Treating Addicted Runaways with Nutrition


Reprinted from Holistic Health Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 42-43.

Syracuse, N.Y. Physician Volunteers Time
Treating Addicted Runaways with Nutrition

 by Karyn Hurley, BHS CNC CHAP 


For twelve years I took runaways and recovering teenage addicts into my home, basically operating a self-funded halfway house. Forty-five young people found their way to me, and on many mornings I found young people, sleeping on my front porch with a few belongings, waiting to get in. Some would stay a few days, and some would stay as much as a year.

I encouraged these young people to attend twelve-step programs, but I was convinced that there must be some physical component to addiction that is not fully addressed in the psychological and spiritual aspects of drug and alcohol recovery programs. In 1986, my search for answers led me to meet Charles Gant, a physician and Ph.D. psychologist. He had already begun to think in the same direction and had actually formulated protocols for chemically dependent people. 

The first time I heard him speak, I knew I was on the right path. He said that addiction was physiologically related and did not arise from moral failing. That was wonderful news. It fit with my intuition, which said that the kids who came to me were basically good kids.

Dr. Gant talked about the “feel-good neurotransmitters” in the synapses of the brain. Although this is overly simplistic, he basically held that much addiction came from a person’s inability to maintain an adequate supply of these neurotransmitters, due to genetics, toxicity, nutrition, or stress. Also, he said that once people began using addictive substances, the body makes less of the feel-good neurotransmitters, thereby compelling the victim to seek more relief from drugs, alcohol, or food, causing fewer neurotransmitters to be made, and so on, in a downward spiral toward catastrophe. Dr. Gant’s belief is that people are supposed to feel good. In perusing thousands of scientific papers, he learned that the body can usually make all the neurotransmitters if it has the proper nutritional building blocks, but that these building blocks cannot be supplied by diet alone.

 I couldn’t believe how lucky I had been to find him! I had prayed so long for this, and I was finally going to be able to help these young people. I immediately made an appointment with him, and I found our first conversation to be very enlightening. We recognized each other as kindred spirits, and we immediately became friends. This sweet, gentle being began seeing the young people in my halfway house for free and prescribing nutritional supplements. As a result, I saw dramatic improvements. There was decreased depression, decreased irritability, better attention spans, improved attitudes, less anxiety, and many other positive changes.

I myself had had problems with drugs and alcohol since my teen years. With the help of a twelve-step program, I got clean and sober in 1974. I worked hard on my recovery, but I never felt right. Not understanding nutrition back then, I allowed myself to be put on an antidepressant medication in 1987. I believe that that medication was the crucial factor in my relapsing — first on drugs and then on alcohol. The relapse lasted for eighteen months. In 1980, I finally did my last drinking and drugging, and I have maintained abstinence ever since.

In 1984, I gave up nicotine. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. To accomplish it, I went and lived in a cabin in the woods for six weeks and took long, long hikes every day. I now understand that nicotine was the last psychoactive drug that I was relying on. My brain had long before stopped making several feel-good neurotransmitters, because I had been supplying them with drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. I felt horrible, but I was insistent about not using any chemicals to help me stop smoking.

I did not consciously know that food contained the building blocks of the neurotransmitters I was missing. But my unconscious knew. I gravitated toward food and doubled my dress size (from size 7). Some of my eating was pretty frenzied. I now realize that I was intuitively seeking to acquire the neurotransmitter serotonin through the starches and sugars that I craved and gobbled up. Neither did I realize that refined carbohydrates cannot satisfactorily do the job on a long-term basis. What I did know was that I just didn’t feel normal. I felt out-of-phase.

Within a few months of meeting Dr. Gant in 1986, I got the idea that he might be able to help me with my weight problem in the way that he was helping the recovering adolescents I was sending him. I took the supplements he suggested. In those days there were many bottles of nutrients to open, because he had not yet combined the various ingredients into single-tablet formulations. I lost my weight. But that was only a side effect. The real result of using the supplements was a wonderful change in my mood and thinking. I felt as if I fit into humanity at last. For the first time in my life, I felt normal.

Through the continued use of nutritional supplementation and consistent personal growth work, I have been able to sustain my feeling of normalcy, but my journey away from compulsive over-eating is a work-in-progress. Research in the last ten years has yielded more information, although the story is not yet complete. Scientists have discovered several fat-related genes in rats. They have a better understanding of insulin resistance, carbohydrate addiction, and carbohydrate craving. But there is more to be learned.

Dr. Gant scours the unfolding research story with great personal interest. He himself was the recipient of unwelcome fat-related genes. Dr. Gant had kept these genes from expressing their true potential by avidly playing regular tennis. In 1986, his hip began to deteriorate, and he became more sedentary. Before learning to fix his condition with nutrition, he needed hip replacement surgery. Wheelchair-bound, he gained 150 pounds.

His new obesity sparked an interest in educating himself about overeating and being overweight. His research into the matter enabled him to discover metabolic conditioning, the carbohydrate craver’s diet, and other innovations in weight-loss techniques. These discoveries have led him to lose 67 pounds. I often think that people meeting him for the first time must think of him as overweight, whereas I see him slimming down.

I had been drawn to Dr. Gant because of my interest in using nutrition to help chemically dependent people. He was the first physician I had ever met who believed, as I did, in a nutritional model, not a psychological model of addiction. And he did not believe in using drugs for recovery.

Ever since I met Charlie Gant, I have been seeing amazing changes in people who took his advice. Forty-three of the 45 young adolescents who came through my home are now leading normal and active lives. Since then, I have been lucky to become a part of Dr. Gant’s on-going work, and I’ve seen hundreds of his patients improve, many of them dramatically, and some even miraculously.