Emerging Understandings & Solutions for Addiction
By Dr. Chas Gant, M.D., Ph.D.
In a previous article on addiction which appeared in the January edition of Natural Awakenings, a comprehensive outline of an integrative addictions recovery plan was presented. Detoxifying the brain from heavy metals, balancing neurotransmitters, eliminating food allergies, eating organic food and drinking clean water and getting off all psychotropic drugs including prescription medications and nicotine was presented as a good start. To complete this integrative model of recovery however, the issue of spirituality must be addressed.
The biophysical aspects of recovery are intimately related to spirituality at many levels. First, it is usually not enough to simply stop abusing psychotropic chemicals and assume that you are detoxified enough to grapple with the vast, life-changing issues of spirituality.
A brain which is poisoned by the wastes of the industrial age, which pollute the air, food and water we consume, compared to a detoxified brain, will be less likely to benefit from prayer, meditation, insight-oriented psychotherapy or the 12 steps, the defining guidelines for Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) and similar programs. A rule of thumb in the 12-step community is that a year or two of abstinence is required to begin to “get it”.
This long adjustment phase is, in large part, due to a slow detoxification process, which can be greatly accelerated by following any of the numerous integrative, detoxification strategies. Detoxification must continue for life so that a recovering person can maintain the neuroplasticity (brain flexibility) to ever more deeply apply the spiritual principles to their daily lives.
Second, the restoration of neurotransmitters, which had been supplanted by chemicals, requires ample amino acids derived from quality protein foods, as well as digestive enzymes to extract them. The gastrointestinal tract must be healed to absorb the nutrition needed to synthesize the missing “feel-good” neurotransmitters in order for cravings to lessen.
Several of these neurotransmitters activate or are used by the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain above your eyes which brain imagery studies (PET-scans and fMRIs) suggest are most critical to experiencing spirituality, compassion and empathy. If these neurotransmitters are missing because their amino acid precursors are unavailable, the ability to be mindful and own or take responsibility for ones thoughts, feelings or behaviors (rather than blaming others), can be very difficult, if not impossible. The spiritual axiom of AA can remain an elusive concept if the brain hardware is not repaired.
Also, lifestyle changes, like making time for sufficient sleep, exercising, getting fresh air, drinking optimal amounts of filtered water, eating unprocessed food and avoiding sugar can be critical. The brain is only two to three percent of the body’s weight, yet it consumes 20 to 30 percent of the body’s oxygen, blood and sugar, so it is extremely metabolically vulnerable. Basic nutritional counseling should be as important a modality as spirituality and counseling in all recovery treatment programs, because a dysfunctional brain is simply not going to be as available to benefit from such traditional treatment modalities.
The mood swings and depression that often follow in the wake of abstinence from psychotropic chemicals are all modified by the suggestions discussed here. Antidepressants and other psych meds, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), are not supposed to be used for one month following cessation of chemical use, to determine if the mood instability is simply due to run-of-the-mill, post-abstinence symptoms instead of being caused by an underlying psychiatric problem. This criteria is supposed to be an accepted standard of care, yet it is often not followed.
Treating alcohol, marijuana or cocaine addiction inappropriately at the start of treatment robs a recovering individual from an experience of “working through” the biochemical imbalances causing the ups and downs of early recovery. When attention is paid to the diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors, as well as neuronutrition, detoxification and other integrative modalities discussed here, that “working through” period in early recovery proceeds much faster which then often makes the need for psych meds unnecessary.
Integrative medicine, nutritional counseling and lifestyle coaching can make a huge difference in the outcomes for recovering people, in relapse prevention, the shifting to other addictions like food or sex, and even predetermine the quality of life for those going through this difficult experience. Spirituality is generally a very useful component in recovery, and a detoxified, nutritionally fed and neurotransmitter-balanced brain is much more able to engage in a spiritual program like AA.
Dr. Chas Gant, M.D., Ph.D., is an author, physician and practitioner, specializing in functional medicine, molecular health and healing. He is also a noted specialist in treating addictions. For more information, call 202-237-7000, ext. 104, or visit DoctorChas.com.
To hear Dr. Chas speak on this topic, attend a free seminar/webinar at 2 to 3 pm on January 31 at Dupont Circle Club, 1623 Connecticut Ave. There will be a second seminar at a time and place to be announced soon. For more information, visit AddictionResearchAndTools.eventbrite.com. See ad, page #.