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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.


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.


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, (Paleodocs.com) 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.”


Chiropractic Care: Using the Body to Heal the Mind

By | Chiropractic | 15 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.


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.