The Science of Woo: How the practices of spiritual disciplines, positive psychology, and other “out there” ideas are backed by science

I am introducing my series on “The Science of Woo: How the practices of spiritual disciplines, positive psychology, and other “out there” ideas are backed by science.”

One of the struggles I have as a treatment provider to persons struggling to evaluate and address their substance use disorder is presenting the treatment components in a way that develops “buy in.” I work with high functioning alcoholics and high functioning addicts; they usually have homes, families, jobs, credit scores of 700+, and a reputation to protect. They rightfully expect evidence-based treatment to treat their illness and improve their lives.

Treating persons with a substance use disorder begins with an understanding that addiction is a brain disease. Recent scientific research has repeatedly demonstrated that addiction is a medical disorder that is centered in the brain and the symptoms of the disorder change the cognition and behavior of the affected individual.

According to The National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking, continued use despite harmful consequences, and long-lasting changes in the brain. It is considered both a complex brain disorder and a mental illness. Addiction is the most severe form of a full spectrum of substance use disorders, and is a medical illness caused by repeated misuse of a substance or substances. [1]

Acknowledging that substance use disorders are a function of a brain disease, it follows that effective treatment needs to impact the brain and initiate changes in opposition to the changes referenced above that are classic and identifiable behaviors of addiction. These behaviors include those associated with acquiring and using the drug, but also defense mechanisms used to protect that use. You can read my series on defense mechanisms here.

The need to treat the brain often “makes sense” to clients but when I begin listing the suggestions, clients begin to dismiss the list as “new age nonsense” or not related to treatment.

The intent of this series is to present, define, and quantify the habits, behaviors, and tools that persons in recovery can and should develop in order to effect change on a neurological level, to change the neural patterns, and to develop a new default behavior pattern supported by improved and better brain chemistry.

It turns out that many personal development habits, spiritual disciplines, and positive psychology tools have been researched and found to be neuro-beneficial in ways that support recovery from substance abuse.  I will feature these in a series of blog posts categorized in the following way:

Internal States

  • Forgiveness
  • Gratitude
  • Laughter



  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Affirmations
  • Contemplative movement (such as yoga)



  • Meaningful activities
  • Music
  • Creativity
  • Worship
  • Fellowship

Guiding Principles

  • Mindfulness
  • Gratitude
  • Charity
  • Mission

I’ll start soon with the Science of Forgiveness in a blog post soon. While you wait, You can read about forgiveness and resentment here.

If you’ve wondered if you ARE a high functioning alcoholic or high functioning addict, I have developed a quiz just for you. You can sign up for the quiz on my site.


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