The question of whether to abstain completely from alcohol and drugs during and after participating in our program is often asked by clients before they arrive. The short answer is “yes.” The long answer involves understanding the nature of addiction, how it affects the brain and our relationship to the alcohol or drugs.
To best understand how alcohol and drug addiction affects the brain, here is an excerpt from Harvard Health Publications (Harvard Medical School):
“Scientists once believed that the experience of pleasure alone was enough to prompt people to continue seeking an addictive substance or activity. But more recent research suggests that the situation is more complicated. Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory—two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.
According to the current theory about addiction, dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward.
The reward circuit in the brain includes areas involved with motivation and memory as well as with pleasure. Addictive substances and behaviors stimulate the same circuit—and then overload it.
Repeated exposure to an addictive substance or behavior causes nerve cells in the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain involved in planning and executing tasks) to communicate in a way that couples liking something with wanting it, in turn driving us to go after it. That is, this process motivates us to take action to seek out the source of pleasure.”
Addiction is a learned process that involves powerful chemical reactions in the brain. Once addiction sets in, we are essentially hard-wired to crave the alcohol or drugs. Our brains actually operate as if there is a need for the alcohol or drugs in order to survive.
The first and most important step before entering any rehab or substance abuse program is to stop the ingestion of the substance. Sometimes people can do this on their own, but more often they need the help of a detoxification center. The Kiloby Center works closely with local detox centers. When clients schedule their participation at our Center, the first step is usually to enter detox for a short period of time before coming to our Center. Clients can detox at a Palm Springs Center or can do it in their local area. The key is to move from the detox center, once detox is complete, straight to the Kiloby Center to begin our program. Taking time between detox and beginning our program leaves the brain open to falling back into the addictive cycle.
Our program involves unlearning the addiction. We use various techniques including Scott Kiloby’s Natural Rest and Living Inquiries methods (mindfulness-based work) to undo this hard-wired learning process in the brain. Clients spend a good deal of time with us (at least three weeks) using our methods to undo the cravings, the self-judgment, the shame, the anxieties, the trauma and any and all other issues related to the addiction. Our methods even work to greatly reduce withdrawal effects from the substance.
The reason abstinence is so important during participation in our program is that the brain is just starting to discover life without the substance. Re-ingesting the substance re-stimulates and overloads the brain again, making our work very difficult at the Center and opening up the client to a potential disastrous relapse. We actually have rules against the use of addictive substances and activities during participation in our program. In some cases, random alcohol and drug testing takes place in order to provide a structure for clients and help them refrain from relapse while they are with us. Being completely free of the chemical helps the healing process tremendously.
Another question that pops up while participating at the Center is “Can I drink or take drugs even moderately after leaving the Center?” The answer is that relapse does happen. It’s quite common. However, abstaining from the alcohol or drugs is necessary in order to continue to transform and heal the brain and the underlying mental and emotional issues for years after leaving our program. We provide an extensive aftercare system to help clients continue doing our work in their daily lives and getting the support they need from others who have used our program to live clean, sober, happy and healthy lives. So the answer is “yes,” abstinence after leaving our program is not only recommended, it is critical to recovery. We teach you to how deal with and relieve daily triggers and stress after leaving the program so that these issues do not lead to relapse.
We have seen cases in which people were able to use our work and then, years later, were able to drink or use drugs recreationally or very moderately without becoming re-addicted. But these people engaged in years of our work, healing every aspect of the underlying issues related to their addiction. These are the exceptions, not the rule. One has to be very careful about ingesting substances that were previously addictive. It’s like playing with fire. If the underlying mental and emotional issues that once drove the addiction are not fully healed, one drink or one painkiller can begin a spiral back into a full-fledged addictive cycle. Also, the very same learning process that developed in the brain initially during the addiction can redevelop itself if the alcohol or drugs are ingested again, even after years of clean and sober time. This is why we highly recommend abstinence as an ongoing way of life as well as the use of our methods as a way of life.
Our methods create a deep sense of peace and well-being in clients’ lives so that they no longer want to use alcohol or drugs. Mostly, when people ask, “Can I drink again?” it’s the addiction talking. In our program, we help to change clients’ relationship to the alcohol and drugs, so that they don’t even crave them anymore. When you don’t crave the substance, you don’t ask “Can I do it again?” You have lost interest in the substance.
If you are considering participating at our Center for alcoholism or drug addiction and are experiencing anxiety about quitting or detox, please contact us. There are ways to make detox comfortable. We also have online facilitators that can work with you using our methods before you visit the Center to reduce the anxiety, via Skype or telephone conferencing. Reducing your anxiety can make detox a much easier decision. You’ll be glad you came to our program, even if the initial anxieties are overwhelming.