Time of Reflection

Gary Nelson, ICCDP

Program Director and Addiction Counselor

Feel Better, Live Better

It all started when I was 17 years old on a hot July day in the rolling hills of the lake country in northern Minnesota. My best friend and I planned a camping trip on the shores of Long lake located on our family’s farm. I had been trying to deal with the loss of my Mother in an auto accident 2 months earlier. The feelings of loss, grief and trauma were overwhelming. My best friend knew I needed to get away and have some fun as we always had done in the past. But this time it was different. Yes, we went fishing and caught fresh fish for our evening fish fry, and caught and released even more northern pike and walleye. Some swimming in the warm waters and what a great get away it was.

This time it was different. My friend had brought a bottle of blackberry brandy, taken from his older brother as a campfire surprise. Up to this point I had always refused any alcohol or drugs as I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear. But my time had come to say yes to alcohol, what could it hurt, it couldn’t be worse than I had been feeling the past months.

What I found was the answer I had been searching for. My feelings of pain and agony left me. It was great! The warmth and the taste were overpowering. The effect of the alcohol arrived and I knew that this was what I needed to deal with life as presented to me. I laughed and carried on as if I found my old self of being happy, and free of the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma. I knew that if I drank alcohol life would seem tolerable.

That fall I started my freshman year in college and was fortunate to have a great roommate in the athletes’ dorm as I was the freshman athletic trainer. He was the freshman quarterback recruit, a straight shooter, no alcohol or drugs. I had to hide my alcohol use from him. As the year went on I struggled with the loss of my mother, being away from my father and sisters, and trying to focus on education and homework. My drinking was the only way to make it through the college experience and quickly became an almost daily occurrence. It was the only way to keep those feelings of loss, grief and trauma at bay. I was a good person, I only drink some alcohol, I don’t do drugs.

Winter break arrived and I finally made it back home for the Holidays. I thought it would be a reprieve from college life, but I was faced with the strain that other members of my family were also facing. Then on the second night home my father died at home from a heart attack. Those feelings from the past returned stronger than ever. I had to move back home and start classes at the local community college. Alcohol was not as available. How do I deal with this?

I was an athlete, good student, went to church, and only swore when I thought no one would hear and I didn’t do drugs, until now. Within a few short weeks, I was presented the opportunity to try marijuana. What alcohol had done for me earlier that year marijuana could do even better.

The next 27 years were very difficult and my response was to escape by abusing substances. As life continued for me many changes occurred. I worked at jobs, finished college, got married, and had children. One major thing did not change. I continued to use substances to change the way I felt, not being able to cope with the feelings of loss, grief, and trauma I had experienced decades before. After the continued use of substances for almost three decades and not dealing with life as it presents itself to me I had encouragement and support from family and friends to enter a program to address substance use and how to deal with life without using alcohol and drugs.

Fast forward to today. I have now completed twenty years of continuous recovery from substance abuse. This is not just by my efforts, but the efforts of 23.5 million other Americans in long term recovery supporting me. I still spend time in support meetings. I deal with my feeling of loss, grief, and trauma better without using alcohol and drugs. I know this is a disease of addiction and when treated and kept in remission I will continue to be a better person in all the facets of my life. I still enjoy activities as a Father and Grandfather, I go to church and recovery meetings, and I swear less even when I think others won’t hear me. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use issues, please know there is hope for you. Contact: Gary@PinnacleCounselingNWA.com

“Each one of us has walked through storm and fled the wolves along the road; but here the hearth is wide and warm, and for this shelter and this light accept our thanks, O Lord, tonight” — – Sara Teasdale

Teen Binge Drinking

Something for nothing does not exist in this world. Not spiritually, not emotionally, not financially. The easy-and-free feeling that comes from ingesting massive amounts of alcohol? It comes, like everything else, with a price tag. Even outside of potentially disastrous context of addiction, binge drinking among teenagers has real consequences, cognitive (brain) consequences.

A recent study, (Binge Drinking May Affect Memory of Teens), shows that binge drinking, even among non-addicted teens, impairs spacial working memory. According to researcher Susan F. Tapert:

“Even though adolescents might physically appear grown up, their brains are continuing to significantly develop and mature, particularly in frontal brain regions that are associated with higher-level thoughts, like planning and organization. Heavy alcohol use could interrupt normal brain cell growth during adolescence, particularly in these frontal brain regions, which could interfere with teens’ ability to perform in school and sports, and could have long-lasting effects, even months after the teen uses.

Binge drinking, by the way, is defined as five or more drinks for a man or four or more drinks for a woman.

How Sugar Affects the Brain

Have you ever wondered what actually happens when you ingest that delicious bit of sugar you have been craving? Here is a TED-Ed video that explains how the reward system works in the brain. This also applies to sugar, other behaviors, and even substances.

Prescription Painkillers Drive 91% Increase in Teen Poisoning Deaths

A new report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides a chilling statistic driven by teenage prescription drug use. Almost twice as many teens died from poisoning in 2009 compared to 2000. The reason for the alarming increase, according to the report, is an increase in teen use of prescription painkillers like Demerol, Percocet, Vicodin, and Oxycodone. These powerful painkillers are opiates, classed in the same category of drugs as heroin. They are highly addictive and extremely dangerous.

Love yourself enough to seek help with addictions this Valentine's Day

There is no doubt that substance abuse and addiction is difficult during every season of the year. Once the rush of the holiday season, balancing work and holiday time off, and a long few days of travel to see friends and family is over; all that is left is getting back to ‘normal’. January is a month full of change and resolutions, so making time to cope with personal hardships (like addiction and substance abuse) is put at the bottom of your to-do list. As February approaches, the usual hustle of preparing for a magical and romantic Valentine’s Day for you and a significant other, spouse, or partner takes priority. This reveals the real question: is there ever time to get help for myself?

Realizing that you are important enough to get help is the first step on your journey to navigate out of the dark path of addiction and substance abuse to a healthier life. The problems associated with addiction and substance abuse seem to start out slowly and pick up speed in what seems like no time at all. Using and abusing substances affects your life, the life of your friends, family members, children, co-workers, and everyone else you interact with on a daily basis. What began as a coping method for stress or an activity during your downtime quickly becomes a lifestyle and the center point of many more problems. To take charge of the cycle of use and abuse of drugs and alcohol is often the hardest part of the recovery and healing process; and takes courage and support. The process of recovery requires resources to get the help that you need in order to control the substances that have a strong grip on your personal life. Mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment are the vital next steps in the process of your recovery. Overall, wanting to live your life as the healthiest and most well person you can be is reason enough to seek help for addictions for the holiday of celebrating love. Loving yourself enough to get help is a magical and romantic thing that can give you back a healthy fresh start to your relationship with yourse

Erika McCaghren

What is a Drinking Problem?

Ever have a fight about whether or not you have a drinking problem? If you have, that should be your first sign that you might have one. Here are a couple of the others:

  • You’ve decided to stop drinking for a week, but cannot manage to do so.
  • You regret something you may have done as a result of drinking.
  • You wish people would just stop talking about your drinking.
  • You envy people who can drink without getting into trouble.
  • You “black out” or have difficulty remembering things you’ve done while drinking.
  • You’ve done drugs or engaged in other dangerous behaviors while drinking alcohol.
  • Others have noticed that you consistently seem very different when drinking (unusually happy, emotional, angry, relaxed).

Try not to get caught up in the stigma attached to alcohol abuse. No one chooses to have an alcohol problem.

You can find help here: Addiction Treatment


The first word of this compound word says it all “psycho”. No one wants to be associated with something that is strange, difficult to handle, and perhaps the worst of all: a scary, new experience. If you were to ask a friend or family member what psychotherapy is, they would most likely say something about paying a lot of money to talk about problems (and that’s putting it nicely). If you were to ask a counselor or therapist, we would describe it as a chance to be heard, without judgment through the ears and eyes of a professional, in the comfort and safety of a confidential session. The talking part might be easy…or hard depending on how you view your problems. If providing a safe place where clients can talk about whatever it is that is troubling them is the job of the counselor, what is your job as a client in psychotherapy? What do you have to know before you even walk through the door? Most first time clients wonder how we expect you to tell everything that you are thinking and feeling after just meeting.

These are common questions that can be answered. A client simply has to make the appointment with a counselor or therapist and come ready for the experience. Okay…that may seem a bit more intimidating than helpful, but it’s the truth. If you are open to the experience of psychotherapy as something completely different and refreshing you are on the road to understanding what it is and how it works. Before you walk through the door, you should know that you are not alone. Every single person you pass on the street has a past, a story, a journey. That road is paved with troubles, hardships, and bumps that throw off your sense of balance as you walk the road. This is where you have to believe that there are trained professionals ready to help and to listen to you. Why would a counselor want to listen to all of the “bumps” along the way in your life? Because we are trained to provide the safe haven for you to explore the inner workings of what is really going on in your life. There is no façade, just a real and honest experience with another person to ensure that you don’t trip on the bumps of life and walk, silent and hurting, through the rest of life.

If you are working through the bumps in your life and decide that the word psychotherapy is not as scary as facing it on your own…that is what we are here for.


Erika McCaghren

Drugged Driving

Although fatalities from automobile accidents are declining, a recent traffic analysis from the Department of Transportation (DOT) indicates that 33% of drivers killed in such accidents in 2010 tested positive for illicit drugs. The most popular among these drugs were prescription grade opiates / opiods (Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Oxycontin), benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Clonipin). The illicit drug most frequently implicated in traffic fatalities: marijuana.

Society has become familiar with the terrible consequences of driving under the influence of alcohol.  However, many do not realize the hazards of driving under the influence of drugs and medications. The drugs listed above, including those prescribed by a physician, can impair judgment, motor skills, reaction time, and perception, all of which are essential to operating a vehicle safely. Recent surveys by the DOT show that roughly one in four fatalities in accidents test positive for illegal prescription drugs.

Drugged driving poses threats to public safety, as evidenced by the number of fatal accidents on our highways each year. Public education combined with successful substance abuse/education programs can help family members, friends, and loved ones reduce drugged driving.

April is Counseling Awareness Month

April is Counseling Awareness Month! Although many people know generally what counselors do, this is a time for counselors everywhere to stand together to promote the use of counseling services. We do this by reaching out to clients, readers, social media outlets, and through simple word of mouth that “We are here”. Pinnacle Counseling stands in full support of Counseling Awareness Month by showing people that we care and are here to support you. Knowing that there is a group of professionals near you, ready and willing to listen and help you through a particularly hard time or everyday struggles of life is a valuable tool. In any given situation, no matter the cause, difficulty, or time you have been dealing with the issue—we are here. Simply remember…Keep Calm and Call a Counselor!


Erika McCaghren


Sources: American Counseling Association