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A Practical Step

Now we’ve established quite clearly that the answer to our addictions is found in God alone, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t practical steps we can take that will help us along the journey.
Addictions affect us more than just spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. They also affect us through chemical reactions in our brains, which condition us to repeat the addictive behavior again and again. Chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine are supplemented or reduced by drug and alcohol abuse, by sexual activity, and even by anger, aggression, and social disorder. We need these chemicals to survive, but through physical or emotional trauma, chronic stress, or genetic deficiency, from poor diet and exercise, and even from aging, these chemicals can become off-balance.

Low levels of dopamine, which acts primarily as a motivator and persuades your brain to respond to a stimulus (thus becoming an active instigator of addiction), can lead to depression, affect your ability to process pain, can lead to attention deficit disorders, and can cause physical problems such as fibromyalgia or even Parkinson’s disease. High and low levels of serotonin affect things like your mood, your sleep patterns, your short-term memory, cognitive thinking skills, and your metabolism, and can lead to things like depression, insomnia, social anxiety, weight gain, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and more.

When our bodies are running too low or too high on these chemicals, we naturally want to search for replacements wherever we can find them. We turn to depressants, like alcohol, heroin, morphine, or diphenhydramine (found in Benadryl™ or in many sleeping pills), to relax or calm our anxieties. We use antidepressants and hallucinogens, like LSD, Ecstasy, cocaine, Prozac™, Paxil™, Zoloft™, Zyban™, and Wellbutrin™, to boost our mood, increase our stamina, or just to feel “normal.” According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, prescriptions for antidepressants alone rose to over 170 million in 2005. Clearly there is something wrong here.

Even our diets affect these chemical levels in our brains. Carbohydrates, which are a significant source of energy for our bodies, boost serotonin to the brain by blocking other important chemicals from getting through. That’s why foods rich in carbohydrates are often called “comfort foods”—they make us feel good. Unfortunately, too many carbs can be very bad for us, and have contributed significantly to the high levels of obesity in the United States today.

But there are ways that we can counteract these deficiencies, and begin to bring peace to the chemical warfare going on inside of us. Through a change in lifestyle, we can counteract our addictions by supplementing these chemicals in a healthy and life-giving way.
The number-one way to supplement serotonin and dopamine specifically is to change your diet. Now I’m not talking about anything legalistic here, and I’m not saying that you can’t still enjoy your favorite foods and beverages (unless you’re an alcoholic, of course), but you can make some general adjustments that will make a difference in your fight against addiction and its causes.

There are lots of foods which are high in serotonin and dopamine, including turkey, chicken, fish, nuts (particularly walnuts and almonds), fruits and vegetables (dark green and leafy vegetables are the best, like spinach, preferably organic), cottage cheese, lima beans, and pumpkin seeds. Adding these to your diet can help, but not entirely by themselves.

While you can add more of these substances to your body, getting them to your brain is another story. There are many reasons (beyond the scope of this book) why they are blocked from the brain, but here are some ways you can help them get where they need to go. Take a good multivitamin every day. Vitamins C and E and other antioxidants help with the absorption of dopamine, and a variety of B vitamins help with serotonin absorption. Also, drink plenty of water throughout the day, and stay away from foods that block or artificially replace these substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweetener, sugars, saturated fats, and bad cholesterol. Cigarettes, lack of sunlight, and excessive stress or anger are also big inhibitors of serotonin absorption.

Along with changing your diet, exercise is another important factor in regulating the chemicals in your body and brain. That doesn’t mean that you need to go run a marathon tomorrow, but just doing some simple exercises (a walk or a run with the dog, or doing a few jumping jacks or pushups in the morning before work) can make a big difference in the way you feel, and it can be a great replacement for your addictions when you’re feeling tempted. Need a drink? Do some sit-ups. Wanting to look at that website you know you should stay away from? Get out of the house—go for a jog. Craving a cigarette? Go hit on the punching bag that’s sitting in your garage.

It sounds kind of funny, but it works. In more severe addictions, it may not be enough at first. It may not seem to be working at all for a little while. But aside from the miraculous (which I highly believe in), it’s going to take time to regulate these physical needs in your body.

And, of course diet and exercise aren’t going to heal an addiction by itself, but it can help you to get through life a little easier while you seek the Lord for healing, and it can help you to live healthier, have more energy, sleep better, and feel better about yourself as well. And again, you should always consult with a physician before making significant lifestyle changes or when choosing to reduce or eliminate drug intake for which you’ve formed a dependency or been prescribed by a doctor.

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