Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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The Next Fix: Social Media And Addiction

smartphone-2123520_1920In the previous blog, I discussed how social media carries the potential to warp your self-perception. In this blog, I’ll address one of the additional dangers that social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can pose to your mental health: addiction.

Digital addiction is a relatively new concern in the mental health community. Since the popularization of social media apps, many people have become increasingly reliant on these digital platforms. Although social media offers several advantages in terms of communication and connection, its use can become problematic if it takes priority over the rest of your daily activities.

I’ve seen many people become reliant on social media platforms as a form of self-assurance, or even as a form of escapism or procrastination. Here are some of the signs of social media addiction, and what you can do to help yourself, or someone you care about.

The signs and symptoms

Social media addiction to Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can be difficult to identify, and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, there are signs to be aware of when evaluating your social media habits. Some of these signs include:

  • Constant thinking or planning of posts for social media
  • Increasing frequency of use
  • Use of social media to escape personal issues or emotional stress
  • Preference to communicate with others by social media or text rather than in-person when it is appropriate to do so
  • Feeling restless or anxious when you can’t engage on social platforms
  • A negative impact on your personal or professional life as a result of social media use
  • Reduced contact with people in immediate social situations (i.e. a preference to be on your phone (on social media, texting, gaming) instead of engaging with and/or focusing on the person  that you are with)
  • Checking your social media at inappropriate or dangerous times (e.g. while driving, going downstairs, or during important meetings)

Although these symptoms may not be a hard and fast indication of an addiction, they can be considered potential warning signs. Has anyone ever commented on your persistent social media usage in class? Have you had trouble concentrating in a meeting because you’ve been thinking about checking your social media? These could be potential red flags.

If not treated, the long-term effects of social media addiction may include depression, emotional and societal withdrawal, self-esteem issues, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. If you suspect that you, or someone you care about, are experiencing several of the above symptoms, contact your SAP or EAP immediately.

How to treat social media addiction

Unlike many addictions (e.g. drug or alcohol addiction), social media addiction is best treated with reduced and controlled use, as opposed to abstinence. Even some of the major social media companies, such as Facebook, are now using behavioural data to determine what major social media platforms can do to limit their products to those who are experiencing a potential addiction. Although this measurement is controversial, this is a strategy that has been applied by the online gaming industry, with some valuable results.

In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy and other forms of support, recovery from social media addiction may require additional efforts on your part. These efforts may include:

  • Deleting social media on your phone and limiting your access to it
  • Having supportive friends and family members to help you stay accountable
  • Establishing a routine that does not revolve around, or include, social media usage
  • Discovering your triggers for social media use (e.g. boredom, sadness), and developing coping strategies for when they arise
  • Spending more time with family and friends face-to-face

A social media addiction can feel difficult to overcome, but with help from your Employee or Student Assistance Program, as well as support from loved ones, you can achieve a healthier, more positive relationship with the digital world.

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Adderall: When a Study Hack Becomes a Drug Problem

studyI recently wrote a blog about the Fentanyl crisis affecting Canadians today. This week, I want to discuss another drug crisis impacting Canadian youth: Adderall abuse. Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adults, but the drug has gained popularity among post-secondary students who use the medication as a “study drug”. When used for its intended purposes, Adderall helps increase one’s ability to focus. When people who do not suffer from ADHD use the drug, they experience laser-sharp concentration, making it a popular study tool for stressed students. According to the American Journal of College Health, 76% of students will be offered the prescription drug throughout their four years of university, and about 30% will accept it.

Back when I was in university, Adderall was not used as a study drug, and if it was, it definitely wasn’t discussed as openly as it is today. When we began offering our SAP services, I was shocked to learn just how prevalent the use of Adderall is on many campuses today. As some schools are in the middle of midterms, and others are preparing for final projects and exams, I thought I would write this blog to educate students on the dangers of this quick fix study trick.

People who have used the drug for studying purposes report feeling focused and motivated to complete their work. Spending hours in the library studying for an exam can be mind numbing, but because Adderall was designed to lengthen your attention span, students find it easier to get through their workload.

Adderall is one of the most addictive prescription drugs on the market. When a student uses it and receives a great mark on a paper or exam, it can be difficult not to resort back to the method that helped them achieve it. A lot of students carry the mantra, “I’ll just use it this once to get through this tough exam period”, but if a student is relying on Adderall for their brain power, what’s to stop them from using it in the working world as well?

Adderall can affect your body in a number of ways. Short–term, students who take Adderall experience feelings of nervousness, nausea and agitation. Since the drug maintains your focus, it also reduces your appetite. Consequently, students often miss important meals after taking the drug. Abuse of the drug has been linked to eating disorders and other associated mental health issues.

After taking excessive amounts of Adderall over a period of time, your body begins to depend on it, just like any other drug. Suddenly it can be difficult to accomplish daily tasks without popping a few pills first. As mentioned in my previous blog about Fentanyl, people often begin abusing one drug and move on to more powerful substances to get a more intensified high. Last year, the Toronto Star published an article discussing the link between Adderall use and suicide.

So how is it so easy for students to get their hands on this drug? It is estimated that only 1 in 20 children in Canada have ADHD, but that doesn’t stop students desperate to improve their grades. A quick Google search can expose hundreds of articles with titles like, “How to trick your doctor into prescribing you Adderall”. Faking symptoms of ADHD can lead doctors to a misdiagnosis, and students can walk away with a powerful prescription. Students who have received prescriptions are known to sell the drug to their peers for up to $25 a pill.

Have you or a loved one recently started using Adderall to combat school stress? Here are my tips on how you can deal with the problem now:

  1. Get organized without the use of prescription medication. Talk to your teachers if you are feeling stressed, and surround yourself with positive people who want to help you succeed.
  2. If you are experiencing physical symptoms from Adderall use, talk to a medical professional. Talking about drug use can be difficult, but living with an addiction is harder.
  3. Talk to your campus mental health or SAP provider for assistance on managing drug use and stress levels. They have the tools to assist you through an Adderall dependency, or managing the challenges of schoolwork.

There is no denying that post-secondary life is difficult. I remember staying up late to finish papers and stressing over exams for hours, I was always a crammer. While taking Adderall might seem like a short-term solution to your stress, working hard to get a good grade is a lot more rewarding.


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How Fentanyl Has Become Everyone’s Issue

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Fentanyl has been making headlines, with drug use and abuse  becoming topics of discussion amongst health-care providers,  paramedics, and the police, but this potentially lethal drug is now  affecting the general public. How can you be affected?

 
When a patient has suffered some kind of painful trauma, it is not uncommon for them to be prescribed medication to help manage their pain. Fentanyl, like morphine and oxycodone, is an opioid, a class of drug that is prescribed for a variety of conditions and has incredibly powerful pain-relieving properties. After OxyContin (a stronger version of oxycodone) was pulled from the market, there was a window open for illegal drug sales. OxyContin was not only popular for people who became addicted as a result of over-prescription, it also appealed to heroin users. When production began booming on these illegal opioids, drug producers began importing more powerful ingredients from China, creating Fentanyl, a drug 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Often, they would repackage the drug to their customers to make it look like OxyContin, leaving the user to either fatally overdose or become addicted to an even more powerful drug.

This issue brings to light the concern around drug addiction, and how important awareness is around prescription pain relievers.   A majority of prescription drug use doesn’t start out as a quest to get high; instead, people become addicted over time after being prescribed powerful medication.

If you are prescribed a powerful medication, make sure to ask your doctor and pharmacist about the side effects and any addictive qualities, and ask for a minimal number of pills and strength to start. Also, ensure you take your medication as prescribed, at the correct time of day and the correct dosage. If you have kids or young adults living in your home, make sure your medication is safely stowed away. For those living with addictions, whether it is to prescription or street drugs, the ramifications in the workplace can be seen with absences, missed deadlines and erratic behaviour. Be mindful of changes in fellow staff members’ behaviours and offering support is the first step to getting them help.

Another issue brought to the forefront is awareness around drug use amongst family members. Many parents of young adults who have overdosed or unknowingly took Fentanyl from a dealer had no knowledge of their son or daughter’s drug use. Certainly the challenges surrounding substance use are difficult for the individual as well as their familial supports, and often these supports need external help to cope.

If you or someone you know is living with drug addiction, talk to your EAP provider. Young students can speak to their SAP, or Student Assistance Program, at their school for confidential resources. There is help available and professionals with whom to discuss the painful issue of addiction. You don’t have to do this alone.


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Holiday Addictive Behaviour

halloween2_cs4The holiday season is upon us! Regardless of which religious holiday you celebrate, for many, December is a month focused on eating, drinking, and shopping. Naturally, this time proves difficult for those with addictive personalities, those recovering from an addiction, or those still living with one. Not only is the temptation high due to the activities occurring throughout the month, but the stress of the season also weighs heavily on some, due to family or financial pressures.

It is important to recognize that addiction is not only limited to drugs and alcohol. Addiction can manifest itself in many forms, including food, shopping, casino and on-line gambling, sex and even internet use. Regardless of the addiction that you or someone you know is dealing with, I would like to offer some suggestions for successfully overcoming temptation during the holidays.

  1. Mentally Prepare
    • Ignorance is not bliss in this situation. Acknowledge that the holidays may be especially difficult for you, and prepare to face temptation and triggers head-on. Run through possible scenarios in your head, and actively plan how you will manage them.
  2. Know Yourself
    • If you recognize your triggers, learn how best to deal with them. This could be going for a walk, talking to a friend, or writing out your feelings. Remember, what works for you might be different than what works for someone else.
  3. Avoid Negative Influences
    • If you know a certain situation will bring along people or activities that will test you, avoid them altogether. This may not always be possible with family commitments, but do your best to stay away from the optional events that you know will be difficult to get through.
  4. Create a Support System
    • Reach out to those closest to you for support. Share with them your struggles and let them know how they can help you, whether by keeping you accountable or diffusing negative situations for you.

While the holidays can prove to be a stressful, tempting, and overwhelming time, try to see the good in it all. Stay positive and focused, and the road to recovery may not seem so bleak! Every hurdle is another accomplishment to add to your list.

What has helped you manage similar issues during the holiday time? We’d like to hear about your personal experiences. Please share with us in the comments.


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Are E-Cigarettes a Good Smoking Cessation Tool?

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For the past couple of decades, society has changed its view on cigarette smoking, where more smokers are socially isolated due to public smoking laws and legislations. Tobacco kills about 37,000 Canadians every year, and lung cancer remains high on the list of preventable diseases.

Smoking cessation tools are a multi-million dollar industry as smokers try to make the healthy choice to kick their habit. E-cigarettes have been introduced and marketed as a cessation tool, although research on the product reveals entirely different results.

How do e-cigarettes work, you ask? E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices designed to simulate conventional cigarette smoking. Inside the cigarette shaped tube is a cartridge that contains nicotine or other chemicals, that when heated, converts liquid into vapour that is inhaled by the smoker. The idea is that the e-cigarettes do not burn, so no smoke is inhaled, which makes the smoking an e-cigarette safer, although not completely safe.

There are several reasons that e-cigarettes can pose just as great a risk as traditional cigarettes:

Nicotine: Nicotine is the highly addictive substance found in cigarettes and e-cigarettes, which still fuels addiction of the substance even though the delivery of the drug is in a safer manner with e-cigarettes.

Dosage is not regulated: You can purchase nicotine cartridges in a variety of doses (0mg/ml to 36mg/ml) and the higher the dosage, the more intense the effects of the drug.

Cheaper than cigarettes: Cigarettes are heavily taxed due to their associated health risks, while e-cigarettes are becoming widely available at an affordable price.

Marketed to young people: Flavoured cigarettes were banned when it was determined that flavoured products were targeting young users, but there are no regulations on flavoured e-cigarette cartridges which are often laced with large amounts of sugar. Studies show that many e-cigarette users are young people who were never cigarette smokers before.

There does not seem to be an association between e-cigarette use and reduced cigarette consumption in young people, which suggests that young non-smokers are picking up an e-cigarette habit! E-cigarettes are more successful as a cessation tool in older adults, who have more motivation to quit.

If not addressed promptly, e-cigarette use could become another avenue to develop a nicotine addiction, instead of the cessation tool it was initially intended to be. What needs to happen to regulate e-cigarette use?

  • Policies regarding public use of e-cigarettes (banned in restaurants, bars, offices)
  • Laws against selling to minors
  • Warning labels
  • No free samples
  • Avoid marketing to minors

Do you see e-cigarette use as harmful as cigarette smoking? What else can be done to regulate the use of nicotine? I look forward to your thoughts below!

Sources:

http://www.commdiginews.com/health-science/a-parents-guide-to-e-cigarettes-are-they-really-safe-18087/

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/278313.php

http://www.lung.ca/protect-protegez/tobacco-tabagisme/facts-faits/index_e.php#truth

 

 


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Engage, Don’t Enable: Confronting alcoholism in your employees

AlcoholismAs Rob Ford weathers the storm of his alleged substance abuse problem, there needs to be something we can learn from his experience other than to choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. The Toronto mayor is certainly not the only person whose drinking habits have been called to attention in the workplace. As alcohol abuse becomes one of the greatest health threats to Canadians in recent years, employers must prepare themselves to engage in dialogue about this disease and become familiar with signs that an employee might be suffering.

Technically, drinking habits may be the personal business of your employees, but once a substance dependence problem emerges, it will inevitably affect business. Absenteeism, on-the-job injury and accidents, missed deadlines and poor workplace conduct are only a few of the detrimental outcomes of alcoholism, and the employer has a responsibility to address it as an issue once productivity is compromised.

Maintaining the welfare of your company and your employee’s health as main priorities is good business, and there are strategies you can implement in your company  to help you, the employer, mitigate the costs  of substance abuse. 1.

  1. Ensure that you have clearly communicated your expectations for conduct and performance in the workplace. Only with these expectations in place can you effectively measure when employees are failing to meet company standards.
  2. Schedule regular feedback and review meetings to promote a culture of improvement and transparency with individual employees. Having frequent dialogue will make it easier to broach any changes or declines in performance you may observe.
  3. Learn to recognize changes in performance, attendance and work relationships. Alcohol dependence can affect an employee’s ability to carry out commitments, meet deadlines and maintain healthy relationships at work. Knowing your employees well will help you more easily identify changes in their performance that could be brought on by substance abuse.
  4. Keep thorough records of observations. Ensure that you make note of incidents as they occur so that you are able to better record trends and patterns that support your concerns.
  5. Contact a representative of your EAP for support. A consultation with the EAP  will help you initiate difficult conversations and make available various resources.
  6. Be prepared to address  the issue with your employee.  Compare what you are currently observing with the employee’s performance against what the job expectations are.
  7. Set a measurable action plan with the employee that articulates the corrective action required to improve the work performance and include a time frame for the desired outcomes to be achieved.  Encourage the employee to access the EAP for support in executing the plan.   Be clear that failure to change the performance or conduct and seek help could result in disciplinary measures or dismissal.  Have the employee sign off on the document.
  8. Continue follow-up with additional conversations as necessary, including meeting with the employee on the formal review date (as set out in #7 above).

 

Although it might be uncomfortable to address such a sensitive issue with an employee, having a list of resources available (EAP) beforehand will assist you with offering support.

Your involvement could make a significant difference in the quality of someone’s work and personal life, thereby increasing your productivity as an organization

Have you ever seen the benefits of someone seeking help and returning to the workplace?  I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments below.