Passion, Not Addiction: Supporting Addicted Patients Through Recovery
Nicole Baylac, ND
Facets of Addiction
“Addiction” from the standpoint of the patient is the awareness that one is engaged in an unhealthy, compulsive behavior. From the standpoint of the practitioner, addiction is a complex behavior that needs to be approached with multiple therapies: nutritional medicine, cognitive and behavioral therapy, spiritual counseling, psychodynamic therapies, support groups and education.
The person with the addiction feels compelled to repeat a particular behavior and feels powerless to stop it. This is a state of bondage to a compulsive habit, as a ritualistic response is to a certain internal emotional state, such as stress, boredom, pain, loneliness and/or external cues such as locations or situations.
Alcohol abuse, smoking tobacco or marijuana, bingeing, purging, overeating, inappropriate use of pharmaceutical drugs, use of cocaine and other illicit drugs, gambling … are all behaviors that have serious health consequences, ranging from possible death to long-term consequences on health. Long-term consequences depend on the specific substance abused and each specific habit. Behaviors involving substance abuse, such as tobacco addiction, may lead to respiratory problems such as emphysema and lung cancer; methamphetamine abuse may lead to mental disorders or illnesses such as paranoia or schizophrenia; sleep disturbances are also common. Purging may lead to Barrett’s Esophagus, tooth decay or cardiac arrhythmia; substance abuse involving needles may lead to HIV and hepatitis C.
Addiction cannot exist without awareness. Someone may be getting drunk every night and think that they are having fun, not being addicted. Someone may think that purging after overeating is a good solution to their weight problem, not being addicted. Someone only thinks about himself or herself as an addict when they fail to avoid or stop their behavior. This awareness is the most important decisive factor in recovery. Patients who come to their physician for help only because a family member sends them will have less chance of recovery than patients who come because they realize that they need help to quit. The moment someone identifies as an addict and wants to undergo treatment is the moment that distance is created between the addictive personality and the healthy one, and the ND may use the emergence of the healthy self to work with.
Breaking the Old Habit
As NDs, it is our task to strengthen the non-addicted self in any way possible to break the addictive behavior. Establishing a schedule with regular meals taken together (in a group setting) and other daily activities such as group support, daily medical checkups, exercise sessions, meditation, counseling, walks, journaling, juices … all of these activities address the “sober” self. These activities create a demand to be present and break down old habits. Bringing people to the present with meditation helps them to break free from old habits.
Addictive behaviors interfere with brain chemistry by increasing dopamine levels in the pleasure center of the brain, the nucleus accumbens. Some substances can increase the release of dopamine to more than 600 times normal production! On the other hand, a biochemical imbalance may be the cause of drug dependency. Deficiencies may be identified with laboratory testing or from a behavioral assessment. I found that patients benefit from taking a few amino acid precursors of neurotransmitters.
Most often, other pathological mental states crop up in connection with addictive behaviors. A full psychological assessment should be performed, and mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder or ADD should be treated, as they could be the cause or result of the addictive behavior.
Addictive behaviors cause nutritional deficiencies. For instance, alcoholism causes thiamine, niacin and zinc deficiency as well as blood sugar imbalance.
In addition to deficiencies created by the drug itself, people who abuse drugs tend to have poor nutritional habits. It is important to create new, healthy habits. It is useful that patients start eating healthy meals regularly. I found that live raw foods have been very useful in the recovery process, both for their detoxifying and nutritional value. Live foods are full of life force, and I have been absolutely baffled by the quick and strong turnaround in a patient’s energy after just a few days.
Cognitive Behavioral Interventions
Cognitive behavioral interventions consist of helping patients to deal with triggers and stressors. Using is a quick fix to reestablish or increase a lost pleasurable internal state. As such, it always has something to do with pleasure. Role-playing between the addict and the non-addict, and self-awareness exercises to identify behaviors associated with and leading to the maladapted behavior help patients to step back and gain control over themselves. We help patients to become aware of their inner program leading to addiction, and help them to create innovative solutions to deal with the issues that trigger the repetition of the addictive behavior.
There is a lot of energy trapped into maintaining addictive behavior: secrecy, guilt, generating money, maintaining special places, to name a few. Once this energy is freed, it can be turned around and used in a positive manner. Spiritual teachers may inspire patients. Some watch “The Secret,” some may tune into the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, and others enjoy the work of speaker and author Byron Katie. Becoming aware of one’s self-destructiveness, and practicing self love and trust alone, with a partner, or in a group setting is the cornerstone of a long recovery journey that turns into a spiritual journey.
Physical Exercise and Physical Manifestations
Some patients may tune their energy more into physical work and enjoy working out, walking or running daily. My clinic had a patient who became passionate about physical exercise while at the Retreat Center where I work. He exercised for the first time in his life and wanted to continue at home. He transformed his basement, which used to be part of his addictive activities, into a gym. Many who discover the wonders of live raw foods want to continue on this plan and open a raw food restaurant.
Often, the first addictive behavior started very young, or maybe the addict modeled a parent or was brought up in a dysfunctional family. Seeking treatment is the beginning of a long-term, self-discovery process that never ends – a quest for freedom, truth and happiness.
Maya Nicole Baylac, ND has more than 25 years of psychotherapy experience. She is a fasting-certified member of the International Association of Hygienic Physicians (IAHP), and is a certified Gerson therapist. Dr. Baylac currently practices privately as director of Hawaii Naturopathic Retreat Center in Keaau, which specializes in therapeutic fasting, the Gerson Therapy and mind-body medicine.