Name: Justine Hendrickson
From: Bloomfield, New Jersey
Journey to Nutritional Wellness for Addiction Recovery
Journey to Nutritional Wellness for Addiction Recovery
Pima Community College
PSY 101: Intro To Psychology
Dr. Caroline Pyevich
May 6, 2021
In the course of one’s lifetime, there are several genetic considerations when understanding our health. Being genetically disposed to a surplus of diseases can be a difficult uphill battle. Also, suffering from the traumas of life can cause a toll on one’s mental, physical, and spiritual state. Is there anything we can do about it? Integrated Medicine adopted the Ancient Chinese and Ayurveda practices, which focus on the body as a whole since we are not sections of organs but one whole organism. In today’s society, we rely simply on pharmaceuticals or other foreign substances to relieve our ailments. We have forgotten about the most fundamental tool at our disposal; our food. The World Health Organization (2021) has announced:
About 270 million people (or about 5.5% of the global population aged 15-64)
had used psychoactive drugs in the previous year and about 35 million people
are estimated to be affected by drug use disorders (harmful pattern of drug use
or drug dependence).
Many reasons cause these individuals the need to escape and avoid. It could be trauma, genetics, environmental factors, or other mental health disorders that may cause them to get trapped in this vicious, slow suicide. There needs to be a collective effort to help these individuals before they become another mortality statistic. It is a lifelong dedication of many psychologists, physicians, researchers, and even myself to find a holistic recovery plan for addicts that incorporate nutritional education and application for optimal well-being.
Reminiscing through my experiences, I have realized nothing cures the soul better than a hot meal and optimistic company. A collection of 20 years of my life was spent in therapy, and for 9 of those years, I lived in active addiction. I was not concerned about my overall well-being, which caused much turmoil later in my addiction. It was not until I faced a drug-related arrest that I was able to wake up from my nightmare. I was charged and found guilty, but by the grace of God, I received a sentence to 6 months of rehabilitation. While in rehab, I learned about a complete holistic wellness theory incorporating positive psychology from my treatment psychologist, Marcy. From that moment in time, I took an honest look at what overall well-being is in its entirety. I began to research the many experts and was astounded at the amount of information on nutrition alone. I started to question and test everything I thought I knew about life up until that moment. Understanding I went through a great deal of trauma, I had difficulty letting go of past experiences.
Growing up, I had somewhat of a hard life. I had parents who were aggressively involved with their marital issues, not considering I was a cognitive sponge of my environment. Due to the trauma I experienced at home, I found serenity and security at my grandparents’ house. My grandparents taught me how to care for a home, cook, clean, and most importantly, perform acts of service for others. I cherished every waking moment I spent with them because of the toxic nature of my own home. I found myself in love with the act of cooking. The joy I received gathered in the kitchen with the two people I loved most in the world just consumed my outlook on food and unity. I was able to spend time with loved ones and do something I admired. In an academic journal written by Deborah Lupton (1994), she explains the sociological effect that food had on one’s memory:
Rather, those elements of the memories which were pronounced were the emotions recalled by the participants. The event was generally not remembered for the unusualness of the food itself, but for the social relationships around which the food was consumed.
I wanted to take those emotions and give the world the same experiences I had with my grandparents. I believe these emotions can help individuals struggling with substance abuse recovery find purpose in their new lives. I found myself hoping to continue my grandfather’s career and professionally cook, although life had other plans for me. At the age of 14, my grandparents moved away. I got involved in the wrong crowd soon after, and my life started to take a turn for the worse.
At this time, the addiction I struggle with started to seep into my life. I was a vulnerable teenager looking for a way to get rid of the pain I was experiencing. Things at home got worse after my parents’ divorce. I never wanted to be home because I was never understood or heard. I began selling and doing drugs because I found more unity in the streets than with my mother. There is not a specific way that a person becomes an addict. An article submitted NIDA. (2018) states:
Many people don’t understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs.
They may mistakenly think that those who use drugs lack moral principles or
willpower and that they could stop their drug use simply by choosing to. In reality,
drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting usually takes more than good
intentions or a strong will.
In my experience when speaking with addicts in recovery, they all say different scenarios that lead them to this destructive lifestyle. Deep down, we still had goals that we wanted to achieve. I still wanted to complete my dream to become a professional cook. I tried to leave all my bad decisions behind and attend The French Culinary Institute. Little did I know that addiction did not work that way. I was naive, and I thought that willpower alone would control it. Eventually down the line, I was in for a big surprise.
My addiction went from experimenting with the drugs I sold to alcohol. I was in an industry that supported drinking and looked at it as a scapegoat after a long, stressful service. That is nowhere for an addict to be. I spiraled out of control and ended up homeless. I hit rock bottom. I was looked at by others in society as if I was beneath them. If only they knew I used to be just like them, a working-class taxpayer with just a little too much pain to handle. I was hungry, constantly sick, and faced death a couple of times. I was malnourished and lost in my sickness. I was so far gone in this vicious cycle; I forgot the one thing that kept me safe when I was hurt, a hot meal from my grandparents and their optimistic company. With anger and resentment consuming me, I went back to my adolescent activities and began to hustle to get myself off the streets. It was at this time my life as I knew it would come to an end, and I would become the person I know today.
Arriving at rehab, I entered a broken woman, 5-foot-6 at 120 pounds, with most of the weight being my traumatic past sitting on my shoulders. My treatment psychologist Marcy was a recovered addict, and she made it her life’s mission to help those with a similar unfortunate story to tell. I found myself in a state of liminality. As I began to heal from my trauma, I started to learn more about myself. I found appreciable interests in holistic practices, nutrition, and neuroscience. Therefore, I began to read books, especially about ancient traditions of wellness. Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TMC, are some of the oldest recognized methods to date, going back to B.C.E. Ayurveda, which originated in India, is the oldest known medical system still in use. Ayurveda and TCM were established on the concept that there is energy within the body. These traditional practices strive to create a harmonious balance between mind, body, and spiritual awareness (Bowling, 2010).
Traditional Chinese Medicine has been used for about 200 years to help those who suffer from substance addiction (Shi, J. et al., 2006). Additionally, Ayurvedic therapies rejuvenate the body, giving individuals a firm footing in their health and the capabilities to face the challenges and stresses of daily life without relapsing into addictive behaviors (O’Neil, 2007, p.60). Both traditional practices focus on using herbal supplements and food to supply the body with the medicine it needs to recover. Correspondingly, they incorporate mindful exercises to relieve the body and spirit of stressors. After receiving this information, I started to question why Western Medicine uses drugs to help those addicted to drugs; it seemed paradoxical. I do advocate for medical review by a licensed professional, and I do find necessity in drug intervention when applicable. Still, it is as if they have forgotten about the most potent weapon in anyone’s dispensary, our diet.
My life goal is to build a sanctuary where each expertise coexists. I dream of having a business where Integrative Medicine plays a prominent role in the recovery of these individuals. I desire to give these individuals a safe space where they can come to learn about their health from a holistic perspective while healing themselves of their traumatic past. I aspire to build a wellness community where individuals who suffer from substance abuse can have a new chance at life. I am eager for these individuals to engage in the idea that instead of being addicted to a substance, they can use the same energy to become a better version of themselves. Experts and researchers in nutrition have been able to show the benefits of food with substance abuse. Grotzkyj-Giorgi (2009) states that for many people struggling with drug dependence, learning about good nutrition is critical in the recovery process and is often instrumental in securing long-term success. (p.24) Many people who struggle with substance dependency are malnourished. There are chemical imbalances in these individuals because of their drug of choice that inhibits the absorption of many necessary amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. In the book Total Nutrition, Handelsman (1995) states:
Some drugs suppress the appetite. Others produce a marked increase in motor
activity and mood elevation; as a result, an individual may be unaware of the
need for food for long periods of time. . . Malnourishment is common among drug addicts, as are vitamin and mineral deficiencies. (p.366)
I propose looking deeper at why certain building blocks in our food can play a significant part in substance recovery.
When it comes to our food, society looks at it as a necessary burden. Many people do not have an understanding of how to prepare a wholesome meal. Also, acknowledging day-to-day life is too demanding to consider what is the best option to eat. They do it because they must, without thinking about what you eat, significantly affects your mood. The things we ingest are our building blocks for the day. Consuming a high sugar diet will give you a spike in energy and dopamine, but this will subside quickly, usually leading to a depletion of energy. For someone in addiction, their main concern is not what to eat but their drug of choice. Their constant chase for their drug leads to active addicts using whatever money they have leftover to feed themselves, relying on what they can find on the streets, or not eat. Studies have shown that a balanced diet with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables has proven to not only improve physical health, but it also has excellent effects on our mental health. An article written by Fiona Keating (2014) states the relationship our dietary choices have to our mental health:
People who ate two or fewer servings of fruits and vegetables a day were
significantly less optimistic than people who ate three or more servings a day. Researchers found that people who were more optimistic had up to 13 percent more carotenoids in their blood than people who were less optimistic.
Many researchers attempt to correlate the effect of the biochemicals in our food to our mind and body health.
There is a mutual understanding that there are benefits to applying these findings. Many individuals dealing with substance dependency do not actively pursue healthy choices. Harmful lifestyles often are associated with addiction, such as poor eating patterns, lack of exercise, and changes in sleep patterns. (Salz, 2014) During active substance abuse, most drugs affect the brain’s “reward circuit,” causing euphoria as well as flooding it with the chemical messenger dopamine. (NIDA, 2018) Withdrawal from substances can cause an unbalance in our brains function. Some research points to specific amino acids for their essential role in the production of serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Grotzkyj-Giorgi (2009) notes the absences and the importance of two amino acids in aiding the recovery of substance abuse:
Alcohol and drug use prevents the body from properly processing two important
amino acids, tyrosine and tryptophan. They are responsible for the production of
the neurotransmitters adrenalin, dopamine, and serotonin . . . Decreased levels of
these neurotransmitters negatively affect mood and behavior (p.25).
Having a direct understanding of how amino functions affect the brain’s neurotransmitters can help us get a better experience of how diet can aid in recovery.
Furthermore, there are vital vitamins, minerals, and bacteria that assist in regulating the mood of individuals and are an excellent asset to those in recovery. Vitamin D has the ability to increase the levels of tyrosine which can regulate dopamine pathways. (Eserian, 2013) An antioxidant known as N-acetylcysteine can assist in reducing or eliminating addictive behaviors. It can also adjust the levels of some of our neurotransmitters. Vitamin C has promising effects of altering some receptors in the brain that may suppress the interest to relapse. (Challem, 2014, p. 48) Grotzkyj-Giorgi (2009) has also declared that B-vitamins and antioxidant vitamins (A, E and C) are particularly important because they play crucial roles in brain physiology. . . so high intake of antioxidants is amenable to protecting our brain from free radicals attack (p.26).
There is an abundance of information on how biochemicals can significantly affect our mental and physical health. All nutritional intake should be discussed with a healthcare professional or registered experts and should not be a substitute for addressing urgent issues. The research explored by the many experts shows just how powerful our diet is to our overall well-being. Research alludes to the dedication of taking care of our brain’s health is key to a successful recovery.
At any point in an addict’s life, there is the chance to relapse into old behaviors. As Dr. Gabor Mate said in his interview Discover Your True Self, you can see yourself as the victim of the world and trying to change the world, so they won’t hurt you anymore, or you can actually empower yourself, and that’s what healing is all about (:28-:38). I am grateful for all the adversities I have endured. My experiences will allow me to compassionately understand and sympathize with this demographic, which I am eager to help heal. I am ambitious to devote my college studies to find as much information as possible on this topic. There are promising endeavors on the horizon, and I want to make sure I equip myself to help all struggling with addiction one meal at a time.
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