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The affliction of addiction

It has been calculated that the three most problematic mental illnesses worldwide, in terms of burden to daily living, are:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • addiction

Whilst depression and anxiety are frequently treated by various means, addiction tends to receive less attention in clinics.  Addictions occur not only to –stop smoking

  • alcohol
  • cigarettes
  • illicit drugs

but also to the ‘softer’ or ‘non-substance’ abuse addictions such as –

  • social media dependencies
  • shopping
  • gambling
  • sex
  • sugar
  • caffeine.

Despite the wide variety of vices, a functional medicine approach addresses common threads in physiology and psychology which means all manner of addictions can be addressed.

When focussing on the neurobiology of addiction, an imbalance of glutamate and GABA is noted.  This is well established in society’s largest substance of abuse, alcohol.  As anyone who has ever had an alcoholic drink can attest to, acutely, alcohol has a calming effect.  I often hear people telling me how they rely on that drink at the end of the day or week to help them relax.

There are lots of ways to help

There is an impressive battery of natural ingredients to help with substance abuse issues. Lifestyle is also paramount as data shows that people experience a far smoother transition off a substance if they have a meaningful human bond for support and reconnecting to society.

Finding meaning, purpose and environmental enrichment is not just a prescription for addicted people or those with mental illness, everyone will benefit from such an approach.  If we combine meaning and purpose with a healthy whole-food diet, quality sleep, movement and use quality supplements (as prescribed by a naturopath), we can help correct maladaptive brain plasticity and all manner of mental health issues to achieve resilience and enjoy fulfilling lives.