Non 12 Step Addiction Cure?

The sciences of Epigenetics, Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis have proven it’s possible.

Is there a “cure” for addiction? The commonly held mainstream answer at the moment is no and that addiction is an incurable chronic disease. However, as with many diseases that were once considered incurable and that are now curable, such as polio, chicken pox, smallpox, malaria, measles, tetanus (just to name a few), isn’t it at least possible, and certainly worth an open mind, that addiction may be curable as well?

The latest accepted belief in the mainstream addiction recovery community is that 1) addiction is a chronic and incurable disease, comparable to other such labeled diseases as asthma, diabetes and hypertension, and 2) that the treatment is a life-long symptom management program that includes some combination of pharmaceutical drugs, behavioral and cognitive therapies. [1]

What if this belief, well-meaning as it is, is incomplete or even wrong? What if a person can be healed of the disease of addiction?

Scientific discoveries in biology and neuroscience have provided new data that show we can change how our DNA is expressed, create new neural networks and grow new brain neurons throughout our lifetime. This is a huge revolutionary, or more to the point, evolutionary, paradigm shift in our understanding of how our bodies and minds can heal. Rather than viewing our genetic code as a fixed blueprint for our lives, or that the brain is a hardwired, programmed organ unable to adapt and change or grow new brain neurons, the sciences of Epigenetics, Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis have proven otherwise.

Groundbreaking new discoveries in biology called “Epigenetics” have shown that our genes are not locked into a predetermined and unchangeable blueprint at birth. Rather, our beliefs and perceptions of ourselves and the environment actively influence our genes. This doesn’t mean that we actually change our DNA, but it does mean we can change how our DNA is expressed. If you change your beliefs, you can re-inform your own DNA to heal and shape your own biology. This means the old adage “once an addict, always an addict” may not be true.

New discoveries in neuroscience are also challenging and disproving the old paradigm that the brain is a fixed and hardwired organ and that it is limited to a set number of neurons in one’s lifetime. Neuroplasticity shows that the brain can rewire itself and create new neural networks, which allows us to overcome traumatic instinctual and emotional responses as well as adapt to brain injuries.

Neurogenesis means that the human brain has the ability to create new neurons throughout a person’s life and allows for the possibility of healing neurodegenerative disorders preciously considered incurable such as Alzheimer’s. This means that the brain, like other organs in the body, can regenerate itself.

Hebb’s Law is a well-known principle in neuroscience which basically says that “nerve cells that fire together, wire together”. Meaning if we continually engage in the same thought patterns, we will continually experience the same reality. Thus, change our thought patterns, change our reality.

Considering Hebb’s Law and the current research in neuroscience, isn’t it possible that the 12-step program, in particular the 1st step which requires a person to continually identify oneself as an alcoholic or addict, is in fact keeping a person locked in a pattern of addiction? Is it possible that this statement is actually validating and strengthening the “addict” neural pathways, keeping the “addict” nerve cells firing together and continuing to instruct one’s DNA to express itself as an addict ? Could this be one reason for the high percentage of people who relapse in 12-step programs?

Based on the new scientific data, one cannot ignore the fact that it might be possible to heal from addiction. This new paradigm for addiction recovery opens the doorway to new possibilities for a person with the disease of addiction. If you suffer from addiction, wouldn’t you want to explore the possibility that you can get better and ultimately be free from your disease? Wouldn’t you want to explore your life as unlimited and open to possibility rather than your life defined ultimately by a diagnosis or disease?

[1] American Society of Addiction Medicine; The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug dependence