Update Addictions

I was recently working with a lady who just can’t seem to sober up, she is college educated (advanced professional degree) successful but nothing seems to work. As the world’s leading expert treating expert in treating alcohol and drug addictions with NLP and Hypnosis I came across some information revealed in some current research that sheds new light on this age old problem. Let’s start with how our current thinking about addictions is FINALLY starting to evolve (addiction treatment has not changed much in the last 50 years) and the current model is based on some flawed science, so to speak.

Our current outlook on addiction is based on the ‘War on Drugs” where as a society we look at drugs (and alcohol) as the problem and that by the nature of these drugs, they are so addictive they will hook you quickly and if you try to stop you will experience extreme pain (withdrawal) and relapse and we need to remove the drug and people will not fall prey to this “evil”. This has costs society billions upon billions of dollars and ruined countless lives. It sort of got seared into consciousness with an ad done that showed a rat in a cage with two water bottles on with water the other water with cocaine and the rat will use the coke ignoring food and water, so we were lead to believe, remember these ads are watched with the critical factor of the mind relaxed and it is repeated until it is accepted as “TRUTH”. The study was redone with some other drugs to the same conclusion.

Some researchers however questioned this study, the rat was alone and basically an unhappy rat. On a follow up some researchers took the rats from the cage and put them into an better environment a happy rat park with things to do and other rats. The water bottles were there again one with just water the other water and cocaine and the result was that the rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.   Wow but is this just a “rat” thing?

Well we have some interesting history to draw from, the Vietnam War where many soldiers used heroin, marijuana, and alcohol excessively, and there was great fear of this huge addiction problem coming home with them, but when they returned 95% just stopped using excessively. Very few needed rehab. It was the terrifying cage (war) when returned to a happy cage, the escape needed was no longer there.

But is there something more, for this lets look to the drug alcohol and the history of it in our human evolution.  Alcohol is one of the most  consumed drugs in the world, and it has been a part of our history as seen by the use of wine in Jewish and Christian cultures. This from Robert Martone recently published in Scientific American “new study finds that our forebears acquired the capacity to digest alcohol some 10 million years ago, among a common ancestor to humans, chimpanzees and gorillas, and certainly well before we learned to manufacture it. This suggests that alcohol became part of the human diet much earlier than previously thought, and in a manner that had significant implications for the survival of the human species.

Humans carry with them genetic signatures of their ancestral feeding habits. Genetic variants that make new food sources available can provide tremendous opportunities to those who possess them. The ability to consume milk, for example, is due to the “lactase persistence” variant of a gene which emerged around 7500 years ago among early Europeans. For those lacking the mutation, the lactose in milk is a mild poison, eliciting symptoms akin to those of dysentery. Similarly, the ability to digest alcohol may be a genetic signature of feeding pattern among human ancestors: this alcohol tolerance may have made it possible to eat over-ripe fruit that had fallen to the ground and begun to naturally ferment. Since few animals can tolerate alcohol, this would have provided our ancestors with an abundant food source for which there were few competitors. It may also have contributed to the move towards a terrestrial rather than arboreal existence.

The breakdown of alcohol after ingestion is a complex process that involves a number of different enzymes. Most of the alcohol that is ingested is broken down in the gut and liver. This study focused on the enzyme ADH4 because it is abundant in the gut and plays a major role in preventing ingested alcohol from entering the blood stream. ADH4 from human relatives as distant as the tree shrew were tested for their ability to digest alcohol. The form of ADH4 found in humans, gorillas and chimpanzees was found to be 40 fold more efficient at clearing alcohol than the form found in more primitive species. ADH4 also digests chemicals that plants produce in order to deter animals from feeding upon them. However, with the increase in ability to digest alcohol came a reduced ability to digest many of these other chemicals. This suggests that the food containing alcohol was more important.

While ADH4 is among the most important enzymes for the digestion of alcohol, it is not the only one. Another related enzyme, ADH3, also contributes to the breakdown of alcohol. Women typically have lower activity levels of this enzyme, leading them to have higher blood levels of alcohol then men after taking a high dose of alcohol. And ADH4 is not the only enzyme that may have helped humans adapt to the consumption of alcohol: a variant of a liver enzyme (ADH1B) with high activity in the breakdown of alcohol emerged among East Asian populations during the advent of rice cultivation, perhaps as an adaptation to rice fermentation. (Interestingly, other animals have adopted their own strategies: Using a different enzyme, a member of the tree shrew family is able to consume fermented nectar from palm tree flowers — the equivalent of 10 -12 glasses of wine every day without obvious signs of intoxication.)

Because humans rely upon ADH4 as their primary means to digest alcohol, they are also susceptible to hangovers. ADH4 and similar enzymes digest alcohol by converting it into another chemical, acetaldehyde, which causes the skin flushing, headache and other symptoms of overindulgence. The modern consumption of alcohol has been characterized as an “evolutionary hangover,” an adaptation to modest levels of alcohol in food sources which left humans prone to alcohol abuse once we learned how to manufacture it in highly concentrated forms. And, in fact, genetic variants of ADH4 have been linked to alcohol and drug dependence, although there are many other genes that may influence susceptibility to alcohol dependency. Regardless of the role ADH4 plays in alcohol addiction, it’s clear that our complex relationship with alcohol dates back millions of year, and began, in fact, before we were even human.”

So maybe alcoholism as a disease resulted because the human genome has not had enough time to fully adapt to alcohol, and this may be true for other drugs as well, and if you go back to the first study if you’re in an unhappy “cage” and all your genes are functioning correctly when you get into a happy cage the incidence of overuse (abuse) is going to drop to normal levels.

This answers a question I have wondered about for 25 years in treating addiction, inpatient, outpatient, prison, and in my clinic. The people that figure out the fact that they have to take the responsibility, which is the ability to respond, to get happy where you’re at, or change your environment. This also answers why people can do well in a treatment setting (rehab) as they are in a place where they may be happy, or at least removed from the unhappy cage, and why they relapse when they return to the unhappy cage (home, work). This would leave a small minority that would have extra problem returning to “normal” due to genetic variants, they would be the most likely to have extreme difficulty staying clean and sober, even in a happy cage.

The 12 step program has talked about this, indirectly for years, and those that figure this out are the ones who sober up and stay sober and only have issues when the cage gets uncomfortable. It’s in the genes and our brains. The select few who achieve long term sobriety know how to self-regulate and alter their behaviors to stay happy in unhappy places, as they say “Gratitude in your attitude, focus on the positives”

Going back to my recent client, she is in a very unhappy cage, but cannot, or will not change her situation, if she chooses to continue treatment, we will focus on her perception and see if she can blossom where she is at, a book I recommended is Victor Frankle “Mans Search for Meaning”  a man who found purpose and meaning in a place that could only be described as a horrible cage (the Holocaust concentration camps).

This also explains to those that do not understand why some people really like and need to go to 12 step meetings, it could be the only happy escape in an unhappy environment. Plus they get the basic human need of filling a part of something. We all want that, do we not?

 I hope this helps in your outlook and treatment of addictions.

Till next time God’s Speed.  




William D. Horton, Psy. D. CAC
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