Healing a Three-Part Illness at the Cellular Level

Addiction Recovery Publishing Nutrition March 12, 2024

Healing a Three-Part Illness at the Cellular Level

The influential yogi and spiritual teacher B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind, and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.” This, in essence, offers a roadmap by which one can recover from the “three-part illness” of addiction and heal at the cellular level.

What Does It Mean to Heal at the Cellular Level?

The renowned Buddhist Monk and spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, said, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” This is emblematic of what is needed to heal at the cellular level. To heal one issue, one must heal all issues.

Healing from addiction at the cellular level is all about the interconnectedness of one’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. For example, it is not enough to merely heal the body via a fitness regimen. Without being of sound emotional mind, eventually, the will to keep that regimen going will fade. Also, there will most likely be little satisfaction or overarching joy in exercise alone.

The same can be said about one’s mental state. One can do all of the cognitive work required, such as working with cognitive-behavioral psychotherapists, but if they are not keeping their physical body well, they will never be able to give the essential full attention needed to get the most out of that extensive mental work. 

This concept of healing all aspects of the self is nothing new, yet it is often overlooked by many recovery centers. Also, this is the reason why many recovery centers still offer “one-note” “cookie-cutter” recovery plans rather than comprehensive addiction care.

Why Is Comprehensive Addiction Care So Crucial?

While overarching addiction care may work for some, here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab, we have found that these types of recovery plans tend to fall short of healing at the cellular level. Whether it is a plan that solely focuses on psychotherapeutic practices or merely utilizes holistic methods, it misses the opportunity to heal aspects of the self (mind, body, soul, spirit).

Comprehensive addiction care is also crucial because it offers the best opportunity to address all components of the three-part illness. Of course, to do so, one must have a complete knowledge of what the three-part illness is and what it represents.

What Is the “Three-Part Illness?”

The three-part illness (also known as the “three-fold disease”) has been discussed in the recovery realm for nearly a century. This comes from both a spiritual Higher Power-based approach (think 12-Step programs and their affiliates such as Recovery Dharma) as well as from a more scientific approach. According to the peer-reviewed Harm Reduction Journal, “By looking at drug addiction from an evolutionary perspective, we may understand its underlying significance and evaluate its three-fold nature: biology, psychology, and social influences… By exploring addiction in this manner, we may move towards more effective treatment early prevention, treating the root of the issue rather than the symptoms.”

The three-part illness of addiction is broken down into three elements: the “physical allergy,” the “mental obsession,” and the “spiritual malady.” All of these components work in tandem to complete a cycle that, unless broken, is continual and destructive active addiction.

The Three-Part Illness: What Is the “Physical Allergy?”

Now, the physical allergy component of the three-part illness has to do with the way the body reacts once alcohol or other substances are introduced to it. For someone who struggles with alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD), when these substances enter their system, they have a reaction that the body has no defenses against. They also do not know what type of reaction they will have once those substances hit their bloodstream. On some occasions, they may be fine. Then, on other occasions, they may experience a blackout and severe sickness. 

Also, many people use the “shellfish analogy” when it comes to the physical allergy component of the three-part illness. Many people are allergic to shellfish, and to the rest of the world, this is not unusual in the least. The same is true with addiction. Many people have an allergic reaction to alcohol and other substances, yet to the outside world, this seems to still be up for contentious debate. 

One of the reasons that many people struggle with their understanding of the physical allergy of addiction is that part of that addiction is the inability to stop imbibing once the first drink or drug has been taken. Someone with a shellfish allergy will stop consuming shellfish once they discover that they are allergic. Yet, someone with an addiction will rarely stop once they put alcohol or substances in their system. This is because the physical allergy is connected to the other parts of the illness. In this instance, it is the specific connection to the “mental obsession.”

The Three-Part Illness: What Is the “Mental Obsession?”

Now, the mental obsession is the reason that many people consider a relapse (or “pre-lapse”) to happen long before the actual drink or drug has ever been taken. The mind of someone struggling with active addiction is often solely focused on when and where their next use will occur. 

Also, the mental obsession is why many people in recovery utilize the maxim, “One is too many, and a thousand is never enough.” Of course, the physical allergy is a big component of this as well because the obsession is many times activated by that first act of consumption.

The reason that many people isolate away from family, friends, co-workers, and responsibilities is also largely in part due to the mental obsession component of addiction. It becomes the sole reason for living and supersedes all else. So, how then do people recover if they are struck with a constant obsession and everpresent cravings? Regarding the three-part illness, it is because of a “spiritual malady.” 

The Three-Part Illness: What Is the “Spiritual Malady?”

Many people conflate spirituality with religion when it comes to recovery. Unfortunately, this also keeps many people away from getting the critical addiction care that they need and desire. However, religion and spirituality needn’t cross paths in addiction recovery (though some do combine their religious and spiritual lives). 

The spiritual malady in recovery refers to an emptiness that someone with AUD or SUD feels. It is this emptiness that they often try to fill with addictive behaviors. In recovery, this emptiness must be filled with something that is both positive and healthy. It is often something that is outside of oneself. In recovery, this is generally referred to as a Higher Power of one’s understanding.

Yes, this Higher Power may certainly be a religious God or spiritual diety. But, it may also be a connection to nature or the trust in others in a recovery community. As long as this Higher Power is something that can be relied upon for supreme guidance when the mental obsession kicks in or the physical allergy begins to take hold. Addressing the spiritual malady is truly one of the best ways to avoid a relapse, and relapses are much more common than many people may think.

According to the peer-reviewed journal Current Psychiatry Reports, “It has long been known that addictive disorders are chronic and relapsing in nature. Recent estimates from clinical treatment studies suggest that more than two-thirds of individuals relapse within weeks to months of initiating treatment.” Also, “For 1-year outcomes across alcohol, nicotine, weight, and illicit drug abuse, studies show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within 1 year of treatment.” These relapses can best be avoided when the three-part illness is addressed in a “three-part approach;” taking care of the physical body, the emotional mind, and the spiritual self. 

Healing Addiction With Yoga

With a multi-angled approach, it is important to understand that though a modality focuses on one part of the addiction, it is being used to address the whole mind-body-spirit situation. For example, yoga may primarily be used as a way to treat the physical body, but it can also be used to calm the mind, temper negative emotions, and bring in an essential spiritual practice.

Yoga has been practiced for over 3,000 years. Originally, it was solely used as a means of religious and spiritual expression but has since moved into many different areas of life, including the recovery realm. According to the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice, “Yoga has eight components such as conduct within society, personal discipline, postures/poses (‘asanas’), breathing, concentration, contemplation, meditation, and absorption/stillness. Yoga in the management of drug dependence has been an intriguing area of interest since the last decade. [It] is being considered as a holistic intervention inducing dopamine homeostasis leading to long-term benefits in the management of addictive behaviors termed as ‘Reward Deficiency Syndrome.’”

Also, yoga has many benefits, both short-term and long-term. According to the International Journal of Yoga (IJOY), “Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions. Yoga therapy involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent reduce or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional, and spiritual pain, suffering, or limitations. Yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.” As one can see, yoga is not just a physical practice, but it can be a mental and spiritual one as well.

Healing Addiction With Traditional Mental Health Therapies

Just as many people consider yoga to be solely physical, many people consider therapy to be a solely mental experience. Also, just like yoga, this is not the case. Traditional mental health therapies, like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and group therapy, also address the three-part illness of addiction.

Group therapy has been shown to be especially effective in helping people recover from addiction at the cellular level. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “The natural propensity of human beings to congregate makes group therapy a powerful therapeutic tool for treating substance abuse, one that is as helpful as individual therapy, and sometimes more successful. One reason for this efficacy is that groups intrinsically have many rewarding benefits – such as reducing isolation and enabling members to witness the recovery of others – and these qualities draw clients into a culture of recovery.”

Group therapy is also where one can begin to build the essential community that can help people both during and after treatment. This has to do with the ability to relate to others who have gone through the same experiences. People who have experienced all of the pieces of the three-part illness as well. For many, these will be the people they call when they are experiencing mental obsession. These will be the people that they can rely upon to help them if a relapse occurs and the physical allergy begins the addiction cycle anew. Still, for others, these will be the people that will represent their Higher Power. They will be the spiritual representatives that show recovery is possible.

Healing Addiction With Meditation

A critical aspect of the three-part illness is quieting the mind so the mental obsession also becomes muted. Meditation is one of the best ways to make this silence and serenity possible. 

Mediation is becoming more and more utilized in the addiction recovery realm. According to the peer-reviewed journal Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, “Contemporary advances in addiction neuroscience have paralleled increasing interest in the ancient mental training practice of mindfulness meditation as a potential therapy for addiction. In the past decade, mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have been studied as a treatment for an array of addictive behaviors, including drinking, smoking, opioid misuse, and use of illicit substances like cocaine and heroin… Studies indicate that MBIs reduce substance misuse and craving by modulating cognitive, affective, and psychophysiological processes integral to self-regulation and reward processing.”

Of course, mediation also offers many other benefits that address the three-part illness, including “trait mindfulness.” According to the clinical journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, “Trait mindfulness may be defined as the tendency to exhibit mindful qualities in daily life, including nonreactivity to distressing thoughts and emotions, as well as the tendency to observe and accept one’s momentary thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and sensations. So, beyond the context of acute mindful states, mindful traits may decrease cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tendencies that help sustain substance misuse. Indeed, trait mindfulness has been found to be positively associated with heightened executive control functioning, and small but statistically significant negative correlations have been found between trait mindfulness and craving, as well as substance use.”

As one can see, a combination of modalities that include a focus on the physical (such as yoga), the mental (such as group therapy), and the spiritual (such as meditation) is an exceptional way to address the three-part illness. This is what healing at the cellular level is all about. Also, these are just three types of the expansive offerings that we utilize at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab.

Healing the Three-Part Illness at the Cellular Level With Exclusive Hawaii Rehab

The iconic English philosopher John Locke once said, “A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world.” That is what we aim to do at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab: help our clients create the “happy states” of life that they once thought were out of reach.

We must always remember that recovery is a journey, never a destination, and there may be no better place to start that journey than with us here at Exclusive Hawaii Rehab on the Hamakua Coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. All it takes is that first step of reaching out for help.

Addiction can be broken down into three components: the mental, the physical, and the spiritual. This is often referred to as the “three-part illness.” In recovery, it is vital to address all of these components to heal at the cellular level. If you or someone you love is struggling with issues of addiction, mental illness, or co-occurring disorders, we can help get you on the right road to long-term recovery. For more information on how comprehensive individualized recovery, using modalities from multiple treatment fields, can help make recovery possible and how Exclusive Hawaii Rehab has the tools and means to make it happen, please reach out to us today at (808) 775-0200.