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!
Drugs, cigarettes, alcohol, sex, gambling, food and shopping are just a few of the most common behaviors and substances that people can become addicted to. Why is it that some people never develop addictions while others give up nearly everything (including their lives) because of them? The answer lies in the wiring of the brain.
Addiction is a Disease of the Brain
While the American Psychiatric Association defines addiction as a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive substance abuse, the exact cause of this disease (whether your brain is wired for addiction because of genetics or environment) is still being debated. But one thing is certain—our environment impacts the way our brains work (for better or for worse). How we live has an incredibly powerful influence on the way our genetic tendencies are expressed. More simply put, what you think, consume, and do will determine the severity of your addiction.
Most individuals with addiction also suffer from other disorders including ADHD and OCD. The same brain regions are involved in most of these conditions, including addiction. Whether developmental in nature, related to injury, or otherwise, there is most often measurable compromise in cognitive networks in the brain that deal with attention, motivation, memory, impulse control, decision making and reasoning.
Neuroplasticity Offers Hope for Addicts
The tenets of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and grow based on its environment and experience – dictate that we can in fact change function in the key brain regions related to addiction. Add to this the ever-growing body of research on the impact of physical abilities such as balance and eye movements on cognitive function, and we now have a host of methods to address the impact of environmental factors on addiction.
The Brain Training Approach to Addiction
Brain training is one method of rewiring the brain that offers hope to those suffering from addiction. Neuroplasticity is the core concept that brain training exercises are based upon. Even in the case of addiction, you can change your brain function for the better. What follows are four brain training approaches to rewiring the addicted brain.
- Brainwave Regulation: Delta, Theta, Alpha and Beta are some of the brainwaves that can be measured and trained in individuals with addiction. Through the use of quantitative EEG (qEEG), we are able to map the brain and determine where common patterns of dysfunction seen in addiction exist. Neurofeedback and other modalities, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation – rTMS, are the vehicles through which dysfunctional addictive patterns are broken and healthier brainwave activity established.
- Eye Movement Re-Training: The eyes are more than a window to the soul. Eye function can reveal a lot about your level of attention, impulse control, and other higher cognitive functions within the brain. Recent research from Tel Aviv University demonstrates how involuntary eye movements are accurate predictors of ADHD, the most common condition that occurs along with addiction. Eye movements can be measured and effectively rehabilitated; leading to improvements in impulse control, attention and, ultimately, addictive tendencies.
- Vestibular (Balance) Therapies: Is there a connection between balance and addiction? Absolutely! Over the past half-century or so, the links between our ability to remain balanced and our higher thinking abilities have been well established. A recent paper in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience explores the connection between the vestibular system (which regulates balance) and cognition. As with many other biomarkers of brain function, balance can be accurately measured with computerized assessment of postural systems (CAPS) testing, and corrected with a number of specific vestibular rehabilitation techniques.
- Metabolic Therapies: Nutrition is often overlooked when it comes to addiction. However, addressing nutritional or metabolic imbalances can be a critical intervention for those suffering from addiction. Most with addiction have extremely poor dietary habits and their brain fuel is compromised. From malnutrition and dehydration, to inflammation and neurotransmitter dysregulation, these problems can be detected and corrected quite easily. Proper nutrition allows for a healthier brain and greater promise for recovery.
By targeting the underlying wiring issues that contribute to addiction, these approaches can increase the effectiveness of more traditional interventions such as cognitive and behavioral therapies and psychotherapy, or counseling.