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What Kind of Journey Is Your Life?

Dr. Mona Gupta, a highly respected psychiatrist in Raleigh, has a deep understanding of the power of our personal beliefs. “If you believe it—no matter what that belief may be—you are on the path to making it your own reality,” she says.

Dr. Gupta

“Most of us experience life as pretty stressful most of the time or much of the time,” she observes, “and many of us look for help in dealing with that stress. Increasingly, for many, that assistance manifests in the use and abuse of alcohol, drugs, and even food as ways to cope with life events.

“Not so long ago, it was pretty common for people to come home from work and relax with a glass a wine. Now that glass of wine, for many people, has become two, three, or even four glasses of wine. In my practice, we are seeing more and more patients who are addicted to alcohol, because it is an easy, over-the-counter way to address a desire to relax.

“My observation is that people in increasing numbers are engaging in addictive behaviors that are simply not healthy. It’s one thing to have a glass of wine while you relax and share a conversation with a friend or your spouse. It is quite another thing when you pick up your glass of wine because you feel you need it and really can’t function well without it.

Signs and Symptoms of Opioid Addiction

There are many signs of inap-propriate opioid use, notes Dr. Gupta. A partial list includes:

  • Unusual sleepiness or sleep disturbances
  • “Lost” or stolen prescriptions or medication
  • Frequently missing appointments unless receiving a renewed prescription is expected
  • Irritability
  • Drug hoarding during periods of reduced symptoms
  • Injecting opioids intended for oral use
  • Lack of interest in social events

And more.

“In the communities of North Raleigh I am hearing reports of too many young adults—teenagers—dying from heroin or opiate overdoses. In increasingly greater numbers, it seems true that many of us are seeking a way to escape the realities of our every-day lives. It’s not simply an urban problem or a suburban problem—it is a deeply rooted problem for too many of us. We’re not talking about bad people. We’re talking about people with bad habits, habits that can destroy lives.”

Tobacco is also a powerful drug, notes Dr. Gupta. “Many people smoke when they are anxious, when they are dealing with some form of stress. One or two cigarettes a day morphs into a dozen smokes a day and then a pack a day. It’s a killer habit. We’re seeing this kind of compulsive behavior with food, cigarettes, opiates, uppers or downers, and alcohol. People in great numbers—through the teen-age years and beyond—are ‘users’ in a persistent attempt to feel ‘normal.’”

The Healing Approach

In describing how she deals with issues of addiction in her practice, says Dr. Gupta: “I want to emphasize that I am not heading up an addiction clinic—and there are places people can go for that specialized treatment. We’re very selective as we engage with prospective patients, in an effort to work with people who are really committed who will work with a substance abuse therapist and, as appropriate, be involved in an intensive outpatient program. There’s a team involved.

“Nowadays, we have such great medicines to help people cope with cravings, and we care about relationships and environments that may contribute to presenting problems. But a prescription we do not fill is the patient’s request for ‘some medicine for my anxiety and then I’m going to be all cured.

“Often,” explains Dr. Gupta, “I’ll say to a new patient: ‘OK, let’s not replace a pill with a pill. Let’s try to look deeper here. What is your trigger for using? How do we reduce those triggers? And if you do have those triggers, what are we going to do about them?’

“I approach every case from an optimistic point of view. ‘We can figure this out. We can deal with this and then we can get you on the other side of this.’

Exercise and Diet

In her own life and in the lives of her clients, Dr. Gupta consistently spreads the Bible of good food and healthy exercise
“I encourage all of my clients—just as I encourage myself—to engage in a regular, well-designed exercise program.  The simple truth is that a lot of the patients who come to me with fairly significant mood disorders do extremely well by getting good quality sleep, getting enough of the right supplements, eating good healthy foods, especially fresh vegetables, and getting a good amount of regular exercise.

“I prescribe these choices not only for my patients, but for myself and my family. I see the benefits of these simple changes profoundly. Personally, I don’t want to be on medications for any reason, and for the sake of my work and my family, I need to keep myself healthy.

“I feel the same way about my patients. I tell them, ‘Go run, go walk, exercise, do weight training, and take a good hard look at your diet. Are you eating a lot of processed foods? Perhaps it’s time to start cleaning up your diet.’ I find that talking about this with people is often very helpful – and in many instances, it leads to a real sense of rehabilitation and rejuvenation.”

“I often tell them the truth of the fact that this may be a challenging journey. But we will pick them up as long as they’re honest with us. That’s where the big key is: to be honest. Many people are inclined to hide their issues. And, in fact, alcohol use is an illness and sometimes we fail to take charge of it in our lives. It’s just like high blood pressure. If you stop taking your medicine, your blood pressure goes up. In like manner, if you stop doing the things that protect you from whatever your addiction is, you might drink again or you might eat again—whatever the issue is.”

The Power of Beliefs

“We began this conversation,” notes Dr. Gupta, “talking about the power of our personal beliefs, and I’m reminded of a recent patient: a very trim gentleman came to see me in a fretful state. He told me he urgently needed to lose 10 pounds, for the sake of his health and appearance. Actually, he’s very thin.

“‘Why do you need to lose 10 pounds?’ I asked. ‘Because,’ he said, ‘in the past, not so long ago, I was seriously overweight. I can’t let that happen to me again.’

“I told him he had a fat brain. He’s fixating on the dire consequences of obesity, even though he’s thin. And I offered him honest and consoling comments, noting that he has valiantly fought the battle of the bulge for years, with great success. He now feels good and looks good. He just needed to keep right on doing what he’s now doing so successfully.
“And he responded, ‘Thanks, I needed to hear that.’

“It’s true, people need to hear that they are on a sound and healthy path, and that their life is purposeful and in balance. I give them that support whenever I can do so honestly.”