Sanus Welcomes Guest Blogger Robin Bright, author and founder of www.thatsoberlife.com.
In an ideal state, the human body —the brain in particular— has an amazing ability to motivate us toward health and survival by rewarding us with feelings of well-being, comfort and even euphoria.
For example, our body needs nutrients for survival, so our brain is set up to trigger the release of dopamine when we eat. Other activities, such as physical exercise, listening to music, sex, setting goals and even planning a pleasurable event or starting an entrepreneurial venture can boost dopamine levels as well.
Unfortunately, our brain isn’t always operating like a well oiled machine. Studies have shown that events such as childhood trauma or neglect can alter the way the brain functions, leading to negative effects on behavior. Other stressful or traumatic events, such as divorce, death of a loved one, violence, bullying, or even the stress involved in a car accident, can further complicate feelings of well being and safety.
Now, without getting deep into the numerous medical and psychological studies I’ve poured over in recent years, it’s safe to say this:
The healthier your brain is, the more easily it can bounce back from stressful situations. But for the 20 million plus individuals who have suffered from the affects of drug addiction, there are generally multiple layers of problems.
In my particular case, I spent an entire decade in active addiction, to both drugs and alcohol. My addiction was directly related to my inner longing for peace, security and a sense of well being, which I did not receive as a child and never was able to develop as an adult.
See where the layers come in?
Drug and alcohol addiction can actually change the biochemistry of the brain, and the ability to create feelings of well-being in natural ways. The drug, then becomes the only means of relief, and will rapidly progress into the destructive cycle of addiction.
When I first entered rehab I started to recognize the way certain foods (especially sugar and carbs) affected my “early recovery mood,” which was a delicate balance, to say the least. I started to ask questions like, “Why do I feel so emotionally raw? What can I do to gain some mental clarity? Why do I feel like jumping out of my skin?”
Thankfully, I happened to have a brilliant chiropractor while I was in treatment. She was an addiction specialist who had a gift for teaching, and she started to fill my head with hope. She talked to me about things like the “addicted brain” and “reward deficiency.”
Understanding how to repair the addicted brain and how to achieve a sense of well being became my focus. I desperately wanted to avoid relapse, but I knew if I didn’t pinpoint where these inner urges were coming from, I’d never be able to fully break free. Being sober wasn’t really my goal. I wanted to be happy with life and have a sense of purpose.
Can Your Brain Be Repaired?
The short answer to this question is, yes! My breakthrough into healing came with each milestone I hit in my recovery journey. The tools I used to promote healing included this list:
Boost Dopamine Production: A couple weeks into sobriety I was introduced to a supplement called Synaptamine by the director of my treatment center. We learned about the way amino acids are the precursor (or the food) for our neurotrasmitters. Certain amino acids helped produce dopamine while others helped with serotonin. Synaptamine is an all natural supplement that contains an entire family of amino acids along with other ingredients that may help with the production of dopamine.
Eat Whole, One Ingredient Foods: I also discovered that eating whole, one-ingredient foods (like fruits, vegetables and meat) greatly affected my mental state.
Hydrate: Much of my early brain fog was two-fold. Yes, my brain wasn’t fully producing feel-good hormones on it’s own, but I was also a walking Saraha desert. The adult body is 60% water and your brain requires plenty of hydration to think clearly. Think about how addiction depletes your body and brain of nutrients. One of the best ways to speed up the repair process is with plenty of water!
Exercise & Sunshine: Exercise promotes the synthesis of a precursor to serotonin, that’s why it makes you feel good. Exercise can also increase dopamine levels if you set a difficult goal and reward yourself for achieving it.
Ten or fifteen minutes per day of unfiltered sunshine has also been found to release dopamine. Exercising outside is a double bonus!
Chiropractic Care: I was never a fan of massages or chiropractic adjustments, but I learned from a pretty wise chiropractor that regular adjustments could cut my recovery time in half (or at least greatly reduce it). Chiropractic care acts as a type of 'jump start' to the limbic system in the brain and encourages the production of feel good hormones.
These are the main things that helped me experience real, break-through moments in my recovery and get to a point where I could work through past pain and come out on the other side as a whole, healed individual.
I still take Synaptamine today, and when I start to fall into unhealthy eating habits and forget to hydrate, I can tell.
Does addiction damage the brain? There is documented proof that says it does, but I believe it’s never too late to turn things around and live a life of wellness and mental health. I’m living proof of that.
About the Author: Robin Bright
Robin Bright is a published author, professional writer, recovery advocate, and the founder and contributing editor of ThatSoberLife.com. Robin speaks and writes openly about the ten years she spent in active addiction and is a voice for those who are trying to break free.
“There is so much more to living in recovery than putting down a drink or a drug. Recovery involves the whole being —body, mind and spirit. I didn’t just want to be sober. I wanted to have energy, mental clarity, and a deep sense of purpose and well-being in my life. I committed the first two years of my sobriety to understanding the damage addiction caused to my brain and my body, and developing a plan to undo that damage.”
Robin frequently writes and speaks on the topics of cross-addiction, nutrition’s role in early recovery, repairing your brain and relapse prevention. Currently, she is opening a recovery residence for women transitioning out of treatment and is excited about implementing wellness and nutrition into her program.