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Cutting Edge Science for Addiction Recovery

Can you Recover from Addiction and The New Science of Healing Addiction?

At The Sanctuary, we define “recovery” differently than how it is defined in traditional addiction treatment centers, 12-step programs, or the allopathic medical paradigm. We believe that leading science confirms that you can, in fact, be “recovered” from addictions and co-occurring disorders, and we have documented evidence of the success of our Integrative Addiction Recovery program.

Science Proves You Can Recover from Addictions, Depression PTSD, and Anxiety

The mainstream addiction treatment paradigm is that addiction is an incurable and chronic disease. The American Society of Addiction Medicine, “ASAM”, issued a Public Policy Statement on August 15, 2011, defining addiction, in part, as “a primary chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” In another public policy statement for the treatment of addiction, the ASAM states that addiction is a “chronic disease” and requires a “life-long” management of disease remission maintenance protocols, similar to treating other “chronic relapse illnesses”, such as diabetes and hypertension.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence “NCADD”, a nonprofit public health organization, also defines addiction as a “chronic, progressive, and incurable.” NCADD specifically defines “chronic” as “lasts for life” and “incurable” as “so far, science has given us no cure for alcoholism and/or drug addiction”.

So, the latest accepted belief in the mainstream addiction treatment 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 addiction treatment is a life-long symptom management program that includes some combination of pharmaceutical drugs, behavioral and cognitive therapies.

Why is Traditional Alcohol Treatment Unsuccessful?

Because it is based on an old model and outdated science. What if a person can be healed of the disease of addiction? What if addiction treatment can be completely effective and allow a person to not just “function” in the world, but to really tap into vitality, creativity, meaning, and purpose in their lives? What would this mean to a person suffering from addiction?

We understand that this can sound like nothing short of a revolutionary statement, as it is the commonly held belief at the moment 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, that addiction is curable as well?

The New Science of Addiction Treatment

Scientific discoveries in biology and neuroscience have provided new data that show we can change our DNA, 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.

What is Epigenetics & How Does it Affect Addiction Treatment?

Groundbreaking new discoveries in biology called “Epigenetics” have shown that our genes are not locked into a predetermined and unchangeable blueprint at birth. Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book, The Biology of Belief, clearly explains that beliefs and perceptions of ourselves and our environment—including our consciousness — actively influence our genes. So, if you change your beliefs, you can release the cellular memory regarding your self-destructive behaviors, thoughts, and patterns. If you change your beliefs, you can re-inform your own DNA to heal and shape your own biology and create the life you want. This means the old adage “once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic” 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. Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., and David Perlmutter, M.D., F.A.C.N., in their book Power Up Your Brain, provide compelling new scientific data about neuroplasticity and neurogenesis.

What does Neuroplasticity Have to Do with Addiction Treatment?

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. Following a specific regimen which can include meditation to alter brainwave activity, supplements that feed the brain as well as with specific, focused, and willed mental activity, a person can alter their brain hardware.

What Does Neurogenesis Mean for Addiction Treatment?

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 previously considered incurable such as Alzheimer’s. A brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a protective brain hormone, is important in the creation of new neurons, as well as protecting existing neurons. External stress caused by drug abuse and environmental toxins as well as internal stress has been scientifically proven to be a cause of brain degeneration. Science has proven it is possible to increase the levels of (BDNF) through non-pharmaceutical, holistic interventions. This means that the brain, like other organs in the body, can regenerate itself.

Addiction Treatment and the Possibility of Healing

If one were to look at the data used by the ASAM and NCADD, one may conclude that addiction is chronic, progressive, and incurable. If, however, one was to look at data being generated in the fields of Epigenetics, Neuroplasticity, and Neurogenesis, one may agree that, like other brain diseases, addiction can be healed. Based on the new scientific data, one cannot debate the fact that it might be possible to heal from addiction. This new paradigm for addiction treatment opens the doorway to new possibilities for a person with the disease of addiction. If you suffered 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?

Using Brain Mapping to Document The Effectiveness of Our Program

Gratefully, we’ve long enjoyed the reputation of an effective program. Not only do our clients and their loved ones tell us that our program works, but we have witnessed profound transformations firsthand in our day-to-day work. The efficacy of the program is further validated by measured client progress in treatment such as the OQ-45.2 survey, the PLC-5 PTSD assessment tool, and the BIT survey. These are nationally recognized clinical assessment instruments designed to measure treatment progress.

In addition, with a very practical application of neuroscience technology, we have documented the effectiveness of our addiction recovery program through an 8-year brain mapping research project. We monitored the electrical activity of brain functioning in more than 500 Sanctuary clients. 

Brain Mapping allowed us to observe and measure how brainwaves move throughout the brain and at what frequencies. We also monitored how different parts of the brain communicate with each other. We could see brain regions that are over-active, for example, producing particular symptoms of distress, and we could see regions that have too little activity, causing deficits and other symptoms. In short, we saw clinical issues and symptoms at a neurological level, and over time, we saw neurological change as the result of participation in our program. We are very pleased to say that the results were remarkable. We have found dramatic evidence that our program brings about deep and transformational change in brain functioning.  Our program facilitates true addiction recovery, which can be measured.

The Brain Mapping Process

At the beginning of the program, we obtain a Brain Map, or type of EEG from each participant—a Quantitative Electroencephalograph (qEEG), in order to establish a baseline against which future Brain Maps can be compared. We then take another Brain Map at the end of the program and can compare. Quite simply, Brain Mapping makes an individual’s level of well-being or distress visible in an objective, observable, and measurable image of brain activity. Each Brain Map is a snapshot—a depiction of the neurological underpinnings of a person’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual state of functioning at any given time.
The initial Brain Maps we obtain from participants show us neurological evidence of the distress they bring with them when they enter our program. We see the neurological workings, for example, of addiction, trauma, depression, and anxiety, as well as the specific symptoms of such conditions like the inability to pay attention and to remember, poor impulse control, dysregulated emotion, impaired problem-solving, poor judgment, and poor decision-making.
All of these things are characteristics of people in distress who are unable to resolve their problems and live the lives they want to live. Also, conversely, we can clearly see evidence in Brain Maps of more healthful functioning when these issues have been resolved.

The Underlying Causes of Chronic Distress

The neurology of ‘failure patterns’ is evident in Brain Map data (Gunkelman & Cripe, Winter 2008). These are dysfunctional patterns and underlying and internal dynamics that sabotage health and stability. They are the reasons, for example, that we cannot maintain sobriety, overcome depression or resolve a traumatic reaction, no matter how hard we work at it. Unless those underlying patterns are changed, our efforts are managing symptoms at best, leaving the underlying cause unresolved.

Failure patterns are fundamental abnormalities in the rhythms and frequencies of brain functioning. They are reflected in clinical symptoms such as impulsivity, emotional dysregulation, drug cravings, stress intolerance, anxiety and drug seeking behavior—all cardinal aspects of addiction (Alper, Prichep, et al, 1998; Peniston & Kulkosky, 1989; Dehghani-Arani, Rostami, & Nadali, June 2013). When these patterns are altered, not only the symptoms of addiction and related disorders disappear, but so do the conditions themselves.

Dysfunctional neurological patterns can occur in our abilities to regulate emotions and control our behavior, as well as in our thought processes and overall physical well-being (Demos, 2005). They can be pervasive and “holistic” in their deleterious effects, leading to chronic, seemingly intractable problems. Such patterns are the underlying causes of the addictions, related disorders and relapses with which our clients have struggled. They are the reasons people need a truly holistic recovery program.

The Results

The proof our program works lies in the fact that the human brain is plastic. That is, it changes through the natural processes and mechanisms of neuroplasticity, being shaped and molded by environmental factors both inside us and out. New cells and neurons are generated in a process called neurogenesis, for example, and existing structural elements are ‘sprouted’, eliminated or ‘pruned’. The neuroplasticity of the brain, and its processes of neurogenesis, are reflected in the Brain Maps we collect at The Sanctuary. They prove that our program works, and works dramatically.

We provide a comprehensive range of multi-disciplinary interventions that target mental, emotional, physical and spiritual functioning. These ‘environmental’ factors trigger brain alterations, reconfiguring the brain to achieve a state of health in all these realms. We know, for example, that addiction and other conditions such as depression, anxiety and trauma, create specific neurological ‘blueprints’ of disease and symptoms in the brain. Our interventions change those blueprints, and Brain Mapping data confirms it.

The figure below illustrates significant changes in brain functioning for one of our program participants. The Initial Brain Map on the left shows prominent red and yellow areas in the top row of 5 images. These indicate over-activity associated with distress experienced at the program’s start. In comparison, the Final Brain Map on the right was taken at the program’s completion. The bottom 3 rows of images on each Map also reflect significant changes in brain activity configurations between the start of the program and completion of the program.

Holistic, Full and Sustainable Recovery

Full and sustainable recovery is a deeply transformational experience in which the brain itself is healed. Neurological changes have more fundamental and lasting effects than can be attained with only pharmacological or behavioral interventions.

Unless resolved, underlying dysfunctional neurological patterns continue to affect us, eroding even our most significant recovery gains, and undermining our best efforts to be well.  Uncomfortable, even distressful sobriety, results from dysfunctional patterns continuing to work in deep layers of the brain. Unfortunately, the result is frequently a return to substance use, and the worsening of related disorders such as depression, anxiety and traumatic reactions.

Brain Mapping has proven that our Integrative Addiction Recovery℠ program gets to the source of the problem. The continuous interaction between mind, body, soul and spirit is the target of all our interventions. We can help you develop a life practice that will take you well beyond the limitations of simply an abstinence or sobriety focus in which you manage symptoms of an illness that never goes away. The Sanctuary offers you solutions for the whole person that you are. If you would like to talk with us more about our program or our methods, please contact us.

Works Cited

Alper, K. S., Prichep, L., Kowali, S., Rosenthal, M., & Roy, J. (1998). Persistent QEEG abnormality in crack cocaine users at 6 months of drug abstinence. Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 19, 1-9.

Dehghani-Arani, F., Rostami, R., & Nadali, H. (June 2013 ). Neurofeedback Training for Opiate Addiction: Improvement of Mental Health and Craving. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback, 38(2), 133–141.

Demos, J. (2005). Getting Started with Neurofeedback. New York: Norton.Gunkelman, J., & Cripe, C. (Winter 2008). Clinical Outcomes in Addiction: A Neurofeedback Case Series, 36(4). Biofeedback, 152.

Peniston, E., & Kulkosky, P. (1989). Peniston and Kulkosky 1989Peniston, E. G., & Kulkosky, P. J. (1989). Alpha-Theta Brainwave Training and Beta-Endorphin Levels in Alcoholics. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 12 (2).

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