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What is Addiction? (+ starting places to get better)

What is Addiction?
I'm Jen!

I teach people in or seeking recovery from addiction how to to feel better  by adding the power of nutrition, lifestyle and alternative medicines to their recovery toolbox.

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DEFINING A PAINFUL EXPERIENCE

Addiction is a complex chronic health condition, or progressive disease, which affects the body, mind and spirit of millions of people worldwide. Addiction originates in the brain and is associated with low dopamine, a brain chemical or neurotransmitter responsible for giving humans focus, motivation, energy and a sense of reward. Genetics influenced by stress seems to be the root cause of this complicated and potentially fatal condition.

Addiction stems from an attempt to temporarily alleviate physical, mental and/or emotional pain, despite the fact that it brings serious negative consequences to a person’s life, and when the person attempts to quit the addictive substance or behavior, they’re unable to do so for any length of time.  Withdrawal symptoms arise when the substance or behavior is abruptly discontinued. Addiction typically gets worse over time and is generally characterized by periods of escalation and remission. 

People can become addicted to legal substances like prescription drugs, alcohol, sugar, tobacco or food. People can become addicted to illegal substances like heroin or cocaine. People can also become addicted to behaviors like extreme exercise, sex, shopping, gambling, online gaming, relationships, social media, rage or even to mindsets like victimhood or negativity.

Addiction falls on a spectrum and where a person is on this spectrum depends on a number of factors such as the type of addiction, the length of time a person is addicted, genetics, personal life experience and health history. Addiction can be a subtle force that keeps a person from living their best life all the way to full blown destruction that ruins a person’s entire reality and ends either in insanity, death, institutionalization or recovery.

HOW DOES ADDICTION SHOW UP IN ONE’S LIFE?

Addictions begin as a solution to a problem, which is usually rooted in deep emotional pain that often originates from childhood. People’s early experiences with drugs, alcohol or addictive behaviors generally bring a sense of relief in the beginning. No one wants or chooses to become addicted, but they are usually looking to escape pain with little or no awareness or regard for the possible consequences. 

Addiction usually happens in stages. The early stages are usually mostly ‘fun’ with some minor to moderate consequences, the middle stages are usually ‘problems with some fun’ and the later stages are usually just ‘problems’ with the severity of consequences rapidly escalating.  

IF YOU THINK YOU’RE ALONE, THINK AGAIN

Addiction has been a major concern for human beings throughout history. In today’s world, addiction’s at epidemic levels and continues to affect larger and larger numbers of people.

The following statistical highlights are according to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS)

  • Between 1999 and 2017, there have been 700,000 drug overdose deaths in the US 
  • If alcohol and tobacco are included, 165 million  Americans age 12 years or older currently use drugs
  • 14.8 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder
  • 8.1 million people in the US have an illegal drug use disorder
  • 2 million people of those with drug use disorders have an opiate disorder; this includes prescription pain relievers and heroin
  • In 2018, 5.7 million people in the U.S. reported misuse of prescription tranquilizers, such as Xanax, klonopin and valium
  • Most common substance use disorders are prescription pain relievers
  • Alcohol, although legal, kills over 95,150 Americans every year. Among the 15 million Americans with alcohol use disorder, only 8% receive treatment
  • 80% of veterans have an alcohol use disorder, 7% have an alcohol and drug use disorder
  • Prescription drugs are the most abused substances by veterans
  • According to the CDC’s National Diabetes Report, in 2020 34.2 million – just over 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes and 88 Americans have pre-diabetes. This is a direct result from sugar and refined carbohydrate addiction, and is one of the leading health problems in the U.S.

PHYSIOLOGY OF ADDICTION


The brain plays a central role in addiction.  Addictive behavior is primarily a response to low dopamine. Dopamine is arguably the most important neurotransmitter in the body, responsible for giving us energy, focus and a sense of reward. When dopamine is low, the deficient brain creates cravings for substances like drugs, alcohol, carbohydrates or risk-taking behaviors that temporarily elevate dopamine levels and give the energy and sense of reward every human being needs to function.

The tendency to become dopamine deficient is genetic, which is why we see addiction, as well as depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, violence, and other symptoms that are also associated with low dopamine commonly running in families. Dopamine is built from the nutrient tyrosine, which is found in protein-rich foods. Poor diet and/or nutrient absorption, as well as stress, are the biggest influences on the genes associated with low dopamine. 

Stress exposure can begin in utero, and can happen anytime throughout one’s life from perceived or real stressful or traumatic life experiences, prolonged demands on the immune system such as infection, exposure to toxins, allergies, sensitivities and other chronic health conditions, poor diet, poor sleep, or lack of self-care.  Exposure to dopamine stimulating substances such as drugs and alcohol in utero or after birth as well as dopamine elevating behaviors such as gambling can trigger dopamine deficiency in those who are genetically susceptible as well. Gastric bypass surgery increases the risk for alcohol addiction in people who previously had no issue with alcohol.

We know today that genetics aren’t our destiny, but they are certainly our tendency when under stress, which is why there’s such a large correlation between trauma and addiction. Our life experience, which is largely dependent on our minds’ perception of our life’s events, literally influences our genetic expression and therefore our life experience.

TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR ADDICTION

Depending on what type of addiction, what stage an addiction is in, and what resources a person has access to, there are many ways to heal from this disorder. Because addiction is complex and affects the total being at the level of body, mind and spirit, it’s best to incorporate a combination of healing modalities that address all three aspects of one’s health and wellbeing.

Before we go on to discuss different treatment approaches for addiction, it’s important to understand that there’s a prerequisite for any of these approaches to work: the person seeking treatment must have a desire to recover.

Recovery is difficult at the beginning, it takes hard work, sacrifice, dedication and a willingness to do anything needed in order to get well. To the degree this attitude is in place is the level of return one will see from any of the following options for healing.

  • Traditional medical detox: Detox is where a person checks into a facility that specializes in addiction medicine and only addresses the physical detox. You can expect to stay anywhere from 48 hours to 7 days, depending on the substance, severity of the addiction, and level of withdrawal symptoms. One may choose to use this when withdrawing from late-stage alcohol or benzodiazepine addiction because withdrawing from either can be fatal in severe cases if unsupervised by a doctor. One may choose to go this route when withdrawing from opiates because the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely painful, although not fatal. Someone may also choose to go this route when withdrawing from other narcotics or prescription medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and to do so in a safe and controlled environment. Another benefit of going to a medical detox center is that insurance often covers this kind of care. The downside of a medical detox is that many of the medications they use to detox, such as suboxone and naltrexone, are highly addictive, have a lot of negative side effects, and are almost impossible to get off of. Many people find themselves hooked for life and at a higher risk for relapse due to the fact that these, and other medications that are used, such as antidepressants and sleeping meds, are mind-altering and interfere with the brain’s ability to heal from the addictive state of dopamine imbalance. Many people in recovery that were put on these medications during the detox phase of recovery, although life-saving at the time, come to regret the decision later due to the fact they become dependent on them and the side effects can cause problems for years and even decades later. These treatments can be lifesaving and sometimes necessary. If you go this route, just make sure to have an aftercare plan that includes getting off the medications ASAP unless they are truly needed for a medical condition
  • NAD/Nutrient based Detox: This is an extremely effective method of detoxing people from drugs, alcohol and prescription medication addiction. It is very effective at treating the depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms that often come along with addiction and lead to relapse. NAD is a powerful nutrient that effectively detoxes people without the risk for dependency and has no negative side effects. Possibly the most effective version of NAD nutrient therapy for detox, addiction, PTSD and depression is a new proprietary therapy that includes ketamine and was developed by Dr.Liang at  the Klarity Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada. You must contact this clinic to locate the few places in the US where it’s being offered, due to the fact it’s so new, as it isn’t the same as other NAD or ketamine therapies anywhere else. The downside of this therapy is that it is very rarely covered by insurance and therefore can get expensive. Because it’s not being widely used (yet), you will probably have to travel to receive this therapy. If you can access this, it’s an excellent route to go if you need a medical detox.
  • Ibogaine Detox: Ibogaine is a concentrated derivative from the bark of the iboga plant, which is psychedelic botanical medicine traditionally used by the Bwitti people of Gabon, Africa. It is one of the most powerful addiction interrupters on the planet, breaking people free from opiate and other addictions without withdrawals generally in less than 24 hours. Ibogaine is a white powder ingested in capsule form and the person receiving the medicine will usually be under its influence for 18-72 hours while it does its detoxification work on the body, mind and spirit. Not only does ibogaine have the potential to reset a person to a healthy, pre-addictive state in 18-72 hours, but it also can cure PTSD, trauma, viral infections, parasites and a host of other chronic health conditions that are generally considered difficult or impossible to treat by conventional medicine. The downsides to an ibogaine detox are that it’s currently illegal in the US and other countries, so you must be willing and able to travel to countries where it’s legal, like Costa Rica, Mexico, Portugal, the Bahamas, or New Zealand to name a few. There’s a small risk of fatality if misused, so finding a good provider is essential to avoid this possibility. Insurance doesn’t cover ibogaine therapy, so it can be expensive. It doesn’t work on everyone for unknown reasons, so there is a chance you can go to all this trouble to not get results, although this is unusual. It’s also a powerful psychedelic and can give people a challenging experience that requires hard work, which isn’t for everyone.
  • Inpatient Rehab: Rehab is different than detox, but many rehabs have a detox unit on site. The majority of rehabs are 12 Step based, but there are some that aren’t. Each rehab has a different approach and typically offers 30,  60 and 90 days programs. Insurance often covers rehab, which is nice because rehab is expensive. When choosing a rehab, you want to find one that has a holistic approach that recognizes the importance of proper nutrition, the role of trauma in addiction, and that offers mind-body techniques like yoga and meditation. Be wary of centers that rely heavily on medications, as this doesn’t heal the root cause of addiction and can lead to a host of negative side effects down the line. People can benefit from rehab by getting a break from their home and work life, while being able to access the intensive care many people need in early recovery, but it isn’t a cure and people have to continue to keep working on their recovery after they return home from rehab if they want long term recovery.
  • Out-Patient Rehab: For those who don’t need or can’t access in-patient treatment but still need professional support. This will generally be 3 meetings per week at a treatment center with one-on-one sessions as well. Out-patient is also good for those who have completed in-patient as a way to solidify their recovery after going home.
  • Recovery Communities: At a foundational level, most people who find successful long-term recovery from addiction utilize some form of a recovery community that include principle-based guidelines for living a recovered life in the form of a step-by-step program that is designed to be worked through as a way to transform the mind and lifestyle from addiction-based to recovery-based. Usually, part of the structure includes a guide or teacher to bring you through the guidelines or steps of recovery, and a community of people who are also recovering from their own addiction for support, accountability and guidance. The most well-known program of recovery around the world is 12 Step recovery, which holds millions of meetings all around the world and online for every known addiction to substances and behaviors. There is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Over Eaters Anonymous (OA), Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), and there are even fellowships for the loved ones of addicted people such as ALANON as well as many other groups for specific addictions. If the 12 Step path isn’t a good fit, that’s ok, because there are other recovery communities such as the Buddhist based Refuge Recovery and Dharma Recovery. If spirituality isn’t for you, that’s ok, because there are science-based recovery communities such as SMART recovery that hold meetings in person and online. She Recovers is a trauma-informed community for self-identified women that recognizes the need for a holistic approach to recovery from all addictions and other forms of suffering. Recovery communities are an effective and accessible strategy (because they are so widespread and mostly donation based/free) to add to one’s recovery toolbox that millions of others find benefit from.
  • Paid Memberships: There are also some really great online paid membership communities that are designed to be an adjunct to any recovery program or a stand-alone approach. Tommy Rosen is an amazing kundalini yoga instructor who has applied the teachings of yoga to recovery and the 12 Steps in his paid membership platform Recovery 2.0. The Tempest Sobriety School is another online membership model and an example of the growing emergence of alternatives to 12 Step recovery. 
  • Mindfulness Practices: Practices like meditation, yoga, and Tia Chi have been used for thousands of years to promote mental, physical and spiritual health. These modalities are designed to create inner peace, harmony, and connection which is extremely therapeutic for people recovering from the state of stress, disconnection, and lack of awareness that is inherent with addiction. If you are going to use these things to recover, you’ll need to dive deeper than just hitting classes at the gym and adopt the teachings, communities, and teachers into your daily life. There is no downside to adopting these practices into daily life.
  • Coaching: Coaching is newly emerging resource for people seeking recovery from addiction. Coaching differs from a licensed professional because they do not diagnose or treat, but rather meet clients where they are at and help them to strategize and take action by holding them accountable to their goals and personal commitments. Coaching differs from sponsorship because coaches can help a person with all aspects of their life and think outside the box as far as recovery goes whereas a sponsor’s role is to focus strictly on the person’s addiction through the process of the 12 steps. Also, because a coach is paid, there can be a higher level of expectation placed on them as a professional helper.
  • Talk Therapy: Therapy with a trained professional can help someone recovering from addiction address the underlying issues such as trauma, depression, anxiety, spiritual disconnection, negative thought patterns, coping mechanisms and stress responses that lead to and keep people stuck in addiction. It’s very important to address the underlying emotional, spiritual and psychological factors that are associated with addiction in order to overcome the root causes of a person’s addiction. Therapy can never hurt, but it’s unlikely that therapy alone will resolve addiction.
  • Psychedelic Therapy: Psychedelic therapy is gaining traction as an effective tool to combat addiction, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Research is now showing that the therapeutic use of these medicines in a therapeutic setting can have dramatic results in as little as one session. Ketamine, psilocybin, MDMA, ibogaine and ayahuasca are some of the substances that are helping people to recover from many chronic conditions of the mind when used properly, especially when combined with other modalities like a recovery community, therapy or coaching. It is important to use these medicines in a therapeutic setting with an experienced guide, and to formally integrate your experience afterward with another experienced guide, such an integration coach. The downside of this modality isn’t the risk of relapse as one might think, but that people think these medicines are a ‘cure’, which they are not. You still have to do the work, and these medicines are known to help people gain great insight to where their work truly lies.
  • Nutrition: As mentioned earlier, dopamine deficiency is highly linked to addiction, cravings and low moods. Dopamine is made from tyrosine which is a nutrient found in protein rich foods. Addiction leads to poor diet and can severely damage the digestive and other systems of the body, which leaves people malnourished and sick. It is vital that people recovering from addiction address their nutritional needs, preferably with a nutrition professional that is addiction informed. There is no downside to adding nutrition to a recovery program. Even if you are working with a small budget or food stamps, these funds can still be used to buy nutritious food.
  • Holistic Medicine: Chronic stress, poor self-care and chronic exposure to toxins as a result of addiction leads to a multitude of potential health problems that manifest in chronic pain, low moods, anxiety, fatigue, hormonal imbalances and more which can all lower quality of life and ultimately lead to relapse. Currently, western medicine doesn’t recognize or treat most chronic health conditions, so it’s important to access a naturopathic or functional doctor, practitioner or talented health coach to identify and treat the specific health problems that may have contributed to the development of an addiction, and almost always are a result of addiction. Some of these health conditions are viral infections like Ebstein Barr Virus, detoxification problems, autoimmunity, allergies and sensitivities, mold and fungal infections, inflammation, gut infections and more. The downside of adding this modality is that it is rarely covered by insurance, but investing in repairing the damage after addiction is required if you want to feel your very best. If you’re feeling better, you’ll naturally earn more abundance in all areas of your life.

Good Reads on Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, arming yourself with the facts and different perspectives and approaches on the topic can make all the difference. Here are some great books and authors to explore:

  • “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” Dr.Gabor Maté, MD is an internationally recognized addiction expert, specializing in the connection between trauma and addiction. He has free content available online and has authored many books. 
  • “Chasing The Scream” Johan Hari set out on an international investigation to see which approaches to addiction are working and which ones aren’t. This is a must read on the topic of addiction that will change your perspective in a positive way forever.
  • “Recovery” Russel Brand is an actor, addiction activist and educator. This book is a simple and humorous explanation of how the 12 Step process works, based on Russel’s own experience. He also has many talks about recovery online. 
  • “Seven Weeks to Sobriety” Joan Mathews Larson, PhD. Wrote this book about her findings on the nutritional approach to overcoming alcoholism after her son committed suicide after becoming sober through 12 Step recovery.
  • “The Craving Cure” Julia Ross is a psychotherapist that has been using nutrient therapy for her addicted and depressed clients since 1980. This book is about her nutritional approach addiction recovery.
  • “Recovery 2.0” Tommy Rosen is a recovered cocaine addict, member of the 12 Step fellowship and a yoga teacher. This book is about how to apply yoga and other holistic approaches to your recovery in order to take your recovery to the next level. He also has free and paid content online with some of the leading experts in the world.

There are many more books and experts on the topic of addiction and recovery, but these are some good ones to explore and begin with.

TAKING THE FIRST STEP AND GETTING HELP

A ‘bottom’ isn’t defined by when you lose everything. A bottom is when you decide you aren’t willing to allow things to get any worse and you begin working towards recovery. As you can see, even homelessness or overdose isn’t a bottom for some. There is a myth that things have to get this bad for someone to qualify as being addicted or that a person needs to get to this point before they can or need to get help. The truth about addiction is that it can and does get this bad, but it doesn’t need to for it to seriously impact one’s quality of life or for someone to get help and overcome their addiction. There are years and even decades where addiction is not in it’s late stage, but when a person can still get help to overcome it before it causes irreparable damage and either ruins or takes lives. 

Addiction is a serious condition that always requires outside help. If you or a loved one think you may be suffering from an addiction, there is help and there is hope!  You just need to reach out and take the first step, which is asking for help. This can be done by calling a friend or healer, a treatment center, attending a recovery meeting or event, or scheduling an appointment with a therapist, recovery coach or even a doctor. If the desire to get well is there, there is always a way no matter what your current circumstances are.

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SELF-DEVELOPEMENT OBSESSED, FOODIE, LIFE-LOVER, RECOVERED.

Hi, I'm Jen.
Your friend + New Guide to a Healthier, Happier Recovery.

 My passion is teaching people how to use nutrition, lifestyle and alternative medicines to support their recovery from addiction, mood swings, fatigue, chronic pain, medication dependency, and more so that they can feel good in their own skin and experience true freedom, even when it seems impossible.

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