U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s release of Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health at yesterday’s Facing Addiction Summit was an unprecedented moment in our country’s fight against addiction and substance misuse. It is the first time in history that a U.S. surgeon general has issued a report focused on drug and alcohol addiction. The report comes at a time when more and more Americans are struggling with the effects of addiction to opioids and heroin. One person dies every 19 minutes from an opioid or heroin overdose. And, the statistics related to other addictions are no less grim. One in seven people in the United States will face a substance misuse disorder, and only 10 percent will get the treatment they need to overcome it.
Shame and stigma are typically major factors in preventing people from reaching out for help and finding treatment. That’s why it was especially encouraging to see Surgeon General Murthy make it clear that addiction is a brain disease and not a sign of depravity:
“We have to recognize (addiction) isn’t evidence of a character flaw or a moral failing,” Murthy told USA Today. “It’s a chronic disease of the brain that deserves the same compassion that any other chronic illness does, like diabetes or heart disease.”
Treating Addiction as a Brain Disease
At The Meadows, addressing the neurological aspects of addiction alongside the social and spiritual aspects has always been a top priority. The Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Shelley Uram often says that our approach includes both “Bottom Up” and “Top Down” therapies. To put it in the simplest of terms, the way your brain has been primed to respond to emotional triggers through your childhood experiences has an impact on the development of addictions and other behavioral health disorders.
Automatic emotional responses (fear, anger, disgust, etc.,) are deeply embedded in your limbic brain—the “bottom” part of your brain—which operates subconsciously.
Your choices and your rationalizations for those choices are a function of the “top” part of your brain, the pre-frontal cortex, which is the conscious, “thinking” part of your brain.
The Meadows programs include therapies that are designed to help our clients improve their overall brain functioning at both the conscious and subconscious levels.
Talk therapies, or “top down” therapies, engage the conscious, prefrontal cortex. They help you to gain a greater understanding of why you respond to triggers in the way that you do, how you can make different choices, and allow you to learn more about who you really are. Examples of these types of therapies include individual counseling, group sessions, and 12-step work.
Even as you gain a greater understanding of yourself and your disorder through top down therapies, automatic emotional responses to triggers remain lodged in your subconscious mind. “Bottom-up” therapies like Yoga, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and Heart Rate Variability training help to dislodge the automatic responses from your limbic system, so that your responses to triggers are less intense. These types of therapies are crucial to helping clients prevent relapse. The therapeutic devices and techniques available in our Brain Center are designed to help our patients work at this deeper level.
What about Trauma?
We could not be more pleased with Surgeon General Murthy’s efforts to combat myths about addiction and help more people get the treatment they need. These are important steps toward healing and turning the tide against our growing substance misuse epidemic in the United States.
We believe additional steps can and should be taken toward addressing emotional and psychological trauma as the underpinnings of addiction and mental health disorders.
“Understanding trauma and how to deal with it is paramount to our accomplishing as a society the goals the Surgeon General has set out,” said The Meadows Senior Fellow Dan Griffin, who attended the Facing Addiction Summit.
“At The Meadows, our program is significantly structured around our understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain, and the ways in which trauma and addiction intersect.”
If you’d like more information on The Meadows integrated treatment model, give us a call at 855-333-6075 or read more at www.themeadows.com.