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Dr. Herby Bell Archives - Recovery Health Care

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The Recovery Journey: How to Save a Life

By | Addiction Recovery | No Comments

My name is Dr. Herby Bell and I’ve been in a steep learning curve for what seems like my entire life, while studying the cause and treatment of addiction while on my own addiction recovery journey. I want to share with you some of what I’ve been learning but first, let me tell you why I’m so interested in the subject in the first place.

Addictionology and working with recovering people is a big part of my life’s work because it’s been such a big part of my life’s story. My own Dad died of the disease as an impaired physician, I am a man in long-term recovery and addiction is a prominent thread in my family legacy. So I have a passionate, vested, generational interest in the subject, and the work just feels good and right to me.

Here’s what recent research has revealed. Addiction is a systemic problem in our culture. It is a symptom of our society and cannot be relegated to simply a genetic trait. In fact, the genetic markers originally thought to be the cause of addiction are only a contributory factor–in the largest picture.

The “epigeneticists” or those in the know, tell us that just because you have a gene doesn’t mean it necessarily needs to express a condition associated with it. In other words, the environment has quite a bit to do with it.

So, just like a growing seed requires nourishment from the soil, water and sunlight to develop properly, addiction has much more to do with our own, biological development, our repeating family of origin patterns and our dysfunctional culture, than exclusively, with genetics.

Which leads me to a startling revelation that the addictive process can begin in pregnancy. Now, I’m not referring to an addictive couple giving birth to a crack or heroine baby, for example. I’m talking about a so-called normal pregnancy.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch about how that works: If a pregnancy is overly stressed, and many pregnancies are in our culture, the mother can produce too much of the stress hormone called cortisol, which crosses the placenta and can prevent the baby’s early brain development from forming the optimal amount of what are called, “receptor sites” for the “feel good and well being” internal chemicals like endorphins and dopamine.

The baby is born with “sub-optimal brain circuitry”–really!–and predisposed to looking for things outside of himself to feel good–and to feel good about himself. This is amplified by being born into dysfunctional families–and we’ve all got ‘em, by virtue of the outside–in, addictive consumer culture in which we live.

Here’s a remarkable fact: 75% of our 2.5 million prison population in the U.S.–the world’s largest–are substance/behavior abuse individuals with the brain disorder and disease of addiction. That’s 3 out of 4!

It stands to reason then that 3 out of 4 of our families are also directly connected to addiction in one way or another.

So here’s the point: These sobering facts don’t cast blame or victimize anyone, but rather, shed light on why addiction has become such an enormous, epidemic problem in in our culture–in the world! We can all identify with addictive tendencies–in ourselves– from the workaholic to the shopaholic to unhealthy relationships with people and food and other behaviors–all different addictions, but all the same underlying brain chemistry and addictive process.

Addiction is a deeply personal, family, community–societal challenge and when we hold it in this more holistic way, we can begin to understand why our current education, treatment and law enforcement policies are failing miserably across the board.

For example, addiction is treated as an acute problem. It’s not! It is a chronic, recurrent problem having to do with a definable brain disorder, not a moral deficit. How many of you have friends and family members who have relapsed again and again and again, who are written off as three, four, five! time losers? Addiction is a symptom of our post industrial, technological society. A symptom. Let’s get to its cause. There is no “war” on drugs, there is only finding peace with a better way of life.

Ready for some good news? And there is good news for the brain disorder of addiction because, the brain is re-writable or as the scientists say, neuroplastic. I’ll bet you’re familiar with the term. What that means for recovering addicts–like me!–is that what is required is a safe place to practice abstention while forming new brain circuits–really!–another way to say it is a safe environment to practice new and healthier habits to produce and manage endorphins and dopamine–the feel good chemicals–from within.

An individual with addiction is absolutely incapable of deciding or willing himself out of his disease anymore than a heart patient or diabetic and his/her disease. Treatment requires many things, including compassionate, empathetic, and present people to help “re-birth” the addict into a new life while the brain is repairing itself. This takes time, sometimes years but when compared to the years it took to develop the condition, it makes sense, doesn’t it!?

Addiction is a metaphor for what we’ve lost touch with in our culture. When we can begin seeing that we all hold the key to getting back to a more integrated, holistic approach to the way we live, it is my hope and vision that we can begin making real strides toward helping more people with the chronic, recurrent and potentially fatal brain disorder and disease of addiction. Here’s to that collective endeavor to save a life: One life, and one day at a time.

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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.

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Chiropractic Care: Using the Body to Heal the Mind

By | Chiropractic | 7 Comments

An idea whose time is now: Chiropractic care and using the body to heal the mind in addiction treatment.

Substance and behavior abuse have reached epidemic proportions in our country. This coupled with the emotional repression and stress associated with living in our outside-in, consumer culture has produced America’s number 1 health challenge: Addiction.

The cost of treatment, the repercussions on society and our family structures are devastating not to mention the high number of ancillary deaths that are directly associated with the disease of addiction–from auto accidents to heart failure.

It is a well known statistic that only 25% of those who seek addiction treatment have successful results. In other words, 75%, or 3 out of 4 of the individuals who do seek treatment for addiction fail and fall back into the seemingly endless revolving door of relapse-remission-relapse from this destructive brain disorder. The strongest implication is that the culture that fosters addiction, begets addiction.

In lieu of reinventing our culture but in the spirit of re-visioning addiction treatment, it is time to try different approaches and combinations of approaches when it comes to addiction recovery.

Addiction is a mind-body-spirit disorder as spelled out by the mainstream, American Medical Association’s, American Society of Addiction Medicine (http://www.asam.org/for-the-public/definition-of-addiction). It stands to reason that its treatment should include mind, body and spiritual modalities as an integrated, comprehensive approach.

The “target organ” for addiction is the brain (just as the pancreas is the target organ for diabetes) and specifically the meso-limbic or mid-brain. Historically, addiction treatment has focused upon healing the mind with brain treatment modalities like psychotherapy and drug therapy.

Since 1935, and while there are many other approaches, Alcoholics Anonymous has been the mainstay for the “spiritual” piece in the equation.

But in keeping with a more comprehensive approach, what about an integral modality that focuses attention on the physical body–mind-body-spirit?–equally, and as important as the mind and the spirit? Can the body contribute to healing the mind and the spirit?

After all, the body is truly an extension of the mind–an actual projected map of the brain–with remarkable knowledge, wisdom and inherent healing and recuperative capabilities from head to toe. Our bodies are veritable learning domains. Ever had a “gut feeling?” In fact, most of the receptor sites for many neurotransmitters–the “well being” brain chemicals–are in the gut and not in the brain proper.

No wonder then, and who has not felt remarkably inspired and well, after exercising the body as it releases all of these inherent, feel good chemicals? A never ending feedback loop from the brain to the body and vice-versa, inform every fiber of our beings every moment we live.

Intervening at the level of the body through techniques that deliberately remove interference from this pristine system is unfortunately, just what the present day, addiction doctor is not ordering. Chiropractic care is just such an indicated and effective approach and often a missing link in the addiction treatment community. Chiropractic helps ensure that a clear, uninterrupted signal is getting from the brain to all of the body parts and back to the brain again. And people who undergo chiropractic care are taught that without good lifestyle habits including flexibility, strength and cardiovascular exercise, good nutrition and a psychological/spiritual practice–chiropractic care is incomplete and will be less effective.

Similarly, the same “missing piece” dynamic holds true for what’s missing in addiction treatment and chiropractic care addresses the “body” piece of the mind-body-spirit equation effectively and seamlessly. Chiropractic is not a panacea but a time and cost efficient, conservative, minimally invasive way to bridge this gap in addiction treatment.

The idea of wedding mind and body approaches to healing is not a new one. For centuries and long before the first traces of modern science, healing arts practitioners from the mainstream to the esoteric alike have acknowledged that the way people felt in their minds could influence the way they responded in their bodies–and vice versa.

There is no separation of body and mind and we are just coming to understand how profoundly and inextricably entwined these two parts of our being along with spirit, interact in communion for our well being.

Including chiropractic care in a comprehensive addiction treatment protocol–especially in the first 90 days of treatment is important for the following reasons:

  • Providing human touch/compassion fostering neuroplasticity to help “re-write” dysfunctional brain circuitry
  • Removes interference from normal nerve function
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Better sleep patterns
  • Decreases use of chemical pain relievers and psychiatric drugs
  • Greater sense of well being
  • Increases energy levels
  • Decreases stress levels
  • Decreases joint and muscle pain

A mind-body-spirit approach to addiction is synergistic in action, in other words, the sum total is greater than its parts. As our health systems and institutions move from the compartmentalized, mechanistic approach of yesterday, to the integrated, vitalistic and holistic framework of today, let the mind-body-spirit approach of addiction medicine and treatment help blaze this new trail by incorporating in this endeavor, the largest, drugless, hands-on healing profession in the world: chiropractic.

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Getting Addiction Out of the Closet

By | Addiction | 2 Comments

I saw a television advertisement recently for an addiction treatment center in Southern California. The ad declared that the center’s addiction services were the best in the world with world class outcomes to match. Maybe you’ve seen the ad. The ad went on to say that the center’s exceptional results are guaranteed. Whoa…I had to learn more and called to inquire about what these people might be doing differently in addiction treatment. My call was answered by a very nice man who said they did what most other centers do around the country, but just recycled their clients, “if at first they did not succeed”–at no additional charge. How much did they charge for their 90-day program? Only “about” $115,000 dollars. Is it really necessary to spend $115,000++ dollars–and plenty of people do–for addiction treatment when the results are the same wherever one looks? No. The problem is we’re really not addressing the problem.

Here’s my point: Addiction treatment remains like the rest of the culture: Dysfunctional.

Our culture produces our addicted population–our chemically and behaviorally dependent community. These genetically pre-disposed, brain disordered, at risk people with all the attendant family and environmental triggers–thought to be about 20% of us–are accidents waiting to happen, most of whom never knew what hit ‘em. Stats tell us that only 3% of the estimated 60 million substance and behavior misuse addicts in the United States get treatment–at all. Three percent. And of those, only one quarter, 25% respond favorably. The remainder, or three quarters of them get recycled back into the addictive culture from whence they came and the sad story of addiction drums on…and on. No wonder addiction’s got a dubious reputation.

Part of the problem has to do with the individual parts of the addiction treatment “community” remain isolated from one another and the mainstream by virtue of the compartmentalized nature of modern health care and the anonymity and confidentiality issues that the culture insists upon. We have a plethora of, for-profit, addiction treatment centers around the country answering families’, “We’ll do/pay anything, just make this (addiction) stop ruining our family!” battle cry. This, along with the still stigmatized, moralized and marginalized nature of how addiction is misunderstood in this country, creates a perfect storm of a conundrum.

Another part of the problem is addiction treatment is being corporatized. Bigger, parent companies are buying up independent centers at a quickening pace because well, it’s profitable! If jeopardized, the profit motive, the bottom line necessarily has to supersede any other consideration including more holistic and integrated approaches. Hey, it’s what corporations do and to the degree that we keep the primacy of the profit motive in what we’re currently calling health care, it’s what WE do. And why would a corporation want to disturb its bottom line by messing with the returning customer phenomenon that is its bread and butter? The care givers working in these corporations are seasoned, compassionate and empathetic professionals but something is definitely being “lost in translation.”

One definition for the word community is, “A place to bring and share our gifts.” What needs to happen to break addiction treatment’s 25% glass ceiling is to:

1. Get addiction out of the closet. It’s not a moral issue, it’s a brain disorder and disease. Addiction is our problem. We are creating it, not the inner city heroin user. See the feature documentary, The Anonymous People ASAP.

2. Educate the entire community. Teachers, emergency room physicians, fire fighters/EMT’s, CHP and other law enforcement professionals are inundated with the devastation of addiction day in and day out. Bring in E.R. docs and Fire Captains, the CHP and neighborhood police officers to speak at places from Parent Teacher Associations to Junior League and Rotarian meetings to let us all know what they’re doing all day: Dealing with what we are producing: More and more addicts.

3. The addiction treatment community needs to become the entire community. We need to recruit all hands, all minds, bodies and spirits to start to make a real and significant difference in this, our number one health challenge in the United States today.

Want to know how to keep your friend, brother, sister, cousin, uncle, mom, dad, aunt, son, husband or daughter from coming out of rehab and going back to the same old habits? Stop being the same old culture that created the habits in the first place. Go to Al-anon meetings–for you. Stop using the alcohol and other drugs and behaviors that you don’t have a problem with–if it’s not a problem, no problem, just stop doing it.

If we’re not all part of the problem, there is no solution. In the 48 hours, the two days it took from conception to publishing this article, 50 people were killed by drunk drivers and 80 people died of prescription drug overdose all over the country. That’s 130 deaths in two days.

We need to break that 25% success rate glass ceiling in addiction treatment and we can, but we can’t do it without you. Let’s get addiction out of the closet.

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Mens Groups: How a Small Group of Men Will Save the World

By | Men's Groups | One Comment

Men have been gathering in small mens groups for support and wisdom since the dawn of civilization. From the seasoned elders to the fired up young warriors, circles of men have convened for millennia to express and explore concerns and ideas which rejuvenate and replenish wholeness to themselves and the world.

I have been honored and privileged to be a part of a men’s group for the last two decades. The idea is to meet on a regular basis to tap into the collective gifts of the group–usually eight men at most.

Individuals’ issues come and go as regularly and predictably as the relationship between the Moon, the Earth and her sacred tides. When the room is attuned, when all are present, the singular clarity that any one man’s issue–is the issue of every man, becomes crystal clear. Marriage, family, career, health, creativity, loss, success, wonderings, longings, it’s all there waiting for the wake up call. As the issues are triaged by the elders and the bantering quells, the listening begins, the judging stops and men are heard and seen and held in the highest regard.

The container for what goes on in the group grows and becomes increasingly larger as trust is assured in this place where the agreement is to practice presence, compassion and empathy for one another. The agreement is to foster the observer in each of us, to become better men.

In my tenure as a mens group member, I have watched, participated and learned about life’s issues from the frank fear of living, to the shadow of prejudice whether it be racial, sexual or spiritual–to the underlying truth that we all care deeply about our lives, each other and the world. We all come with a coat of armor and a story with a central grievance that is gently prodded, taken off and put aside ever-so-slowly as safety and respect are established.

The presumed secrets of each man come tumbling out as the collective nod of, “Oh, we already knew that about you” never ceases to surprise and delight us all.

When men meet and sit in a group together on a regular basis, the truth emerges. Men will not, cannot lie to each other for long–we won’t stand for it. When men can stay for this awful, ecstatic truth about their lives to become finally and unavoidably explicit to themselves and the world, something fantastic happens. What happens is that living in a contracted and compromised way is no longer an option. What happens is when a man gets his life and transcends–let’s go of a story that may no longer be working or healthy, he goes out and gets his life with dignity, authenticity, passion and support.

Since the Industrial Revolution and more recently the Technological Revolution, men have had scarce little of this kind of training or support. Many of our fathers and father’s fathers were physically and/or emotionally absent as a result. Men have been asked to go out into a world that is antithetical to a deep, intimate understanding of what it’s like to live in another man’s mind, body and spirit.

Is it any wonder we can continue waging the atrocity of war with rational lies while conducting business like Wall Street’s infamous Gordon Gekko? Is it any wonder why we have become a country of consumer addicts and substance–from food to pharmaceuticals–abusers? Is it any wonder we can continue to poison the Earth and environment and abuse our companion species and forms (like water and minerals) as if we had another planet to live on when we’ve destroyed our home? Good planets are hard to find.

Without a small group of men meeting in every neighborhood with the intention of diving deep down into the biology of beliefs of the individual and collective, with willingness and openness to evolve and grow, men become isolated and laminated with facade and lifelessness. Without committing to a regular discipline of dropping the pretense of unhealthy competitiveness and greed and exploring our one short life together with other men, we cannot possibly tap into, and deconstruct the unconscious, implicit memory and patterns that haunt our families and drive so much of what has gone dysfunctional in the world. Without a passionate desire to lose the act of supposing to know what to do in a world of bad actors and outcomes, men cannot possibly become the best fathers, sons, husbands, partners, brothers, providers, protectors, leaders and citizens they were born to be.

When men awaken to the responsibility of consistent participation in a masculine community, isolation fades and the benefits of gathering are progressively revealed as deep wounds and truths are made consciously available for practical application.

Men adore, respect and seek to be in the company of women. But men are empowered, genuinely empowered by other men.

When men can stay and share their lives, hopes, aspirations and dreams with other men, something fantastic happens and something fantastic needs to happen to save the world.