In this land of plenty, a conservative estimate calls 4 out of 10 Americans “addicts.” Abused substances include sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs and street drugs including pot. Addiction can serve us well once we recognize that substance abuse is a way to obscure honest, peaceful, self-discovery. Using, of any addictive substance, gives us the temporary illusion of control, excitement and perfection. In recovery we discover, often to our great relief, that we’re not perfect, that we need intimacy, and that integrity is more appealing than denial. The addict is self-obsessed; living for the next “fix.” The addict is crisis oriented; using panic as a way of feeling alive while avoiding meaningful contact with others. In recovery we let go of our need to control in favor of serenity and clarity.
Scientists from different schools of thought have attempted to explain addiction. Some say the culprit is a genetic lack of the feel-good, sleep-inducing neurotransmitter serotonin. Others say early brain cell damage begets lack of feedback inhibition for normal cravings, driving them out of balance. For example, non-addictive persons who eat some sugar will be satisfied (in terms of simple carbohydrates) for several hours. The addictive person, by contrast, will crave even more sugar after consuming a moderate serving. This may be due, in addicts, to a lack of endorphin stimulation when a healthy physiologic craving is satisfied. Other researchers and physicians contend that addiction is largely a response to depression. Addiction is major problem in this country, whatever the cause. Sugar addiction is perhaps the most insidious because the substance is so cheap, so available and so universally regarded as a “treat.”
Addiction spells confusion. For example, street drugs are “bad” while prescription drugs are “good” despite the statistics which show that in any recent year death due to complications from prescription drug overdose is 50 times more likely than death from street drugs. Nevertheless, IV “recreational” drug addicts are the long-term reservoir for AIDS and the vast proportion of criminal activity among teenagers is due to the cocaine trade. Caffeine and alcohol and nicotine are socially condoned although they contribute to a substantial percentage of hospitalizations in the U.S.
If you ingest white sugar daily, or drink alcohol daily or have an immediate family member who is alcoholic, or feel depressed frequently you may have a problem with addiction without realizing it. Please take a good look; the crucial initiation of breaking free from addiction is recognizing the substance abuse and seeking help to maintain the commitment to quit.
Addiction results from a multifactorial network of choices; the treatment approach must address not only the physical, but the mental and emotional (spiritual) as well. One reason the 12-Step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Spenders Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, etc.) are so successful is that they are free of charge and thus require only the commitment of the participant for attendance. Sometimes people need stronger measures to kick their habit at the beginning. But quitting per se is not so difficult; the trick is staying quit. Many addicts have incurred so many physical and mental changes that they need to get their fix merely to sustain homeostasis. In other words withdrawal can be very rough. And the better prepared we are for withdrawal, whether it be from inhaled crack or chocolate, the better we will be able to handle the rocky road back to recovery.
The basic parameters for recovery are the same as for any rehabilitation; good high fiber, high fresh veggie, plenty of pure water diet; regular adequate sleep; daily exercise; heartfelt participation in group activities. Don’t isolate yourself. The more people know you’re trying to quit, the more help will be spontaneously offered, and the more comfortable you’ll be with asking for help and taking baby-steps towards your new reality.
The cornerstone towards my own recovery has been wanting to hear that small and enormously personal inner voice that would get drowned in the substances night after night. Breaking free of addictive habits is a blessed opportunity to engage in the ultimate purpose of life — to know Thyself. Meanwhile, there are a few natural support mechanisms that may help.
1) Good old Vitamin C, preferably the powdered form (1/4 tsp. = 1 gram). Take up to 12 grams daily. Vitamin C is the single most potent free radical scavenger and will help cleanse and oxygenate the tissues. It will also help to keep the bowels moving; a very important component of getting clean and sober.
2) The amino acid Glutamine is a so-called amino radical, useful in detox, as well as acting as an excitatory neurotransmitter. Glutamine, 1 gram 4-6 times daily between meals on an empty stomach, will stimulate the body’s natural opiates, the endorphins and enkephalins, to help us through the cravings.
3) Essential fatty acids (preferably Flax oil, cold, raw, 1 tablespoon daily) in combination with the sulfur proteins (foods with cysteine or methionine, such as yogurt, eggs, codfish, sesame paste, garlic and onions) will render fat soluble toxins water soluble, allowing all the toxic wastes, which are preferentially stored in the body’s fat cells, to be flushed out via the kidneys and sweat glands.
4) Anything to enhance perspiration; rigorous exercise, Turkish wet steam, or Finnish style dry heat sauna. Make sure to scrub down with a high-fat soap (such as Neutrogena) after sweating, to emulsify the fatty secretions and prevent their reabsorption.
5) Liquid aqueous chromium drops are extremely helpful in reducing sugar cravings. This is because the trivalent mineral chromium is the central molecule in the Glucose Tolerance Factor, which allows insulin to deliver glucose from the blood stream into the cells. Without chromium, the insulin cannot do its job and sugar will build up in high levels in the blood, then flood precipitously into the cells causing the dramatic roller-coaster ride of “sugar blues.”
6) There are a number of natural substances to help with sleep and depression, including the amino acids tyrosine, phenylalanine, tryptophan (the precursor to serotonin) and the vitamin niacinamide. From the botanical pharmacy we have Valerian, Scutellaria (Skullcap), Passiflora (Passion lower), Chamomile and many others.
7) Many people are help enormously by acupuncture, especially for getting off nicotine and street drugs. Acupuncture detox clinics using a simple “5 needle protocol” in specific acupoints (Spirit Gate, Lung, Liver, Kidney and Parasympathetic) in both ears are so successful that state governments have become involved. Seattle King County medical insurance will now reimburse for acupuncture treatments for addicts. In Oregon, heroin addicts MUST try acupuncture before getting methadone.
Whether you go the route of stimulate the natural endorphins or 12-step meetings, the bottom line is commitment to self. Cold turkey off anything is usually the least painful in the long run — but please prepare yourself. Prepare for the demons who will emerge. Prepare to negotiate with them and bring them around to your best interest. Set a date; tell your friends; locate support groups in your area; stock up the pantry with fresh healthy snacks; invest in a consultation or two with your local holistic health practitioner to get some high quality supplements. Ask your doctor or therapist to help guide you through a visualization of a shiny clean new you. No-one is pretending it’s easy; but it’s certainly worth it.