Addiction Management Blog

Archive for May, 2010

Living Hero Podcasts: Dr. Gabor Mate Interview

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

I recently learned about the website Living Hero that produces podcasts of “living luminaries and mavericks” hosted by Jari Chevalier. Her most recent interview was with Dr. Gabor Mate, a Canadian physician with a broad range of life experience (and wisdom) on topics including: mind-body medicine, stress and trauma, ADD, and addiction. I first heard about Dr. Mate when a close therapist friend told me about his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. Shortly thereafter, another friend said he had been to Portland and spoke at a college campus. Then…the podcast interview. Call me slow, but eventually I do pay attention when the universe is attempting to tell me something – like pay attention to this guy!

After listening to the insightful interview by Jari (please go listen now), it is clear that much of what Dr. Mate believes is very much in line with the information on this website and blog. He advocates understanding addiction as a coping response to underlying pathologies, namely adverse childhood experiences. These early events impact brain development, as well as other developmental capacities, resulting in the need for relationships with objects that help regulate stress and emotion cycles. Although much of the discussion focused on addiction as a coping response (feel better), I believe Dr. Mate would also agree that addictive behavior is perpetuated because it feels good – the brain likes it!

I remember a case involving very successful business owner who decided to have lunch with her girlfriends at a local diner that just happened to also have newly installed video poker machines. Having no history of gambling behavior, she thought nothing of putting a buck in the machine to see what would happen. Minutes later she experienced a “big win” – a $600 dopamine rush. So…the following week she told her girlfriends they should meet again for lunch at her lucky restaurant. She put another dollar in the machine and amazingly she won the jackpot again, another $600 big win. That was all it took for her brain chemistry to rearrange some important neurons that led to an out-of-control gambling addiction. Her husband brought her to the clinic because she was unable to stop playing video poker, was blowing thousands of dollars per day, and neglecting her business and family. Although she did love how winning made her feel, in the end, her relationship with video poker machines was just another substitute for the human intimacy she so longed for, but struggled to obtain.

Addiction is a very complex problem with no easy answers. What I like most about Dr. Mate’s approach to healing is that it is humane, sensible, and incorporates harm reduction strategies. More information about his work can be found on his website. But if you can’t wait to read his book, then listen to the podcast byJari, it is well worth your time.

The Sanctuary Model: why you should know about it

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Dr. Sandra Bloom is a psychiatrist largely responsible for the creation of the Sanctuary Model, which is both a framework for treating trauma, as well as an organizational change model that integrates evidence-based trauma interventions with the benefits of therapuetic communities. The brillance of this model is that it optimizes the safety and healing of all parties involved in social systems of care: patients and clinicians, prisoners and judges, victims and advocates, addicts and counselors. It is a model, in my opinion, that is applicable across all organizations no matter what their purpose, because it provides a roadmap for how humans should treat one another, no matter what position they may find themselves in.

Why do we need it? Because most social/healthcare service organizations are in crisis. U.S. healthcare problems were detailed in a number of publications by the Institute of Medicine, with outcomes indicating that the U.S. has the most expensive healthcare system in the world, yet ranks far down the list in terms of overall quality. But it is not just our healthcare system that is in dire need of overhauling. Our education, criminal justice, mental health, child welfare, and…yes, our addiction treatment system are all struggling to meet the needs of the populations they serve. The Santuary Model suggests that the problems are rooted in unhealthy systems, not individual people. If we understand the system, we then stand a chance of making changes within the system that ultimately translate into better outcomes for all involved.

Across the different social systems, the problems are similar: reduced funding, decreased training and education, more paperwork, more surveillance and  micromanagement, greater staff turnover, and lots of stress across all levels of organizations. These factors then translate into organizations that are chronically stressed, attempting to do more with less, always operating in a reactive/crisis mode, ultimately leading to folks being chronically hyperaroused. In this state, it is like Brian Farraher, CEO of Andrus Children’s Center has said, “Managing like your hair is on fire.”  Stress leads to a loss of basic safety and trust, a breakdown of emotional intelligence, behaviors that result in more conflict, and staff who feel disempowered. As relationships become strained, more autocratic approaches to leadership (counseling/healthcare/justice) emerge, and then folks just stop talking. In essence, organizations stop learning. The outcomes are costly for all involved.

The Santuary Model is the antidote. It acknowledges that stress, trauma…life problems, exist not only in the clients who show up for help (or are mandated for help), but also in the helpers. The served and the servers are mirrors of each other, and both require focus and attention on seven commitments:

Implementing the Sanctuary Model in organizations, and incorporating the commitments into all of our lives, means embracing our responsibility to the common good of all people, to our future, to our planet. The details of the commitments, and how best to implement them are documented on the Sanctuary Website and in Creating Sanctuary: Toward the Evolution of Sane Species.

If we ignore the warning signs so clearly right in front of us, “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” HG Wells, Outline of History, 1920

Sins and Needles…when creativity transforms addiction

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Ray Materson was a straight “A” student, President of his sixth grade class, and a youthful child looking ahead to a bright future. Then a combination of risk factors both in his family and school peer group, led Ray down a dangerous path where alcohol and drugs became his best friends. Before long, his drug-seeking behavior resulted in a twenty-five year sentence for kidnapping and armed robbery. In his autobiography, Sins and Needles, co-written by his then wife Melanie, he details his journey into drug abuse, life in prison, and a discovered talent for embroidery that eventually leads to his sobriety and salvation.

I love Ray’s story because it so clearly illustrates why “create” is part of the MRC Solution to addiction. It is positive psychology at its best, optimizing life, providing meaning and hope, and unlocking innate talent that is more powerful than addiction.

Recently, Ray and I spoke on the phone. I appreciated his candor and honesty about his life, and his reponses to some of the questions that remained for me after reading the book. Without giving too much away, Ray’s tenancity for his art and willingness to allow the correctional system to do its job,  eventually results in a second chance at life. His website documents many of his achievements and has a great video presentation showcasing his work, as well as a personal interview. He summed-up what helped him most deal with addiction by saying: 1) my art work, 2) personal affirmations specific to self-esteem, 3) support from other people, and 4) a higher power.

Successfully dealing with addiction is not for the faint at heart. It is a challenging road, requiring significant effort at many junctures in life. Has emboridery solved all of Ray’s troubles?…of course not. But in talking with him, it is clear that through his art he has learned to speak his truth. He has learned to speak of his pains and joys, his successes and failures, and his fears and hopes for the future. Godspeed Ray.