Addiction is not a Disease

Cutting edge therapies at The Holistic Sanctuary

Drug and alcohol addiction is a booming industry in America— says revenues will hit $34 billion by 2014, an increase of 55 percent from 2005. (And 80 percent of that $34 billion is publicly underwritten.)

There are those who say the staple treatments for overcoming addiction are outmoded and ineffective. Johnny Tabaie—himself a long-time drug abuser who got clean, and someone who lost both his mother and brother to drugs—is a vocal critic of the system and believes he has found a better way to address the problems of addiction. He is the inventor of “the Pouyan Method” and owns and operates a five-star rehab facility in Baja California aptly named The Holistic Sanctuary. Alternative Medicine recently sat down with Tabitha to better understand his approach, and his differences with such dyed-in-the-wool programs as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Alternative Medicine: Once you took on responsibility for finding your own path to recovery, where did it lead?

Johnny Tabaie: My path to recovery began with extensive research, and taking control over my own physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Having lost my mother and brother to addiction, I refused to succumb to the ravages of this disease. After experiencing the treatment modalities of conventional drug rehab centers—and having suffered a great deal of pain at these so-called prestige facilities—I drew a number of quite logical conclusions.

One, every center I attended—and my guests have had similar experiences at other conventional drug treatment programs—labeled addiction an incurable disease. That statement is only half-true: Addiction is a disease, yes, but not an incurable one. Doctors and nurses, as well as the administrators of most rehab facilities, will differ with that assertion because they start from a false premise about the nature of disease itself.

If every medical condition has a treatment, so the logic goes, then there should be a treatment—or attempts to find one—for every condition. From cancer to the common cold, from AIDS to autism, there may not be a cure, but there are treatments aplenty. Again, there is nothing wrong with developing treatments for these conditions, both minor and major, but oftentimes the pursuit of a treatment subsumes the quest for a cure. All of which is a fancy way of saying that science is no less immune to politics, turf wars, and the fight for research dollars than any other profession.

Conventional drug rehab is a lucrative industry. But, and here I write these words as both a former patient and as the founder of The Holistic Sanctuary, the business model rests on failure. The rehab-to-relapse rate is so high—among alcoholics, over a four-year period, the average rate of relapse is 90 percent—that one patient represents at least two return visits for the same treatment. Indeed, conventional drug rehab centers factor this phenomenon into their budgets.

Do these rehab centers charge a lot of money for their services? Undoubtedly. And here is where logic and math intersect, fueling the power of word-of-mouth marketing: If I run a rehab facility where the very notion of a cure is verboten, then I should expect the predictability of human nature—the seemingly insatiable cravings for drugs—to resume within a matter of days, weeks, or months after having discharged a patient. And, if I believe addiction is an incurable disease, then I should expect to see the same patient at least two or three more times, finances permitting.

What’s wrong with that business model—aside from a stubborn refusal to rethink the nature of disease and the ethical dilemma of prescribing dangerous prescription medications? The problem is that consistent success—ending addiction permanently—means eliminating multiple revenues from one patient or several patients. This is where the rehab-to-relapse rate and a patient’s dwindling savings meet the greatest equalizer in life and business: negative publicity.

When the vast majority of your patients have nothing positive to say about your drug rehab center, and most of these patients now have addictions to more medications, word-of-mouth marketing begins to spread like wildfire. Which means these centers, in an effort to counteract bad press exposure, must spend more money—marketing becomes, like addiction itself, a voracious beast—on TV commercials, print ads, billboards, radio sponsorships, books, seminars, conventions, and speaking engagements.

So, when I viewed the economics of conventional drug rehab centers—and also uncovered the medical mindset about disease in general—I was left with two choices: Accept that, all facts to the contrary, traditional rehab is your only option, or rethink everything we know about addiction and the differences between treating a disease and curing one.

AM: How do techniques such as reiki impact the recovery of people with addiction?

JT: Reiki is part of my fundamental belief that you must heal a person’s brain so they can heal their life. But healing involves more than the repair and rejuvenation of the physical body; it also encompasses the mind and spirit. This three-pronged approach is an acknowledgment that we can still be physically healed but emotionally damaged, thereby making relapse a distinct probability.

Many of my guests arrive at The Holistic Sanctuary after having endured attack therapy, which is ruinous to a person’s self-esteem and verbally imprisons these individuals as “incurable” or “cursed.” So, while I can heal a person’s brain, I would be remiss if I did not recognize the complexity of the brain in its entirety. Call it the soul, identity, or subjective consciousness, but we almost all agree that something, however inanimate and invisible, is nonetheless real. In that regard, reiki works quite effectively with part of our healing approach for addiction.

AM: Your website references brain scans that demonstrate evidence of healing for those who use your program. What scans are these and where were they performed?

JT: The brain scans on the website are representative and predictive samples, performed by a physician on behalf of guests suffering acute addiction. To further clarify the use of the words predictive samples, I want people to understand—and see—the regions of the brain most commonly damaged by addiction, along with the restoration and rejuvenation of these same areas from my holistic treatment modality, the Pouyan Method. But the brain scans are there for another reason: to change our perception, visually and textually, about the nature of addiction.

AM: When did you realize that you were cured of your addiction and how and when did you begin to leverage that experience to begin helping others?

JT: The realization came when everything was suddenly different. The cravings were gone, my energy was renewed, and my self-confidence—my worth as a human being—was restored. For example: I believe you must heal a person’s brain so they can heal their life. That statement is an expression of principle, not marketing boilerplate or some pithy comment I want people to remember like a commercial catchphrase. That statement is, instead, true because it represents the unification in mind, body, and soul of ending addiction permanently.

It was not my intention to be an entrepreneur or create The Holistic Sanctuary, until I realized I would never be free of addiction unless I took control of my situation and sought to create a safe, holistic, and undeniably effective way of ending addiction. Or, put a different way, need begets opportunity, which begets innovation.

AM: Ibogaine therapy, although still a cutting-edge therapy, has been the subject of some degree of scientific research and is beginning to proliferate outside the United States. How does this therapy impact your method, and how is it safely administered in your protocol?

JT: This is an important and very legitimate question. Yes, there is increasing scientific research—outside the United States—about the efficacy of ibogaine. I welcome this attention because, however belatedly and slowly, it is still good to see that reason—and positive results—can best politics in the field of medical inquiry.

Ibogaine treatment alone is not, by itself, a cure. Has there been a lot of reportage about ibogaine? Yes. Has some of this coverage portrayed ibogaine as a miracle cure that, for conspiratorial reasons, remains illegal or unavailable in America because of an unspoken alliance between Big Pharma and drug rehab centers? Yes.

But, and this is where common sense and logic should always prevail, if a simple dose of ibogaine could instantly end addiction—with no monitoring from trained experts and medical personnel—we would know that already. No conspiracy could suppress it, and no propaganda could make us ignore the facts.

AM: How do the holistic therapies you employ assist in rejuvenating the minds and bodies of your guests?

JT: Holistic therapies involve the mind, body, and spirit. And, while I do not  want to simply post an itemized list of everything we offer, I would like people to know that we do everything to restore and rejuvenate the areas damaged by addiction.

Does a guest’s lifestyle change? Absolutely. Is that change part of a broader effort to detoxify the body, reinvigorate the mind, and heal the brain? Yes. The emphasis, as our name indicates, is on holistic remedies within a physical sanctuary of natural beauty, amidst the azure water of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding foothills.

Upon returning home to their friends and loved ones, guests have told us that a simple, deli-made turkey sandwich is not even palatable. Why? Because once your body detoxifies itself of drugs and harmful substances in general, your approach to everything else changes, too.

AM: Can you describe a couple of specific examples of therapies, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy or chelation therapy?

JT: Hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which helps people with brain injuries—addiction is a good example—uses an increase in atmospheric pressure to allow the body to incorporate more oxygen into blood cells, blood plasma, cerebral-spinal fluid, and other bodily fluids. Its success with individuals recovering from a stroke has a lot of independent validation, as well.

AM: About how long of a stay is required to significantly impact these factors?

JT: As a general rule, and please bear in mind that each case is different, a 30-day stay can significantly impact a guest’s recovery. During that time, we have an opportunity to restore and rejuvenate the areas of the brain damaged by addiction. Have some guests made dramatic recoveries, ending their addiction to heroin in less than three days? Yes. But, since customized care is so important and because each guest has their own distinctive challenges, as a professional I hesitate to assign a fixed number about how long each person should stay.

AM: Is there a spiritual component to your method?

JT: Yes. We are nondenominational and respect all faiths. Our reverence for the spiritual component is not about a conflict of faiths. It is, instead, about the unity of belief, that your spirit—the essence of your humanity and gift of life—should be cherished, protected, and empowered.