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Addiction Recovery: High Time for Change

6 Breakthrough Therapies for the 21st Century

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The Status Quo is Not Working

There has been a distinct disconnect between the “mind” and “brain” sciences when it comes to addiction recovery. In her ground-breaking book, Unbroken Brain: A revolutionary new way of understanding addiction, Maia Szalavitz states:

“Our brains are embodied – much of the problem with the debate over addiction and psychiatry more generally is a refusal to accept this and our ongoing need to see “physical”, “neurological”, and “psychological” as completely distinct.”

We can now see a fundamental flaw with this outdated thinking; a flaw that has in part led to skyrocketing heroin usage (particularly in those ages 18-25) and overdose rates that have quadrupled since 2010[1]. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, illicit drugs cost the US nearly $200 billion annually; just behind alcohol and tobacco use ($224 and $295 billion, respectively)[2].

Residential, intensive outpatient, step-down, 12-step, and sober living programs abound in this nation and grow in numbers daily. One thing is certain; things are getting worse, not better, and substance use is becoming harder than ever to treat!

Why is this? This simply should not be when our understanding of the human brain and behavior is greater than it has ever been. Why are substance users kept in a constant cycle of recovery and relapse while many programs and providers are fiercely committed to ending these cycles under the current model? What is missing in an industry that has been largely unchanged for the past half-century? As a result of my relentless search, I believe that answer is near.

The True Cause of Addiction and Substance Use Disorders

It is no secret that those with substance use disorders also suffer from lifelong struggles with learning and behavior. Some have attention and focus issues due to ADHD and OCD. While others battle anxiety and depression, whether independently or as part of a larger disorder such as PTSD or bipolar. Because of this, addiction recovery will never be truly attainable until the underlying brain-based issues are addressed.

A Paradigm Shift is Needed

A fundamental understanding of how learning impacts behavior is of the highest importance if we are to truly break the relapse-recovery cycle. I offer the following simple equations to illustrate what needs to change:

  1. Learning + Environment = Behavior
  2. Impaired Learning + Environment = Undesirable Behavioral Patterns (Addiction)

Most often we cannot change one’s environment, which is the basis for many residential treatment programs as we know them. Taking an individual out of their environment = behavior change. Changing this one variable alone is simply not enough to break the cycle of addiction. This is especially true as many residential treatment programs move towards shorter and shorter time of stay (i.e. 30 vs. 180 days or more).

Beyond environment, most recovery programs are focused on elimination of problem behaviors (the end result). The treatment norm for the past half-century has been varied aspects of mental health counseling; both in individual and group settings.

Based on the equations above, a critical component of the addiction cycle is being overlooked. The root of the problem. The only component that can truly impart lasting change…

Learning (the cause)

The brain learns through many avenues of input from our environment (sight, sound, balance, etc.). These functions can be measured[3] and changed through appropriate, brain-based intervention strategies. Hence, Brain Training for the learning and behavioral disorders that lead to addiction and substance use.

Disruption of the Status Quo – Brain Training for Addiction Recovery

  1. Brainwave Optimization. Treatment programs across the nation are seeking out biofeedback and neurofeedback. This highly sophisticated set of tools can help those with addiction improve self-regulation and learning.
  2. Temporal Processing is the rate at which we process sounds in our brains. As you might imagine, learning is significantly impaired when sounds are not interpreted effectively by your brain. We can improve this ability through training of brain-body timing.
  3. Balance Therapy. Our ability to maintain balance is directly connected to our more ‘human’ frontal brain[4]. Therefore, any improvement in balance and spatial awareness will have a positive impact on learning and behavior.
  4. Visual Integration Therapy. 70-80% of learning occurs through our eyes. Those with learning and behavioral disorders have distinct challenges with eye movements that can be corrected when properly assessed.  
  5. Neurological Rehabilitation is a ‘catch-all’ category that contains a host of treatment modalities to improve motor skills, fight-or-flight responses, strength and coordination, cognitive function, and more. All which impact behavior.
  6. Metabolic Therapies. For any addiction recovery program to be truly successful, we need to pay attention to what fuels our bodies. From blood sugar handling to neurotransmitter production, nutritional intervention will ensure your brain functions at the highest level possible.

We’ve Always Done it That Way (is not working anymore!)

While mental health therapies have been an integral component of a sound addiction recovery strategy; it is necessary for us to understand that we need more. What we need are evidence-based strategies to address the underlying learning and behavioral issues that are the hallmark of addiction and substance use disorders.

Enter Brain Training… Measuring ‘biomarkers’ of brain function with sophisticated testing, and creating positive change in these markers through progressive neurological training modalities. This, along with more traditional mental health options, is what offers the greatest hope to those looking to move past addiction; and to achieve complete recovery!



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