Second Stage Recovery and Biological Considerations
By lori | Published: October 21, 2011
Christina Cowger, M.A., M.F.T.
For years the treatment of addiction relied heavily on behavior modification, abstinence and changing old behaviors to begin to live an addiction-free life. Second Stage Recovery is an opportunity to find deeper meaning and purpose in life and in the recovery process. It offers tools and support that enhances one’s ability to face the future with optimism, better life skills and serenity. As new tools and insights continually develop, Five Sisters Ranch has embraced the biological piece of recovery within its Second Stage Recovery program. Five Sisters Ranch meets each person exactly where they are at and offers them an innovative, comprehensive healing environment. Included in the program is neurotransmitter testing, which offers a “snapshot” of a person’s unique biochemistry.
Research is being conducted each day that softens the line between biology, emotions and behavior. Applied to addiction and recovery this information can support the importance of Second Stage Recovery that includes an individual’s biological awareness. Nervous system/neurotransmitter research and testing as well as exciting developments by Nobel Prize winner Prof. Elizabeth Blackbum on telomere length (protective ends of our chromosomes) reveal how biopsychosocialspritual elements of life are intertwined and have much to do with one’s quality of life. It appears that mental/emotional stress may produce a more rapid shortening of the telomeres – leading to faster biological aging.
So what do neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) and telomere length have to do with Second Stage Recovery?
There is debate within the academic community regarding the brain of addicts but one thing is agreed upon; addiction represents a different state of brain function. What comes first with addiction- the genetically predisposed brain or the trauma and addictive behavior that re-patterned the brain, fueling more addictive behavior?
It seems everywhere we turn these days there is new research on the brain. Our nervous system/brain communicates through chemical messengers call neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine etc). Assessing these biomarkers can be a useful tool for customizing support for each person throughout the recovery process and beyond.
In Gabor Mate’s book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, he dedicates a chapter to the neurotransmitter dopamine (very active with drug use). Mate states that “On a cellular level addiction is all about neurotransmitters and their receptor”.
When a person has lived with addictive behavior for many years the brain’s communication and structure shifts to support the goal of gaining and using the substance of choice. The brain will reorganize its hierarchy to seek out the substance and begins to view it as necessary for survival.
Can we shift neural pathways that have been reinforced from years of addiction? The research supports that we can build strong, new pathways throughout our lifetime.
Neuroplasticity has been clearly supported through research. Therapy, mindfulness and supporting our biology can all change our brains (and DNA) further supporting us to seek out behaviors that can best serve us in having a rich and satisfying life.
The new research on telomeres highlights that our perception of trauma, stress and life events can actually shift and change our biology/DNA. How we “view” trauma and life circumstances can actually impact our biology (and recovery). Viewing recovery as a positive opportunity for personal growth and exploration verses restraint is the underpinning of a Second Stage Recovery model.
Second stage recovery viewed through the lens of spiritual/life meaning, emotional expression, integration, honesty, biology and as an opportunity for growth may offer sustained mental, emotional and spiritual health and give our DNA a boost to boot!
Five Sisters Ranch is committed to providing a safe, healing and non toxic environment. Five Sisters Ranch serves women who are looking to strengthen their spirit and deepen healthy relationships with self and others.