About The Series

Heroin addiction. Suicide. Transgender issues. These “hot button” topics can be controversial and polarizing, but what about the people who actually deal with them? What are their stories? “Under the Label” is an occasional series by the staff of the Observer-Reporter that is intended to take a look at the human side of these issues.

Therapist urges addicts to 'take the first step'

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Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter
Theresa Cypher, MS, outpatient therapist, strongly believes there is hope in addiction.
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Part of the “Under the Label” series. Visit www.observer-reporter.com/underthelabel for more.

“You matter. You matter, and your life is worth it. There's help out there; just take the first step.”

Theresa M. Cypher, MS, outpatient therapist, strongly believes there is hope in addiction. Working daily with people who are battling dependency on drugs and alcohol, she has witnessed the inevitable pain. She has seen families torn apart and individuals at their weakest moments.

And still, she believes.

Speaking to those who are struggling, she says, “Set yourself free.”

“The first thing they have to do is know that they matter ... and be kind to themselves. Once they are able to do that, they can get past the shame and the guilt and reach out.”

Cypher, whose office is in Washington, believes one way to combat the addiction epidemic is to talk about it openly. She encourages people to let go of the stigma associated with dependency and discuss it like weight loss or smoking cessation.

“I had a client say to me, 'Take your absolute worst flu, and multiply by 100, and that's what the withdrawal feels like.' ”

- Theresa M. Cypher, MS, outpatient therapist

She talked about the misconceptions of addiction and the debate of choice versus disease. While there is a decision involved in taking a drug, Cypher said addiction itself is not a choice.

She recalled a recovering addict who referenced the adage, “Take one day at a time.” The man said he was having trouble taking one minute at a time.

“That's where the choice comes in,” she said. “There is a choice: I can give into this craving. I can give in to ... escape and numbing because life stinks right now. Or I can reach out to somebody to help talk me through this.”

Of the many misconceptions, one that persists is the belief that addicts are just chasing a high.

“Probably 100 percent of my patients, once they're in treatment, say to me, 'I wasn't using to get high. I was using to maintain. I was using to function. If I got up in the morning and didn't fix that symptom, I would be sick.'”

Cypher refers to this facet as “the dark place.” In a film she produced, “The Agony of Addiction,” she addresses the symptoms of withdrawal from opiates, including sweating, shaking, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, restless legs, inability to sleep, cramping and pain.

For help with addiction, contact the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission at 724-223-1181 or visit www.wdacinc.org.

“I had a client say to me, 'Take your absolute worst flu, and multiply by 100, and that's what the withdrawal feels like.' It's a nightmare for them.”

Cypher cites clients who, despite being loving mothers, could not concentrate on caring for their children because addiction had taken over their life. She talked about the “pathway to pleasure,” in which, just as the brain becomes addicted to the gratification of eating or smoking, it becomes addicted to the feeling that opiates produce.

While she acknowledges the difficulty of overcoming addiction, Cypher said it is not insurmountable. She encouraged those who are resistant to change their perception of seeking help.

“Don't look at like you have to do this ... but you get the opportunity to do this.”

When faced with taking a drug, Cypher advises her clients to stop and think about the outcome of that decision. She talked about “rolling the tape,” a phrase used in recovery that means stopping and “self-talking” through the consequences of the action.

“If I go down this path, I already know what's going to happen,” she said. “You have to care. Care enough to say, 'No.' It's not a dirty secret. It's not something to be embarrassed about. Declare and own your recovery and sobriety.”

After the self-talk, she said to call someone who can help.

“After 15 minutes, that craving diminishes. That desire to escape diminishes.”

The three-pronged approach to recovery includes treatment, a support system and counseling. For those who are struggling with addiction and feel as though they don't have the support of loved ones and money to get help, there are local resources, such as the Washington Drug and Alcohol Commission.

“Verbalizing that you have an addiction is not a weakness; it's courage.”

While the person who is addicted faces obstacles, so do the people who love them. Cypher used the words of a client who advised families, “Don't give up, but don't enable.”

“They have to do it for them. When the pain is great enough, they'll get help,” Cypher said. “That pain is the turmoil and the nightmare they're living.”

Natalie Reid Miller has been with the Observer-Reporter since 2013. A native of Burgettstown, she primarily covers Washington and surrounding communities. Natalie has a writing degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

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