Learning Science Behind Disorders Removes Shame, Stigma for Addicts in Recovery

woman looking ashamed

Dr. Deborah Stote is a self-professed “science nerd.” Growing up, her fascination with explaining human behavior led her to UCLA, where she earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the department of psychology, with an emphasis in neuropsychology.

In graduate school, Dr. Stote studied memory formation and fear and their relationship to emotional trauma. When she finished her doctorate, she completed her clinical training and formal internship with the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Programs, where she learned more about the interface between trauma and substance abuse and how both conditions could be effectively treated.

A Science-Based Approach

In 2004, Dr. Stote moved to Austin, where she partnered with Spirit Lodge to address dual diagnosis, or the co-occurring issues of substance abuse and mental illness. Dr. Stote’s approach is informed by the latest scientific developments. She leads a weekly educational seminar about co-occurring disorders that is designed to give clients an understanding of the science behind their disorder(s) – what’s happening in the brain, why they feel the way they do, and what they can do to feel better without using drugs or alcohol.

Understanding addiction and mental illness from a scientific perspective helps remove some of the shame and stigma clients may feel.

“Our clients are bright, successful people who want to understand the science behind their disorders,” says Dr. Stote. “Once they have all of the information, clients are able to make sense of their disease and better understand the path to recovery.”

A Treatment Trifecta: Neuroscience, Psychology and Personal Recovery

Dr. Stote understands addiction not only as a brain disease but also from a personal standpoint. Now sober for many years, Dr. Stote is a strong supporter of 12-step recovery.

“The 12 steps are fundamental to recovery,” she says. “There is a significant body of scientific evidence supporting the use of the 12 steps and, despite all of our advances, science hasn’t yet found anything more effective than the steps.”

Dr. Stote draws on everything she knows – as a neuroscientist and a clinician and a person in recovery – to give clients the most comprehensive and effective treatment package. There is a universality that she can share because she, too, has been through addiction and recovery.

“There’s nothing more relatable than saying, ‘Let’s just talk about being an addict,’ ” says Dr. Stote. “At that point, people stop resisting and start listening.”

Dr. Stote embraces the idea of “principles before personalities.” She is tolerant and friendly and laser focused on the goals of recovery and making families whole again.

A Tailored Recovery Experience

At Spirit Lodge, Dr. Stote completes comprehensive assessments with every client to determine if any co-occurring mental health disorders exist. She also gauges where clients are in terms of their motivation to change. Based on her findings, Dr. Stote works with the clients and counselors to craft personalized treatment plans.

“The assessment process makes for a finely tailored recovery experience,” says Dr. Stote. “We’re trying to figure out who each individual is, what their needs are, and how we can best serve them.”

Clients who are struggling with dual diagnosis also have the opportunity to meet with Dr. Stote individually. In treating co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders, Dr. Stote draws on evidence-based therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as complementary medicine approaches such as yoga, meditation and nutritional counseling. Because recovery from dual diagnosis is multifaceted, Dr. Stote also provides life skills training and vocational counseling.

“Mental health disorders are documented sources of drug relapse if left unattended,” says Dr. Stote. “At a time when clients’ primary coping mechanisms – drugs and alcohol – are no longer available, stress can quickly lead back to familiar habits. Just as you would address diabetes and asthma with both medication and behavioral change, it’s important to address anything and everything that gets in the way of recovery from addiction.”

Dr. Stote also works with families to understand the client’s needs and to recommend ways they can help themselves as well as their loved one in treatment. Part of the process involves demystifying addiction and psychiatric disorders so that families understand the nature of the problem – and how they can be part of the solution.

A Partnership Grounded in Holistic Health

Part of what attracted Dr. Stote to Spirit Lodge is its holistic treatment approach. She believes that a strong foundation for recovery involves not only taking away drugs and alcohol, but incorporating good nutrition, regular exercise, spirituality, intellectual stimulation, hobbies and a robust social life.

“We see the clients at Spirit Lodge get really healthy,” says Dr. Stote. “Using both traditional and complementary medicine, we help clients not only stop using drugs and alcohol, but also achieve balanced, healthy lifestyles.”

The staff at Spirit Lodge practices what they preach. Dr. Stote has a meditative garden in her backyard at home and makes it a priority to exercise, eat well and meditate. She is a dedicated football fan who enjoys traveling, hiking, movies and spending time with her grandchildren.

Life – Only Simpler

Although Dr. Stote was born and reared in Southern California, she has lived in Austin for nearly a decade. She enjoys going to work at Spirit Lodge, where she is surrounded by the beauty of the Texas Hill Country.

“Life is simpler here,” she says. “Spirit Lodge is a unique place where people can get away from it all.”

With its remote and gated location, limited number of clients treated at one time, and commitment to privacy, clients can experience true anonymity at Spirit Lodge. Few programs are so sure of their quality of care that they offer a free restabilization period for one year after formal treatment ends.

“We have a lot of successes at Spirit Lodge,” Dr. Stote says. “Because we follow our clients for a year, we have the opportunity to watch them get better and invite them back to share their stories. It’s wonderful to watch recovery happen.”

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