Of all the medical epidemics, addiction has to be one of the most inscrutable. Though it has always been acknowledged that alcohol and drugs can have a debilitating effect on the spirit, just how these chemicals overwhelm us has been reimagined many times. In the early 1800s, temperance societies sprung up around the United States. In severe cases, people were put in sanitariums, facilities that were often poorly run and offered little hope for society beyond getting severe addicts off the streets. In 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-step doctrine was introduced to the conversation, with the infamous “Big Book” published in 1939.
While 12-step programs remain popular to this day (though magazines like The Atlantic have questioned their efficacy as a recovery method used on their own), recent research has shifted the conversation in new directions. Beyond discussions of the spirit or the will, addiction entered the medical realm when the American Medical Association classified alcoholism as a legitimate disease in 1956. In spite of that, it still took until 2000 for the AMA’s official journal to suggest that addiction be treated as a chronic medical illness. During or since that time, you’ve likely heard any number of the following aphorisms about addiction: it is a brain disease. It is a family disease. It is a disease of isolation. In all this conversation, however, the rates of relapse according to the NIH still remain between 40 to 60%—even for those who do seek treatment.
Though all of the above approaches and adages have truth to them, new voices are speaking out about a missing part of the recovery pie: biochemical recovery. Put simply, the physical cost of addiction on our bodies and brains is often invisible. Anyone who has ravaged themselves for years with hard drugs can follow a 12-step program, get dual diagnosis support and generally do all the “right” things. Still, if that person’s neurotransmitters are depleted or their blood sugar is volatile, stable and long-term recovery may be all but impossible.
Fortunately, people like Rynda Laurel, founder of nutritional supplement company VRYeveryday and board member of the Alliance for Addiction Solutions, are beginning to change the conversation. “I’ve been interested in a holistic lifestyle forever,” Laurel says. “I was born in San Francisco and my parents were somewhat of hippies. I’ve been sober since 1992 and since day one, I was looking beyond the regular tools for other things to make me feel better.”
In her old life, Laurel worked in A&R for companies including Virgin Records, Warner Brothers Records, Geffen Records and Sony BMG Music Entertainment. In January 2018, she founded VRYeveryday, a nutritional supplement and wellness-oriented company with products designed to boost their customers’ micro-nutritional health. So far, the company has five supplement products available for purchase: Rest Well, Serenity, Dopa Mind, Gluta Mine and Pink Cloud (a nod to the rose-tinted view of the world that newcomers to recovery often experience). All of the products are non-GMO, vegan and gluten-free, containing a combination of amino acids, herbs, vitamins and mineral co-factors.
As their names suggest, Rest Well promotes relaxation and better sleep while Serenity helps calm the nervous system. Pink Cloud contains St. John’s Wort and Valerian to boost positive emotions, Dopa Mine helps produce dopamine for motivation and energy and Gluta Mine stabilizes metabolism and helps with sugar cravings. “Researchers have found that a lot of people in recovery have hypoglycemia,” Laurel says. “That’s why they crave the sugar in alcohol.” Generally speaking, each product can be taken once or twice daily and all are made in a quality-assured manufacturing facility that has been operational for more than 50 years.
As a recovering heroin addict herself, Laurel’s supplement formulas came from reading dietary books, consulting with health experts and self-experimenting. “I did vitamin testing to see what I was low on,” she says. “You can get as detailed as you want in your own health journey by doing all the testing.” Though Laurel recommends consulting with a doctor before using these or other nutritional products, VRYeveryday can still be taken at any point in recovery. In other words, the supplements are less a targeted cure for any specific ailment and more of a safe mood and energy boost for anyone in recovery. And since the supplement world can be complex and intimidating, VRYeveryday’s goal is to be accessible. “If you want something simple,” Laurel says, “that’s where these products can also come in.”
Beyond her company, Laurel’s broader mission is to push the conversation about recovery—from addiction, mental illnesses and whatever else—towards a perspective that includes micro-nutrition and holistic health. “When you’re brand new [in recovery],” Laurel says, “you go to a 12-step meeting and there’s coffee and donuts and cookies. After the meeting, you go to a burger place. I understand all the fellowship is really important but what we’re not doing is providing anything that says, ‘Look, you have to take care of what you can internally, too.’”
Laurel’s work with the Alliance on Addiction Solutions, founded in 2007, has also focused on spreading awareness about nutritional therapy. Though many high-end rehabs offer holistic supports like yoga and meditation in addition to psychiatric help for co-occurring disorders, fewer include options like amino acid detox and pro-recovery dietary advice. Like any paradigm shift in what is now a 35 billion dollar recovery industry, these sweeping changes take time. Still, the advocacy is a necessary starting point.
For her part, Laurel’s supplements are now in 14 stores throughout Southern California (including, notably, the 12-Step Store in West Hollywood). Beyond any business gain, however, Laurel says her mission and the mission of other advocates in the Alliance for Addiction Solutions is primarily altruistic. “I want to spread the word on biochemical recovery and make sure people are addressing their nutrition and supplements,” Laurel says. “You can’t do anything else if your brain isn’t functioning because you haven’t eaten correctly or your gut is messed up because you’ve been drinking. You have to address that, and my goal is to help address that in as many ways as I can.”