Common Myths of Addiction
After treating hundreds of people abusing alcohol, cocaine, heroin and other drugs, as well as treating the “legal” addictions of caffeine, tobacco, and sugar, I have seen how a series of popular myths has often clouded the issue of addiction.
Here are some popular misconceptions:
Myth #1: Most of those suffering from addiction are mentally ill.
Fact: Once the correct treatment is given, the so-called “addictive personality” and a lot of other psychopathology simply disappear. This, of course, does not negate the tremendous importance of social and emotional support, psychotherapy, and 12-step programs, but adds the missing piece to treatment and relapse prevention. It also allows you to begin to examine old traumas which themselves cause chronic (and often unconscious) stress, which continues to deplete your brain chemistry.
Myth #2: Compulsive use of an addictive substance is a sign of weakness or poor moral character.
Fact: You are not a weak or “bad” person. Rather, you have a brain chemistry imbalance, and moral character may have little to do with it. To prove the point, researchers took a group of rats, made them “alcoholic,” and then treated them with amino acids. When tested further, they had lost their cravings and addiction. Of course, human beings are more complex, have social cues, and emotional baggage. In any case these life issues are all best dealt with by a well-nourished brain.
Myth #3: Chronic addiction is a disease can only be treated with prescription drugs.
Fact: While someone may have a chemical imbalance, it’s not a Prozac or Klonopin deficiency. As a psychiatrist who can prescribe drugs, but most of time chooses not to, I urge moderation in the use of multiple drug “cocktails.” Medication should be used only under the care of a specialist, and preferably one who also understands the importance of nutritional supplementation along with it. Being overly medicated interferes with mental and emotional rehabilitation: you can’t participate fully in therapy or a 12-step program when you’re in a medication-induced fog!
Myth #4: Avoiding relapse is a constant struggle for those in recovery.
Fact: Once you’re in balance, any craving to use is simply a sign that you need to correct your nutrition once again. It works!
Myth #5: “Substance abuse runs in my family so I can’t help it.”
Fact: If you have a family history of substance abuse, you simply have to be more careful than most to take the appropriate nutrients. You do not have to be a slave to your genes!
The Nutrient Link
Recovery will progress far better if you know about using specific supplements to restore your brain chemical balance. Why? There are millions of chemical reactions that occur every second in every cell of our bodies. These reactions require specific nutrients in order to function properly. Particularly sensitive are the neurons or nerve cells, requiring just the right raw materials to manufacture neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that control mind, mood, and behavior. When we don’t have the materials we need, we become depressed, drowsy, irritable, or agitated, or we can’t think or concentrate properly.
Along come our fixes: caffeine or cocaine to sharpen your mind and raise your energy, alcohol or valium to calm you down, heroin to take you away from it all — or whatever your substance of choice happens to be. The problem is, you’re not giving the cells what they really need, but only fooling them for a brief moment. Not only does that substance hit wear off, but you are left feeling worse than before! You may continue chasing that initial high, hoping that it will return with the next dose, and become caught in the cycle of addiction. Of course, it doesn’t work,
The good news is that there is a healthy “fix” that actually works, with no withdrawal or other negative effects. Since neurotransmitters are literally made from nutrients—amino acids, vitamins, and minerals—we can formulate the perfect “brain food” to restore them, thereby breaking the cycle of addiction. Nutritional supplements can restore balance, and create a state of high energy, increased focus, and good mood, with no withdrawal or side effects, since you’re giving your brain cells exactly what they need to operate at their best. The program may take some fine-tuning, but generally works quite quickly and effectively.
Sugar addiction is closely related to most of the other addictions. By keeping your blood sugar level throughout the day with the proper diet and supplements, you can avoid those dips that lead to cravings for alcohol or cocaine (or any other substance of choice). I also recommend the supplements chromium and glutamine to help reduce sugar cravings. They act like glucose on the brain cells, but are a far safer solution, with no rebound hypoglycemia, or lows.
Here are the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and their functions:
- Dopamine, norepinephrine (NE): Stimulating, supplies good mood, focus and alertness
- Serotonin: Elevates mood and calms, relaxes
- GABA: Calms, relaxes, modulates; “chill factor”
- Acetylcholine: Supports mind and memory
Now that we understand the relationship between brain chemistry and addiction, let’s see what I would add to first help stop the addict’s downward spiral and then, to restore brain chemistry balance.
Eating for Recovery
A nutritious, balanced diet is foremost, to provide a steady supply of the raw materials your brain needs to restore and maintain optimal brain function, and remain addiction –free. Even with simply the dietary adjustments, many find they are feeling much better, with fewer cravings. Here are the basics:
- Eat whole foods and fresh foods; avoid processed foods.
- Eat three servings a day of top-quality protein foods—fish, poultry, lean meat (free range), egg, soy, or combinations of beans, lentils, and grains.
- Choose complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, and most fruits, and avoid sugar and refined foods.
- Eat fish three times a week, or take fish-oil supplements.
- Drink at least a quart of water, if not two, a day, either pure or in diluted juices and herbal or fruit teas.
- Minimize your intake of tea, coffee, and soft drinks.
- Eat lots of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables—at least five servings a day.
Start with a multi vitamin-mineral formula, generally 2 capsules twice daily with meals, unless otherwise noted, with the following additional supplements:
- Chromium (200 mcg) and glutamine (500 mg twice daily and also as needed for cravings) to regulate blood sugar and thereby reduce brain fog and cravings for sugar, alcohol, or drugs.
- 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), to boost serotonin levels: 50-100 mg in AM, and 100-400 mg at bedtime both for depression and sleep problems. If you are on an SSRI antidepressant, use 5- HTP with caution and take at least 2 hrs away from meds. The theoretical risk here is serotonin syndrome, in fact rarely seen with combining amino acids with medication – far likelier a result of mixing serotonin enhancing drugs.
- Calming amino acids, theanine 200 mg and taurine 500 -1000 mg to boost GABA when anxious or irritable; calming herbs valerian 100 mg (or 100-200 at bedtime), lemon balm, passion flower for calming and for sleep enhancement.
- Tyrosine (500-1000 mg) and/or phenylalanine (500-1000 mg) to boost dopamine for enhanced mood and concentration, first thing in AM and then early PM if needed.
- Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of fish oil 1000 mg twice daily to help restore the cell wall in which neurotransmitters are made.
- B vitamins (25-100 mg of each) and magnesium 200 mg (may be found in a high potency multi) to handle the depletion due to addiction and stress.
- Specific brain cell nutrients such as phosphatidyl serine(100 mg) and phosphatidyl choline (GPC 500 mg), acetyl-l-carnitine (500 mg), and ginkgo (60 – 90 mg) to enhance acetylcholine, brain blood flow and brain cell health; especially in those over 45, and/or with memory problems
- “Adaptogenic” herbs such as ashwaganda, and ginseng to support the adrenal glands which are depleted by stress, both physical (from addictive substances) and emotional.
Nutrients for Recovery
Recovery is difficult enough without having to keep track of multiple bottles and formulas. There are combination formulas available, particularly one that contains the equivalent of 6 different formulas into 2 daily packets of capsules, in the balanced amounts needed. They can control cravings and restore brain chemistry in substance abuse recovery, and also useful for ADD, anxiety, and depression. Here is what they contain:
- A potent combination of essential vitamins and minerals for optimum nutrition of brain and body.
- The amino acids and supportive nutrients as mentioned above, to optimize neurotransmitter production.
- Nutrients that diminish sugar cravings (alpha lipoic acid, glutamine)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA) from fish oil, essential for formation of brain cells and neurotransmitters, and a key nutrient for healing depression, ADD, and addiction.
- Powerful antioxidants and liver support nutrients including alpha lipoic acid, NAC, and silymarin (milk thistle), essential for detoxification from toxic substances.
Another formula contains powerful revitalizing nutrients to restore, protect and maintain brain cell function for optimum mood, cognition and memory. It helps prevent age related cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Some of these nutrients can be felt within several hours (acetyl-L-carnitine, GPC, inositol), and others (phosphatidylserine, ginkgo) over months, as they gradually restore the brain cells.
Common in addiction is an overactive “fight- or-flight” response leads to adrenal exhaustion or “burn-out.” Focusing on both catecholamine (“feel good neurotransmitters”) and cortisol (adrenal hormone) balance, take a formula that contains adaptogenic herbs and nutrients to calm the stress response and restore adrenal gland health, depleted in anxiety, chronic stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and prolonged substance abuse.
If anxiety persists, take a GABA enhancer to stabilize mood and relieving stress — without side effects, impairment, drowsiness, or loss of judgment.
Add sedating herbs such as valerian to help you fall asleep and stay asleep.
Where to Start
Since each component has its unique role, most people find they do best when they take a whole system. They find that they can decrease their dose over time, but stay on a maintenance program to keep their mind sharp, their mood even, and to maintain sobriety.
You can also read Natural Highs: Supplements, Nutrition and Mind-Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good All the Time, brain chemistry made simple, with specific questionnaires, detailed (and understandable) explanations about how the brain works, nutrient protocols and mind-body techniques to enhance mind, mood and memory.
You can find more information, including how to order supplements and Natural Highs at www.drcass.com.