The following is a list of movies about addiction and mental disorders that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion.
Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.
Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.
Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness
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103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use
Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive.
That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.
127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide
Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.
123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence
Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.
Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.
Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.
(Updated 5/12/22) If you’re a counselor or therapist, you’re probably familiar with Therapist Aid, one of the most well-known sites for providing no-cost therapy worksheets. But Therapist Aid isn’t the only resource for free clinical tools! This is a list of over 200 sites with free therapy worksheets and handouts.
See below for links to websites with free therapy worksheets and handouts for clinical use and self-help.
(Click here for therapy worksheets, handouts, and guides posted on this site.)
Stress Management – Patient Handouts | A collection of handouts on stress management; some of the other sections, including “General Health and Wellness” and “Nutrition” have links to handouts as well (Source: UMASS Medical School Department of Psychiatry)
Attitudes and Behaviour | 9-page PDF packet on criminal thinking (Source: Carleton University, Criminal Justice Decision Making Laboratory & Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services)
Motivation To Change | 16-page PDF packet on motivation to change criminal behavior (Source: Carleton University, Criminal Justice Decision Making Laboratory & Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services)
Peers & Relationships | 12-page PDF packet on how associates impact criminal behavior (Source: Carleton University, Criminal Justice Decision Making Laboratory & Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services)
Effective coping skills make it possible to survive life’s stressors, obstacles, and hardships. Without coping strategies, life would be unmanageable. Dr. Constance Scharff described coping mechanisms as “skills we… have that allow us to make sense of our negative experiences and integrate them into a healthy, sustainable perspective of the world.” Healthy coping strategies promote resilience when experiencing minor stressors, such as getting a poor performance review at work, or major ones, such as the loss of a loved one.
Like any skill, coping is important to practice on a regular basis in order to be effective. Do this by maintaining daily self-care (at a minimum: adequate rest, healthy meals, exercise, staying hydrated, and avoiding drugs/alcohol.)
As an expert on you (and how you adapt to stressful situations), you may already know what helps the most when life seems out-of-control. (I like reading paranormal romance/fantasy-type books!) Maybe you meditate or run or rap along to loud rap music or have snuggle time with the cats or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Having insight into/awareness of your coping strategies primes you for unforeseeable tragedies in life.
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”
Virginia Satir, Therapist (June 26, 2019-September 10, 1988)
Healthy coping varies greatly from person to person; what matters is that your personal strategies work for you. For example, one person may find prayer helpful, but for someone who isn’t religious, prayer might be ineffective. Instead, they may swim laps at the gym when going through a difficult time. Another person may cope by crying and talking it out with a close friend.
Note: there are various mental health treatment approaches (i.e. DBT, trauma-focused CBT, etc.) that incorporate specialized, evidence-based coping techniques that are proven to work (by reducing symptoms and improving wellbeing) for certain disorders. The focus of this post is basic coping, not treatment interventions.
On the topic of coping skills, the research literature is vast (and beyond the scope of this post). While many factors influence coping (i.e. personality/temperament, stressors experienced, mental and physical health, etc.), evidence backs the following methods: problem-solving techniques, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, reframing, acceptance, humor, seeking support, and religion/spirituality. (Note that venting is not on the list!) Emotional intelligence may also play a role in the efficiency of coping skills.
A sport psychology study indicated that professional golfers who used positive self-talk, blocked negative thoughts, maintained focus, and remained in a relaxed state effectively coped with stress, keeping a positive mindset. Effective copers also sought advice as needed throughout the game. A 2015 study suggested that helping others, even strangers, helps mitigate the impact of stress.
Examples of coping skills include prayer, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, talking to a trusted person, journaling, cleaning, and creating art. However, the purpose of this post is to provide coping alternatives. Maybe meditation isn’t your thing or journaling leaves you feeling like crap. Coping is not one-size-fits-all. The best approach to coping is to find and try lots of different things!
The inspiration for this post came from Facebook. (Facebook is awesome for networking! I’m a member of several professional groups.) Lauren Mills sought ideas for unconventional strategies via Facebook… With permission, I’m sharing some of them here!
Unconventional Coping Strategies
Crack pistachio nuts
Fold warm towels
Smell your dog (Fun fact: dog paws smell like corn chips!) or watch them sleep
Peel dried glue off your hands
Break glass at the recycling center
Pop bubble wrap
Lie upside down
Watch slime or pimple popping videos on YouTube
Sort and build Lego’s
Write in cursive
Observe fish in an aquarium
Solve math problems (by hand)
Use a voice-changing app (Snapchat works too) to repeat back your worry/critical thoughts in the voice of a silly character OR sing your worries/thoughts aloud to the tune of “Happy Birthday”
Listen to the radio in foreign languages
Go for a joy ride (Windows down!)
Watch YouTube videos of cute animals and/or giggling babies
Walk barefoot outside
Draw/paint on your skin
Play with (dry) rice
Do (secret) “random acts of kindness”
Play with warm (not hot) candle wax
Watch AMSR videos on YouTube
Recite family recipes
Find the nicest smelling flowers at a grocery store
Use an app to try different hairstyles and/or makeup
People-watch with a good friend and make up stories about everyone you see (Take it to the next level with voiceovers!)
Wash your face mindfully
Buy a karaoke machine and sing your heart out when you’re home alone
On Instagram, watch videos of a hydraulic press smash things, cake decorating, pottery/ceramics throwing, hand lettering, and/or woodwork
Shine tarnished silver
Create a glitter jar and enjoy
Tend to plants
Color in a vulgar coloring book for adults
Click below for a PDF version of “Unconventional Coping Strategies.” This handout can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain.
Alcarelle is a synthetic version of alcohol, providing all the “feel-good” effects of alcohol with none of the associated risks; this alcohol-alternative may be available in a bar near you within the next five years!
Alcarelle, providing liquid courage without the consequences of alcohol: no hangover, no calories, and no harmful impact on your health. Sound too good to be true? Maybe… but maybe not.
Alcarelle is a substance that mimics the effects of alcohol; the Alcarelle website proclaims, “Like alcohol, but better.” Essentially, it’s a synthetic, non-toxic version of alcohol that activates the same neurotransmitters as booze, inducing the “warm fuzzy” feelings of tipsiness. Created by English neuropsychopharmacologist, David Nutt, the active molecule in Alcarelle provides the relaxing and social lubricating qualities of alcohol with none of the associated dangers.
According to a 2019 interview in Men’s Health, the Alcarelle effect “plateaus” after three drinks. The implications are that you won’t get hammered or black out when you drink it.
Currently, Alcarelle is in the development stage. Nutt’s plan is for the alcohol-free substitute to be available within the next five years; it will likely be offered in the form of a concentrated extract to mix into drinks.
What role will Alcarelle play in the treatment of substance use disorders? It’s unknown if someone could build a tolerance for or become dependent on it. Could Alcarelle be the next harm-reduction or treatment method for alcohol use disorders? Could its use help with other addictions or mental health disorders? Could it potentially reduce the rates of alcohol-related accidents and diseases?
On the other hand, Alcarelle could lead to abuse and/or dependence (similar to how methadone, a treatment for opioid use disorders, produces powerful addictive effects). Also, it could end up being the equivalent of a “gateway” drug, increasing the user’s chances of later developing a substance use disorder.
Bottom line: too much is unknown at this point. Alcarelle may not make it past the testing phase. (Currently, only a prototype of the synthetic molecule exists and funding for the project is limited.)
While I’m hopeful that an alcohol-alternative could advance the treatment of substance use disorders (especially since I believe the ultimate treatment, while yet undiscovered, will be pharmacological), I don’t anticipate Alcarelle being a magical “cure-all.”
Self-care is not a luxury; it’s necessary for survival when your loved one has a substance use disorder. By taking care of yourself, you gain the energy and patience to cope with your problems. Self-care promotes wellness and emotional intelligence; it puts you in a better space to interact with your loved one. Strategies include developing/building resilience, practicing distress tolerance, keeping perspective, and recognizing/managing your triggers.
When your loved one has a substance use disorder (SUD), it can be overwhelming, distressing, and all-consuming. When we’re stressed, we forget to practice basic self-care, which in turn makes us even less equipped to cope with the emotional chaos addiction generates. This post is about self-care strategies for when your loved one has an addiction.
(Side note: I strongly recommend reading Beyond Addiction if your loved one has an SUD or if you work in the field. This book will increase your understanding of addiction and teach you how to cope with and positively impact your loved one’s SUD by using a motivational approach. This is one of the best resources I’ve come across, especially for family members/significant others.)
Based on the premise that your actions affect your loved one’s motivation, taking care of yourself is not only modeling healthy behaviors, it’s putting you in a better space to interact with your loved one. Chronic stress and worry make it difficult to practice self-care. Self-care may even seem selfish.
However, by taking care of yourself and thus reducing suffering, you gain the energy and patience to cope with your problems (and feel better too). Furthermore, you reduce the level of pain and tension in your relationships with others, including your loved one with a SUD.
Self-care strategies include developing/building resilience, practicing distress tolerance, keeping perspective, and recognizing/managing your triggers. Therapy and/or support groups are additional options.
“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”
Self-Care Strategies When Your Loved One Has an Addiction
The definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” (Oxford Dictionary). Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke wrote that having resilience is a way to “systematically reduce your vulnerability to bad moods, lost tempers, and meltdowns.”
While you cannot “mood-proof” yourself entirely, resilience helps when facing life’s challenges, setbacks, and disappointments. To maintain resilience, one must practice at least the most basic self care practices, which are as follows:
Self-care is not something you can push in to the future. Don’t wait until you have more time or fewer obligations. Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. The authors of Beyond Addiction pointed out that self-care is something you have control over when other parts of your life are out of control. If you find it challenging to implement self-care practices, tap into your motivations, problem-solve, get support, and most of all, be patient and kind with yourself.
“Taking care of yourself is the most powerful way to begin to take care of others.”
On tolerance, Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke suggested that it is “acceptance over time, and it is a cornerstone of self-care.” Tolerance is not an inherent characteristic; it is a skill. And like most skills, it requires practice. However, it’s wholly worth the effort as it reduces suffering. By not tolerating the things you cannot change (such as a loved one’s SUD), you’re fighting reality and adding to the anguish.
Self-care strategies and techniques for distress tolerance include distracting yourself, relaxing, self-soothing, taking a break, and creating positive experiences. (The following skills are also taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based practice that combines cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and mindfulness. For additional resources, visit The Linehan Institute or Behavioral Tech.)
Switch the focus of your thoughts. The possibilities are endless; for you, this could mean reading a magazine, calling a friend, walking the dog, etc. The authors of Beyond Addiction suggested making a list of ideas for changing your thoughts (and keeping it handy).
Switch the focus of your emotions. Steer your emotions in a happier direction by watching corgi puppies on YouTube, reading an inspirational poem, or viewing funny Facebook memes. The writers of Beyond Addiction suggested bookmarking sites in your Internet browser that you know will cheer you up.
Switch the focus of your senses. This could mean taking a hot shower, jumping into a cold pool, holding an ice cube in your hand, walking from a dark room to one that’s brightly lit, looking at bright colors, listening to loud rock music, etc. Also, simply walking away from a distressing situation may help.
Do something generous. Donate to your favorite charity, pass out sandwiches to the homeless, visit a nursing home and spend time with the residents, express genuine thanks to cashier or server, etc. By redirecting attention away from yourself (and directing energy toward positive goals), you’ll feel better. In Beyond Addiction, it’s noted that this skill is especially helpful for individuals who tend to ruminate. Also, it’s important to brainstorm activities that are accessible in the moment (i.e. texting a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them) that don’t take multiple steps (such as volunteering).
“Body tells mind tells body…” Relaxing your body helps to relax your mind. It also focuses your thoughts on relaxing (instead of your loved one’s addiction). What helps you to relax? Yoga? A hot bath? Mindful meditation? (I recommend doing a mindful body scan; it’s simple and effective, even for the tensest of the tense, i.e. me.)
In Beyond Addiction, self-soothing is described as “making a gentle, comforting appeal to any of your five senses.” A hot beverage. Nature sounds. A cozy blanket. A scenic painting. Essential oils. A cool breeze. A warm compress. A massage. Your favorite song. Find what works for you, make a list, and utilize as needed. Seemingly small self-care strategies can make a big difference in your life by creating comfort and reducing out-of-control emotions.
Take A Break
“Taking a break” doesn’t mean giving up; it’s a timeout for when you’re emotionally exhausted and is one of the best self-care strategies you can have. Learn to recognize when you need to step away from a situation or from your own thoughts. Find a way to shift your focus to something pleasant (i.e. a romantic movie, a nature walk, a day trip to the beach, playing golf for a few hours, traveling to a different country, etc.)
Create a Positive Experience
Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke refer to this as “making it better,” not in the sense that you’re fixing the problem (or your loved one), but that you’re making the moment better by transforming a negative moment into a positive one. Suggested self-care strategies for creating a positive experience include the following:
Half-smile. Another mind-body technique, half-smiling tricks your brain into feeling happier.
Meditate or pray. As explained in Beyond Addiction, “meditation or pray is another word for – and effective channel to – awareness and acceptance. Either one can open doors to different states of mind and act as an emotional or spiritual salve in trying moments.”
Move. By moving, you’re shifting your focus and releasing energy. Stretch, run, play volleyball, chop wood, move furniture, etc.
Find meaning. The authors of Beyond Addiction wrote, “Suffering can make people more compassionate toward others. Having lived through pain, sometimes people are better able to appreciate moments of peace and joy.” Suffering can also inspire meaningful action. What can you do to find meaning?
Borrow some perspective. How do your problems look from a different viewpoint? Ask a trusted friend. You may find that your perspective is causing more harm than good.
Perspective is “an understanding of a situation and your reactions to it that allows you to step back and keep your options open… [it’s] seeing patterns, options, and a path forward” (Beyond Addiction).
When Trish married Dave nearly 20 years ago, he rarely drank: maybe an occasional beer over the weekend or a glass of wine at dinner. After their fist daughter was born, his drinking increased to a few beers most nights. Dave said it helped him relax and manage the stress of being a new parent.
By the time their second daughter was born several years later, his drinking had progressed to a six-pack of beer every evening (and more on weekends). Currently, Dave drinks at least a 12-pack of beer on weeknights; if it’s the weekend, his drinking starts Friday after work and doesn’t stop until late Sunday night.
Dave no longer helps Trish with household chores or yardwork as he did early in their marriage. He rarely dines with the family and won’t assist with the cooking/cleanup; he typically eats in front of the TV. Dave occasionally engages with his daughters, but Trish can’t recall the last time they went on a family outing, and it’s been years since they went on a date.
Dave struggles to get out of bed in the mornings and is frequently late to work; Trish is worried he’ll get fired. They frequently argue about this. Dave is irritable much of the time, or angry. Most nights, he doesn’t move from his armchair (except to get another beer) until he passes out with the television blaring.
Trish is frustrated; she believes Dave is lazy and lacks self-control. When she nags about his drinking, he promises he’ll cut back, but never follows through. Trish thinks he’s not trying hard enough. She can’t understand why he’d choose booze over her and the kids; sometimes she wonders if it’s because she’s not good enough… maybe he would stop if she was thinner or funnier or more interesting? At times she feels helpless and hopeless and others, mad and resentful; she frequently yells at Dave. She wonders if things are ever going to change.
A different perspective would be to recognize that Dave has an alcohol use disorder. He feels ill most of the time, which affects his mood, energy level, and motivation. He wants to cut back, but fails when he tries, which leads to guilt and shame. To feel better, he drinks. It’s a self-destructive cycle.
If Trish understood this, she could learn to not take his drinking personally or question herself. Her current reactions, nagging and yelling, only increase defensiveness and harm Dave’s sense of self-worth. Alternative options for Trish might include learning more about addiction and the reasons Dave drinks, bolstering his confidence, and/or creating a supportive and loving environment to enhance motivation.
In recovery language, a “trigger” is anything (person, place, or thing) that prompts a person with SUD to drink or use; it activates certain parts of the brain associated with use. For instance, seeing a commercial for beer could be triggering for a person with an alcohol use disorder.
You have triggers too. For example, if your loved one is in recovery for heroin, and you notice that a bottle of opioid painkillers is missing from the medicine cabinet, it could trigger a flood of emotions: fear, that your loved one relapsed; sadness, when you remember the agony addiction brings; hopelessness, that they’ll never recover. It’s crucial to recognize what triggers you and have a plan to cope when it happens. Being aware of your triggers is a self-care strategy.
Therapy and Support Groups
Lastly, self-care strategies such as therapy and/or support groups can be a valuable addition to your self-care regime. Seeing a therapist can strengthen your resilience and distress tolerance skills. Therapy may provide an additional avenue for perspective.
(Side note: A good therapist is supportive and will provide you with tools for effective problem-solving and communication, coping with grief and loss, building self-esteem, making difficult choices, managing stress, overcoming obstacles, improving social skills/emotional intelligence, and better understanding yourself. A good therapist empowers you. A bad therapist, on the other hand, will offer advice and/or tell you what to do, disempowering you.)
Regarding support groups, there are many options for family members, friends, and significant others with a loved one who has a SUD, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Families Anonymous. Support groups provide the opportunity to share in a safe space and to receive feedback, suggestions, and/or encouragement from others who relate.
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
In sum, self-care is not optional; it’s essential for surviving the addiction of a loved one. Self-care enhances both overall wellness and your ability to help your loved one; in order words, take responsibility for your health and happiness by taking care of yourself. Commit to engaging in at least one or two of the self-care strategies you learned about in this post.
Munn wrote this book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. This inspired him to develop the Practical 12 Steps.
I stumbled upon Staying Sober Without God while searching for secular 12-step literature for a client who identifies as atheist. Jeffrey Munn, the book’s author, is in recovery and also happens to be a licensed mental health practitioner.
Munn wrote the book because as a nonbeliever he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. (For example, the traditional version of Step 3 directs the addict to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as they understand him. If you don’t believe in God, how can you put your life into the care of him? Munn notes that there’s no feasible replacement for a benevolent, all-knowing deity.)
The whole “God thing” frequently turns nonbelievers off from AA/NA. They’re told (by well-meaning believers) to find their own, unique higher power, such as nature or the fellowship itself. (The subtle undertone is that the nonbeliever will eventually come around to accept God as the true higher power.)
In Staying Sober Without God Munn asserts, “There is no one thing that is an adequate replacement for the concept of God.” He adds that you can’t just replace the word “God” with “love” or “wisdom.” It doesn’t make sense. So he developed the Practical 12 Steps and wrote a guide for working them.
The Practical 12 Steps are as follows:
Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive
cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it
Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable
through social support and consistent self-improvement
Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing
only on what we could control
Made a comprehensive list of our resentments,
fears, and harmful actions
Shared our lists with a trustworthy person
Made a list of our unhealthy character traits
Began cultivating healthy character traits
through consistent positive behavior
Determined that the best way to make amends to
those we had harmed
Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would cause harm
Practiced daily self-reflection and continued
making amends whenever necessary
We started meditating
Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle
by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with
The Practical 12 Steps in no way undermine the traditional
steps or the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, they’re supplemental;
they provide a clearer picture of the steps for the nonbeliever.
Before delving into the steps in Staying Sober Without God, Munn discusses the nature of addiction, recovery, and the role of mental illness (which is mostly left untouched in traditional literature). He addresses the importance of seeking treatment (therapy, medication, etc.) for mental disorders while stressing that a 12-step program (secular or otherwise) is not a substitute for professional help. In following chapters, Munn breaks each step down and provides guidelines for working it.
The last few chapters of the book provide information on
relapse and what the steps don’t
address. Munn notes that sustainable recovery requires more than just working
the steps, attending AA meetings, and taking a sponsor’s advice. For a
balanced, substance-free lifestyle, one must also take care of their physical
health, practice effective communication, and engage in meaningful leisure
activities. Munn briefly discusses these components in the book’s final chapter,
“What the Steps Miss.”
Staying Sober Without God is well-written and easy to read. The author presents information that’s original and in line with current models of addiction treatment, such as behavioral therapy (an evidence-based approach for substance use disorder). Working the Practical 12 Steps parallels behavioral treatments; the steps serve to modify or discontinue unhealthy behaviors (while replacing them with healthy habits). Furthermore, a 12-step network provides support and meaningful human connection (also crucial for recovery).
In my opinion, the traditional 12 Steps reek of the moral model, which viewed addiction as a moral failure or sin. Rooted in religion, this outdated (and false) model asserted that the addict was of weak character and lacked willpower. The moral model has since been replaced with the disease concept, which characterizes addiction as a brain disorder with biological, genetic, and environmental influences.
The Practical 12 Steps are a better fit for what we know about addiction today; Munn focuses on unhealthy behaviors instead of “character defects.” For example, in Step 7, the addict implements healthy habits while addressing unhealthy characteristics. No one has to pray to a supernatural being to ask for shortcomings to be removed.
The Practical 12 Steps exude empowerment; in contrast, the
traditional steps convey helplessness. (The resulting implication? The only way
to recover is to have faith that God will heal you.) The practical version of
the steps instills hope and inspires the addict to change. Furthermore, the
practical steps are more concrete and less vague when compared to the
traditional steps. (This makes them easier to work!)
In sum, Munn’s concept of the steps helped me to better understand the 12-step model of recovery; the traditional steps are difficult to conceptualize for a nonbeliever, but Munn found a way to extract the meaning of each step (without altering overall purpose or spirit). I consider the practical steps a modern adaptation of the traditional version.
I recommend reading Staying Sober Without God if you have a substance use disorder (regardless of your religious beliefs) or if you’re a professional/peer specialist who works with individuals with substance use disorders. Munn’s ideas will give you a fresh perspective on 12-step recovery.
For working the practical steps, download the companion workbook here:
Note: The workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with Munn’s book. I initially created it for the previously mentioned client as a format for working the practical steps. The workbook is for personal/clinical use only.
Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It’s becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It’s used for pain relief, mood enhancement, and to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms or reduce/stop opioid use. This post explores the use of kratom as a potential treatment for opioid use disorder.
Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and, like coffee, is part of the Rubiaceae plant family. Ingesting the leaves produces a high. Taken in small amounts, it leads to stimulant-like effects (i.e. increased energy and focus – stronger than caffeine, less intense than cocaine). When taken in larger doses, the high is similar to that of an opioid (euphoria, drowsiness, “pinned” pupils, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, constipation, etc.) Kratom is unique in that it produces both stimulant and opioid-like effects.
Note: “Opioid” is the term used for any drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. An “opiate,” on the other hand, is a naturally occurring chemical found in the poppy plant, such as morphine or codeine. All opiates are opioids.
In the United States, kratom users cite pain relief as a primary motive for use. It’s an opioid agonist, and works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. It can be effective for both acute and chronic pain. Others report using kratom for energy, increased focus, lower levels of anxiety, to reduce/stop the use of opioids, to reduce symptoms of PTSD or depression, and to elevate mood.
Kratom is legal in Virginia; it’s sold at vape or “head” shops as
a loose powder or in capsules. (Alternatively, kratom can be purchased online.)
Packaging is typically labeled “botanical sample only; not for human
consumption.” The extremely bitter powder can be sprinkled over food or brewed
into a tea. It’s easily swallowed in capsule form.
What does kratom mean for the opioid epidemic in America? Will it one day play a key role in the treatment of opioid use disorders? Or will it fall into the “harm reduction” category? Is it a natural pain medication, a safe alternative to highly addictive opioid pain killers?
Or, will we find that kratom, like heroin, is habit-forming and
deadly? Currently, the research is mixed.
to Opioid Drugs
The results of a 2019 survey published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence revealed that 90% of respondents found kratom
effective for relieving pain, reducing opioid use, and easing withdrawal
In 2011, researchers discovered that kratom alleviated morphine withdrawal symptoms. A more recent study indicated that it may reduce morphine use.
Earlier this year, researchers found that kratom use was associated with significant decreases in the occurrence and severity of opioid adverse effects; it lessened the discomfort of opioid withdrawal. Multiple studies have substantiated these findings, suggesting that it could be a useful medication for opioid addiction and withdrawal.
Interestingly, in 2007, it was found that kratom reduced alcohol withdrawal behaviors. More recently, researchers discovered that it was associated with decreased alcohol use; this suggests that it may help those with alcohol use disorders (AUD) in addition to opioid addiction.
Compared to heroin, kratom is less addictive and has milder withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, the risk of overdose is low. A 2018 literature review indicated that it may have harm-reduction potential for individuals who want to stop using opioids.
Dangerous & Addictive?
According to the CDC, there were 152 kratom-involved deaths between July 2016 and December 2018 (“kratom-involved,” meaning it was a factor). In seven of those deaths, kratom was the only substance found in toxicology tests (although it should be noted that the presence of other substances was not fully ruled out). It’s possible to overdose on kratom, and when combined with other drugs or medications, it can be fatal.
In rare cases, kratom has been linked to liver toxicity, kidney damage, and seizures. In the case of a 32-year-old woman who was using it for opioid withdrawal, it was likely the cause of acute lung injury. Use may also cause cardiac or respiratory arrest.
Kratom’s harmful effects are not limited to the body; a 2010 study linked chronic use to alterations in working memory. In 2016, researchers found that kratom use was associated with cognitive impairment. An additional 2016 study supported previous findings that it may affect learning. In 2019, researchers found that high doses were linked to memory deficits. In contrast, a 2018 study indicated that high kratom consumption was not related to long-term cognitive impairment. That same year, researchers found that long-term kratom use did not appear to cause altered brain structures. More research is needed in this area.
Regarding whether or not kratom is addictive, multiple studies have found that regular use leads to dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. Kratom cessation may also cause psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.
Will kratom step up as the hero of today’s opioid epidemic? Doubtful. And for kratom to be a viable treatment option, more conclusive research is needed. Additionally, researchers must study the safety of long-term use.
While it’s unlikely, kratom use could lead to adverse health
effects or cognitive impairment; it could also fatally interact with other
substances or medications. Furthermore, long-term use may lead to addiction. In
sum, the majority of the literature suggests that kratom is, by no means, safe.
That being said, when compared to shooting heroin, kratom is safe (a safer alternative, at least). And if someone chooses to use it to reduce/stop their opioid use, I’ll view it as harm-reduction. Until we have more answers, I will hold to the harm-reduction view… it has the potential to save lives.
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(Updated 5/15/21) 12-step recovery groups, while not a substitute for treatment, can play a crucial role in recovery and continued sobriety. AA/NA (and similar) meetings are available all over the world and are open to anyone with a desire to stop using or drinking.
12-Step Recovery Groups
The following list is comprised of links to both well-known and less-familiar 12-step and similar support groups for recovery.
Good for newly formed groups. Each group member writes down their “first impression” of other group members. The facilitator then reviews each “impression,” and group members have the opportunity to share their answers.