Monthly ArchiveApril 2021

What the Rat in the Cage Tells Us about the Causes of Addiction

There is a famous addiction experiment, known as Rat Park, conducted in the 1970s by researchers in Vancouver that shows rats are more likely to become use cocaine when they have nothing else to do. Specifically, the researchers created two different cages. In both cages, they hung two water bottles—one was regular water, the other bottle was laced with cocaine. The difference was one of the cages was left barren, while the other was given every amenity and play area a rat could dream of.

The result? The rats in Rat Park consumed 75% less cocaine water and didn’t seem particularly interested in the cocaine bottle. Meanwhile, most of the rats in the barren cage started consuming the cocaine water heavily or exclusively, to the point that many died of excessive use.

Researchers then started looking for evidence in humans to support this theory about our surroundings playing a central role in drug addiction. Given the time they were living in, the researchers didn’t have to look very hard. The Vietnam War was coming to an end, and because cocaine, heroin, and marijuana use were known to be common among U.S. soldiers, a lot of people were terrified there would be a public health crisis of prolific substance abuse. Never happened. Needless to say, most soldiers struggle to transition after their active service, and there is a correlation between veterans, drug use, and PTSD. But this, too, only reinforces the importance of the cage we live in. What veterans tended to bring back with them wasn’t drug addiction, so much as the war itself.

Addiction, the Human Cage, and Socio-Economic Status

The Vietnam War provides a stark contrast in living conditions, but everyone lives in their version of a cage. And whether it’s wall art, entertainment, starting a new hobby, or healthy delicious food three times a day, in the real world, you need money to make your cage fun to play in. Thus, this theory could help explain why poverty is so highly correlated with substance abuse. It’s not just, or even primarily, that addicts are less likely to make money. It’s also that making less money leaves you vulnerable to addiction.

Yet, there’s still plenty of room to explain why people with higher socio-economic status also fall victim to substance abuse. People with clinical depression, anxiety, psychosis, or post-traumatic stress tend to use drugs at a higher rate as a way to self-medicate. No matter how good the cage looks, these individuals, as part of their mental disorder, have trouble experiencing and benefitting from the cage’s soothing effects.

Personalized Treatment Plans for People in Utah

The rat in the cage has a lot to tell us, but addiction is not a single, one-size-fits-all story. And people are a lot more complicated than rats. Thus, it’s important to understand the boundaries of your mental landscape so you know who to remake a cage that will help you permanently kick your drug habit. Here are some common ways in which personalized treatment plans use these concepts to help individuals achieve success.

  • Substance Abuse Treatment and Social Services: Within the Utah Health Department, people can find targeted assistance through the Division of Services for People with Disabilities and the Division of Child and Family Services, as well as the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. But there’s also the Department of Workforce Services to help struggling individuals find gainful employment. Don’t know where to start? Clinical social workers are something of a catch-all for mental health services, offering mental health therapy as well as networking support through the state’s various resources and agencies. For many people in the state, these resources are the best way to make substantial changes to their living conditions.
  • Coordinated and Integrated Treatment for Dual Diagnosis: For those struggling with addiction as well as another mental disorder, a personalized treatment plan is crucial. This treatment is often provided through an integrated plan created with a mental health provider, though individuals may discover that focusing on one problem first provides something of a key to deal with the other. For example, someone with borderline personality disorder may struggle to develop their emotion regulation until they stop drinking. Other people may find it impossible to stop using illicit drugs, until they get a handle on their long-standing depression or anxiety disorder.
  • Wilderness Therapy in Utah: Here’s one of the most dramatic examples of changing the cage. Designed for teenagers and young adults, wilderness therapy is usually built around a 2-3 month stay in the wilderness. These programs offer clinical therapy services and wilderness guides that seek to leverage the therapeutic environment of Utah’s natural beauty. Not coincidentally, addiction is one of the most common reasons for enrollment.

What Utahns Should Know about Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is an approach to psychotherapy that emphasizes the harm that occurs when the story of our lives is dominated by a particularly destructive narrative. The primary method of therapy then becomes the therapist and client investigating past events together looking for places where the current narrative doesn’t fit and where a more positive, competing narrative can take hold.

For this reason, it’s crucial to find a therapist you can connect with. Someone you can trust is letting new narratives unfold organically, rather than projecting their own biases. The good news is it shouldn’t be hard. Therapists are trained to offer a clinical setting and style of dialogue that specifically promotes this type of honest collaboration.

Choosing a Therapist

Know that if you go looking for a narrative therapist in Utah, your options are going to seem limited. That’s because this therapy is primarily viewed as a therapeutic method, rather than a comprehensive approach to psychotherapy. In other words, most therapists think of narrative therapy as one more tool in the toolbox to helping their clients achieve their mental health goals. Thus, you can get an overview of narrative therapy, but if you’re interested in this type of therapy as a personal treatment, look for a therapist who describe themselves as eclectic, client-centered, or holistic.

Common Narratives in Utah

Competing narratives can occur on both a personal and cultural level with no set rules about which narratives may be harming and which may be able to help your mental health goals. Likewise, different narratives may intersect in complex ways that are best explored with the support of a narrative therapist

  • Many families in Utah have serious disagreements about their spiritual beliefs and attitudes. Many families have serious disagreements about the social, political, and economic influences that impact their daily lives and those of their friends and neighbors. Narrative therapy can help family members learn to disarm the tension within this larger cultural narrative by continually refocusing on the personal narrative that has made the family so strong in the past.
  • At the same time, there’s no denying that some people get the short end of the stick from their family and life history. With comparatively little to hang their hat on from the standpoint of personal narrative, finding positive meaning in a larger cultural narrative becomes increasingly important. This typically includes connecting with relevant social groups and support systems. Old and new, family can come from many places.
  • Other types of narrative therapy have less to do with competing narratives and more to do with reclaiming the ability to tell one’s personal story at all. Traumatic stress, for example, can disrupt our brain’s episodic memory and language center so that it becomes difficult to describe even basic details about our past events. Yoga, meditation, and acupuncture may all be used to help someone reach a place that is safe and secure enough to reclaim a narrative meaning to their lives.

The Role of Choice

In the mental health community, the primary criticisms of narrative therapy are often centered on the notion that competing narratives lead to a relativistic worldview that may be harmful to long-term mental health goals. This explanation is overly simplistic, but it does point to a critical element of success for people who are interested in this particular approach to therapy: Choosing a more positive narrative for one’s life.

This isn’t to say choosing a narrative for one’s life is easy. If it were, you probably wouldn’t be thinking about therapy at all. But even when the choice feels like an impossible one, even when it doesn’t feel like a choice at all, there is a different tale that can be told. And that’s because the choice is nowhere near as difficult as it seems right now. By talking to a therapist who can help you investigate and then recast life events, the richness of alternative narratives should become more evident—as does the viability of choosing a different story that gives meaning to your past, present, and future.

One final note on this subject: Because of the huge role that choice plays, some people also think of narrative therapy as a particular type of existential therapy.

Find Narrative Therapy in Utah

Like almost any approach to therapy, expect to put in some time working to improve your mental health. But know that reclaiming the power of narrative and channeling it toward your personal goals can be a life-saving, life-changing process. We encourage you to find a therapist in Utah who can help you explore the potential of this therapy for your life.

Learn about Different Types of Depression Therapy

Whether for a first depressive episode, a recent tragedy that has triggered a relapse, or a more persistent depression, many individuals are interested in learning more about the different types of depression therapy and which ones are the best fit for them. We can’t recommend a therapy for individuals. That’s what doctors and mental health professionals are for, but we can provide information about popular therapies and how they work to reduce the symptoms of depression.

Antidepressants vs Placebos

More formally known as pharmacotherapy, antidepressants are one of the most common treatments for depression. Most of these medications are believed to work by increasing the active level of neurotransmitters in the brain by inhibiting the absorption or reuptake of these neurotransmitters. These medications are generally classified by the neurotransmitter they act on: serotonin, norepinephrine, monoamine, and/or dopamine. That said, it is not well understood how this mechanism helps alleviate the symptoms of depression. There is even a substantial segment of the scientific community which believes that this depression therapy works mostly, or entirely, through placebo effects. It could be that perceivable changes in the brain and the drugs’ side effects enhance the client’s expectation of improvement and explain why some studies show antidepressants have a slightly larger treatment effect for antidepressants than placebos.

Moreover, in about half of cases, placebos have a therapeutic effect on depression without the side effects of antidepressants. Some studies suggest that, for mild and moderate cases of depression, there is no difference in effect size between antidepressants and placebos.

Talk and Cognitive Therapies

This type of depression therapy is attempting to break a pattern of thinking that may be contributing to the depressed mood and other symptoms. In cases where there is a precipitating event that triggered the depression, talk therapy often involves grief counseling or other counseling relevant to the specific stressor. Cognitive-behavioral therapy may also involve pointing out thoughts that are inconsistent, exaggerated, or distorted.

While talk therapy sessions may involve a sudden break-through, the repeated recognition of these maladaptive thought patterns may be even more important. Yet, by learning effective strategies for monitoring one’s own thoughts, these thinking patterns can be broken more effectively and on a more consistent basis.

Physical and Behavioral Therapies

It’s telling that certain physical signs may also be symptoms of depression. A change in appetite, weight, or sleep patterns are some of the most common symptoms. But so, too, are headaches, body fatigue, and stomach pain. By making behavioral changes or engaging in physical therapy, these physical symptoms can be alleviated, and the individual’s mood is often—though not always—lifted. This might include exercise, a change in posture, or other physical activity designed for this treatment purpose. Alternately, behavioral therapy might also include non-physical activities such as social interaction, interpersonal communication, and other actions that might have therapeutic value.

Just because exercise or posture can lead to improvement in depressed individuals doesn’t mean that individual suddenly has an “easy fix” for depression. Meeting with a mental health professional can improve the effects of these behavioral changes and reinforce a motivational attitude toward these therapeutic behaviors.

Neurological Therapies

These include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). These neurological depression therapies are typically only recommended for individuals with severe, persistent depression and who do not respond to other depression therapies. These treatments are usually effective but also temporary (around 6 months on average). They carry a cost, too, as individuals frequently experience some level of memory loss as a side effect. The big advantage of ECT is that its effectiveness and side effects are more established. The big advantage of TMS is that it’s perceived as less invasive and can be completed in an outpatient setting.

Inpatient Treatment and Residential Therapy Programs

For individuals who experience severe and acute depression symptoms especially suicide ideation, these depression therapy programs are designed to prevent individuals from harming themselves or others, while sustained depression treatment is provided. Both these intensive treatment programs involve some number of overnight stays. Basic inpatient treatment usually involves a few days of observation and treatment in a hospital setting. You can find a list of medical centers in Utah with a behavioral health unit.  hospital with a behavioral health center. Residential programs usually involve longer stays and a more involved treatment schedule.

Depression Therapy and Guided Treatment

Keep in mind that a depression therapy is often combined with other therapies in a personalized treatment plan. Rather than a hodge-podge approach, the best outcomes generally result from guided treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular approaches and seeks to rapidly leverage and integrate the benefits of both cognitive and behavior therapies. No matter what therapy is right for you, don’t wait to get help from a mental health provider for a serious case of depression.