Sobriety, dual diagnosis, and personal OTC self-help

First, I want to make clear that this is just about my personal experiences, since Lifering is about personalized, individualized, self-empowerment, or self-help.

That said, let’s jump into what’s on my mind.

A fair percentage of people who eventually have addictive problems to drugs or alcohol are “dual diagnosis.” That is, they have some mental health issue connected with their addiction. Often it’s depression. Often it’s anxiety. Sometimes it’s bipolar disorder, occasionally schizophrenia.

For people that have “simple” depression or anxiety, and have been to a doctor before, for lower-level depression or anxiety, it’s tempting to self-medicate with over-the-counter items. For example, it’s a “commonplace” that Benadryl can help mild anxiety. Many people use St. John’s wort for mild depression. Beyond that, over-the-counter versions of lithium compounds, somewhat similar to, but not the same as, the prescription versions, are available. And more.

But, even over-the-counter medications aren’t risk free.

For example, prescription lithium has a narrow range of dosages. The non-prescription versions are presumably similar.

With St. John’s wort, there are studies indicating it can help with some cases of mild-moderate depression. There’s no “magic secret” as to why, though. The active ingredient is an MAO inhibitor, just like the first class of anti-depressant medications. Given that prescription MAO inhibitors come with certain warnings, like not combining them with aged cheeses, something similar might apply to St. John’s worth.

And, there’s the placebo effect. A lot of people swear by GABA, a natural neurotransmitter, to help with anxiety. However, GABA does not cross what’s known as the blood-brain barrier, therefore people are presumably just talking about a placebo effect.

Also, just as a prescription anti-depressant that works for one person might not work well for another, the same is true of these OTC self-helps.

A Lifering friend mentioned his doctor suggested he take a new OTC medication, which is GABA chemically linked to niacin, the B vitamin. He said it helped totally kill alcohol cravings, as well as some anxiety.

I decided to order it myself; it’s readily available online.

Well, my “sample size date” is only 10 days so far, but, I may discontinue it after another week.

While it’s not quite making me MORE anxious, I have had trouble falling asleep since then. I’ve had a couple of issues in my mind, but, this may be a contributing factor.

For me, the one time I went to a doctor with even more serious anxiety, it was anti-depressants that helped.

There’s nothing wrong with a prescription from a doctor, and there’s nothing magical about over-the-counter items. It never hurts to get professional advice.

“For An Addict”

“Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything. Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t you so you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.”  — Unknown

Below is a link to a YouTube video reading of “For An Addict”, John O’Donohue’s powerfully rendered and heartbreakingly accurate poem about the heart of addiction, introduced to me by one of LifeRing’s e-mail list participants that I thought most worthy of sharing with you here.

Psychotherapist Declan Tarpey introduces and then reads the poem, and something he says at around the 2:07 mark absolutely represents what my addiction was, in large part, my attempt to address: An escape from my true self – someone I felt was hideous and disfigured and thus, needed to be hidden, and hidden away from.



Keeper of the Month – July

Lifering’s e-mail groups are active, thriving communities of people who use them as strong sources of sobriety support, and many members often post remarkably written sources of inspiration, hope and encouragement that many other group members call “Keepers” – posts that they save for themselves so they can go back and look at them as often as they like.

We here at LifeRing like sharing these posts, with the authors’ permission, on our Blog so that everyone can enjoy them as much as our group members do.


This month’s post, reflecting on a different sort of life-changing anniversary, comes from Craig W.:


I’ve been sober since 2001, but yesterday marked the 8 year anniversary of the second most important event in my life in the current millennium — I had a stroke. My recovery was almost complete, but not a day goes by when I’m not aware that “almost” is not at all the same as “complete.’ I spent five weeks in a hospital and nursing home learning how to walk again — I hadn’t lost strength in my limbs but my balance had been strongly affected. It’s still less than perfect. I lost a little feeling on my right side but not enough to make much difference. The main difficulty that has stayed with me is something called “post-stroke fatigue,” a rather mysterious tiredness that plagues many stroke survivors. The condition isn’t related to the location of the stroke and doesn’t seem to be related to the seriousness of the stroke. It means I’m tired all the time and very tired some of the time. It’s pretty unrelated to the amount of sleep I get, so I try not to give in to it too much. But it’s why I retired early.

For a long time I thought the fatigue was the only “cognitive” impact of my stroke. But I’ve learned in recent years that the tiredness is part of a larger mental syndrome in which certain types of mental tasks are very draining, while physical activity is actually refreshing. The most draining seems to be multitasking, jumping from one thing to another back and forth. That was the essence of my job as a bookseller — dealing with customers at the counter and on the phone, paying bills, preparing orders and a bunch of other stuff all at the same time. I was good at that until the stroke. I wasn’t bad at it after my stroke, for that matter. Except that it exhausted me after a couple of hours.

So I retired a couple of years early and after about a week started climbing the walls. I’d had my bookstore as the focus of my life for 40 years. I never put in the sort of hours that many small business owners do, but it was always on my mind. Replacing it with …. nothing soon horrified me. Which is how I found myself coming down to the San Francisco Bay Area to volunteer for LifeRing. It has been an almost perfect solution to my retirement dilemma. There’s more to do than I can do, so I never feel purposeless, and yet as a volunteer I decide entirely by myself how much to do each day, which allows me to make full allowance for my tiredness problem. And the weather down here is so …. different (I was going to say “better” but one shouldn’t make those sorts of value judgements) that I can spend at least an hour each day walking in the warm sunshine, something that was a rare occurrence up in the Pacific Northwest.

There’s a point to this story for addicts like us. My stroke happened well after I got sober and the cause was unknown. But I figure it was all those years of ignoring my high blood pressure while I was drinking. For me, there was no escaping the consequences of my years of imbibing. But the other point is more positive — I changed my entire life after age 60, moving, doing work I’d never done before in a place I’d only visited briefly. I realized when I retired, I could afford (doG bless Social Security) to live almost anywhere and do almost anything (anything that wasn’t too expensive, at least). Sobriety gave me this new life.It’s so easy to feel trapped by life, by addiction or a bad marriage or lack of money or health problems, or …. But I’m here to tell you that everything can be changed for the better, and it all starts with sobriety. It starts with facing reality and fixing what’s wrong with our lives and nothing is more ‘wrong’ than addictive drinking or using. Fix that and move on to the next thing on your list.

Be patient, but persevere.

3 New LifeRing Meetings Now Available!

My Tribe


LifeRing is pleased to announce 3 new meetings now up, running and available to anyone who wants to get clean and/or sober, and to find their tribe  - one in Connecticut, one in Massachusetts, and one based in Asia via Skype.

Craig W., member of LifeRing’s Board of Directors, says “All meetings represent great progress in expanding our reach,” and we look forward to their success and growth!

The information for each new meeting can be found below; the information for all of LifeRing’s meetings can be found here:

Greenwich, Connecticut Meeting

When: Mondays at 7:30 PM

Where: Greenwich Hospital, 5 Perryridge Road, Greenwich, CT 06830

Convenor: Cindy K.

Contact Information: E-mail: Phone: (772) 205-1289


Belmont, Massachusetts Meeting

When: Fridays, 6:00 – 7:00 PM – first meeting tonight, July 18th!

Where: McLean Hospital, DeMarneffe Cafeteria Building Room 117, 115 Mill Street, Belmont, MA 02478

Convenor: Allen B.

Contact Information:


LifeRing Asia

When: Sundays, 12:00 Noon Bangkok, Thailand time (Saturdays, 10:00 PM California/Pacific Time)

Where: via Skype; add Skype ID liferingasia to your list of Skype Contacts

Convenor/Contact Information: Per LifeRing Asia’s website - “We are looking for conveners to help run meetings and we want to add meetings with times that fit your needs. Feel free to contact us.”


Congratulations to all meeting convenors and future members – we wish you the very best!