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How Important is Biology in Mental Health?

July 17, 2021

Biology Trumps Psychology

The myriad of mental health issues that exist are very real and have a profound impact on countless Americans. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis in order for the problem to be effectively treated. The vast majority of mental health issues are just that, mental health issues. However, there are dozens of medical, biological, chemical issues that can manifest as mental health issues. In these instances, treating the mental health symptoms, such as depression, may fail to address the true source of the symptoms. Before diagnosing a mental health disorder, it is critical to be on the lookout for possible medical conditions and rule them out. If there is an underlying medical condition, things will not improve or get better. This is an instance where biology trumps psychology.

Self-Advocacy and Thorough Assessment

Whether you are the patient or the provider, it is important that you be aware and on the lookout for biological and medical causes for mental health symptoms. It is important not to confuse symptoms for their causes. For example, don’t assume depressive symptoms automatically mean depression, or that psychotic symptoms automatically mean schizophrenia. If you are the patient presenting with mental health symptoms and you have no history of mental health problems and no obvious stressors (divorce, job loss, etc.) tha read more

February 14, 2021

Why was a Clearinghouse Created?

In January 2020 the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched an internet-based national clearinghouse database that all Commercial Drivers License (CDL) regulated drivers were supposed to have registered in, as well as all employers that hire CDL drivers. The clearinghouse was created largely to function as a fast and reliable way for employers to get information on a prospective driver. Previous to the clearinghouse, employers had to contact the driver’s previous employer to check their record or see if there were any violations. This system was often time-consuming, unreliable, or unavailable. The new clearinghouse is intended to help employers get information quickly so drivers can get hired faster.

When Would You get a Violation Recorded in the Clearinghouse?

Violations are posted and recorded in the clearinghouse any time there is a failed or refused urine drug screen or breath alcohol test. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requires testing for pre-employment, post-accident, random, or reasonable suspicion tests. Any time a positive test results in a violation that driver must go through the Return to Duty Process and are suspended from read more

January 17, 2021

What is Recreational Marijuana?

Medical marijuana has been around for some time and is legal in most states with a valid medical diagnosis such as glaucoma, epilepsy, cancer, and, just recently in Minnesota, PTSD. Medical marijuana is closely regulated, prescribed by a physician, and used to alleviate symptoms of a medical condition. Recreational marijuana, on the other hand, is pot used by regular citizens without a medical reason. Recreational marijuana typically has a higher THC content than medicinal varieties and produces a euphoric high that medical varieties typically do not.

How Many States Permit it?

There are currently 11 states (CA, WA, OR, NV, IL, MI, ME, MA, CO, VT, AK) and the District of Columbia that have legalized recreational marijuana. For many states, recreational marijuana has become a tax revenue boon. For instance, in 2018 the state of Colorado sold roughly $1.2 billon in recreational marijuana. This produced around $270 million dollars in tax revenue for the state, over 5X the tax revenue of the $45 million the stated collected on alcohol tax. With sales producing this sort of revenue, it may only be a matter of time before the other states follow suit with legalizing recreational marijuana.

Are People in Favor of Legalization?

It seems attitudes toward marijuana and its legalization have been changing over the last decade. Nea read more

February 7, 2020

Can You Use Will Power to Get Rid of Depression or Addiction?

Will power, or what others would refer to as self-control, is the ability to control and subdue our impulses, emotions, and behaviors. It is one of the critical skills that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. When it comes to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, or behavioral compulsions like drinking and gambling, many people believed it was a character weakness of will power. Not even 10 years ago, we routinely heard many clients struggling with great amounts of guilt and shame for even showing up in our offices for help. They assumed they should be able to exert some power of will and simply stop being depressed or stop drinking compulsively. This notion has been rather old fashioned and outdated for some time, yet the number of people who still think this way is shocking. Baby boomers and the generation before them grew up in an era where you “pulled yourself up by your bootstraps” and “let things roll off your back”. Those generations propelled our society forward in many ways with the idea that dedication and hard work could accomplish anything.

Fortunately, research and education of the public at large has helped most people rea

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December 16, 2019

The good news is that the rates of smoking are on the decline. In 2005, 21% of Americans were current smokers. In 2017, this has declined to 14%. This means that there are roughly 34 million Americans that still smoke and some 16 million Americans are dealing with a smoking related disease. There are still nearly 500,000 smoking related deaths each year from conditions such as various cancers, stroke, heart disease, asthma, gum disease, and Type 2 diabetes.

Vaping came onto the scene around 2007 and has become a trendy alternative to cigarette smoking. For some it is an attempt to get off cigarettes, who end up transferring their nicotine addiction to a vape device. For new users, they misperceive it as a safer alternative to cigarettes, but often find themselves addicted to nicotine nonetheless. For those who don’t know, vaping is the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol from an electronic cigarette (e-cig), vape pen, or other vape device such as the JUUL which looks similar to a USB flash drive. The JUUL product line now accounts for 70% of the vaping market and sells a variety of fruity flavors, coffee, or chocolate flavors some believe are targeted to youth. Most vape devices contain a mouthpiece, battery, a heating component, and a cartridge that hold the e-liquid or e-juice. The battery hea

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September 23, 2019

What is the Spending Addiction?

Spending and shopping are very socially acceptable in our society and advertisers work hard to convince us that buying things will make us happy. Many people are prone to social comparison and there is an allure to wanting what you see others have. Frankly for many, their possession become a measure of their self-esteem. Because of this thinking and mentality our culture abides by, it is only a small step further for those people with addictive personalities and tendencies to cross the line and develop a spending addiction. Although there is no official diagnosis for spending addiction and many experts disagree about whether it is a real disorder, it has been recognized as far back as the early 19th century. It is estimated that about 6% of the population may have a spending addiction, which often starts in their teens or early adulthood. With the advent of online shopping, spending is increasingly more available, accessible, and anonymous. We’ve seen increases in other behavioral addictions such as sex addiction, gaming, and gambling which have all flourished on the internet.

Diagnosing the Addiction

At present there is no unified set of symptoms or criteria for s

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November 21, 2018

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop after exposure to any number of traumatic events that can happen to people. Some common types of traumatic events that can result in PTSD include military combat, physical or sexual assaults, accidents, or natural disasters such as a tornado, hurricanes, etc. Although PTSD has likely existed since humankind has been involved in traumatic situations, PTSD has only been recognized as a diagnosis since 1980.  It should be noted that not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will end up with PTSD. Many people endure and recover from difficult life situations just fine. Others develop less severe problems such as depression or anxiety problems. Traumatic events that are enduring (military combat) or recurring (physical or sexual abuse) increase the likelihood of developing PTSD.

Symptoms & Features

A thorough mental health diagnostic evaluation should be sought if you suspect you might have PTSD. The diagnosis of PTSD can be difficult and complex. In response to a traumatic experience where real or perceived life-threatening situations have occurred, people experience some of the following symptoms. There are re-experiencing symptoms that include: 1) intrusive thoughts or images, 2 read more

November 7, 2018

What is Compulsive Gambling?

Where many people enjoy gambling as an occasional social or recreational activity, for others it becomes a real struggle. Problem gambling is an urge to gamble despite experiencing negative consequences or continuing to gamble despite a desire to stop. An estimated 15 million Americans have problem gambling with more than 3 million of them having severe problematic gambling. Problem gambling is not a bad habit or moral weakness, but a serious condition that is treatable. Although it is commonly referred to as gambling addiction, it is actually categorized as an impulse control disorder. However, like chemical addictions, it is a progressive and chronic condition. Problem gambling tends to strain relationships, affect one’s ability to fulfill responsibilities at work, home, or school, and can lead to financial catastrophe. It can lead people to do things they never thought themselves capable of such as borrowing or stealing money from partners, employers, and even their children.

Symptoms & Features

Pathological Gambling Disorder is a persistent and recurring maladaptive gambling pattern as evidenced by five or more of the following symptoms: 1) a mental preoccupation with gambling, 2) a need to gamble with increasing amounts of mo read more

June 6, 2018

The use of alcohol in our culture is pervasive. For most people their use of alcohol is social or recreational and is secondary to the event and situations they are engaging in. For about 10% of the American population their use of alcohol becomes abusive or has already reached the level of dependence. There are four levels of alcohol use: abstinence, social use, abuse, and dependence. Social use pertains to people who drink for the taste rather than the effect (glass of wine with dinner or a dessert drink).  It can be difficult to differentiate between those who abuse and those who have crossed the line to dependence, both of which are problematic. One benchmark of problematic drinking stipulates that men who drink more than 4 drinks in one sitting or more than 14 drinks in a week and women who drink more than 3 drinks in one sitting or more than 7 drinks in a week, likely have abuse or dependence problems. Alcohol abuse and dependence fall on a spectrum. The more symptoms a person endorses, they can move from abuse to dependence. Alcohol abuse is suggested if a person endorses 2-3 of the symptoms, and alcohol dependence is likely present if a person endorses 4 or more of the following symptoms: 1) tolerance (a need for an increase in the amount of alcohol to get the same desired effect), 2) withdrawal (shakes, sweats, etc. in the absence of drinking, 3) drinking in larger am read more

January 31, 2018

Addiction is a disease that does not just affect the person who is engaging in addictive behaviors, it also affects those loved ones around them. The impact can be so sweeping that many people become obsessed with the person’s addiction and trying to do something about it. Below are attributes common to those with codependency.

  • Collusion: Many people help support their partner’s addiction by covering up for them in some way. Social rules about family image and social perceptions pull many people into the addictive process and they become a party to the secrecy. Collusion can also take the form of participating in addictive behavior. Some become drinking or using “buddies” or gambling partners. Rationalization is also a big part of collusion. Partners tell themselves such things as; “At least he’s not at the strip club, he’s only online”, or “At least she’s not shooting up”.
  • Obsessive Preoccupation: Codependents obsess about their partner’s behavior and their lives. They think constantly about their partner’s addiction. They find themselves checking emails, texts, computer history, hiding spots, connections, dealers, checking and credit card statements. These efforts may provide temporary relief of anxiety and create the illusion of control, but in the end, they simply help people avoid h

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