By Dr. Nzinga Harrison

Nzinga Harrison, MD, is the author of Un-Addiction: 6 Mind Changing Conversations That Could Save a Life and the Founder & Chief Medical Officer, Eleanor Health. She is double-board certified with specialties in general adult psychiatry and addiction medicine. Dr. Harrison has spent her career as a physician treating individuals from marginalized communities with substance use and other psychiatric disorders.

Addiction, Recovery, and the root

The story being told is that the physical pain crisis led to the opioid pain crisis, when in reality, an emotional pain crisis has always been leading to an addiction crisis.

Alcohol kills more people each year than opioids and smoking kills more people than alcohol. So why do we drink? Why do we smoke? Why do we use cocaine and heroin? Why do we eat edibles? Why do we do anything that has the potential to kill us? At least one of the answers is: to treat pain.

While nearly 20% of American adults report having chronic physical pain, more than 41% of American adults report high psychological distress and emotional pain since the start of the pandemic. Nearly 75% of American men and women in addiction treatment report personal histories of abuse and trauma which stick with them as a source of emotional pain throughout their lives.

Just as addiction is a chronic condition that affects the mind, the body and the spirit, PAIN – whether emotional or physical – is a chronic condition that affects the mind, the body and the spirit. Substances and addictive behaviors (ie sex, shopping, gaming, gambling), treat that pain at least temporarily, until use crosses over to addiction and becomes its own source of pain.

Understanding addiction

In my book, Un-Addiction: 6 Mind-Changing Conversations That Could Save a Life, I present a new framework for understanding addiction as a biological, psychological and environmental condition. I teach you to understand your (or someone else’s) inherited risk factors for developing addiction.

Biologically, did you know that as much as 60% of your risk of developing an addiction is coded in your DNA the day you are born?

Psychologically, did you know your adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can increase your risk for developing addiction? As importantly, your positive childhood experiences (PCEs) can offset that risk?

Environmentally, did you know your ZNA – the zip code you are born into – predicts your adult health more than the zip code you currently live in?

These same three categories of risk repeat in our 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond and can become acquired risk factors. Biologically – we acquire illnesses and injuries that may put us at risk. Psychologically, we experience discrimination and racism. Environmentally, we have stressors at work, at home and in the communities where we survive and aim to thrive.

The first step towards healing is knowing and understanding your set of risk factors. The next step is using that knowledge to create your own Magic Formula™ – the personalized combination of biological, psychological and environmental interventions that can help you recover from an addiction – or reduce your risk of developing one in the first place.

yoga for recovery

As a student or practitioner of yoga, you already have a powerful ingredient to include in your Magic Formula™ and/or to teach to others.

Physical pain, emotional pain and addiction all negatively affect the parts of our brains responsible for emotion, thinking and feeling; thus making us more susceptible to anxiety, depression, fear, physical pain in our minds, bodies and spirits. All of these factors make us less able to access our coping skills and inner peace during times of stress.

Yoga has been shown in studies to positively affect those exact same parts of the brain, leading to decreased anxiety, stress, fear, physical and emotional pain; thereby reducing risk for harmful substance use.

Once you’ve taken the first step of understanding the biological, psychological and environmental addiction risk factors, and followed that up with the second step of creating a personalized Magic Formula™, you’re ready for the third step – having the conversations that could save your or someone else’s life.

Interested in learning more about yoga and addiction recovery?

Check out Healing Addiction: Yoga for People in Recovery. This course, guided by Nikki Myers, offers a comprehensive understanding of addiction; teaches the relationship between addiction and trauma; and shows how yoga fits in with conventional therapies. Come away with the ability to effectively support yoga students on their path to recovery.

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