This month isn’t just an opportunity to celebrate those in recovery, and advocate for those that need it while mourning those we’ve lost to drugs and alcohol. It’s also a reminder of the good that chiropractic care brings to our world.
A 2020 study found that “patients with spinal pain who saw a chiropractor had half the risk of filling an opioid prescription.” Patients who saw a chiropractor within 30 days of diagnosis had a greater reduction in risk compared to those who saw a chiropractor after the acute phase. The nation’s opioid addiction crisis has largely been fueled by an overly loose management and administration of opioid prescriptions, so the fact that chiropractic care can help some people avoid ever filling a prescription is a BIG win in my book.
In addition, there is growing evidence that chiropractic care isn’t just a preventive measure against opioid addictions, it can also be a reactive measure. That is, it can be an effective part of a substance abuse recovery program. A subluxation or misalignment in the spine can be directly related to abnormal functions of the nervous system such as interrupting neurotransmitters from reaching their appropriate receptors and causing things such as dopamine deficiency which can lead people to look for dopamine hits elsewhere…aka substances (in some cases).
5 Recovery Tips
At the end of the day, this month is about saving lives. Recovery is one of the hardest things a person can do, and it is often a life-long battle. If you, or someone close to you, is in recovery or considering it, please, read on.
1. Don’t keep it quiet – A mistake many make when making any big lifestyle change (let alone one that is quite literally life or death) is keeping it quiet and not sharing it with their loved ones or close circle for fear of what people will think. Please don’t make this mistake yourself, or allow someone close to you to make this mistake. Encourage anyone you know that is struggling with a substance abuse problem to share with you their efforts, their wins, and even their failures. Humans are social creatures, we need a support system. The stronger yours is, the higher your chances of success (and this goes for just about everything you do). You may lose some people, but I think you’ll find that the relationships you gain or strengthen are worth 10x more than those you lose.
2. Get in touch with your emotions – I know it sounds as cheesy as cheesy gets, but bare with me. Substance abuse has one common theme, no matter the substance; it blunts things. It blunts your healthy physical functions, and your emotional ones. In fact that’s part of the allure that people fall victim to. Drugs and alcohol abuse regularly stems from or results in an inability to cope with strong emotions. Also known as distress intolerance (after all, no one ever complained about being too happy), the inability to cope with strong negative emotions can lead to not only developing a substance abuse problem, but also a relapse into one. By empowering yourself to find healthy coping mechanisms and being able to sit with your emotions, you can arm yourself against the fallacy of numbing these feelings temporarily using dangerous substances.
3. Know your Hedonic Set Point – I won’t bore you with the nitty gritty details of the exact science of this, but in a nutshell: substances that are known to be addictive and abused generally activate your “reward” systems in your brain by flooding your receptors with feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine. Over time, your “reward threshold” (aka Hedonic Set Point, or the point at which you feel pleasure) increases due to receiving higher and prolonged hits of dopamine. Essentially, it takes more and more dopamine to produce the same feeling of pleasure. However, when drug use is stopped or reduced, the set point remains elevated. Resulting in clinically significant anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure. This is why depression is common in those in recovery, and why it’s crucial to know the science behind what you may be feeling. I promise it won’t last forever. The body is immensely durable and adaptable. Over time your hedonic regulation will kick in and reset your pleasure threshold to a normal level.
4. Honor the role that substances played in your life – I know, I know. This one sounds…strange (to say the least) as well. But again, hear me out. Think of the last relationship you had that didn’t work out. Chances are you went through many stages of grief, eventually reaching acceptance. In the acceptance stage you were able to look back at the good memories and the good that came out of the relationship, recognize their value, while also maintaining awareness about why the relationship didn’t work out, and why moving on was the right decision. Like relationships that have ended, the substance (or substances) that played a role in your substance abuse likely served some purpose in your life, big or small. Whether it was your way of surviving a traumatic event, or simply your way of opening up in difficult social situations, honor the role those substances played in your life by forgiving yourself, not judging your past decisions, and celebrating the fact that you don’t need these habits anymore. Moving on is the right decision.
5. Reconnect with your why – Like any other goal in your life, a strong why is the single handed best way of achieving the goal of “recovery” (whatever that looks like for you). Why do you want to leave substance abuse behind? Don’t stop at superficial reasons like “because I want to be healthy” or “because it is hurting me financially”. Dig deep. Think about everything an addiction has and could cost you. Think of the life lost. Think of the people you’re doing it for. And hold on to this with everything you’ve got.
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