Addiction, exercise, recovery: A little less sweating, just as much addiction help!

contributing author: Katie McGrath

We’ve talked quite a bit about the benefits of active habits, especially early in recovery when addicts are looking for things to do instead of drugs and alcohol. If you want to look at another blogger who supports the idea that replacing addictive habits is essential to recovery, you should check out Spiritual River, written by Patrick Meninga. He has numerous blogs the specifically talk about what he calls the “creative theory of addiction.”

As we continue exploring what I call “positive addictions“, the important point to remember is to start small and to find things you enjoy doing. Any hobby that gives you enjoyment and that can take up a certain amount of time each day can serve as a “positive addiction”. In addition to the helpful exercise-recovery activities that we described in our earlier posts (like yoga and running), there are a number of less physically demanding ones that can be at least as helpful.

Other addiction help options!

Research has shown that activities like gardening, painting, listening and playing music, and writing (journaling, poetry writing, literary writing) have all served as positive addictions. We’ll look at each one of these briefly:

– Gardening can increase self esteem by enabling you to care and nurture for a living thing. It can reinforce and evoke positive emotions through growing, harvesting, and experiencing the growth of plants (1). Gardening can allow for an escape into an activity that promotes life while combining creativity and hard work (if you think gardening is easy, you’ve obviously never tried it!).

– Music therapy has also been shown to have a number of positive effects on drug users. We’ve all felt the power of music we love, whether sober, or under the influence. Analyzing lyrics and sharing songs enables people to express their feelings and thoughts in a positive way. In one particular study, relaxing music shortened the time it took subjects to fall asleep and improved mood on the following day (2).

Photgraphy

– Similarly, poetry and writing are pathways to feelings. Poetry therapy enables people to overcome obstacles and painful memories by writing and using words to express their feelings (3). The benefits of putting one’s thoughts on paper (by journaling for example) are also great because they allow one to reflect on internal processes that may be very important but just outside of one’s awareness.

– Lastly, painting is another leisurely activity that has been shown to improve depression and anxiety by inspiring creativity and individuality (4). People can clear an open space in their mind by focusing on their art. While few of us will ever reach the levels of artistic geniuses like Picasso, Van Gough, and Rodin, the physical and emotional benefits of creating the art itself are worth at least as much as the critical acclaim.

Obviously, there are a number of ways to fill the void left by drugs when trying to quit. Addiction help doesn’t come only in the form of exercise. The important thing is to find something that gives you pleasure, takes your focus away from the worries of early recovery, and perhaps, that you can get involved in along with other people to allow for the formation of new, drug-free, relationships.

Best of luck!

Citations:

(1) Kavanagh, Hean. (1998). Outdoor space and adaptive gardening: Design, techniques, and tools. Food Products Press: Binghamton, NY.

(2) Abdollahnejad, Mohammad Reza. (2006). Music Therapy in the Tehran Therapeutic Community. Therapeutic Communities, Vol 27(1), pp. 147-158.

(3) Keith Van Vilet. (1977). Creativity and Self Image: An Odyssey in Poetry and Photography. Psychotherapy. Vol. 4 pp. 9-93.

(4) Gil Bar-Sela , Lily Atid, Sara Danos, Naomi Gabay, Ron Epelbaum. (2007) Art therapy improved depression and influenced fatigue levels in cancer patients on chemotherapy. Division of Oncology, Rambam-Health Care Campus, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

Addiction causes – Drug addiction as a chronic disease makes sense

The stigma of addiction is alive and well. Whether you believe in the disease model or not, it seems that people’s judgments regarding what it means to be an addict are well entrenched.

I’d like to work on that a bit.

Why is addiction a disease?

In numerous posts on this site I’ve addressed issues like genetic predisposition and the effects of drugs on the brain that impair addicts’ ability to control their choices. A disease is commonly defined as “A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms.” (See Answers.com) I don’t think there’s a question regarding whether or not addiction involves a pathology of a body part, namely the brain.

It would definitely be easier if we could all just say that addiction is the product of bad choices. Nevertheless, all the science I’ve seen points to the fact that addicts have impaired decision making to begin with that is only made worse by the drugs they take in.

A comparison with Diabetes

diabetesFor some reason, this still leaves a lot of people seeing addicts as the only ones to blame. I’d like to try a different approach:

We’ve all heard of type 2 diabetes. It’s the kind people aren’t born with, but rather are develop later in life. Most cases are the result of an over exposure of the body to sugars that breaks down its ability to produce insulin, leading to the disease. There are an estimated 15 million people in the U.S. who have type 2 diabetes. They make up 90% of diagnosed diabetes cases.

I think that type 2 diabetes is a disease that can help many reformulate the way they think about addiction.

Patients with adult onset diabetes likely have genetically reduced insulin receptor functionality and possibly other factors that increase their likelihood of developing the condition. They also likely consume more sugars than people who don’t develop type 2 diabetes, though the exact causes are still uncertain. Nevertheless, with early detection, the disease progress can certainly be slowed and perhaps even halted. As the disease progresses, the body’s response to sugar is altered, eventually resulting in what looks like a severe alergy to sugars. However, once developed, type 2 diabetes patients often require similar treatment courses, including medication, exercise, and dietary changes that patients with type 1 diabetes (the type present early on in life). At this point, simply cutting back will no longer do.

This is not all that different from addiction.

Addicts are often born with a set of genetic and environmental factors that predispose them to impulsively engaging in and seeking out, risky, exciting activities. Moreover, the addict’s reaction to drugs is often different than that of non-addiction-prone individuals. For example, many stimulant abusers report a calming, rather than excitatory, effect of drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, and the likes. That was certainly my experience back in my crystal meth days.

It is true that here the predisposition is more abstract, since it resides in brain activity patterns, but as I’ve said many times before, the brain is certainly a physical part of the body and should be treated as such. Like diabetic patients, once addicts begin using the drugs in large quantities and for extended periods, the drugs cause alterations in physical systems. Like diabetics, once these changes occur, they are certainly long lasting, if not permanent. Dopamine function in the brain of crystal meth abusers has been shown to take as many as 2 years to return to anything resembling non-user levels and we have no way of telling if the newly formed dopamine activity is at all related to what was previsouly there. Once the disease we know as addiction (or dependence) takes hold, there are specific recommended treatments that need to be followed. Simply cutting back will no longer do.

The bottom line?

Addiction fits the model of a disease as well as many other conditions. I have no doubt that people’s moral judgments get in the way sometimes and make it hard for them not to fully blame an addict for their trouble. I don’t doubt that addiction can only develop with the use of drugs, but if there are pre-existing conditions that make that use more likely, I think it need to be taken into consideration as well.

More drug addiction research from CPDD: Teenage smoking, childhood trauma, and marijuana withdrawal

Today, I’ll give a short summary of a few interesting talks I saw at the conference:

  1. Teenage smoking – Children of mothers who used drugs during pregnancy had abnormal stress hormone levels. When assessed over time, their abnormal stress response was associated with an earlier onset (age of first use) of cigarettes smoking and an increased amount and frequency of smoking cigarettes.
  2. Childhood trauma and drug use – Children who experienced excessive childhood trauma had altered brain activity (in the Nucleus Accumbens specifically) and showed increased anxiety. This area, which is important for essentially all learning, was differentially activated in a way that correlated with the amount of childhood trauma.
  3. Marijuana withdrawal and relapse to marijuana use – Marijuana withdrawal, which might soon be added to the APA‘s DSM (in version 5) was characterized as: Increased irritability, restlessness, and misery, reduced sleep quality, sleep duration, and food intake. When tested, restlessness, sleep disturbance, and early wakening were found to be predictors of relapse among participating marijuana users.

And the survey says…

Well then, it seems that the drug-use survey I created is telling me that my blog readers’ drug use falls right in line with the use patterns common in the country.

Most of the readers smoke cigarettes, with marijuana, alcohol, and cocaine close in tow. I didn’t expect the meth, ecstasy, and other drug counts to be so low (less than 10 for each of those), but I guess that’s why I created the survey!

So, I’ll be trying to write the posts with your use in mind, and I’ll be continuously monitoring the survey to see if anything changes…