Once an Addict. Always an Addict. Not so fast.
When Harvard University’s Dr. Timothy Leary coined the phrase, “Once an addict. Always an addict.” was it based on the science of the time or was it “tongue and cheek” referring to the futility in seeking treatment? In 1942, the psychiatric community began to realize that many alcoholics simply quit drinking without formal treatment. In a 1976 scholarly article, R. Roizen, D. Cahalan and P. Shanks labeled the phenomenon, “Spontaneous Remission.”
Spontaneous Remission vs. the 12 Step Model
Approximately 95% of all addiction treatment facilities utilize the Minnesota Model or “12 Step” program as the basis for treatment. This is the very same 1950’s approach developed in a Minnesota mental institution by two non-credentialed individuals having never worked with recovering addicts. Perhaps the first, and largest proponent of this approach is Alcoholics Anonymous. When Bankole Johnson, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine was asked, “How well does traditional 12 step rehab work?” His response was sobering, “I don’t believe that traditional rehabilitation using self-help methods is effective. In fact, the data suggest that they’re not much better than spontaneous remission rates of recovery. For alcoholism, up to a quarter (24.4%) of people respond on their own, and a lot of recovery centers have rates that are not even that high.” His interview was published in Scientific American Magazine. In 2006, one of the most prestigious scientific research organizations in the world, the Cochrane Collaboration, conducted a review of the many studies conducted between 1966 and 2005 and reached a stunning conclusion: “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA” in treating alcoholism. This group reached the same conclusion about professional AA-oriented treatment (12-step facilitation therapy, or TSF), which is the core of virtually every addiction-rehabilitation program in the country. In 2015, a paper published by Harald K. H. Klingemann from the University of Applied Sciences, School of Social work in Berne, Switzerland appears to indicate that Spontaneous Remission rates for addiction could be as high as 53%.
Is Addiction a Brain Disease?
To have a disease — instead of, say, a dangerous habit — is to be powerless to do anything except apply the prescribed cure. A person with a disease is unfortunate, rather than foolish or weak or degenerate. Something innate in your body, particularly in your brain, has made you exceptionally susceptible to getting hooked. The conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon has been endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. Neuroscientist, psychologist and recovered addict Mark Lewis states in his book, “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is not a Brain Disease”, Addicts aren’t diseased,” Lewis writes, “and they don’t need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it.” The euphoria experienced by addictive behavior is the result of the brain producing a tidal wave of the neurotransmitter dopamine (think sex). This is the same substance that makes us happy. One would not classify seeing the love of your life or your fifth trip to Paris as a disease.
The Day Addiction Treatment Changed Forever
In a scientific paper published in 1993, two pioneering researchers, Bill Scott and Scott Peniston of UCLA, postulated that by manipulating Alpha and Theta Brain waves with neurofeedback they could address the brain based issues associated with addiction. When combined with therapy, the results were nothing short of miraculous – an 83% permanent recovery rate tracked out one year. This treatment became known as Alpha Theta Neurofeedback or the Scott-Peniston Protocols. The results have been widely duplicated (this includes three separate studies conducted by the Texas Commission on Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation) and follow up studies in 2005 appeared to indicate that after ten years, the subjects of the original experiment were still maintaining a better than 70% recovery rate. In a “Special Issue” paper published in the journals of Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, Jay Gunklemen and Curtis Cripe, PhD. describe the outcome of neurofeedback assisted therapy this way, “Outcomes include more than merely having clients with sobriety/abstinence and happy therapists watching QEEG patterns change. People’s entire lives are changed when the underlying phenotypical EEG failure patterns are addressed.”
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