Addiction Management Blog

Archive for the ‘Treatment’ Category

A call for increased treatment and education for those behind bars

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

I have written before about the criminal justice system and addiction, but it has been awhile and my thoughts continue to evolve on this topic. So, time for an update!

First, as a society we should be embarrassed by how many of our citizens are in jail/prison due to problems associated with untreated addiction. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world with approximately 2.3 million behind bars. If we add those on probation and parole the number jumps to almost 7 million under correctional supervision! And I have not even mentioned the 70K juveniles we are grooming for later prison life. What is so troubling about these statistics is that they are primarily the result of mandatory sentencing laws put in place in the 1980s to enforce the war on drugs (which I have also written about).

US in Prison

Most now realize the war on drugs has been a miserable failure. Putting people behind bars when the drivers behind their crimes are addiction-related is costly and fails to address the underlying problem(s). We know that many will get out and that recidivism rates are quite high. One recent study indicated that more than 1 in 4 offenders return to prison within three years. And we know that when addiction goes untreated it most often returns, leading many who get out of prison right back in.

While I believe we need to evolve our drug sentencing laws, and there is evidence that things are changing for the better, this post is not about that. It is also not about the proliferation of drug courts that offer an alternative to jail/prison. Instead, I want to comment on what we can do for those who are behind bars right now (and will be in the future). In short, I think we should make use of their time in jail to prepare them to succeed in life once they get out. What do I mean by succeed? Here are a few outcomes I think we as a society should support:

  • Stay clean and sober, manage co-occurring disorders, and maintain physical health by working a comprehensive addiction management program (5 Actions!)
  • Use personal talents to benefit society (Action 5) (Dave’s Killer Bread is a good example)
  • Develop a spiritual life
  • Keep learning and growing as a person
  • Obey society’s laws
  • Seek out (or increase) appropriate help when times become stressful (as they do for all of us at times)

I am sure you can add to this list, but it is a good start. How do we accomplish such lofty goals? In short, we develop a technology-based intervention system that individualizes behavioral health treatment and education for a fraction of what it would cost to utilize humans (nothing against humans). The treatment component would be based on the 5 Actions I have outlined on this site, and the educational part of the system would be built by those who have a track record of delivering online education. Why this has not already been done actually surprises me!

The details of how to construct and implement such a system are beyond this post, but I do want to provide you some thoughts on why I believe doing this is more than possible.

  • Studies show fairly consistently that timing is critical for helping people with many problems, including addiction, depression, and other life issues. Those in prison have nothing but time, and are in a place where we can take advantage of a motivational window of opportunity.
  • Computers memory is superior to humans and can track far more information about a person’s life, and leverage points for change.
  • New treatment interventions can be quickly programmed into the system, where there is a much longer learning curve for humans.
  • Delivery of interventions can be more consistent (i.e. therapists stray from intervention protocols fine-tuned by researchers, often thinking they are doing good, but in the end have less than optimal results).
  • Online systems can track outcomes in real-time and make adjustments accordingly. Most treatment today does not include any formal outcome or evaluation of process, let alone changing therapy based on adaptive outcomes.
  • Relationship with a relational online system can last indefinitely, whereas human counselors are less consistent and change jobs frequently (i.e., the turnover rate in addiction treatment programs is higher than in fast food restaurants).
  • Online treatment is significantly less costly than human treatment.
  • Studies show people are more apt to disclose sensitive issues to a computer than a human – issues like:  sexual abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, shaming behaviors (cutting, eating disorders, sexual disorders) – all can be addressed in a user-friendly, less threatening environment than with humans in many cases.
  • An online intervention system can link and communicate more consistently with other important stakeholders in a person’s life, including: primary care physicians, specialty providers, medication providers, legal system, pharmacies, insurance providers, complementary and alternative care providers, mental health and addiction programs (if necessary), and employers. Computer system can keep track of all these relationships, the flow of information between them, and manage information privacy and disclosures.
  • Online systems are flexible and can consult with humans when necessary – so human’s time can be used most efficiently (i.e., expert humans are not replaceable, they are just in limited supply).
  • And perhaps most important, the system can be utilized to manage ongoing treatment and educational goals both in and outside of prison seamlessly, and help manage parole and probation responsibilities.

Would it be easy to develop and implement? No. I think it would require a lot of work on behalf of many stakeholder groups. But I believe it is what we need to do as a society if we care about our future and the future of our children.

I also made a couple of brief videos on how I would utilize the 5 Actions framework in an online system for those behind bars. Excuse the coffee breaks, it is early Sunday morning.


 

New book out today! Craving: Why we can’t seem to get enough

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013

cravingI am excited to announce that a new book is out today from my colleague, Dr. Omar Manejwala. He is the former Medical Director of Hazelden (one of the oldest and most respected treatment organizations in the world), and current Chief Medical Officer of Catasys, an innovative health management company focused on treating substance abuse problems. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of his new book, Craving: Why we can’t seem to get enough, so I have had the past month to review it thoroughly. If you struggle with addiction, or care about someone who does, then I strongly encourage you to get this book!  Why?

First, craving is a universal experience we all share and it also happens to be at the heart of addiction. In healthy doses, it is part of what makes us human. But when cravings become so intense that they lead to out-of-control behaviors, then they are not such a good thing. In fact, they cause significant pain and suffering. For those who have never experienced addiction, imagine holding your breath and then starting to think about air. How long before your desire to breath becomes an intense craving for air? How long until the craving for air becomes almost unbearable? You may think this example has little to do with addiction, but the regions of the brain that control your breathing, heartrate and other survival functions happen to be the same areas of the brain that get hijacked by addiction. By reading Dr. Manejwala’s new book, you will be treated to a very lucid and beneficial explanation of the science of craving. If you are afraid of brain science, have no fear, he makes it very accessible!

2013_0409_omar_manejwala_600x300Second, once you understand cravings more clearly, you will be in a far better position to do something about them. Perhaps what I like most about this book is that he provides an approach to deal with cravings that links back to the science of what we know about them. For example, part of the experience of craving is biological. Cravings are not just obsessive thoughts in your head, but are deeply rooted in physical and chemical changes that take place in the brain and body. Think back to our example about holding your breath. Is your need for air all in your head? Of course not. While we don’t require alcohol or drugs to survive like air, cravings have a similar intensity and feel because of what takes place physically in the body. So interventions focused on addressing the physical aspects of craving are critical. And at the same time, part of what makes cravings so painful is that once they start, they feel like they will never end until acted upon.

The best news of this book is that cravings can be overcome! Dr. Manejwala outlines a wonderful tool box of interventions that address both the physical aspects of craving, but also the painful obsessions that precede addictive behavior. You will learn about the benefits of self-help meetings, meditation, exercise, and being accountable to others. There are also some tools that you likely have not heard about, which is a testament to the comprehensive and holistic approach taken throughout the book.

Third, I really appreciate his view that “Courage is, in fact, the most essential quality of recovery, because without courage, none of the other needed practices are possible.” I couldn’t agree more! Dealing with addiction and all its complicating and co-occurring problems is not for the faint of heart. Those who engage in the process of overcoming addiction and are willing to face their most intense cravings, are among the best examples in our society of courage.

While I have a lot more to say about this book, Dr. Manejwala and I plan to discuss it over a video chat in the next week or so. Stay tuned for the broadcast and in the meantime, checkout the latest on the book on facebook and order your copy today.

Addiction & Homelessness, Part II

Monday, April 29th, 2013

books-stackIt was early summer and I was deep into my counseling internship at the behavioral health clinic. I was lucky enough to have a giant corner office with many windows overlooking downtown Portland – room enough to conduct both my individual sessions and run groups. It was so big that I decided to bring in two of my own bookcases to fill out the space. Lucky for me, a relative who happened to be a retired psychologist, had a ton of books to donate to my cause. I figured my clients would walk into the room and see all those counseling-related books and be less concerned that I was an intern. I just hoped they didn’t ask me whether I had read them all because then I would have to fess up.

I chose a late night to get the books into my office. The clinic had a hand-truck to make life easier, but it was still a lot of boxes to move. As I was unloading books from my car, a young man in his early thirties came strolling up and casually asked me for $25. While I have been asked for money many times, never has someone on the street asked me for $25! I was taken aback, but even more, just really curious. I told him I would consider his request if he explained to me exactly why he needed the money. Without knowing at all what I did for a living, he said, “I have been in drug treatment for the past month…a couple of days ago, was kicked out and have nowhere to go… I’m homeless and need the money to buy a bus ticket to San Francisco where my parents live.”

Made sense to me. “Why did you get kicked out of drug treatment?” I asked.

The question made him squirm. He looked down at the pavement and said nothing. I could sense he felt shame. Then in a soft voice he said flatly, “I was caught on my bed with another man.”

I replied non-judgmentally that it seemed like a dumb reason to get kicked out of treatment, and that I would help him. I gave him my business card from the clinic and said to come see me the next morning when I could access funds to help him. Because he had nowhere to sleep I pointed him in the direction of a nearby shelter. The next morning when I stumbled tiredly into the clinic, he was sitting in the lobby waiting for me. It was a busy day. I had two evaluations back-to-back and the first client was also in the waiting room. I had him come back to my office where we chatted briefly about the money. I said I would make some calls, fill out some paperwork, and we could reconvene in my office around 11am to finalize things. He thanked me for my efforts and said he would be back then.

But he never returned.

preventing-heroin-overdose

Around 3pm that afternoon I got a call from the county coroner. He had a body and the only item found on it was my business card. The man had overdosed just blocks from my office. My heart sank and my mind raced. What had gone wrong? How could this have happened? What had I missed?

I will never fully know the answers to these questions, but I suspect that he overestimated the amount of drug his body could handle after being clean for a number of weeks while in treatment. I don’t think he was suicidal, but perhaps I missed something. To this day I regret not taking more time to assess his risks for relapse and overdose, but I didn’t know then what I know now.

For me, homelessness will always have a face.

 

Addiction treatment system 14 years later….still in need of an overhaul

Monday, July 9th, 2012

This past week The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University released a scathing report of our addiction treatment system: Addiction Medicine: Closing the Gap between Science and Practice. While the report says nothing new, it does a nice job of summarizing the fact that we have made little progress since the Institute of Medicine released Bridging the Gap Between Practice and Research: Forging Partnerships with Community-Based Drug and Alcohol Treatment on January 1, 1998. Here we are, 14 years later, and well, where are we now?

The new report points out these grim statistics:

  • 15.9% (40.3 million) of US age 12 and older struggle with addiction to alcohol and drugs (the number is higher if we factor in behavioral addictions such as gambling, sex, food, and online activities)
  • 31.7% (80.4 million) of US age 12 and older, while not addicted to anything, engages in risky use of substances that threaten health and safety (again, this number is higher if behavioral addictions are included)
  • 89.1% of those who meet criteria for addiction involving alcohol and drugs (not including nicotine) receive no treatment
  • Of those who do get treatment, about 50% come from criminal justice (only 5.7% are referred from primary care medicine)
  • Over 50% of those who go to treatment drop out
  • Addiction and risky substance use costs our society an estimated 468 billion each year

Not good! I will admit I was a bit depressed reading through the report, but not surprised. Addiction is a problem still very much misunderstood. Take for example this huge 573 page report, that constrains the definition of addiction to substances. How can we possibly make progress evolving our treatment system if we continue to narrowly define addiction. It is not just to substances that people become enslaved, but to food, gambling, sex, and many online behaviors. We now have neuroimaging studies providing empirical support that the brain is an equal opportunity organ that does not care what stimulates it, so long as dopamine provides a nice reward that keeps us coming back for more. In a great book on overeating, cleverly titled, The End of Overeating, by David Kessler (which I plan to blog about soon), he makes the point that animals will work almost as hard for food as they will for cocaine. So, back to my point. How can we make progress in this field when we continue to slice up the addiction problem, and fail to understand that it is not about the objects per se, but the relationships that a person has with these objects – all of these objects?

Accurately defining the problem would be a start, because we could then start building systems of care that leverage interventions for a wide range of chronic conditions, including addiction. But even agreement on a broad definition will likely not be enough. We need big system changes to make big progress. The CASA report provides a list of recommendations for improvement, including:

  • Increasing screening and referral in primary care medicine
  • Improve training on addiction in medical schools
  • Establish national accreditation standards for all addiction treatment facilities and programs
  • Educate non-health professionals about addiction, screening, and referral (dentists, teachers, legal staff, welfare, etc.)
  • Require adherence to use of evidence-based treatments
  • Expand addiction treatment workforce
  • Implement more national public health campaigns

It is a list, but hardly a gutsy one or even close to what needs to be done if we are to make big progress. What would my list look like? Here are my top four suggestions:

  • National Institute on Addiction (NIA): While integrating NIDA and NIAAA into one organization next year is progress, I would like to see an institute called the National Institute on Addiction that puts the emphasis on understanding the relationships people have with all objects of addiction, not just alcohol and drugs. While I know these agencies have invested resources in gambling and food, the money is scant compared to what is spent on substances. One of the primary goals of this organization would be to get all stakeholders (researchers, treatment providers, public) on the same page about how we should define addiction.
  • Leverage the Internet: Over 80 percent of the US population has access to high-speed internet, which means that we have the potential to reach the 90 percent who don’t get care. I am not saying this is easy, but there is a saying in marketing that you go where the customers are – and they are online.
  • Stop criminalizing addiction and treat those who do end up behind bars: The vast majority of folks behind bars suffer from addiction and most don’t get treatment. This needs to change. Because most will get out, why not use their time while in prison to treat their addiction, educate them, and provide them something to live for when they get out? I know, this costs too much money. See my last point.
  • Invest in families/prevention: Addiction is primarily a problem born out of adolescence. Most who develop addictions begin their journey before the age of 15. We need to devote significant resources to helping families flourish. We need programs that help people developmentally obtain the capacities they need for optimal mental health, for intimacy, parenting, and getting along with each other.

What would be on your list?

Siddhartha’s path out of addiction

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

I’m not sure how I missed reading Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (Hilda Rosner translation) in high school, but I did. It’s one of those enchanting books I wish I would have read earlier! If you are unfamiliar with the story, I encourage you to read it and soak in its many wonderful messages about life. I have no intention of recapping the story here, but instead want to use parts of the story to illustrate one path out of addiction.

Siddhartha is a man on a mission, on a journey to the center of Self, to a place where Self is merged into unity, or the All. On his way to enlightenment he has many interesting adventures, including a period of time where he hangs out with the beautiful Mistress, Kamala. “She played with him, conquered him, rejoiced at her mastery, until he was overcome and lay exhausted at her side.” She enticed him into the world of the ordinary, a life of attachment. “The world had caught him; pleasure, covetousness, idleness, and finally also that vice that he had always despised and scorned as the most foolish – acquisitiveness. Property, possessions and riches had also finally trapped him. They were no longer a game and a toy; they had become a chain and a burden.

I find it interesting that as Siddhartha descends deeper into his attachments, Hesse beautifully describes addiction. “He played the game as a result of a heartfelt need. He derived a passionate pleasure through gambling away and squandering of wretched money….He won thousands, he threw thousands away, lost money, lost jewels, lost a country house, won again, lost again. He loved the anxiety, that terrible and oppressive anxiety which he experienced during the game of dice, during the suspense of high stakes. He loved this feeling and continually sought to renew it, to increase it, to stimulate it, for in the feeling alone did he experience some kind of happiness, some kind of excitement, some heightened living in the midst of his satiated, tepid, insipid existence.

And like so many who suffer from addiction and relapse to numb the pain and despair of an insipid existence, Siddhartha too experiences the consequences of his actions. “And whenever he awakened from this hateful spell, when he saw his face reflected in the mirror on the wall of his bedroom, grown older and uglier, whenever shame and nausea overtook him, he fled again, fled to a new game of chance, fled in confusion to passion, to wine, and from there back again to the urge for acquiring and hoarding wealth. He wore himself out in this senseless cycle, became old and sick.

For those who struggle with addiction, and their family and friends forced to endure a life on the edge, there is an insightful lesson in the story of Siddhartha.

I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. But it was right that it should be so; my eyes and heart acclaim it. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace, to hear Om again, to sleep deeply again and to awaken refreshed again. I had to become a fool again in order to find Atman in myself. I had to sin in order to live again.

For someone who reaches enlightenment, it’s strange imagining Siddhartha sitting by a river thinking about suicide. But he does. And in the pain of the moment, “he understood it and realized that the inward voice had been right, that no teacher could have brought him salvation. That was why he had to go into the world, to lose himself in power, women and money; that was why he had to be a merchant, a dice player, a drinker and a man of property, until the priest and Samana in him were dead. That was why he had to undergo those horrible years, suffer nausea, learn the lesson of the madness of an empty, futile life till the end, till he reached bitter despair, so that Siddhartha the pleasure-monger and Siddhartha the man of property could die. He had died and a new Siddhartha had awakened from his sleep. He also would grow old and die. Siddhartha was transitory, all forms were transitory, but today he was young, he was a child – the new Siddhartha – and he was happy.”

So often when addiction is the problem we believe heading off to treatment is the answer. No doubt treatment can be helpful and at times life-saving. But this story is a powerful lesson in how change, even the most challenging of changes, are possible when we access what is already inside us. Atman. The All. “To much knowledge had hindered him; too many holy verses, too many sacrificial rites, too much mortification of the flesh, too  much doing and striving.” Too much treatment, too many self-help meetings, too much reliance on evidence-based practices and medications. Too much action. Sometimes, the path of no-action, the path of contemplation – of sitting, listening, and just being is the path out of addiction.

 

A couple more videos…

Monday, October 10th, 2011

A few months ago, I ventured into the world of video, posting some clips from a presentation I did about addiction and treatment. The initial clips were focused on understanding addiction, and since then, I have been meaning to get back to the lecture and do the same for treatment. Recently, I did go back and review the lecture and realized that I can speak much more clearly about the nature of addiction than I can about how to deal with it as a problem. I think this is because there is not one way to help someone with addiction. We have multiple treatments, methods, medicines, and programs that can all contribute to good outcomes. At the same time, I believe the number of choices also can become paralyzing and unhelpful when all that someone really wants is to be given clear direction on what to do. Sometimes 12 steps, 7 habits, and even 5 actions can be overwhelming. Enough said. I did find a couple of clips that pertain to treatment, but they don’t discuss the overarching 5 Actions framework that I am now evolving as a way to think about intervention. But soon. Check these out and let me know your thoughts.

Investing in Addiction Treatment: Is it Worth the Cost?

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

I recently talked with a Huffington Post reporter about the Real Tab for Rehab: Inside the Addiction Treatment Biz. In our discussion, I pointed out that to a large extent we still have an addiction treatment system that provides short-term (acute) treatment for a long-term (chronic) problem (this key point did not make the article). In addition, the current system treats less than 10 percent of those who could benefit from some kind of intervention at a cost that will likely reach $34 billion by 2014, more than double the spending from 2005. In my opinion, a lot of money is being spent on helping a minority of those who struggle with addiction, and sadly being spent on expensive residential treatment stays that research indicates is not more effective than less expensive outpatient care. Bottom line, the billions being spent could be invested in those who struggle far more wisely.

Not too many years ago I was attending an addiction conference where a number of  treatment centers were advertising their services. I struck up a conversation with one of the marketing reps of a well-known residential program. She explained to me that because of the escalating cost of treatment, her team had developed a program that was only ten days in length, thus reducing the total treatment cost to about 15K while maintaining the effectiveness of a longer residential stay. As I always do in these situations, I asked her about proof that the program worked. She had a well-rehearsed answer, but like most treatment programs, no reliable and valid measures had been employed to measure outcomes. Even if some had been used, we know that 10 days hardly scratches the surface of what needs to happen to help someone with addiction.

Am I opposed to residential programs? Not at all. At times I believe these programs are life-savers and provide a strong foundation upon which to build a solid outpatient management plan. Many employ very skilled, compassionate, and hard-working counselors that know how to help patients stuck in addiction. Some charge reasonable rates for their services and avoid the “spa-like” add-ons that contribute nothing to long-term outcomes. What I am opposed to is marketing that feeds on the vulnerabilities of the populations that seek out their help. Many parents will go to the ends of the earth to help their addicted child and not think twice about mortgaging their home and draining their savings if someone tells them their program will save their kid. Even for those with money, the idea that one can “buy good outcomes” if just the right program is utilized is simply not true.

What can you do? You can spend your time understanding the nature of addiction, what science has to say about treatment interventions, and then spend your money wisely on what will result in the best possible long-term outcomes. What are some of the best financial investments in treatment? This slide from a recent presentation provides you a quick reference point for understanding how a number of treatment interventions rank in terms of scientific evidence. Notice that brief interventions, addiction medications (Campral, Revia), the Community Reinforcement Approach (CRA) and motivational enhancement interventions all rank very high in terms of evidence. Also notice what ranks far down the list: residential treatment, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and 12-step facilitation therapies, and general counseling. Note that it is not that these things cannot be useful in overcoming addiction, they can be very helpful. But when you compare their effectiveness through the lens of science to other options, and take into consideration the cost of each, it is clear we could be spending the billions of treatment dollars far more wisely.

The goal is to maximize the best possible intervention outcomes over many years (and for some a lifetime), not a few weeks or months. To do this, we need to employ the best interventions at the lowest cost. Combining free community resources, outpatient therapists, medications, self-help groups, and motivational incentives will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

A long walk to Tucson

Monday, February 28th, 2011

As I laid in bed thinking about the next day, about my turn, fear flooded my entire body. I was like a pressure cooker with no relief valve, and I knew I had to do something fast. I dressed quickly and left my room, walking outside into the cold Arizona night. The black sky was speckled with a million shining stars lighting up the desert floor, casting shadows on giant, prickly cactuses. I walked quickly along the side of the road, exhaling fear with every breath. I began to feel better, more grounded and intent on making it into town. Every few minutes I would squint as a car’s oncoming headlights blinded me, but I never missed a step. After some time, I felt a sharp pain in my side. Then my left calf began to tense up and I wondered how far I had walked. I wondered even more about how far I had left to go, whether walking alone in the middle of the night on a dark road was such a good idea, and whether I would survive confronting my fears in an experiential therapy group the next morning.

My week-long experience in Tucson was only one of a number of therapeutic journeys I have taken during the past two decades. At the time I took my long walk in the Tucson desert I understood very little about how professional therapy ultimately translates into a better life. I was there because that is what I thought I was supposed to do to get better. It was a challenging experience, like many of the therapeutic journeys I have been on, because the essence of the therapeutic work was emotional. Since I had lived much of my life in my head, learning to connect with my body and feelings was not natural, particularly when I felt I had so little control over these things. Although I can honestly say it was not the most enjoyable week, after it was over I felt more complete, more integrated, more able to be in the world in a broader context. Some of the emotional pressure had been released safely, and I felt more alive. Such outcomes have always been the reason I keep going back for more, even to this day.

What I now realize after years of personal therapeutic work, counseling patients, and studying the research on treatment outcomes, is that good therapy advances developmental capacities that make healthy relationships possible. In addition, by expanding developmental skills, it becomes possible to optimize overall mental and emotional functioning, leading to an expansion of life opportunities, a better alignment between innate talents and employment, and a more meaningful life. What I have also realized is that advancing developmental capacities does not necessarily require professional treatment, but can result from a number of life experiences.

Although medications and various cognitive-behavioral therapies so often used in addiction treatment play an important role in solving the problem of addiction, they fall short of a permanent solution because they are not intended to progress emotional development. When I reflect back on the many therapists I have worked with, self-help groups I have attended, experiential programs I have endured, and the wide range of therapeutic approaches I have subjected myself to, it is clear now that the most important ingredient in all of them was people, not specific therapies, medications, or programs. Treatment works best when in the context of relationships, the skills necessary to initiate, develop, and maintain healthy relationships – skills underdeveloped because of time spent with objects – are nurtured.

The good news is that anyone, at any stage of life, no matter how badly addicted to objects, can evolve their developmental capacities and engage in life in a deeper and more meaningful way.

 

Mark Girard, LCSW & Certified Jungian Analyst: Working with Altered States

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

For the past few years I have taught a foundations course on addiction treatment to graduate students. An important aspect of the course is helping students understand that longterm successful outcomes  necessitate resolving underlying drivers of addictive behavior, namely, adverse childhood experiences. In an effort to illustrate concretely how this may be done, I enlisted the help of a good friend and colleague, Mark Girard, who is a master at knowing how to help people heal from deep, traumatic wounds. As a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and certified Jungian Analyst with years of experience, he is incredibly skilled at working with a wide range of altered states, or emotional constrictions due to trauma. What impresses me most about Mark is how he uses himself as a tool in therapy. He walks his talk and maintains a presence with patients that is the essence of what a good therapeutic relationship is all about. During his recent visit to my class he agreed to have me videotape his lecture. The approximate 35 minute presentation is a gift to us all. I encourage you to take the time – quiet, focused time – to sit and hear what he has to say.

In the presentation, Mark mentions an article by Dr. Bruce Perry from the ChildTrauma Academy that was required reading in class. The article is titled Applying Principles of Neurodevelopment to Clinical Work with Maltreated and Traumatized children and is a nice adjunct to his lecture. He also makes reference to Babette Rothschild’s wonderful book on trauma, The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Treatment, and the classic article on trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score – both among the very best reads on the topic of trauma.

“Calm Energy” as an antidote to addiction

Monday, October 18th, 2010

I have mentioned Dr. Robert Thayer before on this site, but have not dedicated a blog entry to his ideas until now. When I first read his book, Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise, I was immediately impressed by the implications of his  work for those struggling with addiction. In a nutshell, he provides a very strong case that many of our moods and unhealthy eating habits have in common two biopsychological dimensions that he calls energy and tension. In an earlier book (The Origin of Everyday Moods, 1996) he describes how the dimensions can be used to create the illustration below.

The above four states represent different expressions of our energy and level of stress. Calm Energy is the quadrant where we find our best moods. We have energy and no tension. It is similar to the states people call flow or being in the zone. It is a place we want to be, where our attention is focused, we are productive, and we feel good about life. It is not a place where addiction is found, and in fact, is really the antidote to cravings and addictive appetites. The opposite of Calm Energy is Tense Tiredness. This unfortunately is the place many of us find ourselves these days, in large part due to the speed of life, decreases in sleep, and increases in stress. It is a place of low energy, bad moods, anxiety and depression. It is also the state where addiction thrives. When we feel tense and tired there is a natural tendency to want move away from this state, and addictive behaviors are among the most powerful, reliable, quick, and easy ways to disconnect from Tense Tiredness. I say disconnect because engaging in addictions does not really provide an antidote to this state. Instead, it may in the short run give us more energy, and change our mood, but only temporarily. When the addictive behavior ceases, chances are good that what follows will be more tension and lack of energy, perpetuating the relapse cycle.

I like to think about Calm Tiredness as a lazy Sunday afternoon. In general, it is a pleasant state, but often not as productive or positive as Calm Energy. Nothing wrong with it, and in fact we need down time to recharge our batteries. The final state, Tense Energy, is a state where we are quite productive and busy, often due to deadlines and being rushed for time. Many Type A personalities fit this state, as well as those who like to live on the edge and seek out thrills.

In my own life I find the model incredibly useful in helping me understand my own eating, exercise, sleep, and mood patterns. One of the best things you can do for yourself is take a day (or two) and track your level of energy and tension by the hour. Rate each on a scale of 1 to 10 and then plot the results on a graph. It is revealing to see just how significantly these states change in the course of an average day. The graph also helps to identify intervention points for: (a) preventing relapse, (b) developing optimal times for exercise, and (c) determining whether we are getting enough sleep. In addition, the graph can help you understand how time of day subtly influences how we think about life problems.

In sum, addiction most often shows up when we are tense and tired, but can also occur in the other states as well. Among the most significant points Dr. Thayer makes in his book is that the single best way to cultivate a life of calm energy is by developing a regular habit of exercise. Perhaps that is why the National Institute of Drug Abuse has already invested over 4 million in research into the connections between addiction and exercise.