Healing for the Whole Person

Busting the 'once an addict, always an addict' belief

by Pat Barone | Updated 16 Feb 2016 at 11:12 PM

Addiction costs. It costs millions of dollars, both to feed the addiction and to treat it. It destroys talent and potential. And it shatters the lives of those afflicted and the people who love them.

The deaths of actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger; musicians Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse; and writer David Foster Wallace all reflect the pain of creative lives lost to addiction.

And the abuse of prescription drugs and heroin is rising fast among teenagers, who often abuse their parents’ prescriptions and then step up to heroin. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates there are over one million Internet sites that ship prescription drugs, many of them highly addictive opioids, with no questions asked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says prescription drug overdose deaths occur every 19 minutes.

Until recently, addiction was deemed largely a life sentence, not subject to cure or healing.

That was promulgated by the recovery method made popular by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which was founded in 1935. As the first AA groups developed into a larger network, the concept of addiction as an incurable disease took root in the American consciousness. AA soon engendered other addiction groups focused on gambling, drugs, debt, sex and food.

There is no doubt the highly structured approach has saved many lives and illuminated the shame that accompanies addiction. But when the goal is managing the addiction by avoiding the substance or activity entirely, relapse is common.

Complete avoidance can make sense for alcohol and drugs, but try working with food or sex; few people are capable of avoiding these for life. The line between compulsive and controlled can get blurry. Today, new forms of therapy and alternative treatments give addicts a glimpse at real hope: to be healed.

Erica Spiegelman, a counselor in Los Angeles, California, believes in treating individuals from what she calls a 360-degree perspective that involves mind, body and spirit. Her book, "Rewired: A Bold New Approach to Addiction and Recovery," suggests people are not stuck in a diagnosis for life.

"We must rewire our brains and learn new behaviors if we want to see healthy and consistent changes in our lives," Spiegelman told Lifezette. "The 'Rewired' plan allows a person to create an individualized plan for a healthy life. Each person has a specific make up, history, family, personality, past trauma and so on."

Another key stumbling block is the notion of powerlessness over the addictive substance.

"Certain personality types have a hard time with the 12-step concept," said Dr. Bart Rossi, a clinical psychologist in Fort Myers, Florida. "They just do not feel or believe this is effective for them. They need a more dynamic approach."

Today, an admission of powerlessness often feels weak to a generation raised on the values of personal growth and empowerment as seen in self-help books, reality shows and infomercials.

Indeed, a study of 43,000 people, the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, determined that 75 percent of self-identified heavy drinkers had regained control of their drinking without rehab, intervention or use of the recovery model. It also found that college binge drinkers rarely go on to become defined "alcoholics," but rather grow into greater responsibilities in life and leave heavy alcohol use behind.

When researching his book, "Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs," author Johann Hari found many examples of reasonable exit from addictive substances, most notably Vietnam War veterans, 20 percent of whom came home addicted to heroin. Of those heavy heroin users, 95 percent stopped using drugs upon return to more supportive environments.

Many addicts describe feeling empty inside, a situation that constantly needs filling with food, drink or sex. Yet many people grow beyond addiction: They learn to form relationships, discover joyful challenges in life, and cure loneliness (which is said to be a key contributor to addictive behavior).

Treatment focused on healing addresses the complete personality: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Treatment programs like the Center for Motivation and Change, founded by Dr. Jeffrey Foote and Dr. Carrie Wilkens in New York City, reject the all-or-nothing approach of complete abstinence. They also reject interventions, which often lead to deep family rifts and resentments.

"A good support system is often critical," said psychologist Rossi. "Individuals need to know their treatment is thought of positively by friends and family. Hope and thinking about the future is essential."

Most healing-focused approaches encourage a variety of different healing modalities, including acupuncture, energy work, life purpose coaching, cognitive behavioral counseling, traditional therapy and exercise and nutritional support. Medical assistance may or may not be provided, if withdrawal pain is present, depending on the patient’s wishes.

"The key is to find a holistic approach," said Speigelman.

Pat Barone is a professional credentialed coach and author of the "Own Every Bite!" bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, which helps clients heal food addictions. 

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