A (Sometimes) Long and Winding Road
Recovery from any type of addiction can be a monumental task. Even for those ready to take it on, the road can be a painful one loaded with many obstacles. Although, one that will ultimately pay off with better health, better relationships, and overall better quality of life.
Smooth the Way to Your Independence
So, what can be done to ease the pain of transition from a life of dependence to one of self-control and freedom?
While not a ‘one-size-fits-all’, the following 3 tips are proven strategies that can help soften the blows the various phases of recovery throw at you. And, ultimately, lead you to a life of positive practices that will replace the conditions and substances you seek to avoid.
All of these common-knowledge practices seek to establish harmony in and between the brain and the body. When the ‘mind-body’ connections are performing at their best, you will have the greatest chance at overcoming your struggles (whether recent or lifelong).
Addiction Recovery Tips
- Meditate Daily – Research continues to show how sitting quietly for periods of time with a focus on ‘present moment’ sensations like breathing can allow for greater focus, clarity of thought, and self-regulation. Start at 5 minutes and work to 20 minutes daily.
- Exercise Daily – One of the best ways to control and improve functions of our brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) is to do vigorous exercise daily. Get your heart rate up, do resistive and high intensity activities, and, most importantly, move daily!
- Eat Smart – Eat whole foods, eliminate refined and processed foods (i.e. anything in a bag, box, or can), increase healthy fat and protein intake, limit sugar intake (sugar can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine), and stay well hydrated (that means water).
Stay tuned for Part II of II where we will go over the next 3 addiction recovery tips.
The Current Situation – Great Cause for Alarm!
There has been a distinct disconnect between the “mind” and “brain” sciences when it comes to addiction, and what is looked at more and more as being at the root of addiction and substance use – learning and behavioral disorders. In her ground-breaking book, Unbroken Brain: A revolutionary new way of understanding addiction, Maia Szalavitz states:
“Our brains are embodied – much of the problem with the debate over addiction and psychiatry more generally is a refusal to accept this and our ongoing need to see “physical”, “neurological”, and “psychological” as completely distinct.”
There is a fundamental flaw with this outdated thinking, a flaw that has in part led to skyrocketing heroin usage (especially among those ages 18-25) and overdose rates that have quadrupled since 2010. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drugs cost the US nearly $200 billion annually, just behind alcohol and tobacco use ($224 and $295 billion, respectively). Not to mention, the obvious cost of lives lost, fractured relationships, and communities being torn apart.
Clearly, things are getting worse, not better. Substance use is becoming harder than ever to treat given the broad scope of substances being used, increasing potency levels, rates of consumption, varied methods of delivery, decreasing age of usage, and the numerous learning and behavioral issues those with addiction have prior to onset that have not been appropriately treated (or, treated with medications that may lead to, or complicate, the addiction itself).
At the Root of the Problem
ADHD, anxiety, OCD, ODD, anxiety, depression, sensory processing disorders, schizophrenia, and PTSD are just some of the many learning, behavioral, and mental health disorders that cause people to seek balance in their life through use of chemical substances. The long-held belief that addiction is genetic and an inevitable consequence for the affected, or that substance users are damaged and incapable of recovery, is beginning to dissolve. So are many of the tough love and shaming techniques that have been the norm across the addictions treatment arena for well over half a century.
Time for a Paradigm Shift
To understand that learning dictates behavior, and that impaired learning will lead to behavioral patterns that will set the stage for addiction, is the first step in effectively dealing with substance use disorders. Most learning and behavioral challenges have physical and cognitive manifestations that can be measured (i.e. impaired eye movements, balance, timing, attention, memory, etc.), whether prior to or during the addiction recovery process.
Once these impairments are measured, there are a host of research-backed Brain Training modalities that can be implemented by qualified professionals for correction of deficient function. This will lead to more effective remediation of the learning or behavioral disorder, and, ultimately, the seeking of normalcy through chemical dependence that is hallmark with substance use disorders.
Brain Training for Addiction and Substance Use Disorders
- Brainwave Optimization – Better known as neurofeedback (NFB), neurobiofeedback, or neurotherapy. NFB, while available since the 1950s, has gained significant popularity in the recovery arena as of late. Through sophisticated computer analysis, one is trained to self-regulate brainwave activity by hearing sounds or other reinforcements that signal a more desirable or efficient state of function within the brain has been obtained.
- Training of Brain Timing – Temporal processing is the rate at which sounds can be processed in the brain. When one is unable to process at sufficient and accurate rates, learning will be impaired and behavior impacted. Programs like the Interactive Metronome® have been shown to improve learning capacity, attention and focus, and decrease destructive impulsive and repetitive behaviors.
- Training of Balance – The balance (vestibular) system, which is made up of structures in the inner ear and is directly influenced by systems of vision, posture, and hearing, is directly plugged into our frontal brain. This more “human” part of our brain has a profound influence on learning and behavior and is positively impacted by improvements in balance and coordination.
- Training of Eye Movements – Fixating on a target in your visual field, moving your eyes slow or fast, watching an object move closer or further away, and certain inborn eye reflexes help to make us uniquely human. Many of the control centers of these functions live in our frontal brain. Correction of certain faults in eye movements can lead to improved cognitive abilities.
- Neurological Rehabilitation – While training of balance and eye movements fall into this category, they have been given separate explanation given their heavy influence on learning and behavior. Complex motor skills, whole body vibration, electrical stimulation, strength and conditioning, smell and sound therapies, and so much more impact the brain in a positive way to minimize the effects of learning and behavioral issues on one’s life.
- Metabolic Therapies – To address brain function without paying mind to the numerous nutritional and metabolic factors that go into a properly functioning brain is akin to throwing a bunch of random ingredients together and hoping it turns out like your favorite dish. Blood sugar, stress hormones, neurotransmitters, micronutrients, food allergies, among countless other factors, are just a sampling of what can be evaluated, and in many cases corrected, via dietary shifts and nutraceutical intervention.
A New Era for Addiction and Substance Use Disorders
While mental health therapies have been, and always will be, an integral component of a sound addiction recovery strategy; more is needed. It is abundantly clear that what is in fact needed are scientific, evidence-based strategies to address the underlying learning and behavioral issues that are the hallmark of any addiction profile. What is needed is Brain Training… To measure and manage numerous ‘biomarkers’ of brain function with sophisticated diagnostic testing, and effect positive change in these markers through progressive neurological training modalities. This, in concert with the more traditional mental health options, is what holds the greatest hope for recovery in those battling addiction and substance use disorders!
Ahh, the holidays! Time for many to celebrate their faith. Time for others to reflect on the accomplishments of yet another year gone by, and to plan for an even better one ahead. Time to be with family, give thanks, serve others, and enjoy a break from the normal routines of life. Right???
In a perfect world, yes. Although, the stark reality for so many is that the holidays bring on an increasingly high level of undue stress for more reasons than there are days in the holiday season. Financial struggles, health concerns, passing of a loved one, work deadlines, shopping, travel, crowds, and family squabbles are but a few that can spark fear, worry, sadness, anxiety, and depression in just about anyone; if they are not prepared for it.
Add to this the profound increase in calorie intake (particularly sugars), sedentary behavior, late nights and poor sleep, excessive alcohol intake, travel fatigue, decreased physical activity levels, and a general lack of attention to one’s health this time of year, and you have a perfect recipe for both simple and deadly mental and physical health problems.
While suicide increase during the holidays has largely been proven a myth, there are direct correlations between increased mental and physical stress around the holidays leading to exacerbation of depression and other mental health disorders, and a resultant spike in the number of calls to suicide prevention and substance abuse hotlines. It can be theorized that many around the holidays are thankfully unable to act on suicidal thoughts give the increased presence of friends and family, although self-medication through increased drug and alcohol use over the holidays can certainly lead to worse outcomes after the new year for many.
While this is a piece on stress around the holidays, the importance of physical health (which is directly impacted by stress) needs to be considered briefly. As an example, the journal Circulation published research in 2004 showing nationwide trends in heart attacks increasing by 5% during the holidays, with peak incidences occurring on both Christmas and New Year’s Day. Coincidence??? Certainly not. An editorial in the same edition of this journal discussed further the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and the “Happy New Year Heart Attack” phenomenon – related to increased mental and physical stressors this time of year.
With the gloomy realities and statistics behind us, we can now focus on what is most important – what can we do to prevent or minimize the fallout of the holiday season to ensure we may enjoy it to the fullest, and so that we may proceed with peace of mind, good health, and longevity into the year ahead?
- Drink responsibly. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink every 2 hours in social situations, with water in between to avoid intoxication and dehydration – your brain will thank you!
- Walk away. Don’t feel you must change anyone’s mind about politics, sports, or anything else for that matter. Engage in positive dialogue.
- Reach out. If something is deeply upsetting you, sometimes the worst thing to do is hold it in while everyone else is celebrating. Confide in a trusted source.
- Don’t stress over shopping. Getting into fist fights over the newest TV or toy is clearly not what the holidays are about and will dramatically increase your stress levels. Is it really about the presents?
- It’s OK not to travel. Many are compelled to travel due to family pressures and the like. It is OK to ‘skip a year’ if you are overwhelmed and feel you need a break.
- Get to bed. Sleep cycles are impacted enough going into winter with shorter days and longer nights. Be mindful of sleep routines as they have a large impact on buffering chronic stress responses and clearing your brain of toxins.
- Stick to your regular eating habits. If they are healthy ones, that is. It is OK to ‘sample the goods’ around the holidays, but overdoing it will be sure to weaken your immune system and allow stress to harm your brain and body.
- Move your body. Exercise should be a regular part of your daily routine, especially around the holidays. It minimizes the effects of stress and burns the excess calories you will likely indulge in.
- Meditate. Quiet time away from the distractions of the holidays to self-reflect and calm your mind will reduce stress levels.
- Turn off the tube. TV usage skyrockets during the holidays for many, leading to less physical activity and social disconnection. Decrease computer and social media use while you’re at it!
- Play games, listen to music, tell stories. All activities that will engage your mind and connect you to others around you during the holiday season.
- Connect socially. One of the secrets to stress reduction. Social connection produces hormones that reduce stress. If you have little or no family and friends around, volunteer opportunities abound.
Author’s Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing undue stress during the holiday season (or any season) leading to withdrawn, erratic, or dangerous behavior, increased substance use, trouble at home, work, etc., please know there are resources that can help. Brain Training is a highly effective option for dealing with chronic stress outside of acute or emergency situations. In these situations, national helplines are available and should be utilized:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.8255
National Substance Abuse Hotline: 1.800.622.HELP (4357)