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!
Addiction or, more appropriately, substance use disorder (SUD) is defined as one’s recurrent use of drugs and/or alcohol leading to significant clinical and functional impairment. This impairment may be reflected in the areas of physical and mental health, employment, school, relationships, finances, and more.
One thing is for certain – the vast majority of those struggling with SUD also have underlying challenges with learning and behavior, and may have one or more mental health disorders. While the reasons for these underlying challenges are likely as many as the number of challenges themselves, this shifting of perspective away from the genetic view of addiction offers great hope for those seeking progressive therapies that, in many cases, can have a profound impact on the underlying disorders and the problem behaviors and outcomes associated with SUD.
Newer thinking also dictates that addictive tendencies can be due to factors such as concussion and traumatic brain injury, and metabolic imbalances caused by food allergies, environmental toxicities, nutrient deficiencies, and the like. And let’s not forget stress…
In order for progressive brain-based modalities to be delivered effectively, which provide a tremendous complement to standard mental health strategies implemented during both in-patient and out-patient programs alike, one needs to understand that SUD is not a disease as we would normally think of one (e.g. cancer, Parkinson’s, etc.), and it is not a moral failing or a character flaw on the part of the user. SUD can affect anyone… of any class, race, gender, and ethnicity.
SUD is in fact a ‘brain problem’ that, in many respects, can be measured and needs to be approached as such for maximum gains. Let us consider 5 areas of measurement related to brain function that reveal a great deal about learning, behavior, and mental health status; and, more importantly, let us realize that something can be done to improve upon function in any or all of these areas:
- Brainwave Activity (EEG) – In our brain we have networks related to attention, vision, sensations, relaxation, emotions, vital functions, and more. How much delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma brainwave activity we have under different circumstances dictates how well various parts of these networks perform. Quantitative EEG (qEEG) is gaining popularity in select mental health circles as an extremely viable diagnostic tool that can enable us to peer into the inner workings of the brain and these brain networks that make us uniquely human.
- Cognitive Testing – Executive function, cognitive flexibility, simple and complex attention, and processing speed are just a few of the tests of higher cognitive function that can reveal a great deal about how one’s brain interacts with its environment. They are also excellent diagnostic tools for monitoring progress when treating the various subsets of learning and behavioral issues underlying SUD.
- Metabolic Function – Blood sugar, amino acids, urine organic acids, food antibodies, heavy metals, environmental toxins, hormones, neurotransmitters, vital nutrients, genetic variants, and so much more are a mix of both classic and progressive ‘biomarkers’ of brain function. How our bodies handle fuel, utilize nutrients, process hormones, and react to toxins in our environments determines how well our brains handle what is presented to them on a moment to moment basis.
- Eye Movements – Generally ignored in the mental health arena from a diagnostic perspective, eye movements of all types are directly related to the brain regions that control them. From primitive abilities of finding visual targets that involve parts of the brainstem and emotional centers like the amygdala (fear response), to fast eye movements controlled by our higher functioning frontal lobes; eye movements deliver a wealth of information related to SUD and its underlying causes. Videonystagmography (VNG) is one type of diagnostic tool used to measure these types of functions.
- Balance and Coordination – More and more, addiction based programs are implementing movement based activities such as Tai Chi and yoga. From both balance and relaxation standpoints, there is good reason to do so. Our sense of self is largely influenced by our ability to physically interact with our environment. When one has severe balance or coordination impairment, as is seen in conditions like schizophrenia, mental function and behavior will likely be impaired. Measurement tools such as dynamic posturography and standard tests of movement and coordination can be utilized to measure these abilities.
The inherent beauty of any of these tools, that can reveal a wealth of information about cognitive, behavioral, and mental functions, is that they can in turn be utilized to track progress when one enters into a collaborative treatment program with their mental health specialists and qualified functional neurologist. The blending of the ‘brain’ and the ‘mind’ sciences is long overdue and is proving to be clinically effective with regard to its impact on addiction and SUD, and the underlying disorders that are being shown with greater clarity to be the root cause of them.
Everyone that signs up for a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC, that is! (Unique offer details below).
While technology and all that come with it can cause significant impairment for many, it can also be used to provide an extreme advantage when it comes to Training your Brain. The ever-growing list of hi-tech applications (apps) for mobile devices and tablets is astounding, many of which hold significant promise for re-training brain dysfunction, and for improving upon already strong performance in those looking to reach their peak potential. As with anything, there is a downside – apps used improperly and not under expert guidance can, in some cases, be counter-productive, and even harmful!
The following are the main areas of apps for brain performance:
- Memory and Attention: We have all heard of that brain training program that begins with ‘L’ that most folks pronounce incorrectly! While this and many other similar apps are quite useful and largely without side-effects, they may not be providing all they claim in the absence of a comprehensive brain health program.
- Eye movements: The secret is out, eye movements are directly related to our higher, more human, cognitive brain functions. A simple Google search of ‘eye movements and cognition’ should get you rolling there! The challenge is that these sensitive windows into higher brain function can very easily be trained incorrectly, leading to further dysfunction or significantly limiting peak performance. User beware: Expert direction is essential with these type of apps!
- Neurofeedback/Biofeedback: By far the newest and most concerning area of mobile brain training, app stores are piling up with programs that will help you regulate your brainwaves, heart rate, muscle tension, and more. Common sense should let you know that training your brainwaves in the absence of higher education in neurophysiology and neuroplasticity might not be a very wise choice. Once again, user beware!
Although just a sampling of what’s available in the various app stores in the cyber world, the take home message here is that ANY effort in training your brain should be directed by a qualified health care provider trained in these areas of brain performance for maximum benefit and decreased probability of side-effects.
Enter the iPad…
All clients entering into a 5 or more day full intensive training program at APEX Brain Centers in Asheville, NC through May 31, 2015 will receive a FREE iPad Mini with Retina Display (or comparable device) as a valuable aid to your brain training program, and to help you continue progress once discharged. All you would need to do is have an iTunes account to purchase any needed applications (typically less than $35.00), and the desire to make your brain the best possible brain it can be.
This special offer is not to be combined with any offers and you must reference this post at the time of consultation or admission for validation purposes. Let us help you harness the power of technology and put you in the driver’s seat on your journey to Building a Better Brain!
A young woman in her late 20s, who I will call Karen, came to our Asheville NC office in mid-2014 for adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Oftentimes, as with many in her situation, a chronic lack of attention, constant distractibility, obsessive thoughts, and anxiety related symptoms forced her long ago to seek out medications that would keep these symptoms under some sort of control. Also, as with many individuals that walk through the door at APEX Brain Centers, Karen seemed to be functioning well in her day to day activities and was, for all intents and purposes, quite successful. But she knew she could do better, and that she might one day be able to control her thoughts and behaviors medication free!
The Brain Training Process
Prior to coming in for her intensive Brain Training program at APEX, Karen was required to complete a battery of baseline cognitive tests and comprehensive physical, psychological and metabolic histories. When she arrived for her first day of training, Karen underwent a head-to-toe neurological evaluation and several hours’ worth of diagnostic tests, including tests of brainwave activity (qEEG) and eye movements (VNG).
The results of these critical tests of brain function helped guide Karen’s Brain Training program and allowed us to address very specific brain regions that were causing her symptoms. Some examples of training utilized in Karen’s 5 day intensive program are EEG directed neurofeedback with transcranial magnetic stimulation to assist her in regulating her brain wave activity and reducing aspects of anxiety, and the Interactive Metronome training program for improving sequencing and planning abilities within the more developed frontal lobes of her brain that helped her to significantly improve her focus and attention.
When her Brain Training program was complete, we retested Karen so we could compare results and assess key functional improvements made in her brain. Below is a summary of gains she made in critical brain functions:
- Gains in attention, problem solving and decision making as great as 76%
- Gains in 5 aspects of memory as great as 52%
- Gains in brain processing and sequencing abilities as great as 48%
- Improvement in temporal processing (brain timing) of 33%
- Normalization of fast eye movements associated with the same brain regions that govern attention and focus
- Positive shifts in alpha and beta brain wave activity consistent with improved attention and focus, as well as decreased anxiety
What do all these numbers really mean? Well, to Karen these numbers mean a great deal. Immediately after completing her Brain Training program, Karen was able to perform a routine computer related task for work that typically took her over an hour in just 45 minutes. To a multi-tasker that has difficulty with attention, focus, and anxiety, these 20 minutes translate into an eternity! She also reported having a clearer, more focused mind, better sleep, and a general sense of calm and relaxation that was typically not present from day to day.
What would it mean for you to have improvements like Karen made? To be able to focus and engage in life more efficiently with decreased distractions and a clear mind? Or, to possibly get away from life-long medications that are aimed at controlling the very symptoms that destroy your quality of life?