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Recognizing Addiction


Recognizing and admitting a loved one struggles with addiction is the first step on a long journey of recovery. But how do you recognize if a habit has turned into something more worrisome or potentially life-threatening?

Caring for someone who struggles with addictive behaviors can be frustrating, scary and disheartening. And communicating with them – and getting them to recognize the problem – is challenging.

The Ranch at Dove Tree wrote an article this January, published on their website, addressing these concerns. Their article, The Five Biggest Lies Addicts Tell Themselves about Addiction, below, helps foster an understanding between addicts and the people who want to help them.

“If you have never struggled with substance abuse, it may seem impossible to understand why your loved one continues to engage in behavior that hurts you, your family, and himself.

Remember that addiction is a disease, and as much as this illness can cause an addict to lie to those who love her, it also forces her to lie to herself. Understanding the fallacies and lies that enable addiction can make it easier to communicate with someone who is struggling with substance abuse.

Here are the five biggest lies addicts tell themselves:

  1. I can quit anytime I want to: This lie often manifests in the phrase “as soon as:” I’ll cut back as soon as I’m less stressed at work, as soon as I fix my relationship, as soon as I find a new job. Everyone can relate to this kind of justification; we regularly promise ourselves to start being healthier as soon as the holidays are over or as soon as bikini season begins. We also know how hard it is to keep those resolutions; imagine what it’s like to try to fight a disease like addiction on your own. The truth is that it’s extremely difficult to overcome this illness alone. That’s why it’s so important for addicts to accept that they can’t solve their own problems. Only then can recovery begin.
  2. I only drink on weekends so I can’t be an addict: To an addict, it can seem like their substance abuse is not that big of a deal if it’s limited to two or three nights in a long work week. But limiting binging to a short period of time does not eliminate the health risks associated with abusing drugs and alcohol. Friends and families can often attest that the emotional consequences of weekend benders extend well into the following week. The truth is that addiction is an illness, and although people control it with varying success, no one can manage their disease forever. Those who want to reach out to addicts should recognize that the individual may feel like they are in control of their addiction; it’s important to help your loved one realize how thoroughly their disease permeates your lives.
  3. As long as my addiction doesn’t affect anyone else, it’s okay: Friends and family members of someone who struggles with substance abuse know the truth: addiction always affects other people. Recognizing this justification can help you understand why your loved one lies to you about their addiction. They may believe that they are shielding you from the negative consequences of their behavior. It’s important to recognize that this hurtful behavior can come from a place of love; showing the addict exactly how their addiction DOES affect you and your family can be an influential part of helping them recognize the need for seeking treatment.
  4. I’m not as bad as him or her, so I’m okay: Again, this is an easy justification to understand. From our job performance to our health habits to our relationships, we often compare our actions to other people’s failings as a means of justification. But this unhealthy practice is especially fatal for addicts. The truth is that with addiction, as in life, there will always be people who are better or worse off. Be prepared for this kind of self-justification and firmly remind your loved one that other people’s behavior is no excuse. The ultimate consequences of addiction, and the potential for recovery, are on the individual.
  5. I don’t care if my addiction kills me: For a person who loves an addict, this is one of the most hurtful lies that substance abusers tell themselves. Remember that addiction comes with a plethora of physical, emotional, and psychological consequences. Addicts suffer from failing health, neck-break mood swings, and warped perception. Substance abuse can often wreak havoc on professional and personal lives as well, which further contributes to depression. It’s no wonder that many addicts feel hopeless. The truth is that through the detox and recovery process, your loved one’s perception will change. As they regain their physical health and well-being, and begin to address the emotional issues related to their addiction, a person who struggled with substance abuse will start looking at the world through a completely different lens. As someone reaching out to a loved one who has given up hope, remember all of the factors that contribute to your friend or family member’s attitude. Express how much they mean to you, but do not be discouraged by defeatism. Their mood at their lowest point does not indicate their potential for the future.

Whatever your relationship with an addict, it’s important to understand that this problem is a disease, both physical and mental. Remember that your perception and that of your loved one who is addicted to drugs and alcohol are fundamentally different. Arming yourself with an understanding of the self-deceptions that enable addiction can make it easier to relate to your loved one, and begin to help them recognize the seriousness of the problem.”

If you have a teen or young adult one struggling with addiction call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.

Tamara Ancona Participates in Panel Discussion


Recently Brandon Hall School hosted a showing of the film “Screenagers” for their students’ parents and local community. “Screenagers” is the first feature documentary to explore the impact of screen technology on kids and to offer parents proven solutions that work.

Physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston decided to make “Screenagers” when she found herself constantly struggling with her two kids about screen time. Ruston felt guilty and confused, not sure what limits were best, especially around mobile phones, social media, gaming, and how to monitor online homework. Hearing repeatedly how other parents were equally overwhelmed, she realized this is one of the biggest, unexplored parenting issues of our time.

Director Ruston turned the camera on her own family and others—revealing stories that depict messy struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction.

As an additional resource to parents Tamara Ancona was invited to participate in a panel discussion following the film, and help answer questions parents had surrounding their own teen’s screen usage.

Tamara has a Master of Arts in Psychology with a Clinical Counseling Specialty and holds her certification as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia. Her area of specialty prior to establishing her educational consulting practice has included counseling individuals and families in the acute care, corporate, and private practice settings. She also has vast experience facilitating therapeutic, educational and experiential groups with both the adult and teen populations.

Since 1998, her focus as an educational consultant has been to provide families within the Southern Region and across the United States with distinct educational options or therapeutic alternatives for their struggling teen or young adult children.

If you have a teen or young adult struggling with appropriate screen usage call Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.

What Makes Technology So Irresistable?


What makes technology so irresistible? As it becomes more prevalent in our society it is vital to look at long term consequences, and how we can positively control the effect on future generations?

The following is an article written by the New York Times featuring a new book titled, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” by Dr. Adam Alter, which focuses on these issues.

Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens

In a new book, “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” the social psychologist Adam Alter warns that many of us — youngsters, teenagers, adults — are addicted to modern digital products. Not figuratively, but literally addicted.

Dr. Alter, 36, is an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University who researches psychology and marketing. We spoke for two hours last week at the offices of The New York Times. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

What makes you think that people have become addicted to digital devices and social media?

In the past, we thought of addiction as mostly related to chemical substances: heroin, cocaine, nicotine. Today, we have this phenomenon of behavioral addictions where, one tech industry leader told me, people are spending nearly three hours a day tethered to their cell phones. Where teenage boys sometimes spend weeks alone in their rooms playing video games. Where Snapchat will boast that its youthful users open their app more than 18 times a day.

Behavioral addictions are really widespread now. A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smart phones.

How do you define “addiction”?

The definition I go with is that it has to be something you enjoy doing in the short term, that undermines your well-being in the long term — but that you do compulsively anyway.

We’re biologically prone to getting hooked on these sorts of experiences. If you put someone in front of a slot machine, their brain will look qualitatively the same as when they take heroin. If you’re someone who compulsively plays video games — not everyone, but people who are addicted to a particular game — the minute you load up your computer, your brain will look like that of a substance abuser.

We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.

Do the designers of the new technologies understand what they’re doing?

The people who create video games wouldn’t say they are looking to create addicts. They just want you to spend as much time as possible with their products.

Some of the games on smart phones require you to give money as you play, so they want to keep you playing. The designers will build into a game a certain amount of feedback, in the same way that slot machines offer an occasional win to hold your interest.

Not surprisingly, game producers will often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest. It works.

For the book, I spoke with a young man who sat in front of his computer playing a video game for 45 consecutive days! The compulsive playing had destroyed the rest of his life. He ended up at a rehabilitation clinic in Washington State, reSTART, where they specialize in treating young people with gaming dependencies.

Do we need legislation to protect ourselves?

It’s not a bad idea to consider it, at least for online games.

In South Korea and China, there are proposals for something they call Cinderella laws. The idea is to protect children from playing certain games after midnight.

Gaming and internet addiction is a really serious problem throughout East Asia. In China, there are millions of youngsters with it, and they actually have camps where parents commit their children for months and where therapists treat them with a detox regime.

Why do you claim that many of the new electronic gadgets have fueled behavioral addictions?

Well, look at what people are doing. In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cell phones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.

Moreover, these new gadgets turn out to be the perfect delivery devices for addictive media. If games and social media were once confined to our home computers, portable devices permit us to engage with them everywhere.

Today, we’re checking our social media constantly, which disrupts work and everyday life. We’ve become obsessed with how many “likes” our Instagram photos are getting instead of where we are walking and whom we are talking to.

Where’s the harm in this?

If you’re on the phone for three hours daily, that’s time you’re not spending on face-to-face interactions with people. Smart phones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative.

You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas.

I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that his own children didn’t use iPads. In fact, there are a surprising number of Silicon Valley titans who refuse to let their kids near certain devices. There’s a private school in the Bay Area and it doesn’t allow any tech — no iPhones or iPads. The really interesting thing about this school is that 75 percent of the parents are tech executives.

Learning about the school pushed me to write, “Irresistible.” What was it about these products that made them, in the eyes of experts, so potentially dangerous?

If you were advising a friend on quitting their behavioral addictions, what would you suggest?

I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.

In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.

If you feel like your teen or young adult has trouble using technology in a healthy way contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.

National Unplugged Day 2017


If someone challenged you to a day without technology how do you think you’d do? The morning of March 3rd through the morning of March 4th is National Unplugged Day – and your chance to put yourself to the test!

The idea behind the challenge is to rest, reconnect with those around you face-to-face, and to recognize the ways our lives are immersed in technology.

At TAG Counseling we challenge you to participate and unplug for 24 hours. After you do, spend some time as a family evaluating the differences you felt that day – did you like having more time to connect on a personal level? Did you feel like you were missing out? How much time do you think you saved not being on your devices?

If you feel like your teen or young adult has trouble using technology appropriately contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.

How Can You Make Love a Verb


Valentine’s day and the month of February are usually thought of as a time to celebrate romantic love. But are we teaching our young people that love isn’t just a feeling – it’s an action that we can demonstrate in both small and big ways daily?

As part of a month-long celebration of love we want to give some suggestions on how to show love to those around you and turn love into a verb at your house.

  • Compliment someone you care about
  • Ask them to let you listen to their favorite song and find out why they love it
  • Cook their favorite meal (together!)
  • Set aside time each month to go on a one-on-one “date”
  • Express gratitude for them
  • Write a note and leave it someplace they will find it later
  • “Heart attack” their door/car/locker
  • Ask for their opinion and take the time to listen
  • Offer to help them do something they don’t like doing (like cleaning their room!)
  • Reinforce good memories created together – talk about them, frame a picture, etc.

If you feel like your teen or young adult has trouble giving or receiving affection in a healthy way contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC, at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss potential solutions.