How To Increase Your Happiness

How To Increase Your Happiness

Our thoughts are primarily negative all day without realizing it. While that can sometimes serve as a protective measure, more often those negative, unmanaged thoughts only make us very unhappy.

The primary, proven step is to catch an unhelpful thought (meaning you have to be mindful and breathing deeply enough for your brain to get enough fresh oxygen to make great decisions), then vividly imagine a red, octagonal STOP sign and shout STOP! If you are around others, I’d advise you to shout silently, but with some emotion. That should short circuit your problem thought for 2 to 6 seconds, so you need to immediately substitute it with an entirely different, accurate, positive thought, or even a problem such as, “Where did I leave the keys to ___?”

Why don’t you take your most troubling thought right now? When you have troubling thoughts it is a great opportunity to practice CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). Originally introduced to treat depression it is now used for a variety of issues, such as negative thoughts, anxieties, fearful thoughts, unnecessary worry and a host of other troublesome automatic thinking patterns. A thought record is one of the fundamental tools in CBT.

The underlying principle can be summarized as “what do you believe, and why do you believe it and are you aware of the feeling/emotion in your body when you think this thought?”. A columned thought record can be used to:

• identify negative automatic thoughts (NATs)

• help you understand the links between thoughts and emotions

• examine the evidence for and against a selected NAT – is it true, what can be done about it or if it isn’t true then what is true, accurate and reasonable thinking instead of falsely ruminating

In therapy clients often need assistance and practice at identifying the link between thoughts and emotions before they move on to challenging thoughts and substituting more helpful thoughts for less helpful ones. Some clients might find it helpful to practice identifying NATs using a Simple Thought Record before introducing the complexity of evidence-gathering and thought challenging.

The principle stems from Socratic Reasoning (is it true, is it always true, then is it false, is it always false)

The simplest version is:

What is your core belief (negative thought)?

List 3 reasons why it is true (or useful, or why I want it):




List 3 reasons why it might not be true (or why it would not be good for me):




What could you do to improve or eliminate this situation:




Our thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Positive thoughts lead to us feeling good and negative thoughts can put us down. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts. They are often negative or at least not useful. They can even apply to ruminations about romantic partners lost or present.

Oftentimes, our automatic thoughts are negative and irrational – sometimes not but can still be intrusive and unwanted. Identifying these negative automatic thoughts and replacing them with new rational thoughts can improve our mood.

Helping A Loved One Live Sober

Valentino Therapy, Ask This Therapist, Sober Coach are pleased to welcome guest feature from Start Your Recovery who wrote this article. You can see more at 

A critical part of recovery is remembering that it is a lifelong process both for people with the addiction and for their families. By understanding the challenges that often come with efforts to heal, families can be prepared to support their loved ones and themselves throughout this journey.

Supporting sobriety

Helping someone you care about recover from a substance abuse disorder can seem like a daunting task, but there are certain things you can do to help your loved ones feel supported in their mission to live sober:

  • Be optimistic. It’s important to be a positive force in your loved ones’ lives as they continue to work through negative emotions and impulses. Remind them that each step forward is another step closer to recovery.
  • Don’t dwell. Just as your loved ones must learn to stay grounded in the present moment as they work toward living sober, happy lives, so, too, must those who surround and support them. Try not to think back on bad memories or say hurtful things like “he used to be an alcoholic” or “it was really hard on the family when she was an addict.” Instead, refocus that energy into being there for yourself and your loved one.
  • Remove temptations. To a person experiencing drug or alcohol addiction, even just the sight of an empty wine or pill bottle could trigger a relapse. By removing all reminders early in the recovery process and by enforcing a strict policy of abstinence for the entire family, you show your loved ones that you’re committed to their wellness. As the recovery journey progresses, help your loved ones take ownership of their own sobriety, even when substances are accessible.
  • Don’t smother. While it will likely be necessary for you to monitor certain aspects of your loved ones’ lives as they recover, it’s essential to their sense of independence that you don’t hover. It may be necessary to establish boundaries from the outset, so both you and your family know how far is too far when it comes to “checking in”.
  • Encourage healthy habits, such as eating well, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising regularly. Spending time in nature can also be a great way to help relieve stress and promote mental health.
  • Remove substances that could trigger a relapse. If you live with the person dealing with alcoholism, it is best to rid your home of all alcoholic beverages and products that contain alcohol. If you share a home with someone addicted to pills, keep any necessary medications locked away.
  • Recommend new hobbies, such as going to the movies, crafting, reading, or journaling. Getting involved in new activities can be a great alternative to the unhealthy interests of the past.

Here are some challenges people with an addiction commonly face during their recovery and ways for their family members to help them through: 

  • Challenge: Mental health issues
  • What you can do: With your loved one’s approval and signed release, schedule regular checkups with your loved one and his or her primary care provider or therapist. 
  • Challenge: Financial troubles
  • What you can do: Consult a financial adviser to help you and your loved one create a personalized plan to better manage finances.
  • Challenge: Relationship problems
  • What you can do: Seek out a therapist to discuss options for individual counseling for you and your loved one and, depending on the treatment program, attend counseling together. 
  • Challenge: Employment or academic difficulties
  • What you can do: Connect your loved ones with a career counselor or academic adviser to discuss their options, their skills, and other information that will help them find a path that’s right for them.
  • Challenge: Loss of spirituality or religion
  • What you can do: Visit with a spiritual adviser or clergy member who can talk with your loved ones about what they’re going through and how it might be affecting their beliefs.

It’s important to be a positive force in your loved ones’ lives as they continue to work through negative emotions and impulses.

Signs of a relapse and strategies for avoiding it

If your loved ones begin showing one or more of the following signs, it’s possible they are at risk of relapsing:

  • Showing signs of withdrawal, such as sweating, restlessness, insomnia, and poor concentration
  • Spending more time away from family members (husband, wife, kids) and friends
  • Changing moods or behavior
  • Reconnecting with friends that use drugs or alcohol
  • Glamorizing past drug abuse 

If you think that your loved ones may relapse, it’s important to gently bring up your concern. Telling them how much you care about them is a good way to start. Then you can let them know that you’ve noticed they’re acting differently and that you’re worried.

During your conversation you may want to suggest that your loved ones contact their therapist, counselor, or sponsor. They may also benefit from attending a support group session, where they can be around others who are working hard at staying sober.

You need support, too.

It’s common for family members (especially husbands, wives, and parents) to put their own needs aside to focus on the immediate needs of a loved one in recovery. You might wonder how you can think about yourself when someone else is going through so much. It’s important to remember: You, too, have gone through so much, and your wellness and happiness matter.

Taking care of your emotional and physical needs is an essential part of the collective family healing process. Here are some ways for you to surround yourself with support as you help your loved ones on their journey toward recovery: 

  • Get individual therapy. It can be a huge relief to talk with someone you don’t know about what you and your family have gone through — someone who is just there to listen and not to pass judgment or insert an opinion. A therapist or counselor can help you better manage your pain, grief, guilt, or other feelings you may be experiencing. You may be able to find an individual therapist through your health insurance provider.
  • Go to family therapy. This treatment option give families an opportunity to better understand how their collective experiences have affected one another. A trained therapist or counselor can help you and your loved ones explore and understand the effects of complex or sensitive relationships and history.
  • Attend a support group meeting. Being around others who know exactly what you’re going through can be very comforting and provide valuable feedback. Groups such as Al-AnonNar-Anon, and Families Anonymous provide families and friends of people with addictions with support as they go through the recovery process. 


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)

Special thanks to 

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
Addressing: Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Pain, Memory Issues, Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics/Substance/Anger Abusers (ACA’s), Tech Execs & Engineers, Creatives & Designers – Private Online Therapy (Telemedicine) is available via HIPPA provider’s security.
Ph: 415.215.5363, e:, web:
Social Media: Google My Business – Valentino Therapy
Pinterest: Ask This Therapist & Valentino Therapy
Instagram: Ask This Therapist & Sharon,Valentino.MFT
Facebook: Valentino Therapy, Parenting With Help, and Ask This Therapist
Blogs at WordPress: Valentino Therapy & Sober Coach-Addiction Hurts & Ask This Therapist

Encouraging a Loved One to Seek Treatment

Photo by ATC Comm Photo 

Valentino Therapy, Ask This Therapist, Sober Coach are pleased to welcome guest feature from Start Your Recovery who wrote this article. You can see more at

You may worry that you’re overstepping your bounds, or that bringing it up could make the problem worse or hurt your relationship. But if someone you care about is showing signs of substance abuse, it’s important to face it right away. Starting a conversation could be the turning point that spurs your loved one to get help.

How to talk to someone about substance use

Before talking to loved ones about your concerns, understand that they may not be ready to hear what you have to say; they might deny that there is an issue; they might find it difficult to accept your help. The best thing you can do in these situations is listen — asking guiding questions to keep the conversation going when necessary, but also really allowing your loved ones to talk about what’s going on in their lives. Opening up the channels of communication may help your loved ones feel less alone and start working toward acknowledging that they have a problem.

Here are some ways you can gently start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about, focusing on your own observations:

  • I wanted to check in with you because you haven’t seemed yourself lately.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently lately, and I’m wondering how you’re doing.
  • I’ve been worried about you lately.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been drinking a lot lately, and I’m wondering how you’re doing.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve been using [insert drug name], and I’m worried about you.

Once you’ve started the conversation, you can begin to ask questions such as these:

  • When did you first start feeling like this?
  • Do you feel like you’re trying to escape or forget something?
  • Do you feel like your drug use/drinking is a problem?
  • Do you think you could go 24 hours without using drugs/drinking? A week?
  • What can I do to best support you right now?
  • Have you thought about getting help?

Remember, you’re there to provide support, not to fix the situation or dominate the conversation. It’s important to listen and respond, when appropriate, with encouraging words, such as:

  • I want you to know that you are not alone — even if that’s how it feels to you.
  • I am here for you, and I want to help you in any way that I can.
  • It may not seem like it right now, but you can be in control of your life again.  
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I love you and want to help.

The best thing you can do in these situations is listen — asking guiding questions to keep the conversation going when necessary, but also really allowing your loved ones to talk about what’s going on in their lives.

How to help a loved one with addiction:

  • Seek professional help. Contact a local addiction or mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, or meet with your family doctor. Your doctor may have experience treating people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol or be able to refer patients to someone who does. There are physicians and programs that specialize in the treatment of substance use disorders. Even an initial evaluation is a big step.
  • Get local support. Visit Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to find local support for drug and alcohol addiction. These groups provide a network of encouragement and solidarity for those who are working to overcome their addictions.  
  • Follow up on treatment. If a therapist or counselor recommends a change in your loved one’s treatment, social habits, exercise routine, or other activities to help cope with their addiction, be sure to support your loved one in making this change. Be aware that everyone is different and that it typically takes time and patience to find the “right fit” when it comes to treatment.
  • Be encouraging. People who are addicted to drugs or alcohol may think they’ll never recover or that they’re unworthy of help, so they need someone in their lives who can constantly remind them that things can and will get better.

What NOT to do when talking to loved ones about their issues with drinking or drug use 


  • Threaten. No matter how frustrated you are, don’t make claims to try to “scare someone straight.” Telling loved ones that you’re going to kick them out of the house or take away their children if they don’t stop using drugs or alcohol will only push them further away and could even lead them to make a negative, rash decision.
  • Force. You can’t make those with an addiction stop drinking or taking drugs, but you can provide the support and encouragement necessary to help them consider going to rehab or getting treatment.
  • Lecture. Giving a speech about drinking in moderation, or supporting the perception that doing drugs is selfish, won’t help you get through to someone who is in serious emotional pain. Lecturing can make your loved ones feel as if they’re a burden and reaffirm other negative thoughts.
  • Use harsh words. Avoid using terms like “alcoholic,” “drug addict,” “junkie,” and even “alcoholism.” It’s not your responsibility to classify a loved one’s level of addiction. Leave that to the professionals. Instead of labeling your loved one, focus on describing the challenge with words like “problem with alcohol” or “trouble with drug use.”
  • Guilt-trip. Avoid making statements that place blame on the person you’re concerned about, such as: “You’re ruining your life,” “Your drinking hurts me,” or “Think about your family.” These kinds of comments minimize the feelings your loved ones just shared with you and can make them feel that you don’t care.
  • Make excuses. Justifying harmful behavior through comments like “Oh, you’re just stressed right now” or “I’m sure you could stop if you wanted to” can interfere with your loved one’s recovery process, which starts with acknowledging there is a problem.
  • Talk with someone under the influence. Don’t try to reason with those who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs (including, heroin, meth, crack, cocaine, club drugs, pills, and even marijuana). They’re not in a clear frame of mind, cannot understand you fully, and may react in a more negative way than they would if they were sober.
  • Participate. Never aid your loved ones in consuming the substance to which they’re addicted. It sends a message that there isn’t a problem and that you’re OK with their substance use.
  • Feel unloved. Addiction can be difficult to overcome, and it’s impossible to know whether your loved one will run into obstacles along the way. Setbacks or even a relapse are not a reflection on the strength of your personal relationship, and they do not mean that your loved one doesn’t care about you or want to recover.
  • Blame yourself. You can’t cure someone else’s addiction. Even if you could, it isn’t your responsibility — your loved ones must make a personal commitment to recovery. The best thing you can do is support them on their journey.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS)

Special thanks to 

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
Addressing: Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Pain, Memory Issues, Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics/Substance/Anger Abusers (ACA’s), Tech Execs & Engineers, Creatives & Designers – Private Online Therapy (Telemedicine) is available via HIPPA provider’s security.
Ph: 415.215.5363, e:, web:
Social Media: Google My Business – Valentino Therapy
Pinterest: Ask This Therapist & Valentino Therapy
Instagram: Ask This Therapist & Sharon,Valentino.MFT
Facebook: Valentino Therapy, Parenting With Help, and Ask This Therapist
Blogs at WordPress: Valentino Therapy & Sober Coach-Addiction Hurts & Ask This Therapist

Top Tips For Preventing Cyberbullying

Valentino Therapy, Ask This Therapist, Sober Coach are pleased to welcome guest feature from Sunshine Behavioral Health who wrote this article. You can see more at

Cyberbullying or electronic bullying is a growing problem that destroys young lives by exacerbating or causing mental health and substance use disorders. To prevent those harms, take precautions before cyberbullying starts.

  1. What Is Cyberbullying?
  2. Recognizing the Signs of Cyberbullying
  3. Cyberbullying Statistics
  4. Who Cyberbullies and Why?
  5. Signs That Someone Is a Cyberbully
  6. Dangers of Cyberbullying
  7. Mental Health Effects of Cyberbullying
  8. Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying
  9. Advice for Parents on Cyberbullying
  10. Cyberbullying Resources for Parents

Cyberbullying is a problem, but how big or significant a problem remains to be determined.

Its apparent growth may be due to the increased prevalence of electronic devices, the obsession with going online and staying connected, and the awareness that these factors could cause problems, including exacerbating mental health issues such as substance abuse.

According to some surprising cyberbullying statistics, the rate of the problem may be declining. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show the rate of cyberbullying among high school students was 14.5% in 2017, down from 19% in 2016.

But the Cyberbullying Research Center says in 2019, lifetime reports of cyberbullying were 36.5%, an all-time high.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying or electronic bullying is bullying that does not happen in person but via electronic devices—laptop or desktop computers, smartphones, tablets—and as much as 92% via online forums and message boards—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—public or private.

Not every mean thing posted on social media is cyberbullying, just like not every mean or insensitive comment at school or a social gathering qualifies as bullying. The generally agreed-upon legal definition of bullying requires three elements:

  • The harm caused by the bully, behavior or words, must be intentional.
  • The target must have less real power, physical or psychological, than the bully.
  • The harm recurs over time.

Individuals involved in bullying or cyberbullying involvement include bullies, the bullied, and bystanders. Sometimes bullies are themselves bullied, creating another category: bully-victims.

Types of Cyberbullying

There are many types of cyberbullying, including:

  1. Doxxing (doxing): Publishing personal information of someone without consent, possibly enabling identity theft.
  2. Outing: Sharing embarrassing or humiliating photos, text messages, or other information of someone without their consent.
  3. Happy slapping: Attacking someone and circulating embarrassing or damaging photos and videos of the assault.
  4. Fraping: Impersonating (imping) someone on social media to humiliate them, such as to make them seem racist or homophobic.
  5. Trickery: Gaining and abusing the trust of someone to get them to reveal embarrassing information.
  6. Denigrating or dissing: Spreading gossip or rumors about someone.
  7. Exclusion: Deliberately not informing one group member of a thread, activity, or event invitation.
  8. Flaming: Hostility directed at one person, such as insults, abusive language, or profanity.
  9. Cyberstalking. Electronically monitoring the activities and whereabouts of someone, making false accusations, and/or threatening them with physical harm.
  10. Digital self-harm. As many as 9% of young people admitted to posting cyberbullying messages, hate speech, and death threats about themselves. Some have killed themselves afterward.

Recognizing the Signs of Cyberbullying

To deal with cyberbullying, people need to know it is taking place. But identifying cyberbullying can be difficult because:

  1. 80% of cyberbullied teens do not tell anyone, parents or peers, for fear that will brand them a tattletale or a poor sport.
  2. By itself, cyberbullying does not leave physical signs or scars.

Signs of Cyberbullying

Changes in behavior that might indicate cyberbullying include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Appearing withdrawn, depressed, angry, or anxious, especially after using an electronic device
  • More frequent use of social medial
  • Other changes in online behavior
  • Declining grades and/or work performance
  • Decreased desire to attend school
  • Lower self-esteem

Cyberbullying Statistics

Since cyberbullying is so easy to accomplish and avoid the consequences, it must happen more often than traditional bullying, right? Not according to most studies.

According to a 2014 meta-analysis, the rate of traditional bullying involvement was more than twice the rate for cyberbullying (35% to 15%). Other sources put the rate for cyberbullying at 45%, and some others say it is as low as 4.5%.

When only surveying teens, as much as 59% report some form of cyberbullying in one 2018 survey, including:

  • 42%: Name-calling
  • 32%: False rumors
  • 21%: Constantly asking about whereabouts
  • 16%: Physical threats
  • 7%: Private explicit images shared

That disparity means efforts to fight cyberbullying should not divert resources away from traditional bullying. Instead, the goal should be ending all bullying behaviors, on or offline.

Some of the reasons for these widely diverging numbers may include:

  • Most cyberbullying incidents are self-reported.
  • Studies often focus on a limited geographic area. Results may be different in other cities, states, nations, or neighborhoods.
  • Some studies do not include enough people.
  • Different age groups.

More and better research is needed. That includes diversity.

Cyberbullying rates for women are twice as high as for men. For girls, the rates are 2.6 times as high. More than half of women have received unwanted, sexually explicit images electronically.

The cyberbullying rates for LGBTQ or transgender individuals compared to cisgender is also higher, as is the rate for nonwhite over white.

While most of these studies look at cyberbullying among people aged 18 and younger, adults also can bully and be bullied (although it is considered harassment or cyber harassment). One 2021 report found that 41% of American adults experience cyber harassment. Some adults also bully or cyberbully kids.

Who Cyberbullies and Why?

The type of person who becomes a cyberbully varies greatly. As there are many forms of cyberbullying, there are many types of cyberbullies.

One common factor among young people is that the bully is seven times more likely to know the bullied person very well—to be a current or former friend or love interest—than to be a stranger. With adults, almost two-thirds of cyber-harassers know their victim.

A 2008 study of freshmen at Bridgewater State College found that 20% admitted to cyberbullying in high school. Their most common motives were:

  • Anger or revenge. Female bullies (54%) were more likely to cite this reason than male bullies (38%). labels people who retaliate for some perceived harm to themselves or friends as vengeful angels.
  • Revenge of the nerds. Individuals bullied offline sometimes become cyberbullies themselves to gain power, control, or payback. They are not usually physically strong but often have good computer skills.
  • Power-hungry. The online version of the schoolyard bully. They often fill both roles.
  • As a joke. Females, 30%; males, 44%. Also known as the inadvertent cyberbully.
  • Something to do. Females, 13%; males, 15%. Includes bored so-called mean girls who want to impress their clique.
  • Peer pressure. Females and males, 3%.

Some cyberbullies do not see themselves as cyberbullies. They do not realize the harm they can cause or see it as a harmless joke.

Signs That Someone Is a Cyberbully

Parents who suspect that their child is a cyberbully should look for signs, such as:

  • A history of bullying or cyberbullying
  • A history of being the target of bullies or cyberbullies
  • Avoiding discussion of their online activities
  • Having multiple active online accounts
  • Suspiciously switching screens or closing programs when others approach

If their suspicions turn out to be accurate, parents should not overreact. They will almost certainly need to block all online access—except possibly for schoolwork—for a probationary period, but that should not be the only measure they take.

The parents must find out why and to what extent the cyberbullying took place and ensure that it does not happen again. They should explain why it was wrong. Then, they could require the child to write an essay detailing:

  • What they did.
  • Why they did it.
  • Why now they know it was wrong.

This approach may encourage long-term changes in behavior.

Dangers of Cyberbullying

Almost everybody experiences bullying at some point in their lives. In many cases, being bullied teaches resilience, builds strength, and prepares them for adult life.

Cyberbullying may have worse consequences than traditional bullying, however. While there may also be a physical threat of violence associated with in-person bullying that is not possible in purely electronic bullying, cyberbullying may include other distressing elements that make it hard to avoid, such as:

  • It may be anonymous. The bullied do not know who is doing the bullying, making it harder to avoid or gauge the seriousness of the threat.
  • It can happen any time, any day. Unlike a school or work bully, who usually only taunts or threatens other individuals when they are in the same place and time, most people now carry smartphones or other electronic devices with them at all times, exposing them to cyberbullying around the clock.
  • Its reach can be longer. Social media allows personal data and embarrassing information or photos to be shared instantly. Their friends and family, as well as total strangers, can see them. Once online, it is nearly impossible to completely and permanently remove them. The targets may not even know about such a data dump at first, but it can damage their reputation among prospective employers, dating partners, and others.

Also, it is not always true that words can never hurt us or that what does not kill us makes us stronger. Cyberbullying and online harassment may have severe long-term consequences, such as:

Suicide and Cyberbullying

The worst possible outcome of cyberbullying is that cyberbullied individuals take their own lives. No one knows for sure, however, how much or even if cyberbullying causes suicidal behavior. Both rates have been rising for at least the past decade:

More recent figures indicate that the overall suicide rate in the U.S. decreased 5% from 2019 to 2020, but those provisional results did not look at rates among different age groups.

Regardless of whether there is causation:

  • Cyberbullied people are as much as nine times more likely to consider committing suicide.
  • The number of young people in hospitals because of suicidal thoughts or attempts doubled between 2008 and 2015.
  • The suicide rate doubled for girls ages 15 to 19. The increase in the rate of cyberbullying received some of the blame.

Bullied young people also are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, online or offline.

Mental Health Effects of Cyberbullying

There seems to be a link between being bullied, electronically or in person, and those mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder.

In one study, almost 50% of adolescent psychiatric patients experienced cyberbullying. They also reported higher levels of depressive symptoms. Other studies found that between 5.4% and 11.2% of teens were both bullies and victims.

However, no consensus exists on which problem came first and caused the other. It may be that bullied people suffer mental health issues because of it.

Some bullies may choose victims who already have a mental health disorder, maybe even because they have a mental health disorder.

Targets of cyberbullying often do not tell anyone—friends, family, or teachers—about the cyberbullying. Among adults who have been harassed online, only 39% told anyone, asked for help, or even attempted to resolve the situation themselves.

One common reason cyberbullied teens keep quiet is the fear that their parents will try to protect them by taking away their electronic access.

Cyberbullying and Substance Abuse

Regardless of the cause and effect, a 2017 study found that bullying in fifth grade led to more depression in seventh grade and more substance use by 10th grade.

Both bullying and cyberbullying are associated with licit and illicit substance use, alcohol, and drugs. Cyberbullying is associated with psychoactive substance use and problematic internet use too.

One reason could be the self-medication hypothesis, that some people use alcohol and drugs to treat depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia symptoms.

Another possibility is that bullied teenagers band together with other youths—any youths, even if they are not really friends or share interests or even like each other—for protection, bow to peer pressure, and use the same drugs. Because of their depression or other mental health issues, they have not established wider friendships or explored other interests.

Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying

It is not possible to completely prevent the risk of cyberbullying. In 2015, teens spent up to nine hours a day using electronic devices (including streaming music and videos). Even if individuals stay off social media entirely, cyberbullies can still text other people about those individuals or set up fake accounts in their names.

Parents can play important, preventive roles in minimizing these risks, such as:

  • Describing cyberbullying to their children: what it is, how to recognize it, and why it’s wrong to engage in it.
  • Encouraging communication—both talking with and listening to—their children.
  • Explaining that they should not spread hurtful information or gossip because it might make them a cyberbully and a target for retaliation.
  • Being understanding. If parents do not give their children the feeling that they can come forward with questions or concerns, they might not.
  • Trying to learn about what their children do online. If parents know what sites their children are visiting and what they post on social media, they may be able to protect them from cyberbullying. Parental control apps can do this unobtrusively.
  • Setting ground rules for online activity. Children need boundaries, even if they aren’t rigorously defined.

Having the support and friendship of peers is also a protective factor against online victimization.

Advice for Parents on Cyberbullying

When cyberbullying is suspected, detected, or reported, do not react immediately or respond in kind. Instead, take a deep breath and consider a more moderate approach:

  • Talk with your child about cyberbullying. Even if parents have monitoring apps, children still know more about how cyberbullying has affected them. Understanding is necessary to correct any harm.
  • Block the cyberbully. On most social media, you can choose not to receive messages from specific accounts. If the cyberbully finds your child on a forum or in a chatroom, leave. If the cyberbully has violated the terms of service for a site, report them to the moderator.
  • Save evidence. Parents should preserve evidence as soon as they discover it. They can take screenshots of incriminating pages before a cyberbully or moderator deletes them. Parental control apps can help save evidence.
  • Decide what needs doing. Children and parents must work together to respond to cyberbullying. It is usually more important to end cyberbullying than to punish it.
  • Include children in the process. To restore a sense of safety and self-esteem for their children, parents should include them in their discussions. Together, parents and children can decide on responses that minimize the impact but do not escalate it.
  • Teach your child safe online behavior. 
  • Practicing such behavior may protect against further cyberbullying.

As with most complex problems, no one solution is correct for all cases of cyberbullying.
When physical or psychological harm has occurred, legal action may be necessary.
If mental health or substance use disorders develop, seek proper psychological and medical treatment.

Cyberbullying Resources for Parents

Special thanks to and Himanshu Kashyap of Sunshine Behavioral Health.

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
Addressing: Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Pain, Memory Issues, Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics/Substance/Anger Abusers (ACA’s), Tech Execs & Engineers, Creatives & Designers – Private Online Therapy (Telemedicine) is available via HIPPA provider’s security.
Ph: 415.215.5363, e:, web:
Social Media: Google My Business – Valentino Therapy
Pinterest: Ask This Therapist & Valentino Therapy
Instagram: Ask This Therapist & Sharon,Valentino.MFT
Facebook: Valentino Therapy, Parenting With Help, and Ask This Therapist
Blogs at WordPress: Valentino Therapy & Sober Coach-Addiction Hurts & Ask This Therapist

It Is In You

I’m wondering if this could be of interest to you?

Research proves: The fastest and surest way to increase self-esteem is to commit estimable acts. Every day. For others and then for yourself. These acts can be as small as talking the time to speak to an elder in a grocery line, complimenting a child, holding a door or much bigger acts with higher rewards. Whenever you commit an estimable act oxytocin is immediately released and you feel good. This encourages you to do it more often, which causes you to feel better more often. I cannot repeat this enough. The people I treat who are the most unhappy and the most anxious are those that are doing the least for others (and I’m not talking about their significant others).

You cannot build a home for your self-worth inside of another person.
You cannot find a drink of water from the person who drained your well.
You cannot live a life marred by someone who is no longer present.
You cannot look to anyone else for validation or even distraction from your anxieties or fears.
The blessing is that you have all that you need inside yourself right now.

When you stop the seeking and return to your own self and remember your own worth and remember your own strength and reclaim your own rhythms, and ways, and your own happiness and write your new peace – your new destiny.

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
Addressing: Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Pain, Memory Issues, Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics/Substance/Anger Abusers (ACA’s), Tech Execs & Engineers, Creatives & Designers – Private Online Therapy (Telemedicine) is available via HIPPA provider’s security.
Ph: 415.215.5363, e:, web:
Social Media: Google My Business – Valentino Therapy
Pinterest: Ask This Therapist & Valentino Therapy
Instagram: Ask This Therapist & Sharon,Valentino.MFT
Facebook: Valentino Therapy, Parenting With Help, and Ask This Therapist
Blogs at WordPress: Valentino Therapy & Sober Coach-Addiction Hurts & Ask This Therapist

Addiction Resources For Teens

Valentino Therapy, Ask This Therapist, Sober Coach are pleased to welcome guest author Lyle Murphy who wrote this article, and medically reviewed by Dr Michael Loes MD. You can see more at

Try as we might to protect our teenage children, sometimes outside pressures from social norms are just too much to overcome. Teen substance abuse is a widespread phenomenon sweeping across the country. Marijuana use and alcohol use are causing the growing pandemic of teen substance abuse.

Nearly two-thirds of all high school graduates have tried alcohol, and almost one-fifth of 12th graders have tried prescription drugs without a prescription at some point. While some teens may simply experiment with alcohol or marijuana, others slip into ongoing abuse.

Teen Substance Use vs. Abuse and Addiction

It is essential to understand the signs and symptoms of substance abuse and understand the difference between experimentation and addiction.

Teenagers and high school kids are searching for their identity and trying to learn more about themselves. It is a part of growing up and becoming a young adult.

As a result, high school kids often experiment with different substances, including drugs and alcohol. Identifying the difference between experimentation and addiction is the key to recognizing substance abuse and finding solutions.

Experimentation with various substances and the abuse of substances are not the same but can easily transition from one to another. A teenager simply using a substance to say they tried it is problematic but relatively normal. With continued experimentation, though, a teen can quickly develop a problem with substance abuse.

As the teenage brain begins to process and anticipate the chemical reactions to substances generated in the brain, the body soon learns an immediate and welcomed reward.

Good, happy feelings generate dopamine that courses through the body. Eventually, regular use creates a need for an immediate response that trumps long-term brain functionality that processes rational thought and reasoning.3

Social pressure, family history, behavioral conditions, and traumatic events can contribute to the susceptibility of teens to abusing substances. As a parent, it is vital to recognize the warning signs in a teen’s life that may indicate they are prone to developing substance abuse.

Life-changing situations, pressure to fit in, continuous mood swings, or a rebellious nature are all reasons why a teen may be susceptible to ongoing drug use or alcohol abuse that breaches the experimentation phase.1

Most Commonly Used Substances Among Teens

Teens have access to various substances through friends, family, and networks developed through school and after-school activities. Certain risk factors like genetics and family history can make a teen more likely to steer toward substance abuse. Meanwhile, many outside contributors like social pressure and life changes can make a teen more susceptible to experimentation.

The most commonly abused substances among teens include:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Tobacco
  • Inhalants
  • Opioid
  • Abused over-the-counter medication
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Methamphetamines
  • Prescription medication
  • Hallucinogens
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines

Digging deeper, the statistics surrounding teen substance abuse are staggering, and the National Institutes of Health list some concerning facts.

  • Alcohol is the most common substance used among teenagers, with 64% of 18 year-olds approving its lifetime use.
  • Marijuana is the second most used substance, with a 45% use rate.
  • Cigarette use is the third most common substance used, with a 31% use rate.

Reasons for Teen Substance Abuse

Psychologically, teens face several challenges that can make them more prone to experimentation and subsequently abuse substances. Teens are still going through active brain development, creating incomplete perceptions of risk.

Not only do teens have a skewed perception of the harmfulness of substances, but this is counterbalanced by a high drive for acceptance and impulsiveness. Couple this with a want and need to fit in with peers, and teens are prime candidates for substance abuse.

Ongoing behavioral health concerns or mental health challenges can compound existing social pressures.

Teens have a heavy weight on their shoulders. Not only are teens trying to find themselves and develop an identity, but they are surrounded by social pressure everywhere they look. Teens turn to substances for several reasons, and sometimes the explanation for teen substance use is compounding and layered.

Reasons for teen drug use can be from internal or external sources. Ongoing external social pressure from school and social media can push teens toward drugs and alcohol. Or, internal forces, such as family history, behavioral conditions, or traumatic events, can also push teens toward substance abuse.

Recognizing the threat of both internal and external pressures is key to identifying when conditions are ripe to allow substance experimentation to transform into substance abuse.

Social pressure

Young people have a lot of pressure to fit in. If they aren’t experiencing pressure in person at school, they are constantly surrounded by social pressure from the prevalence of social media. Whether teens simply want to fit in with peers or want to be accepted into a new friend group, social pressure is a leading cause of experimentation and drug abuse.

Family history

Sometimes, people have a family history or personality type inherited from their parents that predisposes them to substance abuse. Anxious or addictive personalities can make people more prone to turn toward substances and become addicted.

Knowing this health information early can help pinpoint a potential propensity for drug use. If teens are regularly around family members who use or abuse different substances, they will be more likely to use substances the same.

Behavioral conditions

The way drugs and substances can influence a teen’s behavior can be attractive to young adults. Substances change the way a teen thinks, feels, and behaves, making them feel more comfortable and accepted in certain peer groups.

Acceptance gives them a much-needed self-esteem boost. Recognizing that substances help pave a clear path for acceptance can make substance use attractive for teens.

Traumatic events

Life is unpredictable, and unfortunately, some teens have lived through traumatic events. Deep-rooted stress and anxiety related to the traumatic event can be a lot for an adult to process, let alone a teen.

Substances can provide a self-medicating and soothing option that helps suppress anxiety. Drugs and alcohol can offer an alternative route for teens instead of thinking about or working through psychological distress caused by a traumatic event.

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

Recognizing the early warning signs of teen substance abuse is vital for early treatment. Adults need to notice indicators that may suggest that experimentation has transformed to addiction, stop drug use early, and help set their teens up for success. Substance use disorders are easier to treat when identified early.

Behavioral changes

Signs of Teen Substance Abuse

One of the most prominent warning signs for teen drug addiction is a sudden behavior change. By nature, teens’ moods can change drastically daily, but recognizing troubling trends is key to detection.4 Some common behavioral changes in teens that may indicate substance abuse problems include:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Acting suspicious
  • Unusually happy
  • Inability to focus
  • Hostile
  • Silent
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Breaking rules
  • Coordination is off
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Overly high energy


Noticing a change in your teen’s appearance can also help identify a substance abuse problem.4 Some common changes in appearance include:

  • Smells of substances (smoke or alcohol)
  • Lack of usual hygiene
  • Consistently red/flushed face
  • Marks on arms or fingers (burns or needles)

Physical well-being

Most disturbing but most telling, physical changes in your teen can often point to teen drug abuse.4 Adults may notice the following physical indicators in a teen:

  • Consistently sick
  • Lethargic
  • Slurred speech
  • Consistent running nose
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Risks Factors and Consequences of Teen Substance Abuse

Luckily, medical professionals and behavioral therapists have identified specific precursors and risk factors that can make particular teens more likely than others to develop early substance abuse problems.

Life experiences, such as family history and traumatic events, can make teens more likely to develop a substance addiction. Further, medical conditions like ADHD or depression can also increase the chances that a teen will turn to substances to self-medicate and soothe mental health disorders.

Risk factors for teen substance abuse

  • A research study found that teenagers, compared to all other age groups, are the most likely to initiate substance use, resulting in longer substance use problems in their future.
  • Teenagers are more likely to abuse substances if their family history had substance-related issues.
  • Males tend to have higher substance use rates than females.
  • Traumatic life experiences, peer pressure, little to no parental supervision, exposure to alcohol during prenatal development, ADHD, and depression increase the risks of teens using alcohol.3

Consequences of teen substance abuse

  • Alcohol and marijuana have been associated with poor cognitive development and functionality in teenagers.
  • Memory problems.
  • Poor performance with attention spans.
  • Slower brain processing speeds.3

Preventive Strategies for Teen Substance Abuse

Preventive measures are often the best way to protect your teen from possible substance abuse. Keeping your teen safe yet knowledgeable about various substances can take several forms. It is essential to use a combination of techniques to have the most significant impact on your teen.

Remember that preventive measures should be fluid and evolving. Teens will age and grow throughout high school. Preventive methods that worked one year may need to transition to different tactics the next.

While open communication may initiate a preventive strategy, transitioning to trusted yet established boundaries the following year may help maintain a level of trust and respect for one another.

Learn that communication, limitations, and involvement are all two-way streets. It takes equal effort on your part and your teen’s part to create a safe, preventive strategy to keep your teen away from dangerous substances.

Communicate with your teenager

Sometimes, it is hard for parents to realize that their relationship with their teen has transitioned to a new phase of life. Open and ongoing dialogue is essential for a trusting and honest relationship. Maintaining open communication with your teenager about substance abuse is one of the best ways to prevent your teen from abusing drugs.2

  • Open communication for them about their need for wanting to fit in
    “I know that fitting in with your friends at school is important to you, but it is just as important to be happy with yourself. Love yourself the way I do.”
  • Talk to them about your rules for them, but explain your reasoning for each.
    “It may seem like we make rules to limit and restrict your fun, but we only want to keep you safe.”
  • Be clear and have an adult conversation.
    “As you get older, I forget you aren’t a little kid anymore. Let’s talk to each other like adults and have a real conversation together.”
  • Explain substance use in a rational and honest way.
    “Using drugs and alcohol may seem cool and help you fit in. But, it’s easy to become trapped with drug abuse. You can completely lose yourself.”
  • Give your teenager the chance to speak about their feelings.
    “How was your day? Why do you feel that way? Can you tell me more?”
  • Show you care about them through how you talk to them about this situation.
    “I’m not here to yell at you; I’m here to talk to you. Tell me more about what happened.”
  • Have casual conversations to help your teen feel comfortable, such as by going on a walk or driving while talking.
    “Want to grab a bite to eat? We haven’t had a chance to talk like we usually do since we’ve both been busy.”

Be involved

Teenagers tend to get pulled in several directions between school, sports, and friend groups. Staying involved with your teen’s life is essential to build a healthy relationship and to be present and aware of behavioral changes that indicate a potential substance abuse problem.5

It is important to stay involved with your teen while still giving them space and privacy as they grow into a young adult. To create an active relationship, try to:

  • Know what your teenager is doing.
  • Develop a good relationship with your teen to build trust.
  • Explain that you want to be involved in their life because you care, not because you’re nosy.
  • Spend high-quality time with your teen to let them know you care.
  • Ask specific questions about how their day went, etc.
  • Suggest that they bring their friends over to the house to keep a closer watch on their activities.
  • Communicate with your teen’s teachers and coaches to better understand how your teen is doing when he/she is not home.

Establish boundaries

While your teen may complain about restricted freedoms, boundaries are necessary with a young adult. Boundaries can establish a line of trust and also help keep your teen safe.2

Establishing boundaries, especially as your teen ages, is essential to early substance abuse detection. Remember, boundaries do not have to remain permanent but must remain flexible and fluid as teenagers grow, develop, and learn. To successfully set boundaries, you should:

  • Clearly establish a set of rules or boundaries for when your teenager goes out.
  • Avoid being vague so your teenager clearly understands the boundaries.
  • Set reasonable curfews.
  • Set consequences for breaking any rules or boundaries.
  • Be able to explain your boundaries to your teenager.

Provide support

Teens rely on their family support systems to help them succeed in life. Part of helping your teen is providing ongoing support. What active support looks like can change depending on the individual situations and circumstances.5

Your support may differ day to day. It is important to recognize when you need to change supportive tactics and emotions to give your teen the help they need at one particular moment. To support your teen, you may need to:

  • Actively listen to your teen.
  • Let your teen know that they can tell you anything.
  • Acknowledge that teenagers are going through an important stage in life.
  • Build trust with your teen and remind them that you are there to help guide them through this journey.

Treatment Options for Teen Substance Abuse

Finding treatment for a teen with substance abuse is essential to set your teen up for ongoing help and success. It’s important to remember that treatment is not a one-size-fits-all option. Sometimes it may require a few different approaches, combining tactics, to find a viable solution.

Resources for mental health treatment and support include:

  • The Alternative to Meds Center, which offers drug-free treatment to help get teens on the right track. The ATMC uses lab testing to determine physiological reasons for why guests may abuse alcohol. 
Free Resources and Help to Overcome Substance Abuse
  • Therefore, the ATMC can tailor each program for each guest’s physiological needs. Call (888) 906-1547.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration provides free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Offers a treatment facility locator to find nearby treatment facilities. Visit or call (800) 662-4357.
  • The Partnership to End Addiction connects families impacted by addiction with personalized support and resources. Visit to contact a therapist via call or email, or text CONNECT to 55753.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse performs research and provides resources and publications designed to connect teens with information, support, and professional help for drug use and addiction issues. Go to for more information.
  • Smart Recovery is a self-empowering addiction recovery support group that offers resources for teens as well as youth support programs, meeting locations, and an online community at or (440) 951-5357.
  • Sober Nation provides information resources in the form of an “addiction blog” and topical video. It also maintains an extensive directory of recovery centers, which is searchable by state. Visit or call (866) 207-7436.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous helps young people find AA meetings near them and offers brochures on teen addiction and related issues. Visit to find a nearby meeting and access resources.
  • Narcotics Anonymous helps teens find nearby NA meetings and provides brochures and other resources for young addicts. Visit or call (818) 773-9999.

The key with any substance abuse treatment program is to do plenty of research beforehand and choose the one that fits your teen’s needs best. Then have trust and faith in the program, and believe in the likelihood of success.

It’s also important, though, to recognize when the particular treatment is or isn’t suited for your teen. Being able to pivot to other treatment options quickly will help give your teen the help they need.

Several different treatment options give parents the chance to choose a treatment that will work best for their teen. Some effective treatment approaches are detailed below.

Behavioral approaches

Using different tactics, behavioral training, and therapy can help teens overcome the use of illicit drugs. Behavioral therapy can give teens valuable resources and skills needed to not only turn down offered substances but better rationalize substance abuse and its dangers.

Therapy can provide professional support for teens who need it and help address underlying mental health problems. This particular type of therapy is also used in programs that utilize various steps to recoveries, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Family-based approaches

Family-based therapy can take several forms and be adapted to suit any family or foster unit. This type of family therapy involves healthcare for the family and community in a group effort to help a teen struggling with substance abuse.

While some forms of family-based therapy may involve open dialogue and communication with all family members, other forms of this type of support may involve identifying potentially hostile or toxic inherited family behaviors or traits. Family-based therapy can provide medical advice and situational support for troubled teens.

Recovery support services

Once a teen has worked through troubling drug problems, it is vital to maintain their success well into the future. Several recovery support services are available for teens that provide ongoing support. Services can vary based on the teens’ needs but can include peer support, community support, or therapy-focused support.

Finding the right treatment center is easy with many versatile and adaptive options. There are individual classes, groups, or dedicated high schools for teens recovering from substance abuse. Ongoing treatment and success are about monitoring the future for potential triggers and situational challenges for teens.

While support groups for addiction treatment are essential for ongoing success for your teen, there are plenty of resources for parents, too. Understand that you are not alone. Help is available for parents struggling to support and treat their loved one suffering from substance abuse.

Several hotlines can offer immediate and professional assistance for parents. Parent helplines for teen substance abuse can help give you much-needed support quickly.

Raising a child in today’s world is tricky and confusing. Working through the challenges of a teenager can be even more taxing, as parents want what is best for their kids. Substance experimentation as a teenager is common, but transitioning to full-blown abuse is troubling.

Proactive detection and preventive measures are the best way to help your teen. There are plenty of substance abuse resources available to parents to give their teens the help they need. With early detection and active prevention and treatment, your teen can transition to the path to health and wellness, free of substance abuse.

Written by Lyle Murphy 
You can see more at

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
Addressing: Stress, Anxiety, Relationships, Depression, PTSD, Trauma, Pain, Memory Issues, Addiction, Adult Children of Alcoholics/Substance/Anger Abusers (ACA’s), Tech Execs & Engineers, Creatives & Designers – Private Online Therapy (Telemedicine) is available via HIPPA provider’s security.
Ph: 415.215.5363, e:, web:
Social Media: Google My Business – Valentino Therapy
Pinterest: Ask This Therapist & Valentino Therapy
Instagram: Ask This Therapist & Sharon,Valentino.MFT
Facebook: Valentino Therapy, Parenting With Help, and Ask This Therapist
Blogs at WordPress: Valentino Therapy & Sober Coach-Addiction Hurts & Ask This Therapist

Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart

Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart

Effects of Illegal Drugs on the Heart

Ahmed Raza

Valentino Therapy, Ask This Therapist, Sober Coach are pleased to welcome guest author Amanda Menard, LPN  who wrote this article. You can see more at

Illegal drug abuse and addiction are very serious problems that can affect people of all ages, ranging from adults to infants born to mothers who regularly use drugs. Illegal drugs are drugs that are sold, often for recreational purposes, even though they are not legally approved. These are typically dangerous, with many of them causing health problems, including difficulties with the heart. The type of heart complications a person may potentially suffer from depend on the drug itself as well as other factors. These problems may include a worsening of current heart conditions, a change in heart rate that is either slower or faster, heart failure, or even death.


Opium is a highly addictive narcotic with a long history. It is derived from the opium poppy, which was referred to as the “Joy Plant” by the Sumerians as far back as 3400 B.C. Like heroin, it is an opiate; however, it is an opiate in its crudest form. It comes from the sap of the opium poppy seed, which is a milky fluid. Exposure to air changes the opium so that it is hard and dark brown or black. At this point, it may be smoked, or some may take it orally. It is very similar to heroin in that the user often feels relief from anxiety or pain and may experience an increased feeling of being relaxed. These effects usually last for about 3–4 hours. Using opium excessively and for prolonged periods of time can lead to a tolerance of the drug. Over time, side effects may include an impairment of coordination, heightened anxiety, mental deterioration, weight loss, nausea, impaired vision, and constipation. Smoking opium can also lead to long-term damage of the heart, lungs, liver and kidneys. In the event of an overdose circulatory collapse, convulsions, coma, and death may occur due to respiratory failure. Opium use may affect one’s heart by initially reducing their heart rate, however, in the case of overdose the opposite is true and can lead to cardiac failure.

  • Opium — Ask Alice, Columbia University’s health professionals Q&A page answers the question of what is opium, and what are the effects/dangers of smoking it.
  • Opiates — LSU Health, New Orleans handout explaining what opiates are, its effects, dangers, addiction, and treatment.
  • The relationship of opium addiction with coronary artery disease — International Journal of Preventive Medicine article on a study performed regarding the effects of opium addiction on coronary artery disease (CAD).

For information on other cardiac drugs that are used clinically, please see our advanced life support courses. We provide training for life support.


Heroin is an opium-based drug that is related to morphine but is two to four times stronger. In its various forms, this drug may be injected intravenously, snorted, or smoked. Short-term effects of heroin include euphoria and a relaxed state, which are what attract certain people to use it illicitly. Other short-term effects include dry mouth, slowing of cardiac function and respiratory rate, decreased mental state — frequently going between conscious and unconscious states — muscle weakness, skin infections, and scarring along veins due to repeated injections. Long-term effects of heroin use include addiction, collapsed veins, abscesses, decreased liver function, a high risk of kidney disease or failure, and increased risk of blood-borne pathogens and infections such as Hepatitis B, C, and HIV. This drug also impacts the body’s immune system, leaving it more vulnerable to diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. Chronic heroin users also run the risk of developing pulmonary edema and empyema. Cardiovascular effects include bacterial infections of the blood vessel linings and valves of the heart. Addicted users may experience vomiting, diarrhea, and pain in the muscles and bones when attempting to detox which can lead to relapse if not properly treated. The risk of overdose and death from heroin is fairly high. Death rates have climbed due to the recent resurgence in the popularity of this drug across the U.S. and worldwide.

  • Drug facts: Heroin — The National Institute on Drug Abuse Drug Facts page on Heroin. Includes information on what it is, how it is used, its effects on the brain, short and long-term effects, overdose, addiction, and treatment.
  • Heroin — University of Delaware informational handout on Heroin. It includes statistics of heroin use in the U.S., effects of opiates on the brain, short and long-term effects, and medical complications of chronic heroin use.
  • Health risks associated with the use of illicit drugs and alcohol (PDF) — Union University page about the health risks of several illicit drugs. Information includes alternative names for each drug listed, dangers, health risks, and the effects of these drugs.
  • Drug guide: Heroin — Brief article by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids for families to find out the facts about heroin, signs of usage, and what it looks like. Also provides help and support in dealing with substance abuse in children.
  • Heroin’s dangerous effects on the lungs — Informative article regarding the effects of heroin on the lungs and resulting conditions which include pulmonary edema, empyema, pneumonia, and bronchiectasis.


Cocaine is an appetite suppressant and a powerful stimulant drug that comes from the coca plant, from which it derives its name. Cocaine is typically taken by injection into the bloodstream, snorting through the nose, or rubbing it into the gums. Sometimes it is processed and turned into a crystallized rock, otherwise known as crack, from which it is then heated and smoked. It is used for a variety of immediate effects that it produces, including delusions of supremacy, euphoria, increased energy, and alertness. As these effects wear off, restlessness, anxiety, and paranoia can set in, as well as higher body temperatures, an elevated pulse rate and blood pressure, and shortness of breath. Long-term usage of cocaine can not only lead to addiction but also dehydration and a dry mouth, which may result in damage to the teeth. Kidney failure, autoimmune diseases like lupus, severe bowel decay, a greater chance of contracting blood-borne diseases, malnourishment, strokes, and a greater chance of contracting blood-borne diseases are other risks that come with the prolonged use of cocaine. Cardiovascular risk involves stiffer arteries and thicker heart muscle walls. The increase in blood pressure alone caused by cocaine can cause a heart attack in some cases. In some instances, it can also cause an irregular heart rhythm, a problem known as arrhythmia, which can be fatal. Cocaine is especially damaging to the heart because it carries with it the risk of sporadic heart attacks in the small vessels of the heart. Additionally, it interferes with cardiac drugs such as beta blockers that doctors use to treat heart attacks.

  • Cocaine use and its long-term effects — Informational article by the National Institute on Drug Abuse regarding the long-terms effects of cocaine.
  • Drug facts: Cocaine — Cocaine Drug Facts sheet by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Includes information about what cocaine is, how it is used, how it affects the brain, short and long-term effects, addiction, and treatment.
  • Can cocaine affect my risk of heart failure? Brief informational video by National Geographic on cocaine-induced heart attacks.


Methamphetamine, or meth, is a form of stimulant and aphrodisiac that is chemically related to medications that doctors use to treat problems such as attention deficit disorder and obesity. Meth is typically used by snorting, swallowing, injecting, or smoking. Recreational usage is due to a variety of effects that the drug offers, including euphoria, increased sexual desire and function, uplifting one’s mood, and an increase in concentration, alertness, personal energy, and stamina. Harmful side effects include but are not limited to twitchiness and hyperactivity, excessively high or low blood pressure, diarrhea or constipation, and rapid/irregular heart rates. It can also cause psychosis, irritability, depression, restlessness, and even suicidal thoughts. In addition to the high risk of addiction, long-term damage includes damage to teeth due to issues with dry mouth, an increased chance of contracting Parkinson’s disease, and even brain damage. Methamphetamine usage can also cause congestive heart failure, arrhythmia, and damage to heart muscles and blood vessels via inflammation. This illicit drug not only reduces blood flow to vital organs and the heart itself, but it also speeds up the body’s heart rate, putting stress on the heart and further elevating the risk of heart failure or a stroke. Methamphetamine is sometimes produced in “meth labs” using over-the-counter cold and cough medicines that include ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, and phenylpropanolamine. Because meth has been the number one drug problem in many states across the U.S., the Combat Methamphetamine Act of 2005 was implemented to assist in reducing the production of this illegal drug by limiting the amount of cold and cough medicines that can be sold to one person in a single day. This is also why identification is required for these medicines as pharmacies must keep a log of purchases made.


Rohypnol is a powerful central nervous system depressant that is commonly referred to as a “club drug” or “date-rape drug.” These white tablets are also frequently referred to as “roofies.” It is odorless and colorless, and has been given the label of a date-rape drug because it can easily be slipped into a drink for the purpose of sexual assault. The effects of the drug can be felt within minutes and can last up to eight hours. The victim often has little, if any, recollection of the events. It is also used as a sedative to cause people to sleep and to reduce anxiety. It has many side effects, including difficulty breathing, slurred speech, headache, vomiting and nausea, mood swings, and memory loss. A person under the influence of Rohypnol will appear as though they are very drunk and will often lose consciousness within roughly two hours after the drug has been ingested. When combined with other drugs, particularly depressants, it can affect the heart by causing it to slow down severely resulting in potential heart failure. In extreme cases, Rohypnol may result in coma or death. Long-term effects of the drug, for those who use it recreationally, includes physical and psychological dependence. When detoxing the user will suffer withdrawal symptoms such as hallucinations, confusion, headaches, and possible seizures.

  • Date rape drugs — Brown University’s fact page on “date rape” drugs.
  • Date rape drugs: XTC, Rohypnol, Ketamine — University of Notre Dame’s Student Well-Being Center offers an informational FAQ sheet on date rape drugs.
  • Drug facts: Rohypnol — The Department of Justice DEA handout on Drugs of Abuse. Includes information on what the drugs look like, common street names, how its abused, and its effects on the mind and body.
  • The truth about club drugs (PDF) — The Office of Justice Programs offers a printable PDF for parents to know what club drugs are, the possible effects of each drug, and where to get help.


Lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD, is a powerful illegal drug derived from ergot that, when used, alters how people perceive reality. Classified as a hallucinogen, the drug is taken as a tablet or capsule. In liquid form, LSD may be placed in small amounts on items such as stamps, gelatin sheets, or small squares of paper. Once the medium is dried, the user licks or swallows the LSD from the stamp, paper, etcetera. The drug affects the heart by causing an increase in both the user’s heart rate and their blood pressure. If the dosage is high enough, heart failure may occur, resulting in death. In addition to how it affects the heart and hallucinations, there are other side effects of LSD that include appetite loss, dry mouth, sweating, elevated body temperatures, dramatic mood swings, and dilated pupils. Long-term effects of LSD include vivid flashbacks without taking the drug and tend to occur in times of high stress, memory problems, and potential paranoia.

  • LSD — LSD fact sheet from George Mason University. Includes information about what LSD is, side effects, tolerance, signs and symptoms of abuse, and safety issues.
  • LSD (Acid) — NIH fact sheet on LSD substance abuse. Includes information on effects on the brain, harmful effects, tolerance, treatment options, recovery, and resources.
  • National Institute of Drug Abuse — Hallucinogens — Informational Drug Facts sheet on hallucinogens.


MDMA, known by its street name, Ecstasy or XTC, is an empathogenic, or psychoactive drug, that recreational users rely on to produce an altered emotional state. It is typically consumed as a tablet or capsule. However, some may snort the powder or swallow it in liquid form. The positive effects of using this drug include euphoria, a reduced sense of anxiety, extroverted behavior, a positive mood, intimacy, and hallucinations. Some of the negative side effects that come with using ecstasy consist of depression, paranoia, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, loss of appetite, insomnia, and excessive grinding of the teeth. Lack of hydration during usage of the drug, especially combined with alcohol usage, can lead to excessive body temperatures, a condition known as hyperthermia. Heart palpitations, increased heart rate, inflammation of the heart wall, and excessively high or low blood pressure may also result from using ecstasy, which can potentially lead to heart failure. Physical heart damage, pulmonary hypertension, severe heart attacks, strokes, or liver and kidney damage can also occur as a consequence of ecstasy. Additionally, ecstasy that is sold as “Molly” may consist of other drugs including bath salts, cocaine, ketamine, or OTC cough medicine. In this case, if mixed with MDMA or alcohol, there is a higher risk of potential death.

  • Molly — Poison Control’s informational article about Molly, what it is, its dangerous effects, long-term effects, and what to do in the event of an emergency.
  • Club Drugs — National Institute for Drug Abuse club drugs statistics and trends.
  • MDMA May Increase the Risk for Cardiac Valve Disease — Informational article by The Endowment for Human Development about a study performed by NIDA that showed a potentially increased risk for valvular heart disease in MDMA users.

Synthetic cathinones (Bath salts)

Synthetic cathinones, otherwise known as “Bath Salts,” is the newest drug to hit the streets. “Bath salts” are not a bathing product, as the name might imply. It is a man-made, dangerous psychoactive substance chemically related to cathinone, a stimulant found in the khat plant that is indigenous to East Africa and southern Arabia. The most common ingredient found in “bath salts” is methylenedioxypyrovalerone, although mephedrone and methylone are also frequently noted. This substance, in the form of white or brown crystal-like powder, is typically used by smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injection. Synthetic cathinones can produce side effects such as nosebleeds, muscle tension, nausea, confusion, excessive sweating, lowered inhibition, anxiety, and depression. Many times more severe side effects have occurred in users such as extreme violence, paranoia, excited delirium, hyperthermia, seizures and shock. Cardiovascular effects can include increased blood pressure and heart rate, hypotension (low blood pressure), chest pain, arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), myocardial infarction (heart attack), or cardiac arrest. Long-term effects such as a breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, kidney failure, liver damage, and brain swelling can also occur.

Written by Amanda Menard, LPN

Sharon Valentino, LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health

Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change.

Sharon Valentino, MA, ChT, CA LMFT, Psychotherapist, Behavioral Health
Calif. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, MFC51746
Masters Level Registered Addiction Specialist (MRAS) & Level IV Certified Addiction Treatment Counselor (CATC IV), Masters Counseling Psychology
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