Learn Key Skills

Paula DeSanto teaching key skills

The following key lessons/skills are an important part of the treatment program and provide useful tools to help people improve the quality of their lives.


Minnesota Alternatives - Building the Foundation for Self-Regulation

This is a foundation for self-regulation on which the other skills are built. 


Engaging in Basic Self-Care – when we care for our bodies, it is much easier to use our minds.

  • Get adequate sleep, hydration, nutrition, exercise, and time in nature
  • Manage stress - avoid over extending
  • Be intelligently self-attentive
  • Understand Will Power (limited amount each day and fuel tanks runs low after a lot of decision making and self-regulation which adds to your stress-vulnerability)


Practicing Mindfulness – ability to be in the present and learn to observe thoughts, feeling, and body sensations with both compassion and curiosity

  • Meditation to learn to take the seat of the observer
  • Gentle with self vs. white knuckling and inner discord
  • Practice mindfulness activities (eating, walking, music, drawing, coloring, movement)
  • Using breathing to stay aware of the present


Activating Parasympathetic Nervous System – learn how to self-calm through conscious activity

  • Basic understanding of how neurons and neurotransmitters work – inhibit and excite
  • Understand roles of parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of nervous system
  • Demonstrate how you can choose to both self-activate and self-calm
  • Deep breathing activates parasympathetic


Using Your PFC – ability to think before acting. Freedom comes from thinking, not emotion - learn how to think greater than how you feel

  • Understand brain structure – evolution and role of 3 different parts and why PFC functioning is so important
  • Engaging your PFC is not automatic. You need to turn it on, but then becomes the command center, but harder to engage if mid-brain is on “fire” –  quiet your mid brain using basic self-care and skills to activate parasympathetic
  • Understand neuroplasticity - where you focus our attention defines you neurologically
  • Understand connection between emotion/impulse mind (mid brain) and PFC becomes very weak or severed after severe substance use
  • Recognize that a disease state occurs when neuro networks representing other parts of life (job, family, health, hobbies) are pruned away
  • Identify ways to build and strengthen the connection to PFC – you must find a reason that is meaningful enough to get off the “highway” and create new roads/pathways


Minnesota Alternatives Five Key Skills


Choosing Your Perspective- Building new pathways based on positive states of mind

  • Taking time daily to cultivate gratitude and a sense of optimism
  • Practicing Acceptance about things you cannot control or change
  • Practicing attached detachment means doing your very best (changes all the time) and then letting go
  • Reframing means you get to decide the meaning you attach to circumstances
  • Managing emotions – learning to identify feelings, notice them in your body, ride the wave, and detach from the story


Developing Meaningful Connections – identifying at least one person you can trust. The opposite of addiction is connection.

  • Understanding attachment/attunement
  • Identifying what it means to be a good friend – give and take
  • Establishing boundaries – your capacity to help others changes based on your well-being
  • Building social skills and demonstrating understanding – skillful use of active listening and empathy
  • Cultivating meaningful activities


Managing High Risk Situations – identifying the top one or two high risk situation and  developing specific plans to manage them

  • Writing down specific plans and setting up accountability and support
  • Practicing using in vivo opportunities and also using imagery and role plays
  • Understanding Impermanence means knowing that everything changes “this too shall pass”
  • Focusing on effectiveness – “getting out of your own way” and doing what works


Creating Optimal Environments – understanding the critical role environments play in your well-being

  • Having enriched environments often reduces the need to use substances
  • Creating safety/sanctuary
  • Living free from abuse, anger, fear
  • Learning to say no before you have nothing left to give


Understanding Effects of Drugs and Alcohol – making informed decisions about substance use

  • Reviewing basic neuroscience
  • Learning about tolerance and withdrawal and reducing risk for harm
  • Understanding how drugs and alcohol affect your body and your brain