Problematic Behavior

In 12-step programs, people frequently refer to “jackpots”, or “consequences”.  Clinicians refer to these as “problematic behavior”.

What is Problematic Behavior?

These are events that, while they may not amount to a rock bottom, are clear indications of serious problems with addictive substances or behavior.

An alcoholic or other addict's denial may allow him or her to blow off a few such incidents, but as they pile up they reach a level of life-disturbing stress that becomes hard to ignore.  In fact, about the only way to deal with them is to either act out more addictively, or stop doing whatever is causing the problem.

Three Factors that Create Problematic Behavior

Problematic behavior occurs as a result of three factors:

  • impulsivity (doing things without thinking them through);
  • continuation despite consequences; and
  • obsession (focusing on using or acting out to the point of interfering with normal everyday activities).

Examples of Problematic Behavior

The examples that follow are common problematic behaviors, and can be considered major red flags marking the route to full-blown addiction — the point where one has to use or act out in order to function.

Preoccupation: something is taking up too much of our “thinking space”.  Our thoughts keep drifting back to whatever it is, distracting us from whatever is happening in real life.

Using or acting out more often or more heavily than we intended: We go into a bar for one beer, and come out three hours later, buzzed and late for dinner; we stop into the thrift shop to look for a blouse, and come out with ten items of clothing that we'll never wear; we pop a pain pill an hour or so before it's due, then forget and take another one an hour later, and so forth.

Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control our use or other acting out: We open up a porn site for a quick look, and find ourselves still looking three hours later; we decide to have one chocolate, and finish the whole box; we bring home a six-pack so that we can have a beer after dinner, and end up driving to 7-Eleven for another one three hours later.  We decide to have no more than five cigarettes a day.

Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop: This one speaks for itself, and often louder and less politely than we might have liked.

Using as a means of escaping from problems:  We do a couple of lines so we can be “up” when the in-laws arrive.  We have affairs with neighbors to forget about our problems at work.  We smoke a blunt because our folks keep bitching about our grades.

Using to relieve feelings such as helplessness, guilt, anxiety or depression: Sometimes these sorts of feelings ARE the result of conditions that need medication, but we aren't qualified to prescribe for ourselves, nor are the drugs available to us likely to be the best ones for the job.  Often we self-medicate without knowing it, which can make the situation much worse (although we may not be able to tell).

One of the invariable characteristics of drug use or acting out is that, as wonderful as it may have been the first time, it will never be that great again.Using repeatedly in search of a more intense experience: One of the invariable characteristics of drug use or acting out is that, as wonderful as it may have been the first time, it will never be that great again.  We develop tolerance to the stimulation, requiring more and more just to get the same high, and seeking that high drives further use and greater tolerance — a no-win situation.

Lying to family, therapists or others to conceal our use: Dude!  If you have to lie about it, you know better!  Don't put it on them, because you're the one who feels guilty, and it's your behavior that's causing your discomfort, not theirs.

Breaking the law (legally or morally) to support using or acting out: It may be that you have legal control of the family's finances, but that doesn't make it okay to put the rent money into the poker game, or use it to buy a round for the bar.  And needless to say, when you start stealing or acting out in illegal ways, you've crossed the line for sure.

Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or an educational or career opportunity because of using or acting out.

Incurring significant financial consequences: Gambling debts, past-due mortgages, unpaid credit cards, unemployment, lawyer fees, court costs and fines, evictions.  You get the idea.

Legal consequences: If using has gotten us to this point, we are clearly in need of help, and lots of it.  With any luck, the courts may make it possible or even mandate it.  If we're exceptionally UNlucky, we'll get away with whatever it was, get no help, and keep on doing the same old things with predictable results.

Problematic behavior means problems, period.  It may include a lot of innocent bystanders, but it's our problem, and it's our job to tuck it up and do what we have to do.  No one can do it for us, although a lot of help is out there — if we look for it.

Re-writing ‘The Legend’ in our minds.

We all have a self-concept that is mostly shaped by our perception of how others think of us. This is the “mirroring” that teaches us in early life how to view ourselves and the world. Over-protective parents can make us fearful of life, while strict, shouting parents can make us feel confused and unsure of their consistency and love. Abusive caregivers can cause us to feel worthless, or to pursue similar relationships in hopes of “getting it right this time,” or because they are familiar.

On the other hand, supportive behaviors that give us a realistic view of ourselves and our place in the world can foster healthy self-images and good self-esteem, affecting our feelings about our own stories — the Legends that we write about ourselves in our own heads.

Three Core Beliefs That Define Good Self Esteem

But what is this “good self-esteem” that everyone talks about? Most experts agree that it is based on three core beliefs that we have about ourselves:

  • That we are competent, able to complete tasks satisfactorily
  • That we belong, feel wanted and needed by others
  • A sense of worth: a feeling of being a worthwhile person that is based on how others treat us, and the things they say to and about us

The Importance of Self Compassion

In addition to the above, we need Self Compassion. We need to understand that even Olympic gold medalists are imperfect most of the time, and that sooner or later someone will come along who can do it better. We need to accept that perfection simply doesn't exist, and that it is ridiculous to expect it of ourselves or for others to expect it of us.

Self compassion is powerful because it isn't judgemental.Self compassion is powerful because it isn't judgemental. Since it doesn't label us as poor performers — inadequate people in whatever ways — it allows us to look at mistakes and recognize ways that we can improve the next time. We can get a realistic look at our mistakes, at the things we have done right, and how to focus our abilities to do better.

The Effects of Negative Thinking on Self Esteem

When we are thinking only about the negative Legend, the “old tapes” based on the messages of others, we can't really bear to look at ourselves honestly because it would mean that we are weak, have shortcomings, and that the Legend is right. We can't admit that there is room for improvement, because it's too painful to admit, even to ourselves, that we did something “wrong”.

No one can be totally skillful, knowing how to do everything right the first time; we all need practice, guidance and experience.If we can learn to think of our actions as “skillful” and “unskillful”, we leave room for improvement. No one can be totally skillful, knowing how to do everything right the first time; we all need practice, guidance and experience. Self-compassion is about realizing that we are human, that there is no such thing as a perfect human, and that we can turn unskillful things into more skilled accomplishments the next time, whether they be at work, at play, or in our relationships.

We don't have to live out the false Legend in our head. We can re-write it, and we can start any time by recognizing and saying “No!” to all those false stories we've been telling ourselves.

Spirituality and Recovery: An Insider’s Guide

It's safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is - and from their point of view, they may be right.If you’re reading this, you’re most likely an addict, or your loved one or friend or employee is. You probably have your own ideas of what constitutes addiction. They may be informed by education or ignorance, experience or listening to others. They may be sympathetic or condemning. However, it’s safe to say that practically everyone thinks they know what addiction is—and from their point of view, they may be right.

But we who have struggled with the monkey on our back know things about addiction that no one else knows. That’s not to say that we’re any smarter about it, it just means that we, too, have our point of view, and from the inside it’s rarely pleasant. We beat ourselves up, we focus on our regret, on resentments, on past and present mistakes, about the things we missed out on, on how we were treated, on how the world is being run, on our future. It would be enough to make us crazy, if we weren’t already. And that’s because, as the title implies, “addiction is the opposite of spirituality.”

Okay, fine. But what is spirituality? Well, the spirituality I mean is the “human spirit,” not related to religion at all, although they compliment each other well in some cases. As far as this addict is concerned, spirituality is those things of the spirit that are missing from all addicts to one degree or another.

For example, there’s tolerance, the willingness to let others do their own thing. Most addicts are control freaks, and want to direct the show. Tolerance, in addition to promoting harmony, allows the other party to learn. Few of us learn from the mistakes of others. We claim to, but in reality we’re bit players in every story but our own, and other folks’ mistakes rarely teach us much. When screw up ourselves, the lesson tends to stick. Tolerant folks mostly ignore things that aren’t their business.

Patience goes along with tolerance. It’s the darndest thing: people insist on doing things their own way, not ours. We aren’t going to change that unless we’re both wearing uniforms, and maybe not even then. Some drivers are slow getting away from red lights. (Of course, we never are.) Some speakers go on and on in meetings about things that bore us. Tough. Do we really think they’re on the edge of their chairs waiting for drops of gold to drip from our lips? The package will get here when FedEx delivers it. Our significant other will stop talking eventually, then it’s our turn to yammer. Patience helps us get through boring, frustrating, “painful” moments without getting riled up or angry or annoyed.

Then there’s forgiveness. There’s a saying  “resentments are like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.” Rarely do others worry about our resentments; we’re the ones who do the worrying. We eat ourselves up over things that others did “to” us, not realizing that we are the ones making ourselves miserable. Forgiveness is being willing to let go. If we’re still stewing about something someone did, or didn’t do, who are we hurting? Chances are good that the other party has forgotten all about it. How dare they? Well, who cares? That’s what forgiveness is about. We don’t have to let the guy near our entertainment equipment again, but letting go of the stuff he stole from us last year helps us, not him. If we can’t do that, we need to talk to a shrink, because the TV is gone, gone, gone.

the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality.Compassion and love, the ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard, are cornerstones of spirituality. People have to let us learn to love them, but we can be compassionate towards anyone we meet. Give the bum a dollar. Don’t decide you know what he’s going to do with it, just imagine how it feels out there in the rain with that sign. Be patient with the old lady digging for change in the grocery line, and consider how hard it must be to live on a limited income—and to be old and know it isn’t going to change.

Responsibility strengthens relationships. It’s doing our part, whether it’s showing up to chair that 7:00 A.M. meeting, or staying after work a bit to make sure our job is done properly. It’s being dependable, and taking our share of whatever load, doing what we can for everyone’s benefit.

All of these things lead to harmony, the feeling that everything is sailing along as it should. Not that everything’s perfect—that’s not harmony, it’s delusion—but just the feeling that things are going okay. No one’s rubbing on anyone’s nerves too badly; we’re in a good space, so that getting cut off in traffic is just another unskillful driver, not a personal affront…stuff like that.

And on rare occasions, we simply feel wonderful, for no particular reason. That’s joy. It doesn’t happen very often, but if we pay attention to the other things we’ve discussed, it happens more frequently than we might think.

We don't have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn't us.If we use the opposites of all the things I’ve discussed, we can pretty much put together a picture of an active addict, or an addict who isn’t in recovery. When we say recovery programs are spiritual, we’re talking about changing from our previous ways of looking at life to the more skillful ways we’re talking about here. We become spiritual by practicing spirituality, not by just going to church. We say “practice,” because these things are skills that can be learned, and if we want to be happy and stay sober, we need to learn them. We don’t have to believe in a specific Higher Power, but we do need to understand that it isn’t us.

September Recovery Month Events in Florida

September is National Recovery Month, and in Florida that means opportunity to get out and celebrate hope and success with my friends and colleagues, and to meet new faces in the vibrant recovery community here. Here are some of the specific events on my calendar for September:

On Saturday, September 14th, Sunrise Detox is sponsoring the Jeff Annas Memorial Firefighters 5k in Wellington, Florida. The run will begin at 7:30am.  Run for fun and to support a great cause, and look for the Sunrise Detox to say hello.

On Sunday, September 15th, Sunrise Detox is sponsoring the Voices of Recovery fundraiser for treatment centers throughout Palm Beach County. This event is held at the South Florida Fairgrounds from 11am to 4pm .

On Friday, September 20th, Sunrise Detox and Rockers in Recovery are sponsoring the Annual Broward Addiction Recovery Center fundraiser dinner. It will be held from 1pm to 5pm.

On Saturday, September 21st, Broward county is hosting a gathering for Recovery Month at the Central Broward Regional Park from 11 am to 4 pm.

Here are some additional events that were submitted to the Recovery Month calendar. Follow the links to check for more details or to confirm that the events are still planned (some may have been updated since this was posted)


Recovery Month Events in Florida:

Block Party FL

09/27/2013 5:00PM – 8:00PM Client get together in celebration of recovery link

Candlelight Kick off FL

09/06/2013 6:00PM – 8:00PM Clients and Sponsors will gather in our Serenity Park for a moment of reflection on their path to recovery. Clients will share their stories and testimonials. A reception will follow. link

CR St. Pete presents RE-CREATION: A Conference Celebrating Recovery FL

09/14/2013 9:00AM – 4:00PM RE-CREATION: First Annual RECOVERY Conference. All alcohol and addiction professionals and counselors in Tampa Bay are welcome! This faith-based conference will feature 3 keynote speakers, addressing Recovery in our community; other topics range from Prison Ministry to Co-dependence. Agenda includes small groups workshops and registration includes box lunch. link

Florida's Recovery Month Celebration FL

09/12/2013 1:00PM – 5:00PM Strengthening Families Training will take place at SMA Behavioral Healthcare Women's Center and Project Warm for female client's and program alumni to introduce them to the Strengthening Families Approach and Community Cafe. This training will launch introduction to Community Cafe Talk and a new process for aftercare for these women so that they can learn 6 protective factors and participate in Cafe Talk as part of their aftercare process. link

Florida's Recovery Month Celebration FL

09/21/2013 4:30PM – 8:00PM September 21 5 PM Motorcycle Run finishes at the Daytona Band Shell But the festivities are just beginning . . . And it’s FREE ! Line Dancing-Pre Event activity begins at 4:30pm Escorted Bike Run-Pre Event activity begins at 1pm Recovery’s Got Talent! Kids Zone Uplifting Testimonials Resource Tables CONNECT… Promote Awareness… Support Others . . . Get out the message: Recovery in all it’s forms is ACHIEVABLE! Requests for accommodations as required under the ADA can be made a minimum of seven days in advance. link


09/07/2013 5:00PM – 7:30PM AWARD CEREMONY AND DINNER link

Lee and Pinellas County's National Recovery Month Celebration FL

09/20/2013 6:00PM – 9:00PM The Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida and Live Free Pinellas celebrate National Recovery Month. A short film by Street Chicks in Recovery will be premiered. link

Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence and Recovery: A Refreshing New Perspective of Addiction, Effective Prevention and Productive Treatment FL

09/27/2013 9:00AM – 1:00PM Tranquil Shores Treatment Center and Addiction Professional Ken Donaldson are partnering to celebrate National Recovery Month by offering a unique workshop: Mindfulness, Emotional Intelligence and Recovery: A Refreshing New Perspective of Addiction, Effective Prevention and Productive Treatment. The cost to participate is $47.00 and is limited to the first 40 registrants. 4 CEUs are offered to mental health professionals. The primary learning objectives for the workshop are identifying the origin of addiction; understanding the role mindfulness and emotional intelligence plays; understanding the current, available treatment options; developing effective intervention tools; and review a number of proactive prevention models. Ken’s 25 years of expertise includes mental health and addiction counseling, as well as working with numerous organizations as a trusted emotional intelligence advisor. The goals of this workshop are to build awareness in the community about addiction and the impact it has on everyone, as well as offer positive options to create effective prevention and treatment modalities for a problem that impacts everyone: addiction. link

Movie night featuring “Anonymous People” FL

09/09/2013 7:30PM – 9:00PM View the documentary ” Anonymous People”, a film about people in recovery ( including high profile people in recovery) and how to advocate for change as well as reducing the stigma attached with the disease of addiction link

National Recovery Month With The TAMPA BAY RAYS! FL

09/22/2013 11:00AM – 2:30PM In celebration of National Recovery Month (September), BayCare Behavioral Health and the Tampa Bay Rays are hosting a special discounted Sunday game when the Rays take on the Baltimore Orioles. Enjoy a discounted seat at this family-friendly event and arrive early to catch pregame ceremonies in recognition of National Recovery Month. Following the game, children can come onto the field and experience what it is like to run the bases. To purchase discounted tickets for this event, visit and enter the pass code NRM2, or call (727) 940-2837. Phone purchases are available only Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Deadline to purchase is Monday, Sept. 16. Lower level outfield tickets are only $15. link


09/28/2013 8:00AM – 11:00AM This fun Recovery Run/Walk 5K celebrates recovery from mental illness and substance use disorders. Participants include serious runners and casual walkers. This event is family and pet friendly. Prizes and refreshments provided to registered participants. Register at or link

Recovery Month Rally FL

09/14/2013 3:00PM – 6:30PM We are celebrating our first Recovery Month Rally at Stepping Stone Center and will be joined by the community from The Refuge in Jacksonville Beach. Get together with patients, alumni, friends, family and the community for a gathering celebrating recovery and spreading the message of prevention and treatment link

Recovery Month Rally FL

09/28/2013 3:00PM – 6:30PM We are celebrating our first Recovery Month Rally at Lakeview Health and will be joined by the community from The Refuge in Jacksonville Beach. Get together with patients, alumni, friends, family and the community for a gathering celebrating recovery and spreading the message of prevention and treatment link

Recovery Walk FL

09/21/2013 8:00AM – 10:30AM Annual Recovery Wlak with Gateway Community Services and River Region. link

Softball and Kickball Game FL

09/14/2013 10:00AM – 1:00PM Gateway Community Services vs community partner River Region and softball and kickball annual sporting event. link

Step In the Name of Love Walk/Run FL

09/14/2013 7:30AM – 12:00PM The Orange County Drug Free Coalition in partnership with the Multi-Cultural Addictions Network will host the “Step in the Name of Love” Walk/Run at Barnett Park. This is a free event, with food provided (as long as supplies last) featured speaker, entertainment, community vendors, and recognition of the Orange County Drug Free Coalition Treatment Committee members for their hard work. link

Talent Show FL

09/20/2013 6:00PM – 8:00PM Talent Show presented by the clients link

The Silent Majority FL

09/19/2013 6:30PM – 09/23/2013 6:30PM The Silent Majority to Air on PBS station WEDU and affiliates September 19, 22 and 23rd A unique collaboration for the first time brings an independent film about teens to Public Television to celebrate National Recovery Month. The movie, “The Silent Majority” shot in Florida and New York, directed by Leslie Glass and hosted by Lindsey Glass, founders of Reach Out Recovery, spotlights surprising programs that help teens stay alcohol and substance free and impacts their lives forever. PBS Station WEDU will produce 20 minutes of panel discussion by experts to accompany the film and will broadcast “The Silent Majority” six times in September and October to an audience of 5 million in 16 counties as a potential pilot for future programming on the subject. link

Voices of Recovery Together on Pathways to Wellness FL

09/15/2013 12:00PM – 5:00PM This family fun event includes a chili cook off, cupcake contest and talent show called “Recovery’s Got Talent”. This event if fun for all age with activities for children and information and entertainment for all. link

Y12SR Yoga for 12 Step Recovery FL

09/10/2013 7:30PM – 8:30PM Combining the wisdom of yoga with the success of 12 Step philosophy to pave the road of recovery. link

September is National Recovery Month

There are over 390 events happening across the country this month, to celebrate “National Recovery Month“. The concept of a celebration of recovery has been around for at least 24 years,  known first as “National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Awareness Month” and then “National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month”,  before the major sponsoring groups associated with the movement consolidated their programs.

The timing is appropriate. September is a time of change. Summer leaves us and Autumn/Fall arrives. Our children return to school.  Why not change our lives as well? What better time to take back our lives from the control of addictions and mental health issues?  The National Recovery Month events available to us offer hope and positive reinforcement that we can succeed. Millions of Americans have walked this path before, and succeeded in turning their lives around after struggles with substance abuse.

Information and help are only a click or a phone call away. On FaceBook visit or visit the web site managed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at to find an event near you.

And of course to receive help for a substance abuse problem right now, call our specialists at 888-443-3869.

12 Steps: Surrender

Reservations, Powerlessness and Surrender

Reservations are little ideas, beliefs and loopholes that we leave for ourselves. We reserve the right to hang on to them, not realizing that we are really protecting some aspect of our addiction. Most of us started recovery with some reservations. They may have gone like this:

Opiates are my problem; a little drink now and then won’t hurt me. Alcohol just about ruined my life. I don’t ever want to drink again. Of course, I’ll still smoke a little weed when I’m feeling stressed. I don’t relate well to other women, so I’ll need a male sponsor. If my mother died, I don’t see how I could handle it without picking up. They say we’re as sick as our secrets, but they can’t mean everything. That one thing will never pass my lips.

We may be sincere about wanting recovery, and may be working diligently toward it by going to meetings, doing step work, and almost giving ourselves fully over to the program that’s recommended. But as long as we hold reservations, consciously or unconsciously, we are fooling ourselves.

One of the worst effects of reservations is that this kind of thinking keeps us from bonding with other recovering people. Recovery works because we are a fellowship with a common purpose: to stay clean and sober, and learn how to live that way. We do this by accepting that we can’t do it on our own, and that we need the guidance and support of others who have been successful at what we want to do. Reservations  prevent us from developing the close, trusting relationships that make those things possible.

Fighting is so much a part of addiction — fighting for the next fix, the next drink, the time to use, protecting our ability to keep getting high — that we forget how to stop fighting. When we are able to relax and stop struggling, we begin to gain the benefits of our recovery program, along with a huge sense of relief.

Move Away from the Addiction. Don't Stay and Fight

The problem is that we’re still trying to control our addiction, when what we really need is to let go of that control, let go of our reservations, and accept the reality that our addiction is far more powerful than we are — that we must move away from our addiction, not stay and fight.

Once we are able to surrender, the feeling of relief is amazing! We are no longer forced to twist our thinking around so that we can try to have things two ways at once. We no longer push, push, push back against our program. We no longer have to deal with the stress of always trying to be right, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. We are, at last, able to relax and recover.

We must surrender before we can win!

NJ Drug Problems Reach Epidemic Status

As I have mentioned in previous posts this has now reached “Epidemic” status in New Jersey. The NJ Authorities now say “no community, however affluent or remote, is immune to the circumstances and impact of this trend. ” According to the 2010 report there were 843 drug related deaths , of which 402 were solely attributed to prescription drugs. The total number in 2011 jumped to 1008!  The results of a 2 year investigation are being released today, with a press conference this morning.

I have previously highlighted how we  need to enforce the prescription monitoring bill already passed here in the state. We have already committed resources to add substance (drug, alcohol) detox facilities in the state, with full facilities under construction Sunrise Detox Toms River and Sunrise Detox Cherry Hill.
How is this epidemic affecting the States Economy ?  According to the old report “Beyond the devastation of lost lives, law enforcement authorities at multiple levels told the Commission that the drug trade and the resulting imperative of addiction have produced spikes in burglaries and other crimes of theft all across New Jersey”
We will find out shortly what they've learned since 2010, but the inside chatter suggests it won't be good. All of the bad numbers are way up, in some cases to unbelievable levels, and while some of the “good numbers” are also up (such as the number of treatment beds planned by Sunrise Detox), most are not up nearly enough.In many areas of drug abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment, the old way of doing things is no longer adequate. “More” of the same will not achieve the desired results. The 2010 report ended with that idea for moving forward:
The record of this investigation demonstrates that the challenges posed by drug abuse have taken on disturbing new dimensions that call into question the conventional wisdom regarding gateway drugs and addiction, and the adequacy of current medical oversight and law enforcement strategies. We now live in a State where the abuse of legitimate prescription pills serves increasingly as a route to the unlawful world of heroin, which is cheap, widely available and so pure it can be used without the junkie stigma or mess of needles while producing a high matching or exceeding that of any legitimate pharmaceutical painkiller. This tangled intersection of legal and illicit narcotics constitutes a crisis whose multiple consequences are plain for all to see: the countless deaths and damaged lives, the spiking crime, the subverted recesses of the medical and pharmaceutical professions, the exploitation by gangs and other criminal elements.”