frost, prickly plants or our pets jumping on our bodies … ouch! Imagine what life would be like without that boundary.

Having boundaries is key to living a healthy and happy life. Think about it, even though our skin is a boundary for our internal tissue, we protect our skin by shielding it with clothing, protective sunscreen or other protective cover to ensure that our skin is able to do its job which is to protect our insides. If we didn’t have this protection, we would start to feel pretty exposed, burned, cold and perhaps feel violated both literally and figuratively.

Did you know that nobody respects a person who they can use? People will often use people they can use, and respect people they can’t use. What are your needs? Perhaps it starts with the need of setting a limit asserting yourself by saying “No” to what you don’t want anymore.

Best of health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski


Monday, February 4, 2013

Adverse Childhood Experience Study - Is your past childhood trauma slowly killing you? Part 2

Welcome back, so in the previous post we talked about how trauma can cause severe and chronic stress and that the majority of us have had at least one Adverse Childhood Experience.

What does this all mean? Again, trauma is much like a 3rd degree emotional burn that lingers long after you have gotten out of the fire.  If you have a major burn, it kind of makes sense why someone might want to use to soothe and resort to an addiction as an attempt to have an outlet.

Trauma is a form of severe and chronic stress which can translate into someone having the kind of core beliefs previously mentioned:
  • I‘m not safe
  • I can‘t trust anyone
  • Feelings are bad (or ―I‘m bad, weak, a failure)
  • I can‘t handle it (life, feelings stress etc)
  • I have to be in control
Having even one of these often ongoing core beliefs can activate the stress response where the body produces high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol (among others). This is good in the short term if you have to run for your life, not so good in the long term as it will beat up your immune system, shrink cells in your brain (how is that for making ―good decisions while stressed) and as shown in the graph you were introduced to earlier, can result in disease, disability and early death.

Beliefs become biology and beliefs coupled with unhealthy ways of coping by using to soothe, e.g. smoking, drugs, gambling, over eating (obesity), lead to an even greater effect on biology (i.e. your body). If you have a core belief that you are not safe, and feel as if you are always in emergency-survival mode‖, then this will result in major physical and chemical reactions juicing up your body. And so I ask you one simple question, ―how long can you expect to run a car at 10,000 RPM‘s before something breaks down?

An interesting example of this is a UCLA study that measured the immunity of actors. Take a group of actors and have them spend a day acting out a stressful, depressing scene and their ―immune responsiveness is impaired. Have the same group of actors spend a day on a happy, uplifting scene and their immunity is better than baseline i.e. normal (Futterman, A., Kemeny, M., Shapiro, D., & Fahey, J., Psychosomatic Medicine 56 (1994):499).

Imagine what it‘s like to not just act out an emergency every day but actually live it every day. Imagine being on the edge of ―survival‖ for years and years. The end result, survival is indeed affected pushing your health more and more to the edge of the cliff (disease, disability, early death).

Of course these issues can make a huge impact on relationships later in life. It‘s difficult to know or be in a healthy relationship, if you have never seen one before.

Fortunately, there are things you can do about it. For example, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, exercise, relaxation techniques can tip the scale more in your favour towards greater health and longer life.

Finally, just a bit of a word regarding stigma. The issue of stigma i.e. not seeking help for fear of judgment by others (including mental health professionals) is a huge concern for many people struggling with addiction, mental health and trauma issues and is one of the big determinants of people not seeking help (National Co-morbidity Survery 2005).

Trauma creates a "third degree emotional burn" for its survivors and addiction becomes more obvious as an attempt to soothe from painful emotions. Clinicians and treatment centres not taking a trauma history from their clients or not operating from a trauma framework, are at risk of doing greater harm to its clients and possibly re-traumatizing them.

I believe it‘s in the highest interest of the individual not to go around with a guilt or self blame statement of ―What‘s wrong with me? i.e. what‘s causing me to use and feel so weak as a person. Instead this trauma model enables a more compassionate question: What happened to me? i.e. that has lead me to feel so beat up and want to use to soothe? The past does impact the present. This beat up, anxious, overwhelming, depressed feeling I‘m feeling might be a normal response to incredible and ongoing stress.

Please don‘t let the years go by with your problems getting worse and worse before you do something about it. You deserve better for yourself.

Best of health and warmest regards, Paul Radkowski
Psychotherapist, CEO/Clinical Director, Life Recovery Programhttps://www.liferecoveryprogram.com/