Traditional Addiction Treatment May Actually Cause Stress

Traditional addiction treatment remains focused on symptom management and supports a life sentence of always being “in recovery.”  Typical addiction rehabilitation programs tend to focus on “problem solving,” and always staying one step ahead of the addiction.  Popular 12 step slogans warn, “You are only one drink away from a drunk”; “Remember that addiction is incurable, progressive and fatal”; and “While I’m sitting in a meeting, my disease is doing push-ups in the parking lot.”

Ironically, this perception of addiction treatment, or more accurately, addiction “management,” actually CREATES stress, as a person needs to always be hypervigilant and in fear of relapse. And when we are in a state of stress, we are unable to make any sustainable life changes. Healing simply cannot occur when we are hijacked by our survival or limbic brain and are flooded with the stress hormones and the chemicals of fight, flight or freeze. How can we heal if we are always waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop?”

Stress is defined as any uncomfortable emotional experience accompanied by related biochemical, physiological and behavioral changes. We identify being “stressed” when we feel overwhelmed, anxious or fearful in some way.  Stress is actually part of the human experience, as we have biological mechanisms to help us deal with and release stress. However, due to our modern toxic environment of unhealthy foods, contaminated water, polluted air stress levels are higher than in the past. Combine environmental concerns with economic pressures, lack of community support and the general sense of disconnection people experience today, and we find a stress response that stays in the constant “on” position. Normal stress becomes unhealthy, chronic stress.

Chronic stress can also be the result of unresolved trauma. It has direct health consequences that adversely affect the immune, cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and central nervous systems. Chronic stress alters many neurochemicals and neurohormones. In other words, chronic stress affects our entire being, including how we think, feel and behave. It informs the choices we make.

Not surprisingly, research has shown a strong correlation between chronic stress and addictions, including the overuse of alcohol, tobacco, food, prescribed and illicit drugs. Whereas a cocktail or glass of wine may begin as way to cope with the stress of everyday life or a traumatic event, they can eventually evolve into an addiction. “Happy hour” is often the highlight of a person’s day, when they can finally “relax” or “blow off some stream.” Yet, when this becomes a daily need and the primary coping strategy, it creates suffering, more stress and a debilitating way of life.

While stopping the addictive behavior may, in part, help to eliminate the stress created by the addiction, it does not help to alleviate the underlying stress that was the root cause of the addiction itself. This is why an integrative and holistic, rather than a traditional addiction treatment approach is necessary.  As we mentioned, chronic stress has been shown to be directly related to the foods we eat (or don’t eat), the non-stop “monkey mind” of worry, underlying psychological and emotional pain due to unresolved trauma, as well as a pervading sense of disconnection from our authentic self and others. Thus, addiction treatment to heal underlying stress and trauma must include a broad spectrum of holistic and integrative therapeutic modalities to heal the mind, body, soul and spirit.

Our integrative, holisitic addiction treatment program helps you to heal from trauma and to identify to root cause of your addiction. We use a range of evidence-based therapies including individual and group process therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, holotropic breathwork, Heartmath/biofeedback, inner child therapy, energy medicine and others to help you to heal for good. You can learn more about our program on the Program Highlights page.

How has stress had an impact on your life? Let us know in the comments below.