Sunday, January 29, 2017


 article c/o


It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned, and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong, and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.
If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.

War on Drugs
I learned it from an extraordinary mixture of people I met on my travels. From the surviving friends of Billie Holiday, who helped me to learn how the founder of the war on drugs stalked and helped to kill her. From a Jewish doctor who was smuggled out of the Budapest ghetto as a baby, only to unlock the secrets of addiction as a grown man. From a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn who was conceived when his mother, a crack-addict, was raped by his father, an NYPD officer. From a man who was kept at the bottom of a well for two years by a torturing dictatorship, only to emerge to be elected President of Uruguay and to begin the last days of the war on drugs.
I had a quite personal reason to set out for these answers. One of my earliest memories as a kid is trying to wake up one of my relatives, and not being able to. Ever since then, I have been turning over the essential mystery of addiction in my mind — what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? How do we help those people to come back to us? As I got older, another of my close relatives developed a cocaine addiction, and I fell into a relationship with a heroin addict. I guess addiction felt like home to me.

If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: “Drugs. Duh.” It’s not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.


One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments — ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The advert explains:
“Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was – at the same time as the Rat Park experiment – a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage.
After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days — if anything can hook you, it’s that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can’t recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is — again — striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in my book.)
When I first learned about this, I was puzzled. How can this be? This new theory is such a radical assault on what we have been told that it felt like it could not be true. But the more scientists I interviewed, and the more I looked at their studies, the more I discovered things that don’t seem to make sense — unless you take account of this new approach.

Here’s one example of an experiment that is happening all around you, and may well happen to you one day. If you get run over today and you break your hip, you will probably be given diamorphine, the medical name for heroin. In the hospital around you, there will be plenty of people also given heroin for long periods, for pain relief. The heroin you will get from the doctor will have a much higher purity and potency than the heroin being used by street-addicts, who have to buy from criminals who adulterate it. So if the old theory of addiction is right – it’s the drugs that cause it; they make your body need them – then it’s obvious what should happen. Loads of people should leave the hospital and try to score smack on the streets to meet their habit.

But here’s the strange thing: It virtually never happens. As the Canadian doctor Gabor Mate was the first to explain to me, medical users just stop, despite months of use. The same drug, used for the same length of time, turns street-users into desperate addicts and leaves medical patients unaffected.

If you still believe – as I used to – that addiction is caused by chemical hooks, this makes no sense. But if you believe Bruce Alexander’s theory, the picture falls into place. The street-addict is like the rats in the first cage, isolated, alone, with only one source of solace to turn to. The medical patient is like the rats in the second cage. She is going home to a life where she is surrounded by the people she loves. The drug is the same, but the environment is different.

This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It’s how we get our satisfaction. If we can’t connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find — the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about ‘addiction’ altogether, and instead call it ‘bonding.’ A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn’t bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

There is an alternative…
You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world
— and so leave behind their addictions.


This isn’t theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs, and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them — to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.

One example I learned about was a group of addicts who were given a loan to set up a removals firm. Suddenly, they were a group, all bonded to each other, and to the society, and responsible for each other’s care.

The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminologyfound that since total decriminalization, addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I’ll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country’s top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass — and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal’s example.

This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster’s — “only connect”. But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live — constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this the age of loneliness. We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander — the creator of Rat Park — told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery — how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.

By Johann Hari, Guest Writer for Wake Up World, where this was originally featured.

To read the complete article, go here:

What really causes addiction — to everything from cocaine to smart-phones? And how can we overcome it? Johann Hari has seen our current methods fail firsthand, as he has watched loved ones struggle to manage their addictions. He started to wonder why we treat addicts the way we do — and if there might be a better way. As he shares in this deeply personal talk, his questions took him around the world, and unearthed some surprising and hopeful ways of thinking about an age-old problem.

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

From Prisoner to Yoga Instructor, A Road to Re-Entry

Article c/o

Like many ex-offenders, Marshawn Feltus has heard every iteration of the word no when looking for employment.

Feltus searched for work for months when he was released from prison five years ago.
“If anything was certain in my life, I knew I wasn’t going to do any more time,” he said. “It didn’t matter how many people said no. I was not going to get so frustrated that I was going to go back to crime.”

Then he got a grant from a West Side nonprofit to start his own business — the first yoga studio in the Austin community. Feltus learned yoga while serving 18 years in prison on a murder conviction. He never thought yoga would turn into a career, let alone a business.

When he was released from prison, the goal was simply to get a job. Since then, state laws have removed barriers to employment for ex-offenders; those barriers are a key driver of recidivism rates. Now advocates for criminal justice reform, with support from some government agencies, are making entrepreneurship a part of re-entry programs to try to reduce prison costs by helping people stay out once they are released. In Illinois 48 percent of people released from prison return within three years while 19 percent return within one year, according to the Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council.

Though he didn’t receive support from a program that targets ex-offenders, Feltus’ business success shows the promise of entrepreneurship training for returning prisoners.

In August, the U.S. Small Business Administration launched a $2 million program to teach 200 former felons how to run their own businesses and provides them with microloans to start them. The pilot, which is in four cities– Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Louisville, Kentucky – will launch in spring 2017 with 50 people from each city. The move follows a 2015 decision to rid the felony question from its loan application, opening the door for ex-offenders to get financing.

Equipping former inmates with entrepreneurship skills to create businesses and jobs could be another way to expand the opportunities for people with records, says Victor Dickson, president and CEO of Safer Foundation, which provides job training and re-entry services for ex-offenders.

“More than 75 percent of all the new jobs created are not from big corporations; they’re from small businesses,” said Dickson, whose nonprofit organization has signed on to provide training for the Small Business Administration’s program known as the Aspire Entrepreneurship Initiative. “When we are struggling to find work for people with records, one way to address that is to facilitate more individuals to start businesses because those are the ones that really create the jobs.”

♦ ♦ ♦

Entrepreneurship was not the focus of re-entry programs when Feltus left prison five years ago. Many concentrated on skills to land a job, not necessarily to be the boss. But in the past few years there’s been a bipartisan push at all levels of government to reform the nation’s bloated and expensive criminal justice system.

“A big part of that reform comes from a sense that we have over criminalized behavior in our society; been far too punitive particularly with nonviolent offenses and that mass incarceration and the war on drugs in particular has failed,” said Dickson, many of whose clients return to communities wrecked by violence, joblessness and high incarceration rates.

Federal and state governments can no longer afford this huge industry to incarcerate people, he added.

“If those reform efforts are successful we are going to see more people re-entering society and we need to figure out a way to have more opportunities for them,” Dickson said. “The next logical step is entrepreneurship.”

Fate intervened for Feltus, who lives in West Humboldt Park. An invitation to attend a re-entry program at Bethel New Life, a West Side nonprofit, led to a janitorial job where he learned about the organization’s entrepreneur training program. It provided $6,000 in seed money to open a business after participants complete a 15-week training course and save $1,500. Originally Feltus wanted to open a discount dollar store, but was urged to turn his passion for yoga into a business. He opened ACT Yoga in 2013.

“A big bright lightbulb went off and that’s where I started to connect the dots,” Feltus said.
The initiative aims to connect those dots for ex-offenders, who have rarely been supported in their business efforts, said the SBA’s Regional Communications Director Andrea Roebker. She noted that 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their release and nearly half of all U.S. children have one parent with a criminal record.

Expanding access to entrepreneurship and microloans to ex-offenders, especially those with children, allows them to become self-sufficient, create businesses within their communities and hire others with criminal records, Roebker said.

The federal agency has partnered with the Kellogg Foundation and Justine PETERSEN, a social agency specializing in micro-lending in low-income communities, to implement the five-month training program. Chicago and the other cities were chosen because they have strong micro-lending programs to support the objective and also have a high a number of ex-offenders returning to impoverished communities.

The goal is to support ex-offenders’ business aspirations as a way to provide a stable household income and to reduce the chances of children living in poverty, said Galen Gondolfi, a spokesperson for St. Louis-based Justine PETERSEN.

Unlike most entrepreneur training programs, the Aspire initiative has capital to get businesses off the ground, Gondolfi said, adding that most programs just teach basic business planning.
“It is not just entrepreneurship training in a vacuum,” Gondolfi said. “What curriculum-based training may lack is true dollars in the end that can actually make a business a reality.”

The program, which will start identifying candidates by late fall or winter, hopes to close on a minimum of 25 microloans. Participants are eligible to receive up to $50,000, but the lion’s share of the loans would be in the low thousands, Gondolfi said.

There is no criteria on the type of business that can be funded through this program. Participants must complete the training program and demonstrate the capacity to start and run a new business.

Feltus cautioned that any program should have a strong mentor component and a continuum of support to ensure ex-offenders’ success.  He said, “I am for responsible people getting the opportunity to get their life on track so they are vibrant and useful people for themselves and their community.”

Sunday, January 8, 2017

7 Self-Soothing Strategies to Neutralize Panic Attacks

7 Self-Soothing Strategies to Neutralize Panic Attacks: A Psychiatrist Explains

Article c/o Dr. Perpetua Neo for

When I was dealing with my own constant panic attacks, I became a bit of an anxiety savant.

During that time, my daily commute was about four hours.  Most of that was on the train, where I experienced most of my panic attacks.  At the height of my struggles, I was sorely tempted to give up on my education.  I wasn't the only person who would ever have not done something because of their anxiety.

But, hesitant to forfeit the hefty sum (almost $100,000) I'd put toward getting my degree, I began to research and experiment with strategies to quell my panic attacks.  Here are a few of the methods that made the biggest difference for me.

1. Tiptoe.
My friend Em Burnett, a Qigong instructor, says our Yang energy rises when we panic.  Indeed, whenever we feel anxious, we are stuck in our heads, and forget that we have bodies.  Em advises that we bring our energy back down - that we ground ourselves.  To do that, just tiptoe, then drop to your heels.  Do this several times.  Alternatively try walking on your heels, noting the contact with the ground, then press both your feet together.

2. Walk slowly.
My colleague Tom Cronin, a meditation teacher, puts it so beautifully: “If your mind is running a million miles an hour, your body is going to be hyper-stimulated." Whether we realize it or not, panic attacks happen when we’re in “flight” mode, which is why we try to move as quickly as the situation allows.

One of the easiest things we can do is to intentionally slow down, bringing awareness to the points of contact where the soles of our feet touch the ground. This action anchors us in the moment. Then we are able to bring attention to what’s going on around us.

Train yourself to notice a sight, sound, and smell separate from yourself. I’ve had clients tell me, “I’ve discovered all these new places to eat and shop, because I started focusing on the environment around me.” How’s that for a reward?

3. Hug yourself.
Thich Nhat Hanh, my favourite Zen master, says that “When we hug, our hearts connect and we know that we are not separate beings.” When in a state of panic, we need the most love. My colleague and Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioner Carmen Dolz taught me the Big Hug position: Just cross your arms in front of your chest, fingertips under your armpits, and breathe deeply, dropping your shoulders as you exhale. The Big Hug is powerful because it connects the energy path of the heart with the nervous system. It opens the lungs, allowing our respiratory paths to expand, helping the breath reach us even more deeply. Essentially, it is the art of harmonizing ourselves, by using our hands as jump leads.

4. Splash your face with cold water.
Cold water stimulates our parasympathetic nervous systems, helping us to calm down by waking up our vagus nerves. This brings down the heart rate and activates the immune and digestive systems. Our skin has up to 10 times more cold receptors than warmth receptors, meaning splashing our face with cold water can have a quick, intense effect.

5. Breathe into a paper bag.
My friend Benita Scott, an EFT Practitioner, recommends breathing in and out of a paper bag. This capitalizes on the increasing carbon dioxide we get from re-inhaling our own breath. This triggers a calming reflex.

6. Practice bilateral stimulation.
When anxious, we get lost in our heads, where worries have infinite space to amplify. During panic attacks, beliefs like “I’m trapped,” “People will laugh at me,” and “I’m going to die” can consume us. Bilateral stimulation activates both hemispheres of the brain, distracting from the worry at hand. My favorite form of bilateral stimulation is to imagine passing a lime-sized ball between my right and left palm. Just keep doing it, and those difficult thoughts dissipate.

7. Meditate.
This meditation requires only three breaths and draws in support from the earth and the sky—and whatever symbolism or meaning we give to these.
  • Take a deep breath, drawing air in from the soles of your feet, channeling support from the earth. As you exhale, use your breath to create a golden bubble of energy around you.
  • Inhale deeply, drawing in air and light through the crown of your head from the sky. Exhale out a golden bubble of light energy around you.
  • Take a third deep breath in, drawing love and air from around you, through your heart. Exhale through your heart, filling the space around you with love and protection.
I know firsthand how powerless it feels to have a panic attack. It’s so easy to get sucked into the belief that there’s something wrong with you—that you’re defective and unlovable. Panic attacks are really your body’s way of telling you that something in your life needs to change. Perhaps it’s your relationship with stress or that you’re embroiled in a toxic situation. Whatever it is, your body can help you heal. You just need to trust it, and trust that you’re worthy of a fulfilling and peaceful life.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Why You Should Rethink That New Diet In 2017

Article c/o

For many of us the festive season is a time to indulge, have fun, and connect with our friends and loved ones. This is a time when we start to relax our eating and our healthy behaviors that have been in place all year. Perhaps we're out a few more times a week having a few extra drinks, big rich meals, too many Christmas mince tarts!

It's very common that once we start to relax a little with food, that this can easily accelerate to being out of control with food. Think: on the couch, binge watching on Netflix with your PJs on, eating a whole tub of salted caramel ice cream.

But you're probably thinking come January 1, you will be back in control again with your eating and exercising. You'll be back on your diet, or start a new one, and all will be OK with the world.
Does this resonate with you?

Are you either in control (dieting, detoxing, or intensely exercising) or out of control (you can't stop eating anything and everything in sight) with food?

In the world of psychology, we call this all-or-nothing thinking.

You are either a success or a failure. Your eating is either good or bad. You're exercising like crazy or doing nothing.

The issue here is that while you have this all-or-nothing thinking, you will only have two gears to work with: in control or out of control with your eating.

You spend many years going back and forth, trying desperately to get back in control (thinking this is the answer!). If only I had more willpower and discipline!

The secret is that the more you try to be in control (think dieting and restriction) the more you are setting yourself up for a binge and to be out of control with your eating. You could spend years swinging like a pendulum between the two. You're in control, then out of control, then in control again. It's an internal battlefield, it's emotionally exhausting, and it's incredibly stressful.

Control is seductive. We want more and more of it. When we are out of control we think that we have failed, and there must be something wrong with us. But you haven't failed; you've just had the wrong tools and mindset.

It's time to break this vicious cycle.

There's another way. It's all about living according to a continuum. Wouldn't life be so much easier and enjoyable if you were able to work with more than two gears?

The game changer to getting on top of your emotional eating and weight is seeing life (and food) on a continuum—or a balanced approach.

Here are three tips to stop letting control run your relationship with food:

Take the no-dieting pledge in 2017.

It's time to ditch the dieting mindset.

Start today by exploring intuitive eating, which involves having no food rules or restrictions. By giving yourself unconditional permission to eat, you fend off deprivation (which kicks in when you start dieting).

This means that there's never a "last supper" because there are no restrictions. This is a far more balanced, sustainable, and enjoyable approach and will change your relationship with food and your body in a really positive way.


Start to place your awareness on your body (taking your awareness out of your head).

Be aware that when you start to seek control, your awareness is always in your head (think: rules, rigidity, and restrictions). You want to shift that awareness into your body.

Slow things down including your breathing and eating and start to really connect with your body. Just go day by day, meal by meal. This is the opposite of the dieting mentality in which we will plan out all of our meals in our head for the whole week and don't check in to see what we really want or need, only what we "should" be having.


A big part of this journey is to start to become more self-compassionate and let go of our perfectionism. Beating yourself up and being critical won't give you a good relationship with food or your body. In fact, studies have shown that this could even lead to emotional eating.

Having acceptance of where you're at right now is key (even if you're not happy with where you're at) rather than waiting to accept yourself when you get "there." Otherwise, your life will be on hold, and do you ever get "there," anyway?

It's an elusive goal that always leaves you feeling not good enough and disappointed, which often leads us back to food. Transformation and change come from a place of self-acceptance rather than often what we believe, which is I will never change if I accept myself now.

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