Although addiction science has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years, there’s typically a lag between the most up-to-date scientific knowledge and the practices in the field. As journalists writing for The Atlantic and NPR have recently noted, the reported 5-10% success rates of 12-step recovery programs leaves a lot to be desired. As other research has noted, even evidence-based therapy practices like CBT leave something to be desired as well. While these methods have been shown to have a positive effect on those recovering from substance abuse, determining how to measure sobriety is a tricky scientific problem—is it enough to measure the lengths between relapses or is there something deeper at play?
The Biology of Substance Use Disorders
In general, addiction scientists have reached some level of consensus when it comes to the “disease model” of addiction. As a contributor to the Harvard Medical Blog writes, “There are many good reasons to emphasize the biological underpinnings of substance use disorders.” Despite the basic agreement that addiction is a complex, negative phenomenon that takes place in our brain, the major focus of most 30-day residential rehab programs is on some combination of 12-step recovery, evidence-based psychotherapy and holistic health. Though these methods certainly have their place, what’s often overlooked is the health of the brain itself on a biological level.
While certain drugs like marijuana may create more complex behavioral addictions in addition to what happens in the brain, opiates are known to wreak havoc on our neurotransmitters on a deep and fundamental level. As research has shown, opiate abuse changes the structure of the neurons in our brains and warps our internal reward systems. The longer this abuse goes on, the harder it can be to change with simple behavioral interventions. As statistics on the opioid crisis show, this is a health crisis as serious and disturbing as any in recent memory. As recently as 2016, more than 11 million Americans abused prescription painkillers. Prescription opioids were to blame for 40% of the 64,000 fatal overdoses that same year. With all this in mind, it’s easy to see that the current system of recovery just isn’t enough.
Brain Health Matters
But what if there was a better way? One of the most major oversights in addiction treatment is that most rehabs don’t focus on actual brain health. In order to repair itself, the brain needs certain chemical tools to rebuild neurotransmitters and damaged networks. This process should happen during the detox phase of recovery—but unfortunately, it often doesn’t. To that end, programs like Brainspark Health are seeking to change that trend.
Many detox programs focus on giving clients stabilizing psychiatric medications and other opioid-replacement pills to help them reorient. While these medicines may have their uses, when they wear off the brain is still left depleted of various essential chemicals. In Brainspark Health’s holistic outpatient detox program, the treatment regimen also includes NAD therapy, a cutting-edge treatment method designed to heal the brain to prevent future relapses.
Unlike programs that focus only on psychotropic medication, 12-step or therapy, NAD therapy targets addiction at the source. When clients go through detox and begin to feel the effects of withdrawal, the unpleasant feeling is more likely to lead them to impulsive behaviors and relapse. With NAD therapy, clients are administered an IV solution containing Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD). Put simply, NAD is a coenzyme of niacin and is already found in all living cells of animals on Earth. Though it is an essential building block of life (and key to healthy brain function), NAD levels get depleted through illness, stress and addiction.
To do NAD therapy, all clients meet with Brainspark Health’s health care providers to develop their own care regimen. After their consultation, an individualized treatment plan utilizing NAD is created, carefully calibrated to that person’s needs. The detox process typically takes about 10 days, with one NAD infusion per day lasting about eight hours. Beyond this neurochemical approach to treating clients, the facility also takes each participant through a host of other holistic therapy methods to heal them in mind and soul as well. While they’re going through the NAD infusion process, clients can also receive acupuncture and Reiki massage while eating healthy, organic meals on-site. For anyone experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, clients can also use a BRIDGE device, a non-invasive treatment to help ease any discomfort.
Why NAD Works
The advantage of the NAD approach includes its additional benefits on other aspects of mental health as well. According to data from SAMHSA, approximately 40% of people with substance abuse issues also have a co-occurring mental illness. In the same way that addiction can wear down the brain, issues like depression and anxiety can also tax us beyond a level of neurochemical balance. While NAD therapy is certainly not a substitute for psychotherapy or psychiatric interventions for mental illness, its benefits can often extend into those spheres as well.
As clients complete their detox phase through Brainspark Health, the provider there can also advise them on what further action to take to prevent future relapses. In some cases, clients may need to be referred to a more intensive residential treatment program. In others, an Intensive Outpatient Program or some simpler outpatient aftercare may suffice. Regardless of their needs, NAD therapy is sure to help any client struggling with addiction with the next phase of treatment and recovery.
The Brainspark Difference
What’s clear above all is that the country’s current approach to treating addiction is insufficient. Although evidence-based therapy, 12-step support and psychotropic medications are all helpful tools, there’s still a variable missing from the recovery equation. By following Brainspark Health’s approach of repairing the brain itself in conjunction with holistic methods to lower stress and heal the spirit, addiction medicine could stand to grow by leaps and bounds.
Photos courtesy of Brainspark Health; used with permission.