Addiction Management Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Resolve’

The College on Problems of Drug Dependence 2013 – my update

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

For the past half-dozen years, I have been attending The College on Problems of Drug Dependence, better known as CPDD. The conference has been in existence since 1929 and this year is celebrating 75 years! It is the longest running conference on drug addiction problems in the US and is attended by the brightest minds in the field from all over the world (it even has its own blog). This year it was held in San Diego and included poster sessions, oral presentations, and plenty of networking. Usually I go it alone, but this year decided to drag my family along to make up for the year I brought them to the same conference in Reno where, ironically, gambling, drinking and smoking permeated the hotel and conference (yuck!).

There was a lot of great stuff this year as usual, so I thought I would highlight just a few things that really caught my attention.

  • traumafiveAdverse childhood experiences predict later substance abuse and addiction. We have known for a long time that 80-90 percent of those who go down the path of addiction start their journey early in life – during teenage-age years – most often as an adaptive response to coping with one or more adverse childhood experiences. I have written about the ACE study on this site, but what is new are studies that continue to evolve these findings in more detail, and help us really understand just how complex, pervasive, and critical it is to evaluate and treat underlying traumas in those who struggle with addiction. Current stats on abuse and neglect are frightening, and sadly addiction is not the only outcome of these cases. The British Journal of Psychiatry recently published a paper linking childhood adversity to all classes of mental health disorders. At the conference Cathy Spatz Widom presented some of her work that has involved following 1,575 kids from childhood through adulthood. This amazing study included 908 substantiated cases of childhood abuse and neglect processed by the courts from 1967 through 1971, and then matched this group with a control group of 667 children with no official record of abuse/neglect. The results from interviews over multiple decades provides strong evidence that early life experiences make a difference in the trajectories of our lives. Bottom line for those who struggle with addiction: intervention must involve addressing unresolved issues from the past that perpetuate addictive behavior.
  • Legalization of marijuana. I have not written about this topic on this site before, largely because I continue to struggle with exactly how I feel about it. While it is now legal in two states (Colorado and Washington) many other states are moving to legalize recreational use as well. On many fronts I agree that legalization makes sense, as the drug war has been a miserable failure. At the same time, Nora Volkow, the Director of NIDA, in cannabisher keynote address pointed out that marijuana use among teens is at an all-time high, while research findings are absolutely clear about the dangers of THC in young developing brains. This year the public policy forum was dedicated to this topic, and two great speakers from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center – Beau Kilmer and Rosalie Pacula – provided a lot of food for thought. Beau reviewed his seven P’s and Rosalie addressed the four primary public health goals: 1) prevent youth access, 2) prevent drugged driving, 3) regulate product content and form (potency), and 4) minimize concurrent use with alcohol. The “how” of accomplishing these goals is beyond this post, but if you dig into the RAND site you will find a recent publication that provides all the details.
  • Abuse of prescription drugs. If the 80′s were about cocaine, the 90′s about meth, we are now deeply entrenched in a time where “the” object of addiction are prescription drugs. In the past decade there has been a five-fold increase in treatment admissions for abuse of opioids, and overdose deaths related to pills have tripled in the past two decades. In some states more people die of pill overdoses than motor vehicle accidents. It is a problem that has gained national attention by many government agencies (and non-government groups), and was a hot topic this year at CPDD. Much of the focus was on abuse-deterrent formulations, which studies have shown have reduced abuse and diversion. This is a good thing, but at the same time such formulations are not necessarily reducing the number of people who struggle with abuse/addiction – they are just pushing them in another direction to other more easily abusable products or illicit drugs (what we call the “balloon effect”). The key point goes back to my first bullet point. We need to invest far more resources into prevention and early intervention since this is really the origin of the problem for most who struggle.
  • psilocybinPsilocybin and quantum change. Of all the cool things I learned this year, the one that surprised me the most was a workshop focused on the treatment benefits of psilocybin, a hallucinogenic compound from mushrooms that operates mostly on 5-HT-2a/c serotonin receptors. The session, led by Roland Griffiths and Herb Kleber, reviewed studies where psilocybin produced some remarkable mystical experiences for participants that rated among the most important events in their life! Here is a video clip describing one of the studies. The hope for those who struggle with addiction is that psilocybin may be an accelerated way to induce spiritual experiences that result in profound and lasting behavioral changes. The compound, when used appropriately in controlled conditions, appears to be non-physically toxic and virtually non-addictive. While the early findings are intriguing, I am not so sure we will see it on the list of evidence-based practices any time soon.

If you want to read more about the conference, check out the CPDD Blog.

Lastly, I know many of you won’t believe this, but CPDD has workshops that go from 8pm until 10pm at night, even Sunday – on Father’s Day! My wife never believed me until she saw it for herself. This is a dedicated group of people! So, after one of these very long evenings, I ventured out into the evening and did a little picture taking. Here are two of my favorites:

SD-5sd-1-2

 

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.

 

Addiction is about three relationships

Friday, June 29th, 2012

There has been a push to understand and define addiction in our society as a brain disease, primarily because of the strong evidence from neuroimaging studies that have identified clear changes in the brain for those who struggle with addiction. At the same time, others have provided evidence that addiction is an adaptive response to underlying, unresolved, adverse childhood experiences (i.e., the ACE Study). We know the truth is that both are right. Roughly 80 percent of those who go down the path of addiction begin  prior to the age of 15. So early life experiences are critical to understanding this problem. Although the ACE study provides significant insight into the roots of addiction, we must also factor in to the equation a wide range of risk and protective factors, as well as genetic vulnerability. While I support incorporating all of these perspectives into our understanding of addiction, I believe how we understand this challenging problem should link directly with how we treat it. For me, this has led to a reconceptualization of how I understand and define this problem, one that I want to share with you.

Addiction is about three relationships with Self, Others, and the All. Let me explain.

The relationship with Self is best characterized by shame. Early adverse childhood experiences (and other risk factors) set-up a belief system that something is wrong with Self, and addictive behavior over time becomes a powerful way to manage the trance of feeling unworthy. To add fuel to the fire, when attempts to stop addictive behavior fail (due to changes in the brain), shame and feelings of unworthiness deepen even more, creating a destructive cycle that results in great pain for the Self and those around the person struggling. The relationship with Others is best characterized by isolation. I have written about this particular relationship in past posts. Isolation occurs because the developmental capacities necessary to initiate, form, and maintain healthy relationships with others become constricted over time, due to spending considerable time with objects of addiction (e.g., alcohol, drugs, porn, food) instead of people. In essence, adults who struggle with addiction are childlike in their ability to be in relationship with others. This makes it hard to hold jobs, parent kids, remain in committed, intimate relationships, and build community. It also helps explain why about 80 percent of those behind bars struggle with addiction, as well as many who return home from war and feel isolated and disconnected from those who have not had similar war experiences. The third relationship is that with the All (e.g., God, Atman, the One, Yahweh, Brahman, Allah), or what 12-step programs call higher power. It is a relationship I have devoted little time to on this blog, but one that I intend to give far more attention to in the future. It is best characterized by Truth and Love. The truth comes from experiencing all that addiction is – both its pleasures and pains. It is no coincidence that at the moment of orgasm, the instant the body feels the sensations from a drug, or the second one realizes they have had a Big Win on the craps table, the words “Oh God” come forth. Going deep into addiction is a search for the All, for truth, and ultimately for love.

These three relationships require attention and healing if we are to be successful at helping those who struggle with addiction. Our interventions should target all three relationships, which I should add, are hardly independent, but linked together in a seamless system. Work on one relationship impacts the others. There are two broad paths or categories of interventions: 1) the path of action, and 2) the path of non-action or contemplation. The first path is what we are accustomed to associating with typical interventions and treatments. The path of action happens in our waking states, when we “do” things. I believe there are five broad actions that are important on this path: motivate, evaluate, manage, resolve and create.  The path of non-action or contemplation is equally important, and involves using meditation practices to detach from objects of addiction and embrace our spiritual nature. If you consider meditation an action, then I guess you could make an argument that perhaps there is only one path. But doing contemplative work in essence is about “just being” which takes us back to a path of non-action. If it sounds a bit confusing, it is to me too. And to round out this discussion, both paths meet in consciousness. More about this to come.

As a parting thought on this topic, engaging all three relationships allows us to incorporate all we know about addiction. We can incorporate insights from neuroscience, medications, and healthy living into our treatments and interventions. And, we can evaluate outcomes more holistically when we consider how our interventions impact and change the three relationships.

All you need is love, love, love is all you need.

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

At a training not long ago on CRAFT, the presenter, Dr. Robert Meyers, told a story that I want to pass on to you. But first, if you have never heard of CRAFT, it stands for Community Reinforcement and Family Training which is an evidence-based approach that family members (or friends) can use to facilitate getting an unmotivated loved one struggling with addiction into treatment. I am most fond of this approach because, unlike traditional interventions that rely upon coercing a person into treatment through harsh group feedback, CRAFT relies upon using basic behavioral strategies to rearrange the world of the addict so he or she internally reaches the decision that treatment is necessary. We have known for a long time that external motivation gets the job done; interventions do often lead to treatment. But unfortunately, once there, the person we so badly care about does not engage in treatment, does not really want to be there, and often drops out. We are back to square one and saying that treatment does not work. It is a vicious cycle.

In these situations, treatment fails because of a lack of internal motivation. Those who need to change their behavior have to want to change their behavior, which is why CRAFT is so powerful. It works to increase internal motivation for change by eliminating the positive reinforcement for acting out in an addiction, and enhancing positive reinforcement for non-acting out behaviors. If you don’t understand basic behavioral approaches to change using reinforcement, then it is time for Dr. Meyers’ story.

A woman who had been admitted to a psychiatric ward was driving the staff crazy. From the time she woke up until the time she went to bed in the evening she would scream her head off. The staff tried everything they could think of to get her to stop screaming, but nothing worked. She had to be placed in a room alone, away from the other residents, and restrained at times. Although medications could have been used to sedate her (and probably were at times), they were not the answer. After many frustrating weeks of listening to her loud cries, a doctor was brought in to see if he could help. His name was Nathan Azrin.

Nate walked down the hall to the woman’s room as staff likely snickered about how he possibly could make a difference given all that had been tried. When he arrived, the woman was sitting on the edge of the bed rocking back and forth screaming like she did throughout the day. He stood at the doorway for quite some time. He may have thought about why she was screaming, but also knew that whatever the driving reason, she could not speak and exploring the why would likely be a long journey. Instead, being a behavioral psychologist, he considered her behavior and what he wanted her to do instead of screaming. Well, this was easy, he wanted her to stop screaming. Then, he considered the times when she was doing what he wanted her to do: eating, sleeping, and breathing. During these activities she did not scream. As he stood in the doorway, he began to focus more on the immediate moment to moment rhythm of her screaming and breathing. Then he got an idea…

Right at the moment when she stopped screaming to take a breath, he walked over to her and gently stroked her hair. After she inhaled and began screaming again, he slowly moved back to the door and waited until she had to take another breath. He then repeated the movements with every breath: move close to her, look her in the eyes, gently stroke her hair, and then move away as she screamed. Nate knew, that at our core, we all have one unifying need: love. And he believed that by reinforcing the moments when she was not screaming, even though they were just seconds, with loving touch, that just maybe…maybe, he could alter her behavior. While staff had isolated her, restrained her, and stayed clear of her, he moved closer to her. And his approach worked. By that evening, he was sitting next to her on the bed, gently stroking her hair, and the screaming had stopped. He told the staff that when she woke up the next morning and started to scream, someone was to sit next to her and gently comfort her. In fact, anytime she began to scream, the antidote was the same.

I love this story because so often when we are challenged in life we tend to overlook the obvious. We seek out expensive treatments, elaborate self-help strategies, or engage in complex change regiments only to become frustrated when change eludes us. Dr. Azrin is among the most cited psychologists of all time, and although he may go down in history for his popular read, Toilet Training in Less Than a Day, for me, he will go down as an individual who taught me about love.

Race to Nowhere

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Last week I watched the independent film Race to Nowhere that has won numerous awards for its strong messages about our broken educational system. Through interviews with students, parents, teachers, and others, the movie illustrates the dark side of being a kid in school. The race to nowhere for students is paved with an over-scheduling of activities, too much homework, too little sleep, and increased stress that is resulting in health problems, drug abuse, eating disorders, and suicide. What is even more troubling, is that for all the effort kids are putting into their school work and extracurricular activities, many are being churned out of our educational system lacking some of the most important qualities of a good education, including:  the ability to reflect deeply on topics, handle difficult emotions in the face of stress, and successfully engage in a wide range of healthy relationships. The film points the finger at numerous perpetrators, but in the end, fails to hit home that no one individual person or group is to blame, but rather it is the entire educational system that we must examine more carefully if we are to find the truth behind the worrisome outcomes.

When I think about the fact that over 80 percent of those who end up struggling with addiction begin their behaviors prior to the age of 15, this film frightens me even more. When did school become so competitive and stressful? Much of the over-scheduling of extra-curricular activities and hours of homework is in response to the demands, both perceived and real, associated with getting accepting into a college or university. What is sad is that the stress and pressure begin long before high school. My wife and I spent a couple of years tearing our hair out (the little I have left) trying to identify and enroll our son in the best possible elementary school. I put more time and effort into researching options, attending open houses, completing enrollment packets that included writing lengthy essays, than I ever did applying to graduate school! The process was absolutely crazy, and I know we were not alone. And now I know it was just the beginning.

Race to Nowhere illustrates painfully many of the current antecedents to addiction, and why we absolutely must reexamine our understanding of what education means and how we are going about educating our children. Failure to do so will only lead to a new generation of addicts.

 

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.

Uncovering the pervasive roots of addiction: Part 1

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

“For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil, there is one striking at the root.”  – Thoreau

In my life there have been many times when I felt isolated, lonely, disconnected, and alone. These times have never  been pleasant, and in the absence of nurturing relationships, close friends to call on a dime, or a tribe of my own, I coped by engaging in substitute relationships with work, money, entertainment, food, hobbies, and exercise (just to name a few). For years I felt shame about many of my behaviors, and my inability to connect in deep ways with others. Now I understand that so much of my adaptive behaviors were a response to underlying root problems, problems that needed resolving and hampered in significant ways my ability to intiate, develop, and maintain intimate and nurturing relationships with people. I also believe that now, more than ever, those who struggle with addiction share similar root causes that need to be addressed if successful longterm outcomes are to materialize.

The roots of addiction go much deeper than the adaptive behaviors that so often are the focus of intervention efforts. This is because dealing with the symptoms (addictions) are easier than dealing with the root causes. I have long believed that addiction is a problem best managed over time like other chronic illnesses. But successful management necessitates addressing what drives the addictive behavior in the first place. It requires knowing how to turn down the flame, dig out the roots, and resolve problems that are solvable. These underlying roots come in many shapes and sizes, but there are two forms that I believe are the primary drivers of addiction today. This post will address the first form: adverse childhood experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences
In the mid 1980s, physicians from Kaiser Permanente’s Department of Preventative Medicine in San Diego made an interesting discovery. Those who were losing the most weight and succeeding in the weight loss program were the ones most likely to drop out and quit. Was it because they no longer needed the program? Nope. Further investigation revealed that the majority of dropouts did not maintain their weight loss and went back to struggling with problems of overeating and obesity. Why did they quit if they were succeeding in the program? A deeper look revealed that overeating and obesity were used as tools to cope with unresolved adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In most cases, overeating was an unconscious behavior utilized as a protective solution to these unresolved childhood problems.

How was it unconsciously protective? In many cases, the ACEs involved sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Developing a relationship with food was safer than developing intimate or nurturing relationships with people who might abuse again. Being obese unconsciously deterred romantic interests and physically enhanced protection of the body. The finding that most of the participants in the weight loss program had prior ACEs led Kaiser to collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to explore the link between ACEs and general health outcomes.

The study involved over 17,000 middle-class Americans and has produced over 50 scholarly research journal articles. Among the most signficant findings in the study was that two-thirds of the participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. In addition, the higher a person’s ACE score, the more addictive behavior was utilized as a coping response. For example:

Here you can see that as the number of ACE scores increase, so too does the percent who meet criteria for alcoholism. This finding is detailed in an insightful paper titled The Origins of Addiction by the lead researcher of the study, Vincent Felitti. What the ACE study helps us to understand is that the roots of addiction are real, diverse, and if left unaddressed, will continue to fuel the behavior we are so badly trying to manage (or end).

Dr. Gabor Mate, continued…

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The following interview with Dr. Mate provides additional context for his work and beliefs about addiction. One surprising statement he makes is that less than five percent of his patients overcome their addictions - not the best of outcomes. Of course what “overcome” means and how to define outcomes are messy topics, but I am far more optimistic about  the tenacity of the human spirit to change. Addiction is most definitely a challenge, but one reason for poor outcomes has been the lack of understanding about the nature of addiction, and the need for a comprehensive solution like MRC. Watch the interview, and then let me know your thoughts about Dr. Mate’s conclusions.

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.