Substance Abuse: Alcohol, Drugs, Food, Sex/Porn, and Shopping

You found this site because you already know you are struggling with your drinking, overeating, drug abuse, porn, gambling…etc. etc. You may have had binge drinking or functional drinking issues for quite some time. You may be living with an eating disorder or porn addiction or binge shopping that has been around since you were a teen or young adult. I truly know the frustration of not being able to shake off whatever is trapping you. I imagine you have tried to control the cycle and woken up many days telling yourself, “Today will be different. I will get it right.” When you have the next slip, you may blame yourself for not being able to fix it or stop it. This can lead to full-blown depression, further isolation, and damaging self-judgment. And the downward spiral continues, becoming more and more difficult to correct.

I have been there. It is because of my experience with both feeling miserable AND not getting the appropriate help that I needed that I designed the PsychFit, Inc. program. When I was depressed and bingeing in my 20’s this program didn’t exist. So I created it. I was exercising and running pretty much every day; I was in individual therapy, and reading self-help books, but it wasn’t creating the changes I needed to make in my life. I needed clarity and focus to overcome both the years of suppressed feelings and the dysfunctional roles I was acting out in my relationships.

I became a psychotherapist and a personal trainer with the idea of combining the two. In 2003 I created PsychFit, Inc. – an evidenced-based, symptom-targeted talk therapy that occurs while you are working out (yes, exercising…) in my office. I cut to the chase and we go after your symptoms immediately, while you are working out your body in a powerful way.

Remember: you are not alone! Many people struggle with these issues…

The spectrum and severity of addiction and eating disorder symptoms is wide and its’ causes are many. Major life transitions, trauma, hormones, illnesses and/or genetics can be just some of the factors. Your experience varies (so don’t compare yourself to others) and can be manifested as feeling out of control and then using substances such as food, alcohol or whatever your habit is, to feel better which only then makes you feel worse a few minutes later and on and on it goes. Then comes the real kicker – you start guilt tripping and even hating yourself.

PsychFit can help you discover hope, pleasure, and personal fulfillment.

The psychotherapy component involves a process called Challenge and Correct, and the fitness portion is called Deliberate Motion, both explained below.

The Challenge and Correct process involves you and I working together to identify, challenge and change the negative and self-sabotaging thinking that usually is at the root of many impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.
Some of these mistakes in thinking include magnifying the negative and/or minimizing the positive; making sweeping negative conclusions that go beyond the reality of the situation; viewing situations in only two categories (good/bad, all/nothing) instead of on a continuum; having a rigid idea of how you or others should behave and overestimating how bad it is when these expectations are not met; and so forth.

The fitness workout is called Deliberate Motion. It involves an incredibly efficient, safe method of training with weights, and working out one’s cardiovascular system. Everyone from the top training pro’s to the Surgeon General agrees that weight training should be the main focus of every fitness routine. Weight-bearing exercise is the key to strength, flexibility and exercise-induced weight loss, because it is the most effective way of building lean muscle mass, and, in turn, metabolizing fat.

The difference between Deliberate Motion and other weight training programs (and what makes it so safe) is the deliberate, slow movements of the weights during the repetitions - the slower the movement the better.
National, neuroscientific research wholly supports PsychFit. John Ratey, MD, Harvard Neuroscientist, writes: “… through current sharp imaging technology and brilliant clinical research, we now have proof that brain development is a continuous, unending process. The brain has a tremendous ability to compensate and rewire with practice. ...The more we repeat the same actions and thoughts (from practicing strength training workouts to incorporating daily affirmations), the more we encourage the formation of certain connections, and the more fixed the neural circuits in the brain for that activity become.”

“The many connections we find between motor and cognitive functions suggest that any sort of physical activity improves our cognition. ...Movement provides the physiological release that we need to bring our minds and bodies back into balance. Fundamental motions, like brisk walking or lifting weights ...causes the brain to establish fundamental firing patterns among complex thought, helping us find a solution or generate a creative idea.”

We will work together in my office/gym to literally challenge and correct your mental and physical capabilities. The result: an effective and efficient route to reach your greatest human potential.

PsychFit can help you discover hope, pleasure and personal fulfillment.

When in the throes of upset, many individuals develop tunnel vision and feel trapped. Through my unique, guided training sessions we will let exercise help your brain and body to not only elevate endorphins, but also positively spark all relevant neurotransmitters associated with depression, anxiety and lack of focus. I provide the combination of talk therapy and personal training so that you will experience immediate relief.

Exercise and focused discussion work on motivation and attention immediately via the release of dopamine. In your counseling sessions, you can begin to identify and address your symptoms, learn ways to take better care of yourself and those who depend on you, and learn how to live your life in more constructive and empowering ways.

In your sessions, you will receive honest feedback in a safe and supportive environment as you explore what’s blocking your ability to feel sustained happiness. You will learn to identify self-limiting thoughts and behaviors that you may not even know you have, and learn healthier ways to cope with stress and difficult emotions. You will also learn concrete, practical ways to comfort and nurture yourself and set meaningful and attainable goals.

Throughout, I will remind you of your strengths and aspects of your life that are going well. You can discover resources, reconnect with your inner strength and regain a sense of purpose and meaning in your life. With help, you can begin to heal, find more joy and feel like yourself again. Therapy can help you get to know yourself better and develop a more concrete understanding of your needs, emotions and capabilities.

But, you still may have questions about substance abuse treatment…

I’m afraid that if this doesn’t work, I’ll have to go on medication.

Everyone is different. If you are doing everything right and after a few months of our working together you are still feeling down, I may suggest that you meet with a board-certified psychiatrist to determine if medication is an option. It is my role to provide you with support, answer any questions you may have, and to carefully monitor progress and potential side effects should you chose medication. It’s also important to note that medication can oftentimes be a temporary solution so you can begin to feel better and actively engage in the PsychFit process. Many people report experiencing best results with a medication/therapy combination.

I’m worried I might learn that something is really wrong with me that can’t be fixed.

You may discover something is wrong in your life, but that can be a very good thing. These symptoms are actually your inner wisdom crying out for attention – they are a sign that something in your life is out of balance. We need to be attuned to your feelings and behaviors, and seek to understand what they are telling us. And, addressing heavy and difficult emotions during the workout sessions will help you gain better self-awareness and healthy coping skills; you can become more effective at handling difficult feelings and situations. So, when you reach out and set up your first appointment, you are making steps to feel and function better and to regain control of your life.

Therapy can take a lot of time and it isn’t cheap. I’m not sure it’s worthwhile.

PsychFit, Inc. is an investment in yourself and in your family. By investing in yourself now, you are not only creating the opportunity to feel better sooner, but also gain and maintain a more positive perspective on your life. This all leads to sustainable, long-term results. Your symptoms are impacting how you engage in relationships, influencing productivity at work, increasing stress and affecting your family. However, working through them can create the space for emotionally healthy relationships, increased productivity, and a more empowered and balanced sense of self.

Dr. Jane Baxter’s office is in the DC metropolitan area (located at Dupont Circle). Please call or email to discuss any questions and concerns you may have about depression treatment, janebaxterphd@gmail.com or 202-744-4381.

The remainder of this page contains in-depth information and studies that support why exercise helps with substance abuse & mood disorders.

I happen to live a couple miles from the National Science Library at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD. Every year I go and look up the latest journal articles about the topic of mental health treatment and exercise. There are studies taking place all over the world: Taiwan, New Zealand, the U.K, Finland and, of course, the USA. It’s all very heartening and exciting.

The reason why you feel alert and relieved after an exercise session is…:

There are many parts of your brain that are important to understand: 1) the amygdala, which controls your emotions and, 2) the hippocampus, which houses your memory. Both are considered an eminent part of the limbic system, which is considered the center of the emotional brain. The limbic system is closely related to the brain stem, which is receptive to constant feedback during an exercise routine.
The 3) reticular formation is an area present in the brain stem which receives muscle stimulation, controls the sleep/wake cycle, and monitors levels of alertness.

The reason why you feel alert and relieved after an exercise session is simply because your muscles send instant feedback to your reticular formation. Owing to its close proximity to the brain stem, the limbic system can easily be stimulated during an exercise session. In the hippocampus, aerobic exercise has been identified as the single most important factor for increasing the levels of a neurotropic factor, called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor). This helps protect and promote nerve cells that help improve your memory and sense of well-being.

Exercise bumps up brain functioning

Activities in certain portions of the human brain clearly denote the big clinical picture that is responsible for emotional release. According to experts, what happens at the biochemical level of the human brain is considered to be an interconnected process. Your life story, or biography, is biologically manifested. It is symbolic to how your body regulates your hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and BDNF. Your hormones compose your biochemistry; interestingly, exercise can positively and permanently alter your biochemistry.

Your body manifests the true story of your life and each section of your story can be represented biochemically through the aid of numerous hormonal profiles at any given point in time. Your beliefs, experiences, behaviors, feelings and exercise - or lack of it - is included in your personal story.

These activities are stored in the form of cellular experiences regardless of the fact it is a muscle memory, a neurological memory or an immunological memory. These memories can also be unwound. Emotional release is the result of the unwinding of these suppressed emotions.

Let’s compare the life cycle of a brain stem cell to the amount of time it takes an antidepressant to work, and then look at how exercise bumps up brain functioning. Antidepressants usually take three weeks to show their effects. The process of neurogenesis also takes the same time. This is equivalent to the time when a stem cell is produced inside the hippocampus until it attaches itself with the network.

Helen Mayberg claims, “Attacking depression from opposite directions is undoubtedly the best approach. In the case of brain stimulation patients, is their system is restored, they simply need to undergo mental rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is simply initiated to force the patients to do something positive…even a walk in the garden is a suitable example of the same. You need to do something positive! You need to get out your negative frame and indulge in some form of physical activity. Exercising does not require elaborate planning and you simply need to focus on your next exercise session to keep going.”

The latest twist to the connectivity theory was provided when some researchers came to the conclusion that addiction is the result of the shutdown of neurogenesis.

Further reading about the facts of exercise and mental health treatment:

In recent studies, after research has shown that exercise helps reduce depression and impulsive behaviors, questions were raised whether it was indeed exercise or the social support offered (when people exercised in groups), which helped keep depressive and impulsive behaviors at bay.

A remarkable study, often considered as a landmark study, conducted by the Human Population Laboratory is a classic example of the above data. It was conducted in Berkeley and was termed ‘Alameda County Study’. Here, eight thousand and twenty three people were tracked for the period of twenty-six years. The study was initiated in the year 1965 and covered the lifestyle habits of the subjects as well as their health status. In the initial stages, no one displayed any visible sign of depression but those who became inactive in the next nine years displayed depressive tendencies that were 1.5 times higher than those who chose to remain active.

This data was collated in the year 1983. At the same time, individuals who were initially inactive and then started exercising were no lesser in warding off depression than those who were active throughout. This data was again collated in the year 1983. Interestingly, if you change your exercise habits, you can drastically reduce your depressive tendencies.

Emotional release ideally occurs when you indulge in physical activity, nonetheless rhythmic activities such as jogging and weight training have a special connection with emotional release. Research has stated that rhythmic activities have soothing effects in the higher thinking area of your brain. It is also called the cortical area. Intense thoughts are known to confuse your mind.

Hence, certain kinds of exercises need to be incorporated in your daily schedule to suppress negative thoughts and promote creative thoughts and positive feelings. Nonetheless, it is your state of mind, which makes all the difference, and not completely the kind of physical activity you are engaged in. You need to feel what the exercise is doing to your mind in order to experience relief. Likewise, the intensity of your workout is also symbolic to your emotional release. When you push yourself beyond limits and experience muscle fatigue and even failure, you actually help resurface pent up emotions with utmost ease.

All these studies came to the conclusion that the negative symptoms of patients decreased within the first week of exercise. Symptoms reduced with continuing exercise sessions and reduced drastically at the end of the study. Although each individual has a unique structure, studies have shown that depressive tendencies tend to diminish when subjects were asked to exercise continuously.

Today, research focuses on BDNF as well as vascular endothelial growth factor (VGEF), fibroblast growth factor (FGF-2), insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), and all the related chemicals involved in encouraging neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. At the same time, pharmaceutical companies are funding research to mark and measure all these factors, and to map the genes affected by them, so they can figure out how to mimic their actions.

The shift from the neurotransmitter hypothesis to the connectivity theory is a move from outside to inside the nerve cell. In addition to working at the synapse, as serotonin does, BDNF turns on genes to produce more neurotransmitters and neurons, puts the brakes on self-destructive cellular activity, releases antioxidants, and provides the proteins used as building material for axons and dendrites.

BDNF may just be the tip of the iceberg, as was the case with norepinephrine in the 1960s. Besides working on the synapse just like serotonin does, BDNF focuses on genes in a bid to produce larger quantities of neurotrophins and neurotransmitters, stalls self-destructive cellular activity, emits antioxidants and provides essential proteins for building dendrites and axons. These are also known as the gene adaptations of BDNF and are perfect tools for determining the delayed effects of antidepressants on the human body.

In short, exercise affects so many variables in the brain that it’s nearly impossible to isolate its effects. But the evidence is there, from the action of microscopic molecules to massive surveys of tens of thousands of people over the years. Yes, exercise is an antidepressant. But it is also much more. Still, it’s not surprising that about half the patients in studies on exercise and depression drop out. Perhaps because most of them are inactive to begin with, getting started is that much more challenging.

When we began, everyone was fairly certain that the problem was an imbalance of neurotransmitters at the synapses. Now we know for certain that it’s not so simple. Ironically, I think this is precisely why exercise has yet to be embraced as a medical treatment. It doesn’t simply raise serotonin or dopamine or norepinephrine. It adjusts all of them to levels that we can only presume have been optimally programmed by evolution. The same goes for exercise’s effect on BDNF, IGF-1, VEGF, and FGF-2, which provide the building material and oversight for the construction of new connections and neurons.

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