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 Recovery: A Wild Child Ride

By | Addiction Recovery, Addiction Treatment, Blog | 9 Comments

Addiction recovery, what a wild child ride.

Recently I watched a movie called, Last Ride, the story of Hank Williams, the prolific writer, performer and perhaps single most important progenitor of Country and Western Music.

Hank, an alcoholic and drug addict was so talented, but so far away from addiction recovery, it makes me wonder what his abruptly ended life at age 29 could have been like.

Addiction Recovery

Hank Williams’ unhealthy, wild ride

One of the scenes in the movie depicted the unbridled, wild and ecstatic places addiction takes us as Hank was seen hanging out of the side of his car, waving and shooting his pistol as he cursed the driver of the car in front of him who was, “in his way.”

From the get-go, addiction has as one of its more dubious qualities, a bottomless pit of searching for ecstasy in all of the wrong places. It gets tricky, because as human beings we are always seeking pleasure. In fact, and as Candace Pert, Ph.D. says, “We are all bags of hormones expressly designed for pleasure.”

There is something about contemporary living however, that keeps us at arm’s length from this natural ecstasy all around us. From not honoring our circadian rhythms to being insulated from the Earth by our urban lifestyles–we long for the natural ecstasy or “buzz” that is our birthright.

In search and in place of this healthy, natural form of ecstasy, alcoholics drink “spirits” and heroine users talk about “the pervasive and warm blanket of intimacy” as the drug suffuses every corner of their beings.

In my own active addiction, I remember thinking I was forever wedded to the chase, procurement and use of the ecstasy I craved, since it didn’t seem to be available otherwise. I remember thinking, “There is no way I can live without this.”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

While the end of my active addiction was not quite as life threatening as Hank Williams’, it was not much different. Somehow, some way I was able to stop the death march and began to pick up the pieces toward building a path toward ecstatic states of being–naturally!–that have turned out to be much more pleasurable and fulfilling than what I thought–albeit delusionally, was the only way.

Dr. Pert is right, we are designed for ecstasy and all that is required is to find practices that deliver it in regular and predictable ways. Practices like movement through exercise that distributes internal chemicals throughout my mind and body thousands of times more potent than the drugs I thought I needed. Practices like pure, delicious and nutrient rich foods that actually produce copious quantities of the dopamine I traded for obtaining it through the second rate, surrogate method. And practices like mindfulness, music and intellectual/emotional stimulation that not only provide ecstatic states of being, but never become “dose dependent” or grow less enjoyable–quite the contrary.

Truly, I had to find a way to live without the synthetic buzz, but surely I DO NOT have to, nor will I live without the natural, wild nature of my life.

Boy, was I ever right.

Addiction Recovery

Rell Sunn & Company

In my sober lifestyle, among other practices I have found something I call, “eco-eroticism” through my beloved relationship with the sea and my surfing practice. Establishing and nurturing my relationship with nature is where I recovered awareness about my “war hoop”–a deeply visceral, rebel yell when I’m in the surf lineup, (eh…and occasionally elsewhere…). Involuntary, wild and ALIVE! And I have stumbled back upon the mystery of merely being by honing my senses–simply by not anesthetizing them any longer.

And BTW, natural ecstasy can, and usually does come from easy access, user friendly sources like walking my constant companion dog while barefoot at the park (both of us, right?!) on early morning, dew moistened grass. What’s better?

Addiction Recovery

Tory Bell barefoot in the park

I have learned that there are just two times and places to get wild and that’s when I’m awake and when I’m asleep…Treating each day as if it were my “last ride” in healthy, life affirming ways.

Addiction recovery–it’s a healthy, wild child ride back to our natural ways of being and worth every single ecstatic twist, turn and step of the way.

Get in touch with your inner wild child and I’ll seeya in the lineup of Life!


The Paleo Lifestyle and Addiction Recovery: Recovering Awareness About How to Thrive

By | Blog | One Comment

I was introduced to the Paleo Community a number of years ago by a colleague, Dr. Andrew Miner of Augusta, Maine. A prince of a guy who lives his talk and true to form, I discovered for myself that the ancestral health principles as the foundation of the Paleo Lifestyle he suggested, just plain work and work beautifully.

What is meant by “ancestral health” is the study of modern health from an evolutionary perspective to develop solutions for our current health challenges. It is an expansive body of research that documents how our ancestors lived and survived in the Paleolithic Era to pass on our current genetic structure, expression and potential.

The Paleolithic Era is a vast period of time from ~ 2.6 million years ago to when the agricultural revolution began, about 10,000 years ago. The purpose for knowing this is to realize that what makes our bodies thrive today was shaped over eons of time and that as modern human beings, we require time honored, pure, essential nutrients and not just the latest new and improved General Foods product.

Okay, cool. So what does this have to do with addiction recovery you might ask? Well, just about everything I’ve learned about the Paleo Lifestyle is applicable to addiction recovery in really great and practical ways.

For starters, the Paleo Lifestyle stresses the concept that if we’re not feeding ourselves with nutrient rich, genetically congruent, non toxic and pure foods, there’s no way our brains can function properly–and remember, addiction is a brain disorder.

What foods are they? Here are the basics:

  • Minimize/replace fast, fried, processed foods, refined carbs/sugar products (bread, cereals, grains…mhmm, that stuff)
  • Eat “pastured” (not pasturized) animal protein: Organic eggs, wild fish, poultry, meat–in moderation
  • Eat organic “above ground” fibrous green leafy, red and yellow vegetables with some exceptions like sweet potatoes
  • Eat only seasonal fruit with wild berries being at the top of the list
  • Satisfy your appetite with saturated fat, (Yes, saturated fat is good!) content foods like organic meat, fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.

So why these changes and these specific choices? Because they minimize unnecessary insulin production (bad juju) and inflammation responses, (so long, Advil) so prevalent in our standard diets. And because they stop the food craving, addictive rollercoaster ride that our standard, high carb, low fat diets perpetuate–and this prevents addiction relapse.

How do I know? Because the scientific literature is full of research studies saying so, but really, because I’ve done it, it works and I wouldn’t live any other way now.

Was it difficult to adopt the Paleo Diet? Well, to tell you the truth, for me it was a lot like stopping alcohol and drugs–and that saved my life! When I got free and clear of the foods that were making me sick and tired and became comfortable with the routine of the foods that made me feel alert, alive and fantastic–and it took about 90 days to actually feel the proof–there was no looking back anymore than I’d consider using drugs and alcohol again. Why?

Additionally, the Paleo Lifestyle stresses that if we’re not exercising or moving like our ancestors did–nearly daily because they had to, to survive–our brains let alone the rest of our bodies, cannot possibly function properly. Let’s get that addicted noggin’ workin’, people.

And what’s best about the general Paleo exercise recommendations is that, “less is more”, i.e., easy does it–but DO IT as loosely outlined here:

  • Walk–a lot
  • Lift something heavy two or three times/week
  • “Red-line” it every 7 to 10 days (age and condition specific)
  • Take a day of rest–’bitchin idea

The key is that these two lifestyle practices need to go together: Moving well and eating well in order for you to be thinking and feeling your best–every day.

And oh, BTW, I forgot to mention that as an added benefit the Paleo Lifestyle returns folks to their natural body weight in the safest, healthiest and most sustainable manner possible just in case America might be interested in that…Do recovering addicts need a boost in self-esteem? Who doesn’t?

If you’re in addiction recovery or want to be, check in with your ancestral health, ( health care provider and your local Paleo Lifestyle community found wherever people are thriving.

You’ll be glad you did and if you’re like me, you’ll realize that your recovery is just the next, very right thing to happen in what the wonderful poet and author, Mary Oliver refers to as, “Your one, wild and precious life.”