Why is it that some people can have a drink or two and walk away while others just can’t seem to get their fill? Is there a reason why some are repulsed by the thought of using drugs when others experience insatiable cravings attracting them like a moth to a flame?
Alcohol and drugs became part of culture at nearly the time of their discovery. Beer and wine were consumed in ancient civilizations as a substitute to the bacteria ridden water. Drugs were often introduced into society as a medicine before becoming recreational. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt believed alcohol was a link to the gods. Beer was for the commoners while wine was reserved for the affluent Egyptians. The first recorded use of marijuana for medicinal purposes dates back to 2737 B.C. in China. Narcotics were used in Sumerian and European cultures over 6000 years ago.
Addiction has also made its mark throughout history. Public intoxication was frowned upon by early Egyptians nearly seven millennia ago. My close friend and colleague, Dr. Kenneth Blum, whose seminal discovery of the reward gene (also known as the addiction/alcohol gene) forever changed the views and treatment of addiction, considers this to be one of the first documentations of substance abuse indicating the possibility of addiction found in history. Yet addiction treatment didn’t begin in earnest until the mid 1800s. That being said, addiction treatment is a nascent science.
But what is it that drives some people to abuse drugs and alcohol and how do you treat it? Much has been written on the subject and the age-old “nature vs. nurture” debate has taken up a lot of the conversation. What I can tell you with complete confidence is that in my nearly thirty-years of treating people with this disease is that there are many contributing factors to addiction. So much so, that very early on in my counseling career I developed the perception of addiction being a mosaic with a nearly infinite number of possible combinations that could foster this disease. In my mind, and in the mind of many other experts on the subject, the “nature vs. nurture” debate has been put to rest. Considering the abundance of scientific research available on addiction today, the only objective answer is both.
Over the years I’ve counseled addicts who had heavy metal toxicity, leaky gut syndrome, vitamin deficiencies, depression, closed head injuries, chronic pain and a host of other ailments that could propagate addiction. There are many roads leading to this disease, but for this conversation I’m going to focus on genetic predisposition to addiction. My reasoning is this: a study conducted by one of the world’s leading authorities on genetics and addiction, Dr. Kenneth Blum, at my center revealed that three out of four people tested had a genetic predisposition to addiction. Dr. Blum said the numbers were consistent with other studies he has done. He estimates that one-third of Americans carry a gene that predisposes them to addiction.
According to Dr. Blum, whose life work has been centered on the reward gene; reward center and reward circuitry, people who have a genetic predisposition to addiction suffer from a condition he coined as: Reward Deficiency Syndrome or RDS. This is where an individual cannot experience rewards from everyday experiences.
The brain is a very complex mechanism. Among other things, it produces ‘feel good’ chemicals that communicate reward, comfort, pleasure and calm throughout various regions of the brain. When this message is interrupted the individual is going to feel any one of a number of degrees of discomfort. Their behavior can range from gloomy to edgy to aggressive and beyond.
Dr. Blum describes the ‘feel good’ chemical process as a cascade. Imagine for a moment if you will a waterfalls flowing into a pool of water below. Now visualize that pool flowing downward into another, forming a cascade. In essence, this is what is occurring in our brains. One chemical flows causing the production of another. The cascade begins with Serotonin. It triggers the release of Enkephalins which in turn inhibits GABA that fine tunes the release Dopamine in the “reward site.” As you can see this is a complex process. Even the slightest deviation in this progression will have consequences.
Dopamine (DA) is the primary neurotransmitter of reward and pleasure. It’s the neuro-chemical that puts a smile on our face and a song in our heart. It helps regulate movement, emotional responses, cognition, and feelings of pleasure. DA brings on both desire and dread. Functioning properly, it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them. Too much Dopamine can cause someone to become easily agitated, aggressive and hostile while too little can lead to gloominess or a depressed state.
Perhaps one of Dr. Blum’s most globally recognized accomplishments was his seminal discovery of the reward gene (also known as the addiction/alcohol gene). It was front page news and the lead story on TV all over the world. What he found was that the brain of people with a particular genotype (DRD2-A1) did not fully process Dopamine. He found that these people had fewer Dopamine receptors by as much as minus 40%. As a consequence, many of these individuals engage in drug/alcohol abuse or other process addictions to spike their Dopamine levels. Their objective is not to get high, but to balance their neurochemistry. Dr. Blum says cravings are the way we tell the brain we wants more dopamine.
I was fortunate to have been first introduced to eastern medical philosophies when I was fourteen while training in Karate. Both have been the subject of my study and practice my entire life. So it was no big surprise to friends and family when I opened a holistic addiction treatment center at a time when the average person didn’t know what holistic was. It was a challenge at first but time and science has proven the value of holistic contributions to modern medicine. I felt then, as I do now, that a holistic approach should be the first resort. There are simple health solutions all around us that we can all benefit from if we’re just willing to give holistic a chance. It is in this spirit that I make the following recommendations that will help anyone boost their energy, improve cognition, elevate moods and just generally feel better.
My first recommendation is exercise. I have a theory that our environment has changed in such a rapid way than our bodies and minds can’t keep up. One hundred years ago more people were riding horses than driving cars. Eight out of ten people lived outside towns that were in some way dependant on agriculture. People would frequently walk for miles to socialize or worship on weekends. Today we don’t even get off the couch to change the TV channel. The simple reality is that our bodies and minds are not build for the sedentary lifestyle many lead. Just twenty minutes of aerobic exercise a day will almost immediately increase the processing of Dopamine and other ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain. It will also improve cognitive function and reduce your risk of heart attack while slowing aging effects. I can’t stress enough how important exercise is to our mental and physical health. I have personally witnessed the positive results in the people at my center. So get off the couch and take a twenty minute walk!
The second aspect of the adverse effects of our modern environment that requires your immediate attention is nutrition. It’s nearly impossible to get all of the vitamins and nutrients our body needs from the foods we eat, including the all important amino acids that promote balanced brain chemistry. However there are some foods that can naturally stimulate the production of ‘feel good’ chemicals. Foods that contain the amino acid Tyrosine and Vitamin B-6 are especially good for the production of Dopamine. It’s best to stick to a low-glycemic diet. Sugars temporarily spike Dopamine levels causing an adverse high/low effect. Caffeine has a similar effect and should be avoided as well. Free radicals can destroy Dopamine. Vegetables and fruits high in antioxidants will fight the harmful free radicals thus improving the possibility of healthy dopamine levels.
To help maintain and increase your dopamine levels it is important to add daily servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. Bananas are loaded with tyrosine. Prunes, blueberries, strawberries, wheat germ, nuts, seeds, red beats, avocados, lima beans and soy products also help raise dopamine levels. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, cottage cheese and yogurt all contribute to the production of dopamine. High protein low fat meats are an excellent source of ‘feel good’ chemical precursors. Fish is rich in Omega 3 fatty acids that increase Dopamine levels. Whole-grain breads and pastas also contain tyrosine. Spicy foods stimulate the production of the ‘feel good’ chemical endorphins.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s nearly impossible to get all of the vitamins and nutriments our body and brain needs from the foods we eat. That being said, it may be time for you to look at vitamin supplements. I always recommend seeing your doctor before you begin a supplement regiment. However, if you are an addict or in recovery and your intention is to balance your brain chemistry through supplements, I suggest you seriously consider the following.
I’ve been formulating my own brand of vitamins and supplements and nutraceuticals targeting mental health for nearly twenty years. It was always a work in progress, adding new all natural ingredients and observing the results. Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Blum was developing his own formulation at the same time with the same objective. We decided to put our formulations through scientific testing that would provide us with meaningful and measurable results.
For the study, Dr. Blum and I agreed qEEG (a digital imaging system much like an MRI that shows changes in brain activity in varying colors) imaging would produce the accurate visual results we were looking for. After administering one oral dose of Dr. Blum’s formulation, Synaptose™ to the volunteer, the results were nothing short of amazing. The image showed the brain turn bright red where it was once as black as night. Similar tests showed my formulation, Mental Clarity’s ability to improve cognitive function and repair. Additional testing of addicts who have been administered Synaptose™ claim that the nearly insatiable drug cravings felt less severe; while the addicts who were administered Mental Clarity stated they felt less foggy, had more energy and were more engaged in their daily routines. The results of these tests were published in Post Grad Medical Journal, a peer reviewed medical publication. But more importantly, my center is the only one in the world that makes both these genetically directed therapies available to clients.
Last, and certainly not least, laugh. Laughter releases endorphins – the ‘feel good’ chemical that is sure to lift your mood.
John Giordano DHL, MAC is a counselor, President and Co-Founder of G & G Holistic Addiction Treatment Center in North Miami Beach and Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me directly at 305-945-8384. Also for the latest development in cutting-edge treatment check out my website: http://www.holisticaddictioninfo.com