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Developing treatments for smoking and other addictions

Today I'm going to talk about some of the ups and downs (and surprises!) that we encountered over the 15 year span we spent working on addictions. [If you would like to get help for this problem, you can contact certified Peak States therapist in various countries around the world. And as in all their work, treatment is done on a 'pay for results' basis.]

Research is not a job for the faint of heart

Trying to develop something new usually takes many frustration-filled years to even get something that can sort of work. And once you have something that can kind of limp along, it usually requires more years of development until something simple that can work consistently is created. And our addictions project was a perfect example of this development cycle.

A bit of the research 'backstory' on our addiction treatment

First, how does a project like addiction even get chosen from among all the many possible disorders and diseases that humanity faces? Well, I (Dr. McFetridge) knew and greatly respected a First Nations alcohol addiction counselor in British Columbia, and wanted to find some way to help him. Since existing techniques worked so poorly, I hoped that the new field of psychobiology we were developing would provide an answer. I was also very lucky to find Matt Fox, an addictions counselor in the US, and in about 2002 we started worked together on this project. Around 2008, we were finally successful in developing a treatment. Surprising us both, it turned out that our new approach worked on almost all addictions - except smoking! Although it didn't always stop an addict's use of a drug, that first approach would eliminate all cravings and withdrawal symptoms. And ancillary techniques would often help the remaining use problems. (We wrote about this in our May 25, 2009 newsletter.)

So how did that original treatment work?

It addressed one of the key components to addictions - something we call 'body associations'. This is the same mechanism that makes Pavlov's dog salivate when a bell is rung. (If you are interested in the fascinating underlying subcellular biology of trauma and the various trauma types, we refer you to this Institute webpage.

Improving the technique

However, although this early treatment worked, it was still time consuming and cumbersome. Sadly, in 2010, Matt resigned (this was all volunteer work, after all, and he'd been working on this with me for a decade) and so the project languished. Over the next few years, I continued to think about how to simplify our approach, as I wanted something so easy that addicts could easily do it for themselves. Finally, in 2012, during a therapist training I was conducting in Ashland Oregon, I had an idea based on my understanding of subcellular psychobiology. In an excitement-filled few hours, I created and tested an entirely new way to eliminate body associations. This simple technique was not only completely new - in fact, it is impossible to understand how or why it even works if you didn't know subcellular psychobiology - but it worked like a charm!

This new technique solved the problem of making the craving and withdrawal treatment very fast and easy. Since then, the Institute has trained many therapists in this technique.

But it didn't work on smoking!

So why haven't you heard about this breakthrough? Well, I was still reluctant to publish because this new treatment rarely worked on smoking. This indicated to me that there was either something wrong with my basic underlying theory, or there was something uniquely different about smoking. Three more years went by while I continued to work on this problem. Finally, in the fall of 2015, a student who smoked was willing to be a test subject for my latest idea - and it worked! It turned out that smoking has a completely different underlying biology than other addictions, and needs a very different treatment. And in fact, it turns out that there are a number of more prosaic addictions that shared this same underlying biological mechanism. [We wrote about this in our 2016 newsletter.]

And yet another surprise...

As I've mentioned, research is full of unexpected twists and turns - it is not like baking a cake or repairing a car! In December of 2015, the research team released the new smoking treatment to our certified therapists for cautious testing with clients.

The new treatment was working really well for most people, but a few responded quite differently. Even though they were now repulsed by even the thought of smoking, these few were trying to start smoking again, like a teenager coughing with their first cigarette.

So, what the heck was happening? Well, a few months later we tracked down the reason. These clients were desperately trying to block feelings of suffocation by using the distraction of an addiction. A bit like a man who watches TV to forget about a problem at work, but to these addicts, it was a feeling of drowning that they simply had to avoid. Once we realized this was the problem, we modified the treatment to look for and eliminate this issue.


Now that we've solved the smoking addiction mystery, we are finally ready to publish a textbook on the underlying subcellular biology and our methods for treating various addictions. Let's hope we get to it soon!

From the desk of the research director,
Dr. Grant McFetridge
October 12, 2016

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