Hidden Contributors To Addiction

By John Giordano DHL, MAC

My new position on the editorial board of the Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) has allowed me a unique view into a world of addiction research that I never had before. I’m very encouraged by the extent of the researchers and scientists interest in RDS and extensive studies they’re conducting. I’m also reminded of just how interconnected – and fragile – our physiology really is. Through the contributions of Dr. Blum and his contemporaries we’ve learned more about addiction and its treatment in the last thirty years than we have in any other era in medical history. We’ve come so far and acquired so much knowledge. Yet with all that we have come to know to be true, we as healers continue to fail the people we treat. Relapse rates have not improved proportionally with what has been scientifically proven to be successful.

Unfortunately we find ourselves in a place where addiction treatment is becoming more driven by profit than ever before. Years ago you’d find most treatment centers were independent facilities founded by people genuinely interested in helping others. They weren’t the most profitable investments a business person could make, but profit wasn’t the motivating force – helping people overcome their addictions was. We were willing to test the waters with new modalities, regardless of costs, if we saw the potential in improving someone’s opportunities of getting well. This sentiment has changed. As a result treatment protocols are being designed more with profit in mind than patient outcome. New and innovative modalities tend to be the enemy of profit in their early stages, thus rarely see the light of day in modern addiction treatment. This is one of my many criticisms of rehab mills with a one size fits all approach to treatment. Even though they can profit by providing new cutting edge and scientifically proven modalities; the treatment mills choose to stay with their assembly line approach that only allows for the treatment of basic issues with complete indifference to the many contributing factors to addictive behaviors.

It would not be unusual for someone with a genetic predisposition to addiction to live a happy and productive life without ever abusing drugs or engaging in risky behavior. Genetics are just one part of the equation. However, a change in environment or physiology could provide the impetus for someone – regardless of their genetics – to engage in addictive behaviors. More often than acceptable in my opinion, changes in physiology that cause a behavioral shift are incorrectly diagnosed and mistreated.

A great example of this is hormone imbalances. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just focus on one case in point; thyroid hormones produced by a butterfly shape gland in the neck. Women are more likely than men to develop thyroid conditions. Thyroid hormones do many things in the body. One of its main functions is to regulate one of the ‘happy’ brain chemicals (serotonin). When everything is functioning properly the release of serotonin will causes a carefully choreographed chain reaction that ends in the release of other ‘happy’ brain chemicals. This is what gives us the feel of calm and the sense of wellbeing. But when the thyroid is not producing enough hormones (hypothyroidism) to keep serotonin in check, our mood can be lowered and depression can easily set in. Conversely, when the thyroid produces too much hormone (hyperthyroidism), anxiety and irritability can result. Generally speaking, the more severe the thyroid disease, the more severe the mood changes.

Depression and/or anxiety on their own will not turn us into addicts. However, these emotional issues can provide the catalyst which leads us to self-medicate. Without proper testing, these hormone imbalances causing behavior changes can often be overlooked or misdiagnosed leading to the wrong treatment prescribed. I’ve met several people who have been prescribed anti-depressants for a thyroid condition, which in turn creates a whole new set of problems.

Hypoglycemia – low blood sugar – is becoming increasingly more prevalent in our society. It can be hereditary, but more times than not, hypoglycemia is the result of a poor diet. The brain is a hungry organ consuming one third of our sugar intake. This provides the energy for all of our brain functions including the production and release of the ‘happy’ chemicals. As you may have already surmised, someone with low blood sugar does not have the capacity to keep the ‘happy’ brain chemicals flowing the way they should. This can result in moodiness, irritability, depression and a greater risk of self-medication.

Closed-Head Injuries are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) where the brain experiences physical trauma while the skull and dura mater remain intact. At times these injuries can be hard to detect. They’re caused by falls, car accidents, sports, a sudden, violent motion or any head injury resulting from blunt or penetrating trauma caused by an external force. TBIs can result from something as simple as walking into a door or hitting your head on the counter.

The degree of severity can range from mild to life ending. According to a study by Vani Rao and Constantine G. Lyketsos at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, more than 50% of patients who suffer from a traumatic brain injury will develop psychiatric disturbances with the majority experiencing persistent emotional, behavioral or neurological disability. It’s known that a person with a closed-head or traumatic brain injury often suffers from depression, anxiety, loss of self-esteem and altered personality, any of which will put a person at a greater risk of abusing drugs and/or alcohol. But what is even more concerning is that drugs and/or alcohol abuse can damage the brain in a similar way as TBIs including blackouts.

These are just a few of the many co-contributing conditions to addiction. I’ll review more in future articles. What I find most concerning is that treatment has not caught up with science especially in the treatment mill one size fits all approach. Perhaps this is just reflective of our healthcare in general – reactive as apposed to preventive. However, what gives me hope is what I call the pendulum effect. Things have a way of balancing out. Every treatment mill that opens gives a healer a new opportunity to showcase his or her progressive programs that will surely outshine the assembly line facilities and advance addiction treatment. If you or a loved one is seeking treatment, you owe it to yourselves to look at centers that treat the entire disease with a genuine concern about your wellbeing.

Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity. – Hippocrates

John Giordano DHL, MAC is a counselor, Founder and former owner of G & G Holistic Addiction Treatment Center, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Laser Therapy Spa in Hallandale Beach and Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department. For the latest development in cutting-edge treatment check out his website: www.holisticaddictioninfo.com