If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you understand on a deep and intimate level the desperation to do whatever it takes to recover. Addiction professionals, counselors, doctors, scientists, clergy and many others continue to search for a cure-all for the mental, emotional, relational, and financial trail of devastation that chemical dependency leaves in its wake.
Today, like never before, addiction is a life and death matter. Finding what works, matters.
Traditionally, the field of medicine has been divided when it comes to treatment plans. Eastern medicine is well grounded in holistic approaches such as meditation and counseling while western medicine standardly turns to pharmacology. Of late, those programs which combine an “East Meets West” philosophy are garnering much success with sustainable, long-term recovery.
But to understand the solution, you first have to understand the problem. For that, we spoke with Suzanne Jessee, M.A., C.Ht., a master’s level clinician who specializes in addiction and anxiety and the author of Escape Anxiety.
According to Jessee, all in the field of addiction seem to agree that physical pain, emotional stress and anxiety are the double-edged swords of addiction. Have you ever heard someone say, “I drink or use to take the edge off”? Have you ever thought about what “the edge” really is? “The proverbial ‘edge’ is stress caused by mental anguish and physical pain,” she says, adding that in his film Pleasure Unwoven, Kevin McCauley, M.D., demonstrates a medical model of addiction that clearly identifies stress as the root of all addictions. “That stress is magnified by the phenomenon of addictive craving which adds to the often unending cycle of substance abuse. Most of us can identify with the discomfort of craving chocolate or a cup of coffee; the kind of craving associated with addiction is far more sinister.”
Addiction is a Symptom
“We also know that addiction is a symptom of a greater problem. No one ever sets out intentionally to be an addict or alcoholic.” Addiction is a progressive condition which usually starts with the unintentional discovery of a “solution to a problem” of which the person often wasn’t aware to begin with – until that fateful day when he or she realizes that a drink or drug seems to solve the problem by reducing pain or taking off “the edge.”
The Opiate Epidemic
Unfortunately, the most effective medicinal solutions to physical pain are opiates such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and heroin. It’s no surprise that heroin and pain medications in particular continue to top the list as the fastest rising addictions in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control, and that drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010. “Although opiate-based drugs are never prescribed for emotional pain like grief and loss, social anxiety and low self-esteem, many sufferers unfortunately turn to them for similar relief.”
Jessee, who conceived and built the anxiety treatment specialty programs at the Betty Ford Center and Michigan’s Brighton Hospital (now the Brighton Center for Recovery), has teamed up locally with Albert Lai, M.D., of Desert Pain and Rehabilitation in Rancho Mirage to create what they call a cutting edge approach of east meets west.
Lai, who has 12 years of experience in pain management, has seen the problem all too often. He recently went back to school to become board-certified in addiction medicine. “I have seen an increasing number of people go from being medicated for acute pain to becoming addicted to opiates and feel it is my responsibility to assist and be part of the solution to this growing epidemic.”
Dr. Lai and Suzanne Jesse’s program incorporates medical technology and therapeutic counseling and aims to restore a patient’s full functional ability – physically, emotionally and socially – through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary team approach.
Treating the Physical Edge
On the medical side, Dr. Lai uses an FDA-approved drug called Naltrexone which is implanted through a minimally invasive procedure and works to relieve cravings associated with physical dependence to alcohol and opiates for up to one year.
This critical element of relief offers a patient time to begin the restoration of their lives without the distraction of craving. “This might possibly be the greatest advancement in addiction treatment we have seen since the development of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program,” says Lai.
Treating the Emotional Edge
To address the emotional stress that accompanies addiction and is often the underlying cause, Jessee has developed a holistic program that incorporates elements of five of the most evidence-based integrative practices for stress management and anxiety including progressive relaxation, mindfulness, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy and self-hypnosis.
“These therapies allow the client to tap into their brain’s own pharmacy for natural healing at the cellular level,” says Jessee, who calls her unique approach Neurogenesis Meditative Therapy.
“We feel that this integrative approach will provide an effective pain management solution as well as an effective intervention for opiate addiction,” adds Lai. “Our goal is whole person care for long-term recovery support.”