The American Medical Association has long understood that addiction is a brain-driven, bio-psycho-social illness. As a result, recovery is like a three-legged stool, with spiritual, biochemical, and psycho-social aspects. A key aspect of recovery is learning how to keep the brain and body healthy and in balance using nutritional support.
Fortunately, 50 years of research supports an alternative approach to addressing the chemical imbalances underlying addictive behavior. By learning to feed their brains and bodies the simple nutrients required for optimal and balanced functioning, many recovering people are empowered to create a stable and enduring recovery and a vibrant life.
Imagine a three-legged stool. If this stool has only one functioning leg, it will fall over immediately; if it has two legs, the person attempting to sit on it may stay upright for a short while, but only by staying focused on maintaining strict balance. Once distracted, they fall right over. However, bringing in the third leg of the stool allows a person to easily find balance, and move on with life.
The three legs of the recovery stool are the spiritual, biochemical, and psycho-social aspects of recovery. Treatment programs that bring in the biochemical “third leg of the stool” have been shown to have a much lower relapse rate than programs that don’t.
Traditional treatment programs including Alcoholics Anonymous have done a great job developing effective approaches to the psychological, social and spiritual aspects of addiction. For the most part, however, these programs do not teach their clients the skills necessary to address or manage the biochemical and brain imbalances that drive addiction. Thus, relapse rates in traditional programs are chronically high.
Even when people do manage to stay sober, they are often plagued by ongoing depression, anxiety, irritability and insomnia. This leads them to seek relief by going to psychiatrists whose toolboxes are generally limited to the use of psychotropic medications, thus rendering patients dependent upon them for lifetime prescriptions.
Many addicts and alcoholics go into treatment to get off mood altering substances, only to leave treatment on more drugs than they entered with. Furthermore, many of these drugs are toxic, have serious side effects, or stop working effectively after a while. Just as importantly, these drugs do not address the root causes of brain imbalance.
This biochemical or “bio” approach is based on two premises: 1) keeping blood sugar very stable throughout the day and 2) quickly replenishing the malnourished addicted brain with the nutrients necessary for its optimal functioning.
Blood sugar can be kept stable by never, ever missing a meal; avoiding simple sugars and starches; and eating protein every three to four hours.
Nutrients that are needed to replenish the addicted brain are ideally found in a well-rounded, whole food, “pro-recovery” diet. They include amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
By the middle and late stages of addiction, however, most addicts and alcoholics are profoundly nutrient-deprived and have developed serious digestive issues. Therefore, we have found that using supplements which contain these crucial nutrients often effectively “jump-starts” the repair process and leads to dramatic decrease of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, quickly improving mood and sleep. These supplements can be found at any local vitamin store and can be taken as needed without a prescription.
Treatment programs that include a “bio” approach have identified underlying physiological disorders that many people self-medicate by using mood-altering chemicals and behaviors. These disorders include hypo- or hyper-thyroidism, adrenal dysfunction, food intolerances, and genetic polymorphisms such as issues with the MTHFR gene or Reward Deficiency Syndrome. These disorders can be easily identified and treated, again leading to a more serene recovery.
Books that teach this approach include Seven Weeks to Sobriety by Joan Mathews Larson, Ph.D.; End Your Addiction Now by Charles Gant, M.D.; and The Mood Cure by Julia Ross, M.A. The Alliance for Addiction Solutions, a nonprofit educational organization, is another good source of information.