Addictions are pervasive in our culture; this article discusses the physiological underpinnings of addictions and pathways to addiction recovery.
Addictive habits are forms of dependence. They are habits- performed time after time- done so often, they are performed in involuntary or compulsive fashion.
Ask any addict how hard it is to break a habit. One reason these habits are so hard to break is the physiological basis for addiction. Diana Schwarzbein, MD, does a stellar job in articulating these physiological mechanisms in “The Schwarzbein Principle”.
(Diana Schwarzbein, MD, Nancy Deville, Health Communications, Deerfield Beach, FL,1999)Many substances that people are prone to become dependent on tend to lower serotonin levels in the brain. Examples include high glycemic carbohydrates, alcohol, and street drugs, such as methamphetamines and cocaine; even stimulants like caffeine results in lowered serotonin in the brain. Lowered serotonin, as we know, leads to depression and the tendency to increase craving. Typically we seek what is easy and what is available to us. If alcohol isn’t available, we will reach for chocolate. Or, we will resume smoking, if we quit years ago.
Have you even met anyone who got a promotion and blew through their money just as fast? We used to attribute this level of spending primarily to people diagnosed with manic- depression. Today, such spending, just as one example, can be attributable probably much more commonly than we realize to a compulsive craving or habit.
All these compulsive habits do initially cause a rush of serotonin. The initial rush of serotonin is followed by a serotonin depletion that we know as depression. Addicts are no longer able to naturally support the rush of serotonin and the subsequent serotonin drop. It is at this point, addicts really “crash”-they hit “rock bottom” and often face hopelessness and despondency.
Dr. Schwarzbein astutely reminds us that people can be addicted to stress. Stress causes release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, insulin which stimulate the production of serotonin. Eventually the body cannot maintain this surge of serotonin and serotonin levels crash. This low serotonin state is what cravings are made of.
Likewise the same mechanism is taking place in people who seem to be addicted to crisis in their lives. This way of life becomes a roller coaster that is not easy to get off. In fact, the “crashes” can so unravel one’s life, it can take years of pain and struggle to regroup, heal and get one’s life back on track.
So no matter what the addiction, if we do not get off that physiological roller coaster, we will simply substitute one addiction for another.
And how do we get off this roller coaster?A proactive total commitment to health and recovery is the only way.
Physiologically, the need to infuse the body with a balanced set of nutrients is essential. The time for ‘crash’ diets is over. Balance in intake of proteins, fats and carbohydrates is essential. However, the carbohydrates need to be “good” carbs- the ones found in starchy vegetables like peas, corn, leeks, lima beans, turnips and the like; legumes such as beans and grains in their natural state, yogurt and most fruits. Breads should be eaten sparingly, and crackers, which contain hydrogenated fats, are best avoided altogether.
Fast foods are best avoided altogether. So are gravies and ketchup. So are processed snack foods like chips and pizza. Sugar pastries and desserts are out as well.
The more foods we can eat in the natural state the better. That means fresh, organic produce. Also, our meats need to be lean and be free of injected chemicals as well. If you notice, a lot more of our larger chains are carrying organic selections. Clearly people are becoming more knowledgeable about their grocery selections.
Future articles will elaborate more on dietary selections. Let’s not forget mental and emotional health as part of recovery. Transforming our negative belief systems into positive ones can go along way in promoting recovery from seemingly insurmountable addictions. This includes overcoming insecurities, fear of rejection, anger, rage, bitterness, guilt, shame, and a root of unforgiveness. Even if we have been treated unfairly, overcoming these feelings will release a process of healing and restoration that will actually help us reduce our risk of relapse into addictive behaviors. These issues are like layers that need to be brought to the surface and resolved, for life to be lived to the fullest. And it is the only pathway out of addiction for good. We cannot live life to the fullest harboring these feelings.
And a deepening sense of spirituality is vital towards recovery. A belief that there is a Power greater than ourselves who we can depend on when things get rough. It’s really the only type of dependency that frees us up to live life to the fullest. And it takes openness, time and commitment to deepen our spiritual connection and beliefs. Subsequent articles will expound on this.
Addiction is a complex, and gripping state of imbalance that overtakes a person’s body, mind and spirit. Clearly recovery is a complex and lifelong process, but so worthwhile. And it is achievable. The more we understand the complex physiological processes taking place that reinforce addiction, the more we can invest in better self care, and heal. Our lives depend on it.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mary F. Zesiewicz, M.D. is a Board Certified Psychiatrist and the author of 'Hippocrates MD: Transformation of Health Care'; Dr Mary is passionate about health care delivery that integrates health and wellness. Please visit: http://www.wholelifequest.com to learn more.