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Addiction: A Different Approach

By:   |   Jul 08, 2018   |   Views: 6   |   Comments: 0

Research indicates that 90 - 95% of individuals who enter a drug or alcohol treatment program will relapse.  With such low success rates, something is obviously wrong with our healthcare systems.  Something has to be missing!  I believe two reasons exist for this phenomenon: 1) A Misunderstanding of the true nature of addiction, and the €œone size fits all approach, ignoring individualism.  Secondly, I believe treatment models over-emphasize reducing the individual's problems, and not enough on growing the individual's spirit. I do understand the need to eliminate the problem at hand, but that's only a small part of the situation, what about growth?  

The €œone size fits all predicament says that addiction is disease.  To call addiction a disease would imply that addiction is genetically inherited and that our genes determine addiction. This is completely false!  There are plenty of people who become addicts and have no family history of addiction.   Addiction is a learned behavior, it is that simple. Although it is true that children of alcoholics are more inclined to become alcoholics, this too is a learned behavior.   Research has actually found that many children of alcoholics actually end up avoiding drinking all together due to the negative behaviors witnessed by their parents (Peele & Brodsky, 1991)

So, if addiction is a learned behavior  then the question that remains is €œhow to unlearn the addictive behavior.  Before learning how to €œunlearn addictive behaviors, it must be recognized that addiction or any undesired behavior pattern is an attachment. Attachments have been long used by Eastern religion to describe the unhealthy desires that enslaves our minds, actions, and eventually our souls.  Buddhism says that to live, means to suffer and suffering comes from attachments.  In other words, we live our whole lives seeking a state of peace and happiness through objects of our desires; food, relationships, money, etc, yet nothing ever seems to be enough. The more we get, the more we want, and on and on the cycle goes. It is the same theory Christianity tells us in the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible.  It was Eve's desire for the forbidden fruit that opened the door for temptation and sin.

Once an addiction takes control of mind, it becomes a cat and mouse race to bring back that same feeling that drugs once did, but instead it just becomes one painful illusion. At this point, only two things can happen: let go of that attachment, or keep chasing the illusion (Lozoff, 2007) . The first step in breaking free from this illusion is to develop self-awareness and mindfulness. In life, most people tend to take the path of least resistence.  People who practice mindfulness choose the path of intention.  They live their lives based on what feels right, rather than what feels easiest (Lozoff, 2007).   People who develop self-awareness and mindfulness have a deep sense of understanding, they flow through life with a certain momentum that always seems to be right on.

 The reality is that desire is a natural a part of human nature; everyone desires to achieve a state of well being and a sense of comfort and joy.  For the addict, this state of wellbeing is found in substance use.  This is the same feeling that athletes call €œthe zone or the way musicians and dancers get lost in their performance.  It is the same state of mind that religious people find in deep prayer or spiritual people find in meditation.  The difference between the addict and the athlete, artist, etc. is freedom. Addictions are attachments that lack freedom; they are compulsions that can take over one's life. 

 When we begin to let go of attachments, more room for spiritual growth opens up.  This leads me to the second problem in many treatment programs.  Living with mindfulness requires living in the present moment.  Lozoff  (2007) describes this as €œ if we're not trying to hold on to the past, and jockeying into a positive future, then we finally belong in the world as it exists in the present moment, the eternal now (p. 18).  Too many treatment programs focus on what went wrong in the past and what will go wrong in the future if one  begins using again,  rather than focusing on what is going on in the €œnow.  Addicts, for the most part, are so far into their addiction, that the reasons and causes don't even matter anymore because it has become a cycle of one thing after the other.  I realize that the consequences of relapsing are important as well, but again, most addicts already know the consequences of their addictions. Treatment programs have to concentrate more on building the individual back up to feeling human again.

Recovery is about change, and change happens in small, positive steps. We have learned from the false promises of  the weight loss industry that quick fix diets do not work! Lasting weight loss comes from lifestyle changes, which happens gradually. As with weight-loss, recovery is a process. It doesn't usually happen overnight, the road to recovery is a journey, which requires determination, patience, and most importantly, the will. Change is influenced by core values and determining how addiction inhibit these values.  Change also happens when our strengths overbear our weaknesses.  These strengths, such as relationships, work involvement, and activities and interests, are the basis of overcoming addiction (Peele & Brodsky, 1991).  Finally, in order for change to happen, realism must be acknowledged. Going back to weight-loss trends, unrealistic goals (this diet will make me lose 10 lbs in a week) set people up for failure. The same holds true in the essence of addiction. For example, a major controversy that has begun to rise is the idea of modification, and if it is more successful than abstinence?  Although modification has been highly looked down upon by treatment centers, the truth is, abstinence, like diets can set people up for failure. According to Peele & Brodsky (1991), believing that abstinence is the only way is more likely to cause a person to binge. The realistic effort in changing addictive behaviors is to use modest, achievable goals (Peele & Brodsky, 1991).  Focusing on individual strengths and accomplishing realistic goals will overpower the addiction. Addicts do not have to admit to being powerless over their addictions, which does not promote self-efficacy.

Once we have established self-awareness and lifestyle changes have begun to surface, we become more balanced.  Balance according the to the eight-limb path of yoga is when we are in harmony with our mind, body and spirit.  When the mind, body, and spirit are balanced, magical things begin to happen.  Addiction will no longer be the focus of attention; core values will become more important.  Eastern religions, such as, Buddhism and Hinduism have been increasingly making their way into the Western culture, because they place high value in enhancing spiritual growth and balance.   Our Western culture has missed out on the value of balance.

 Yoga is the study of balance.  Many people in our society think of yoga as being a kind of exercise program, but in actuality there are eight aspects, known as the eight-limb path.  In yoga, this is the path to freedom; it is the core essence of living a meaningful and fulfilled life.

  The first two paths are intended to bring us into the right relationship with our spiritual selves. The Yamas, are five moral restraints. Similar to the Ten Commandments found in Christianity or the eight-fold path in Buddhism, these five moral restraints are the €œrules to live by. The Niyamas consist of five observances.  These observances are €œthe fundamental practices that sustain a life based on love (Gates & Kenison, 2002, p. 83). The Niyamas are spiritual practices that promote well-being.

The third and fourth limbs of this spiritual path are asana and pranayama. . The asanas are the physical aspect of yoga.  It is this aspect that most people believe will increase flexibility, and give us a body like Madonna. From a spiritual perspective, it is the physical activity that plays the key role in making the mind -body connection.  Similar to what Apostle Paul tells us in the Holy Bible €œyour body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, who you have received through God; you are not your own 1 Corinthians 6:19. So, is true in Yoga.  Through the postures we move through layers of stored memory, we discover the grief and pain that have buried deep into our own bodies (Gates & Kenison, 2002). Pranayama is the link that connects the physical body with the contemplative mind.  Pranayama in yoga is the breath, known as the life force.  In yoga, many different techniques are used to manipulate breath control. Some techniques calm the mind, others stimulate the mind.  Pranayama creates a pulse of energy that induces our well being.  It is the same energy that Asian philosophies call Chi, Christianity calls Holy Spirit, athletes call €œrunner's high, science calls higher intelligence, and the addict calls high, stoned, or drunk.

The next two limbs are pratyahara and dharana. These two paths are the foundation of self-awareness.  Pratyahara means €œturning inward. It is through pratyahara that self-discovery develops.  In Taoism, a great amount of emphasis is placed on €œinner strength; it is this inner strength that comes from pratyahara. Dharana, the second principle to awareness is about concentration. Gates& Kenison (2002) say dharana is €œnot something you do, it is something that happens, and it is the result of surrendering to love (p. 355). Dharana is about stillness, it is about being fully present, which translates into being fully alive. 

Dhyana and Samadhi are the final limbs of the eight limb path.  The final two limbs are about surrendering. Dhyana means meditation and through meditation comes mindfulness. As stated earlier, everyone yearns for this state of mind; athletes, artists, and performers know about this state of mind through their devotion and dedication.  It is this realm of energy that truly spiritual people will feel in their practice. Dhyana leads to the final phase of the yogic spiritual path known as Samadhi, which means surrender to God. It is what Buddhism calls Enlightment. It is what the late John Newton wrote about in the popular Christian hymn Amazing Grace: €œI was once lost, but now I am found, was blind, but now I see. Samadhi is nothing that is forced upon; it is what happens naturally when one finds their own spiritual path. It is here when we can finally move through the dance of life with rhythm and flow. This is what grace is.

In closing, I think the most essential aspect to the road to recovery is beginning the journey.  I believe spirituality is not only true in addiction, but in life itself.  Many of the problems that exist in mental health are what Lozoff (2007) calls €œspiritually clumsy€¦wisdom and joy come only when learning how to see a wider, more wondrous would; the power comes only from the Spirit within (p. 3).  I admire groups such as AA/NA for incorporating spirituality into recovery, however, I still think AA puts too much emphasis on the addiction itself.  I do not think that an addict has to live with the label €œI am an addict for the rest of their life.  I also believe that most alcoholics can learn to manage their alcohol problem without abstinence.  If the true goal is abstinence, than it will happen with spiritual growth; it can't be coerced, or manipulated, it is a natural process.  Just how addiction becomes engraved through repeated patterns, so can it be set free through repeated patterns of mindfulness.  Once new ways of well-being is established, old habits will be replaced by a joyful way of life.


Gates, R. & Kenison, K. (2002). Meditations from the mat. New York: Anchor Books

Lozoff, B. (2007). We're all doing time. Durham, NC: Human Kindness Foundation.

Peele, S. & Brodsky, A. (1991). The truth about addiction and recovery.  New York:    Simon & Schuster

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