Addiction - Simple steps toward change
Addiction looks very different for different people. The amount or type of the addictive substance or activity is not the issue. It is whether it is having a negative impact on your physical, mental, or financial health and whether you want to stop the drug of choice, whether that be alcohol, cigarettes, excess food, drugs, screens, online shopping, gambling etc. The bottom line is, no matter the amount, if it is a problem for you, then it is a problem.
Take alcohol for instance, 2 glasses a night seems perfectly normal to most people, even though it exceeds the recommended intake for women over the week. For others a bottle of wine each night is perfectly acceptable. You may want to reduce your intake, but once you have a couple, all caution is thrown to the wind. Think about that lunch date where you plan on a couple of glasses of sparkles & fall in the door at 3am. There are many shades of addiction and not all of them need to go to AA. Many people fall into a grey area, that is often neglected, leaving them anxious, depressed and seriously wanting change.
Take food as another example. You begin the week eating well, and then the cravings kick in, you know what to do, let's face it you have ready every diet book, but simply can't get past the sugar cravings.
So, if you have decided you want to reduce or eliminate your drug of choice, but it is difficult and you have tried before, you may be asking yourself, why will this time be different when including naturopathic care into the treatment planning?
Naturopathic care can provide help with the following -
- Reducing cravings
- Support the stress & HPA response (hypothalamic, pituitary & adrenal axis)
- Reduce neurotoxicity
- Reduce inflammation
- Repair gut damage
- Support liver function
- Repair any muscle wastage that has occurred
We can think of the treatment planning as a stepped approach where in the early stages we simply relieve the agitation and stress so that the person is able to avoid their drug of choice. N-acetylcysteine and acetyl L carnitine are often helpful in those early stages.
We then work on restoring nutrients and substrates to the brain & body that have become depleted. These can include magnesium, B vitamins, DHA, & vitamin D.
Drugs, alcohol, stress, and nutrient deplete foods strip the body of these important nutrients and replenishing them can absolutely reduce the risk of relapse. Once we begin to feel better, we often then make better choices, or even see that perhaps we have a choice.
Finding the right therapist to talk to can be difficult, but when you get the right person, it can make all the difference. Just because you didn’t connect with one practitioner doesn’t mean you won’t click with the next psychologist/ counsellor that you see. Maybe try a few before you decide. Sometimes talking to a mentor at work, your GP, someone who you know has experienced these issues, a team-mate, an online support group, family or friends- whoever you feel comfortable talking to, simply talking is key.
Taking the drug of choice out of your life is only the first step. What you will fill that empty hole in your life is one of the most important decisions you will need to make. Because if you don’t change your environment and give yourself something else to focus on, you will most likely revert to where you started. This is also one of the most exciting changes you will make. The first step in creating the life you desire
Tips to make this process easier
- Good nutrition
- Sleep, sleep & more sleep if you can
- Supportive friends, family or therapists
Exercise is extremely important as exercise reduces susceptibility to addiction & reduces the risk of relapse. Exercise also reduces anxiety and cravings.
Exercise can increase levels of dopamine in the brain so it is extremely important for those who have reduced their hit of dopamine from their drug of choice. It can also help with sleep, circadian rhythm, and support muscular health which is often damaged from addictive substances.
Now the bad news, whatever you have been doing has been giving you that massive dopamine hit each time you do it….. otherwise you wouldn't do it. Dopamine is important for motivation, mood, memory and movement and we are designed as humans to seek it out. SO, often life will feel boring, un-inspiring, sleep may become hard to come by, & basically we feel off. All the other activities in life that should give a dopamine hit, such as food, exercise, sex, sunrises and sunsets simply don’t do it for you. Our drug of choice makes our brain simply see that drug as the only option for happiness. Nothing else. Another neurotransmitter GABA which is a calming neurotransmitter is often low, and glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter is often high causing anxiety, insomnia and you guessed it cravings.
Now for the good news. If you can just get through the early phases, this brain chemistry will rebalance, and things that once gave joy, will again. It takes time and distance between the drug of choice and your new life. Sometimes I find the neurotransmitters require amino acid support to rebalance, and I will often use 5-htp, GABA, Phenylalanine or Tyrosine in clinic to help. I would suggest talking to your health care practitioner before using these, and they are not suitable for everyone.
So, in summarising there is so much you can do to break patterns, habits, addiction, or simply things that do not serve you anymore & begin the process of changing your life. With a few key steps you can set yourself up for success this time…