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The Haight Ashbury Free Clinics - The 1999 HAFC Logo
Free Clinic Founder, 1967


Dr David Smith
Forty Years Later, 2008


Unchain Your Brain: 10 Steps to Breaking the Addictions
 that Steal Your Life

Daniel G. Amen, MD and David E. Smith, MD

How Addictions Steal Your Life

When you are chained by an addiction, it affects every area of your life. Addiction ruins lives, devastates families, destroys relationships, negatively impacts your career, decreases your ability to perform well in school, and causes health problems. People with addictions are more likely to get divorced, less likely to graduate from high school or college, less likely to get promoted at work, and more likely to develop diseases related to their addiction. Addiction also affects our society as a whole and burdens us all. Here are some alarming statistics about the dangerous effects of addiction.

       It is estimated that there were nearly one million drug-related deaths annually in the U.S. from 2004 to 2008.

       Smoking is the number-one preventable cause of death. 

       Being overweight or obese ranks third on the list of preventable causes of death. 

       Obesity, often caused by an addiction to unhealthy food, costs our society over $145 billion annually.

        Medical costs for an obese person are 42 percent higher than those of a healthy-weight person.

        Morbid obesity is associated with more than thirty medical conditions and diseases, including an increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and stroke.

        Alcohol abuse is the seventh most common preventable cause of death.

        We spend close to $500 billion alone on morphine addiction when you factor in healthcare costs, crime and criminal justice costs, accidents, and lost employment.

        It is estimated that the cost of drug abuse has grown to approximately $1 trillion annually in America.

 Addiction is far more prevalent than you might imagine, and it can affect anyone—you, your spouse, your child, your best friend, your neighbor, your teacher, your coworker, your plumber, even your doctor. Just take a look at the latest numbers.  

       More than 23 million Americans age twelve and older are affected by substance abuse or dependence—that’s nearly one in ten Americans.

        One in five Americans between the ages of sixteen and fifty-nine admits to using drugs.

        Nearly one in ten adolescents between the ages of twelve and seventeen surveyed said they had used illicit drugs within the past month.

        One in five drinkers reported drinking five or more drinks on at least one day in the past year.

        More than 28 percent of youths aged twelve to twenty reported drinking in the past month. In some states, the number jumped as high as 40 percent.

        Among underage drinkers, 19 percent identified themselves as binge drinkers and about 6 percent considered themselves to be heavy drinkers. Among young adults aged eighteen to twenty-five, more than 42 percent reported binge drinking, and nearly 16 percent reported heavy drinking. 

       Approximately two million adults meet the criteria forpathological gambling. Another four to six million have serious problems with gambling.

        One in ten people who play video games shows signs of addictive behavior.

        Ten percent of adults admit to being addicted to Internet pornography.

        Between 2 and 8 percent of Americans have a compulsive shopping addiction.

        In the U.S., more than 47 million people are smokers.

        In the U.S., two-thirds of people are overweight and one- third are obese.

        About 62 percent of high-earning individuals in the U.S. work more than fifty hours a week, which is the criteria for addiction to work, 35 percent work more than sixty hours, and 10 percent work more than eighty hours.

Most people with addiction problems do not think
the brain has anything to do with their addiction

 Why is addiction so pervasive, and what can we do to prevent and treat it? Many government, community, school, and parent organizations as well as thousands of treatment specialists and recovery centers are desperately trying to pinpoint the answer. In all of the fact-finding and hand-wringing, we are missing the essential organ of intervention: the brain. The brain is the supercomputer that runs your life. It plays a central role in your vulnerability to addiction and your ability to recover and maintain sobriety. Understanding the brain’s role in addiction, prevention, and treatment is the key to helping people break free from your addictions. Once addiction specialists, recovery centers, and people with addictions recognize the importance of the brain, they will be better able to treat the problem so you can enhance the quality of your life.

 Until then, people will continue to fuel their addictions with daily habits and actions that pollute the brain and make it even harder for them to break free from those addictions. Working at ever-frenzied paces, not getting enough sleep, and living with strained relationships stresses the brain and lowers brain function, which makes it harder to fight addiction. Eating fast food diets, guzzling caffeinated drinks, and gobbling sugary snacks deprives the brain of proper nutrients, decreasing your ability to think clearly and make good decisions. Isolating yourself from friends and family in order to hide your addiction also has a negative affect on your brain that can intensify addictive behaviors.

 Brain dysfunction is the number-one reason why people fall victim to addiction, why they can’t break the chains of addiction, and why they relapse.

By taking the necessary steps to unchain your brain and
improve brain function, you will be able to break the
addictions that steal your life

Once you make the decision to unchain your brain, you can learn how to keep your brain healthy and stay away from addiction. Unchain Your Brain is a practical, easy-to-read, step-by-step guide that introduces you to the most up-to-date neuroscience research on how to optimize brain function as well as the latest trends in treatment and recovery so you will have a better chance of living an addiction-free life. Improving brain function increases your ability to think clearly, make good decisions, love, work, and learn. This book is also based on decades of personal experience treating patients with addiction and seeing first-hand what helps them kick the addiction habit.

In his forty-five-year career in the field of addiction medicine, David E. Smith has served as the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine and the California State Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs and is currently the medical director of Center Point, a therapeutic community focused on those coming out of the criminal justice system, and the chair of adolescent addiction treatment at Newport Academy, a gender-specific residential treatment center for teens with substance abuse and co-occurring disorders. In his vast experience, he has successfully treated thousands of patients addicted to drugs and alcohol. In this book, he will be sharing many of the insights he has learned to help you with your own recovery.

David in 1967’s Summer of Love, the year he started
the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic

   I am the CEO and medical director of the Amen Clinics, which has amassed the world’s largest database of brain scans—more than 57,000 scans—related to behavior, including addiction. For more than twenty years, I have been looking at the brain on a daily basis using a sophisticated study called brain SPECT imaging. I have looked at healthy brains and tens of thousands of brains in trouble. I have looked at the brains of young children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly. I have looked at brains on drugs, on alcohol, on prescription medications, on supplements, on prayer and meditation, on gratitude, and on a wide variety of psychological and biological treatments. I have used brain imaging to help our patients win the battle against their addictions to food, gambling, sex, video games, shopping, pornography, and more. At the Amen Clinics, the goal is to look at, optimize, and restore the brain. This book will contain many of the lessons we have learned in the process.


 Our program contains the ten steps you need to know to have the best brain possible to help you fight the addictions that steal your life. It starts with the basic principles of brain science as they apply to addiction and recovery. It reveals how addictions get started and how they get stuck in your brain. It explores how each individual’s brain and addiction is unique and how a one-size-fits-all treatment method will never work for every addict. It alerts you to the daily habits that might be making you or your loved ones more vulnerable to addiction. It shows you how addiction may be a symptom of other underlying brain dysfunctions and how treating those problems can be a big part of the answer to overcoming addiction.

 This practical program also gives you ten steps to optimize brain function so you can break free from your addictions and avoid relapse. It teaches you to protect your brain from injuries, a lack of sleep, and toxic substances—such as too much caffeine, sugar, or nicotine—which have been shown to trigger relapses in some people. It emphasizes the need to develop a positive social network to enhance brain function and help you maintain sobriety. It gives practical instructions on what and when to eat so your brain is properly nourished to improve your ability to think clearly and make better decisions. A critical component of the program is physical exercise, which boosts blood flow and other positive nutrients to the brain and has been shown to reduce cravings in recovering addicts. The program shows you how to rid your brain of bad thoughts (ANTs—automatic negative thoughts) that interfere with good judgment, love, and health.

 Ways to counteract stress are a very important part of the program, as stress is a common cause for relapse and because chronic stress disrupts neural pathways and kills cells in the memory centers of the brain. Another important part of the program deals with natural supplements that can help your brain and your sobriety. Finally, the program offers simple steps parents can take now that will help prevent their children from falling into the stranglehold of addiction. All of my children are vulnerable to addictions from their genetic history on their mother’s side. This is an issue I have thought about for a very long time.

 Introduction – part 1

 Click here to order Unchain Your Brain


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