Addiction Neuroscience

scarecrow brain

I’ll Be a Son-of-a-Psychiatrist: Addiction Recovery – It’s a Go-Brainer Revisted

By | Addiction Neuroscience, Addiction Recovery, Addiction Treatment | 15 Comments



My first exposure to the importance of my brain

My first exposure to the importance of my brain

When I was a kid my psychiatrist Dad decided to bring home a human brain from the hospital where he worked. It was one of the specimens donated by a dearly departed soul for physicians to study. Dad decided it was important for me and my older siblings to pay attention to our one and only brain. He said, “I’ve got a surprise for you, now close your eyes, hold hands while I lead you into the Family Room.” He positioned the four of us around the game table as we heard him removing the brain from its container. I can still “smell” the pungent odor of the preservative, formaldehyde as I recall this understandably, vivid memory and my Dad saying, “Okay, open your eyes.” WOW.

Needless to say, I have been fascinated by brains and brain science ever since and as a person in long-term addiction recovery, a very good thing.

Good news for addiction recovery

Good news for addiction recovery

I’m re-reading Dr. Norman Doidge’s great book, The Brain That Changes Itself. He’s one of the people who ushered in and popularized the idea that our brains are like computers in the sense they can reprogram themselves, but unlike computers, our brains can heal themselves. While reading, (actually, listening) I just can’t help but get super excited about the far reaching implications of this work when it comes to addiction recovery.

Here’s what Dr. Doidge and the brain science are telling us:

  • Our brain processing centers have the ability to change
  • We can change the very structure of the brain itself
  • The brain is constantly adapting itself to the environment
  • The brain is always learning how to learn
  • The brain grows and changes itself with proper nourishment and exercise
  • The brain can reorganize its “maps” (programmed routines) in the right environment

The brain is not the fixed, rigidly organized organ we or my Dad once thought, but capable of re-learning and restructuring–actually changing the physical architecture of itself, “from crib to death.”

All of what we have learned works in addiction treatment is related to programs, modalities, therapies and practices that actually reprogram the brain, which just happens to be the target organ for addiction. Our former practices in active addiction established ingrained brain maps, (thanks, Lisa Frederiksen) or the above mentioned, programmed routines that our minds, bodies and spirits became accustomed to, and what most people in addiction recovery will agree, we held onto for dear life–even at the risk of near death.

As we know now, the not-so-healthy former habits came about as strategies for coping with one or more of the risk factors for developing addiction. Once we’re committed to leaving behind these strategies and behaviors that changed our brains profoundly, the task is to find what new practices will change our brains back toward what we all want; peace of mind, good health and productivity. “Just say no” never worked because it was contrary to the brain science and…just wrong.

Reprogrammable brain maps

Reprogrammable brain maps

Addiction recovery requires establishing new brain maps, a lifetime proposition–hey, good news!–of practice and reinforcement that turns out to be what any kind of wellness demands. Nobody gets out alive; it’s just about being well–today. All of wellness is one kind of remission or another…Let me stress again, implicit in this requirement is bolstering brain health and new brain maps with the essential practices of eating, moving, thinking, feeling and sleeping well without which the brain will not change itself in the ways desired. This is why all three phases of addiction treatment; detoxification, rehabilitation and continued care are required for healthy, sustainable remission from active addiction to be possible. Remember, repetition is how the brain learns and changes.

Addiction Recovery | New Practices | New Brains

If the science has shown us anything it’s that there is no one, best way to foster the business of rewiring the brain for better outcomes. What inspires me is the fact that the programs that have proven to help people are just what the brain science ordered. For example, here’s what Dr. Doidge reports about what brain science research tells us followed by the time honored wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  • Repetition is the mother of all invention – “Keep comin’ back”
  • Brain plasticity (reprogramming ability) is available from the cradle to the grave – “One day at a time”
  • Neurons that fire together, wire together – “Fake it till you make it”
  • Radical improvements in brain function are available at any age – “Now is a good time to start”
  • New brain maps take time to develop – “May you be blessed with a slow recovery”
  • The brain thrives and actually grows when learning – “Learn to change, change to learn”

And the 12 Step process is just one way to take a look at how we’re taking a look at things, (the learning brain) to establish new brain maps and associated practices to reinforce them in order to override the previous brain maps. There are many ways and the key is to find a way that uses an integrated approach catering to the needs of your mind, body and spirit–however that looks. Rewiring the brain mandates it and long-term recovery cannot be possible without it.

In brain science lingo and as seen above, “Neurons that fire together, wire together”, (creating new brain maps). Conversely, when the practice/repetition ceases, “If the neurons fail to link–they fail to sync” and no new brain maps. In that case, the brain fires up the already ingrained maps associated with the old, well practiced behavior–when cued–and relapse ensues.

Different Paths to the Mountain of Evidence Based Research

The self-healing, reprogrammable brain

The self-healing brain

So addiction recovery is not about monolithic, one-way approaches. This is because we all have different experiences and worldviews. What is clear however is that individuals with addiction do have to find ways to establish new brain maps for the reasons outlined above and there are many wonderful interventions to begin the process including:

Implicit in the American Society of Addiction Medicine policy statement, an integrated, multidisciplinary team of providers can help in the initial, stabilization/rehabilitation phases of treatment to assist people in finding their own mind, body, and spirit fitness program in order to reprogram that biological computer of theirs, the self-healing brain. The goal is that these practices get carried into the final phase of addiction treatment; continued care.

As we re-learn to move, eat and think/feel well, we’re really and truly reprogramming our brains. We’re really and truly giving up the habit of the being who we are that’s no longer working for us, for the habit of being who we can be–to become the best versions of ourselves.

I think my Dad was trying to tell me something very important…


Thank you to the sentient beings who help us heal

Thank you to the sentient beings who help us heal

And now I’m going to appeal to your humanity and your heart by saying that there was a huge price to pay to learn more about how we can indeed heal ourselves resulting from brain science research. I’ll have to admit I’m such a baby, the dolphins make me cry, but must say that untold throngs of laboratory animals suffered and gave their lives for this research to come forward. There is nothing more upsetting to me to know that information is available to people, but not accessible for one reason or another–while innocent sentient beings gave their lives in the process.

Let’s uphold the dignity of our humanity and of recovery and the sanctity of those who went before us, (all forms and species) who have made addiction recovery ever more possible in this 21st Century.

Addiction recovery – It’s a Go-Brainer.

Let’s Go.

no brainer

Long Term Addiction Recovery Care – A Go-Brainer

By | Addiction, Addiction Neuroscience, Addiction Prevention, Addiction Recovery | One Comment

Besides not having the benefits of long term addiction recovery care, what do Corey Monteith (actor), Sid Vicious, Dee Dee Ramone, Kurt Cobain, Peter Farndon (Pretenders), Lenny Bruce, Jim Morrison, Billie Holiday, Paula Yates (INXS mate), Jimi Hendrix, Hillel Slovak (Chilli Peppers), Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Whitney Houston, Corey Haim (actor), Janis Joplin, Heath Ledger, Marilyn Monroe, River Phoenix, Dana Plato (actor), Anna Nicole Smith and Philip Seymour Hoffman have in common?

36,500 people died last year of drug overdose. 100 will die today.

36,500 people died last year of drug overdose. That means on average, 100 will die today.

You know the answer. These sadly extinguished Hollywood Stars put a face on death by drug overdose–death from addiction. Multiply these 24 souls by the number, ONE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED and we’ll get to the ~ 36,500 number of the other nameless, faceless people who died the same way last year. More than 100 people will die of drug overdoses in this country: TODAY. I know, I know…all kinds of chatter about accidental death in some cases, but really, I mean REALLY, can we get serious?

So what’s up America? We know the risk factors for addiction, we know how to prevent and treat addiction and even maintain recovery, but something is STILL woefully missing/wrong. What is it?!

Well first, what is addiction? Okay, here’s what it is and with plenty of street cred by emerging out of the April 2011 policy statement of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, (ASAM):

Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.

Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.

Could it possibly be that we just can’t have it both ways–we can’t have addiction recovery and no infrastructure in place to deliver the ongoing and necessary care spelled out by the brain science? That’s what the good docs say above, no?

To this point and for the most recent ultra sad example, I do not think it was possible for a former athlete like Philip Seymour Hoffman who just happened to have the disorder of addiction to somehow become morbidly obese, smoke cigarettes and NOT have it profoundly jeopardize his ability to prevent what eventually killed him. You want science? We’ve got science. Recovering from addiction while nurturing metabolic syndrome with awful eating habits while smoking cigarettes? C’mon.

Brain Science and Brain–Body Neurophysiology Don’t Lie

Brain science and neurophysiology confirm how important overall health is in recovery.

Brain science and neurophysiology confirm how important overall good health is in recovery.

NO, we cannot have it both ways by going to rehab for 4 weeks 23 years ago and then hammering ourselves with other forms of toxicity and deficiency and not expect these tragic outcomes! Sorry, but addiction just won’t let us do it as we see at least 100 times per day in this society.

Nor will our minds, bodies or spirits let us misuse and abuse them without some other symptom picture emerging. It’s just that the symptoms of addiction are expressed in this characteristic, threefold, mind, body and spirit way. This reinforces the fact that it is neurophysiologically IMPOSSIBLE to feed our systems toxic and deficient input and NOT have the system adapt its neurophysiology accordingly giving rise to craving, Reward Deficiency Syndrome and a ticket to relapse that can result in frank suicide or the, we’ll-never-know “whoops.” Let’s call it “parasuicide.” Someone explain the difference when science and experience have outlined the prevention, treatment and maintenance landscape so clearly. Neurophysiological adaptation due to risky lifestyle habits is what leads to the breeding ground for relapse and in the above mentioned cases, premature death.

So why the RANT? Because 100 people will die today and we can do something about it. Because the addiction epidemic is just a reflection of the bad health epidemic in this country and that’s because we’ve got it backwards. Health and wellness takes precedence and practice–not waiting to merely treat acute symptoms with drugs and surgery when the feces hits the fan. And finally because I’m really tired of seeing misinformed mainstream media perpetuate lies in order to stay hypnotized by the quick fix, harmful notions about addiction and all other adaptive lifestyle disorders.

Long Term Addiction Recovery Care | A Go-Brainer

What’s missing is long term addiction recovery care and services. The solution is implicit in the rant and that’s a “go-brainer.” Go-brainer because it’s all about brain health and practices that foster what’s required for a healthy mind, body and spirit; eating, moving, thinking and sleeping well–just for today.

Recovery Health Centers | Get Well and Stay Well–For Life

And how will this be delivered? In a health care system where people like Phil Hoffman can and will check-in for that initial intensive care and then on a regular basis because they are armed with the knowledge, the “just say know”–from the get-go–that their lives depend upon it. A place where they are given wellness intervention, mind, body, spirit tuneups from scheduled, predictable time-to-times to uphold wellness thresholds. From illness to maintained wellness–a place where integrated and multidisciplinary teams are dedicated to interest their practice members in the care of the human brain-body, in a proper diet, and in the cause and prevention of dis-ease and active addiction.

Look for such a place coming to a town near you.


Addiction Neuroscience

Applied Addiction Neuroscience: A Matter of Life and Death

By | Addiction Neuroscience, Addiction Treatment, Blog | 12 Comments

Addiction neuroscience has been informing us for years now about the connection between the mind and the body. Emerging from the research, wellness practices are the key to preventing addiction or surely the key to relapse prevention when addiction is present.

It’s a great time to be alive when new discoveries through addiction neuroscience research can be applied to real-time life and become the new common sense. But with a mind-body-spirit disorder like addiction and our slow-to-change culture, sometimes common sense is not so common.

The time has come to further emphasize the importance of integrated wellness practices because well, we’ve got an epidemic of addiction on our hands and to put it more bluntly, because people are dying.

A Critically Important Distinction

To paraphrase some time honored and wise AA literature content, we stand at the turning point in our understanding of addiction treatment, (and health care in general for that matter) and half measures surely have proven to avail us less than great outcomes. Addiction recovery requires a foundational, holistic and integrated approach because that is what we are; holistic, integrated beings living in and part of our environments, programed for health and thrival.

The common sense that continues to be not so common–and the critically important distinction is this; if long-term addiction recovery is ever to be realized in a more critical mass way, we’ll have to begin teaching people holistic and integrated principles from day one and not as some “alternative” track that works for some people–or to be used on a time–trial basis.

The research is in; find and implement evidence based practices in the realm of exercise, diet and cognitive skills. The specific types of practices are not as important as doing them regularly–as long as they provide the desired end result: Maintaining/managing wellness.

Addiction neuroscience makes this critical distinction crystal clear by showing us that addiction relapse can be triggered by any combination of eating, moving or thinking poorly–or lack of a sound practice for each. For example, we cannot possibly think our way out of bad dietary or exercise habits anymore than consuming clean, nutrient rich foods will compensate for a sedentary lifestyle or unhealthy thinking patterns.

The research tells us and what has become abundantly evident is that people in addiction recovery must practice a wellness lifestyle–if they’re interested in staying well. Included in such a lifestyle are the key, essential nutrients of moving, eating and thinking well all of the time, (no one practice can compensate for another), for some period of time, (repetition anchors practice), one day at a time, (here and now)–for a lifetime, (chronic nature of addiction).

Addiction Neuroscience

Essential Nutrients for Life

A Matter of Life and Death

I don’t know how many times we’ll need to read or hear about the story of the person in addiction recovery who fails to thrive via relapse or even death, and under closer scrutiny who was found to have departed from some aspect of a wellness lifestyle. And this because a “wellness lifestyle” remains some “alternative” choice? Alternative to what, the continued, lousy statistics we’re seeing in addiction treatment long-term outcome studies? Alternative to what, an early, strange and unusual death?

If this post appears to read increasingly more alarming as it progresses, that is because we need to sound the alarms. What may seem like a tall order to adhere to sound practices and balance in how we move, what we eat and the nature of our thoughts, is indeed a matter of life and death for a person in addiction recovery. In the course of time it took to prepare this post, 6 people have died from prescription opiate overdose, alone.

Let me be abundantly clear; treating addiction without initial acute care and structured long-term aftercare steeped in programs teaching the combined areas of clinically relevant exercise, diet and cognitive practices is tantamount to treating symptoms and doing it poorly. It’s not that we should try to do these things…it’s that we have to teach people to practice these things if we’re serious about successfully and comprehensively treating this deadly condition. These wellness practices are not alternative to anything; they are the standard of care for addiction treatment.

When scientific evidence and personal practices align seamlessly to give us what we all want; more peace of mind, joy and productivity, let’s stop kidding ourselves that there is a “cure” for anything other than a no-nonsense, thoughtful wellness lifestyle requiring diligence, practice and common sense.

Applied addiction neuroscience confirms that integrated wellness lifestyle practices are the new common sense and long-term answer to the successful management of addiction.

What’s in your practice?


Addiction Neuroscience: Feed Your Brain

By | Addiction Neuroscience, Addiction Recovery | 4 Comments

The years 1990 to 2000 have been dubbed, “The Decade of the Brain.” Addiction neuroscience, its scientists and researchers learned more about the brain in those years than all of the combined years before them.

The applied brain science and ongoing research tells us that the brain keeps learning and changing directly proportional to being “fed” its three essential nutrients of oxygen, fuel (good nutrition) and motion, (healthy, regular movement/exercise of the extension of the brain; the body).

Well, like fish swimming through water, we’re bathing in oxygen and clean, fresh air is a no-brainer. So how do you know what “good nutrition” and the right kind of exercise means? Here’s a good place to start: Recovery Health Care.

Yeah, all of this is killer good news for a person in addiction recovery because the “target organ” of the disorder and disease of addiction is the brain. The brain has the capacity to actually physically change its architecture or “neural nets” which allows recovering people to design new perceptions and wellbeing practices over time delivering a whole new way of life–spectacular good news for the recovering community.

So here’s how it worked/works for me in long term addiction recovery. Through one day at a time and years of practice I have changed the way my mind and body work. I don’t seriously consider using drugs and behaviors that nearly killed me because I have found new practices and behaviors that trump the payoff of the old ways beyond measure. You know the old platitude: Replace a bad habit with a healthier habit. True that.

Now here’s the interesting bit; I still have the old tracks in my mind and when they come up for whatever subtle, triggered reason, I observe them much like being in meditation and think, “Huh, look at that. Isn’t that an interesting way I used to see and behave in the world.”

The triggered thoughts are like an archaic subroutine in a GPS that has been upgraded–they’re still there and only useful for one thing: What not to do now. It nearly brings tears to my eyes to know that the Power that created this whole experience provides for these checks and balances as It reminds me, I am programmed for health, not sickness.

One caveat: If I discontinue the newer, albeit habituated healthy habits, the old subroutines resurface and are offered up for choice again. We see it all the time with folks in long term recovery who stop feeding their brains optimal levels of oxygen, fuel and motion. What happened!? We know what happened. Get your practices back.

If we don’t get away from the basics, we don’t have to get back to the basics.

There’s a cultural myth that people with addiction issues have to “struggle and wrestle” with their issues for a lifetime. Not true in my experience–at all. The answer for me has been to upgrade my lifestyle and in the lexicon of one kick-ass spiritual program, “to practice these principles in all of my affairs” including a principled and superb mind-body-spirit fitness program.

One definition for a miracle is: A new perception.

I’ve beaten the odds today for the potentially and often fatal disease of addiction because I’m up for practicing my newer, life saving and life optimizing behaviors–today.

What a miraculous way to be.


Holistic Addiction Treatment: Chiropractic

By | Addiction Neuroscience, Chiropractic | 8 Comments

Holistic addiction treatment should include chiropractic care as an integral “moving part” of the approach.

Addiction is caused by a variety of factors including a genetic predisposition. We know that most genetic markers–this is certainly true for addiction–require initiators and promoters to manifest the associated disease. Anything from physical or emotional trauma to nutritional deficiency or toxicity in the environment can initiate or promote a genetic predisposition.

Addiction is a disorder that disables the brain from producing the “feel-good” chemicals most people take for granted. As a result addicts are not only uncomfortable in their own bodies, they are highly dysfunctional while looking to foreign substances for relief. Addicts are unable to read, assess and respond appropriately to their own internal signals, let alone those from external sources, including other human beings. The condition worsens as tolerance increases and the vicious cycle of chronic abuse further disables an already weakened brain chemical system.

Pain, physical or mental, is our internal alarm system of a threat to our well-being. Masking pain, through self-medication or therapies meant solely to help us live with it, is tantamount to thinking you can put out a fire by turning off the fire alarm.

Whatever the multi-factorial causation of addiction, our challenge as health professionals is to break the abuse cycle, then habituate the addict to healthy practices long enough to enable the brain to rewire and begin producing its own feel-good chemicals again–or perhaps for the first time ever.

Sedentary lifestyle, exacerbated by the standard American diet of high insulin and inflammation producing foods, are strong initiators and promoters–co‑conspirators–of addiction. Introducing recovering addicts to a foundation of moving and eating well in early recovery is imperative for long-term sobriety.

Though neuroscience has made great strides in the understanding and interaction of chemicals in the brain and their impact on behavior, we have more to learn than we know. Invasive, chemical interventions with incomplete knowledge have a high risk of unintended, sometimes disastrous, side effects. This is where chiropractic comes into the treatment and management of this complex illness of the mind, body and spirit.

The latest brain research shows that stimulation of sensors (called mechanoreceptors) found all over the body is necessary for optimal brain function. As the body–including the spine–moves functionally and in a full range of motion, signals are sent back to the brain saying, “All is well!” This allows the brain to continue transmitting this good news to the rest of the body where all mind body systems benefit, including our emotions.

On the other hand, if the body is inflexible, it is unable to stimulate these feel good sensors. A different signal (called nociception) is sent to the brain saying, “Danger, Danger!” In response to the alarm, the brain executes an order to release stress hormones like cortisol that marshal a whole body alert: “Fight or flight!” Individuals in poor physical condition risk a state of chronic stress–and stress is the number one trigger for addiction relapse.

Chiropractic is particularly effective in mitigating chronic stress because of its focus on the spine. More mechanoreceptor sensors are located in and around the spine than anywhere else in the body. If the spine–our core–is not moving well, not only does it affect movement in the rest of the body, it triggers a stress response that, among other health risks, increases addiction relapse.

At Recovery Health Care, our Blueprint for Recovery™ 90-day program offers recovering addicts a series of chiropractic adjustments that allow the stimulation of the natural, feel-good neural pathways. As the individual makes progress, we add daily movement exercises, diet changes, and auriculotherapy to reinforce behavior that will bolster the neurological rewiring necessary for lasting change to feel well and become functional members of the community.

Neuroscience confirms that having a trained and qualified chiropractor on your integrated team for addiction treatment and management is a healthy decision.