By Lisa R. Rhodes
By Christopher Kennedy Lawford
The biological basis for addiction is the reason to have new hope for eradicating stigma, implementing evidence-based treatments that work and helping people with these brain disorders to work toward a commitment to recovery and advocacy throughout their lives.
This is the message Christopher Lawford Kennedy effectively shares in his informative and comprehensive book, Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction (BenBella Books, Inc., 2013).
Kennedy Lawford, who is in recovery from drug addiction for more than 26 years, interviewed the top experts in addiction from around the world to present the most up to date scientific findings on the cause and effect of the most prevalent addictions and the evidence-based treatments that show the most promise for sobriety and abstinence. He also examines the effectiveness of 12-step programs and delves into the complex dynamics of codependency in families and other relationships.
But the author is most passionate when he calls for a global movement that encourages people in recovery from addiction to step out of the shadows of shame and become active participants in an effort to make these brain disorders a public health priority and not a cause for marginalization, criminalization or denial.
Kennedy Lawford does all of this in a text that is honest, nonjudgmental and free of pity. Instead, he educates readers and gives them the tools to objectively examine their own unhealthy tendencies or those of loved ones to make informed decisions about how to stop the pain and lead a purposeful life.
"The disease lives in the mind," Kennedy Lawford writes early in the book. Dr. Drew Pinsky, addiction medicine specialist and clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of South California School of Medicine, states in an interview that addiction "is a biological disorder with a genetic basis. … Addiction is a biological switch having been thrown in deep regions of the brain."
Kennedy Lawford writes that in late 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine changed its long-held definition of addiction to now call it "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry."
Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, states that "almost half of the people with an identifiable addictive disorder also have an identifiable mental illness or anxiety disorder." She also states that "20 percent of people suffering anxiety or mental problems have some sort of addiction."
Once the foundation for the biological basis of addiction is laid, Kennedy Lawford presents a chapter to each of the seven "toxic compulsions" that are known as addictions – alcohol abuse, drug abuse, eating disorders, gambling dependence, hoarding, sex and pornography and nicotine dependence. Each chapter details the latest scientific findings on the biological cause of the compulsion and its consequences. The chapter also includes a questionnaire to help readers determine if the compulsion is a problem for them.
Kennedy Lawford then takes a look at the scientific evidence for treatment methods such as cognitive behavorial therapy, 12-step programs, mindfulness, meditation, nutrition and exercise, body work (acupuncture) and journaling. He devotes an entire chapter to 12-step programs and lets the experts talk about their effectiveness and reasons why some people may shy away from them.
In a final chapter, Kennedy Lawford writes about recovery and what it means. Early on he establishes that although people may not be responsible for inheriting a brain disorder that leads to an addiction, they are responsible for their treatment and recovery. As a person who has walked the path of recovery for more than 25 years, Kennedy Lawford makes it clear that recovery is a lifelong process and that it is about "maintaining a life worth living." It is up to each person to determine what that means.
But once that commitment is made, people in recovery should be able to share their experiences with others without public ridicule and make a positive impact on the lives of others and public health policy.
Kennedy Lawford is moving forward with this concept through his book and The Global Recovery Initiative he has launched, along with its website www.Recover2Live.com. His goal is to disseminate information to give people "the tools to enable them to have a full and productive life." He writes "we must never stop our efforts until addiction is treated with the same level of resources, and recovery from addiction becomes celebrated with the same openness."
Recover to Live is a definitive step in a new direction toward hope and healing for people with toxic compulsions and mental illnesses.
Lisa R. Rhodes is a journalist and a member of NAMI Prince George's County in Maryland.