The Perfect Storm of Addiction

At Maui Recovery we view addiction as a the self-medicating symptom of some other underlying distress. That underlying distress can be different in each person: childhood trauma, psychiatric imbalance, physical pain, toxic relationships, existential crisis, personality disorders, unresolved bereavement, internalized shame, etc.

For each person, those issues can come together to form a unique “perfect storm” of active addiction. But meaningful recovery is not just detoxing the person from the substances or the addictive behavior; it’s understanding and then treating the issues that led to the self-medication and also helping the struggling addict develop a better sense of Self–and to re-write and reframe their “story” in a more healthy and meaningful way.

Further, we understand that addiction corresponds very highly–by some estimates, over 70% of the time–with other mental health disorders, primarily anxiety and depression; that in those cases, the addiction is the result of a person who is attempting to self-medicate the anxiety and/or depression, but then became hooked or dependent on the alcohol, substances or behaviors that were providing some relief for the depression and anxiety.

But what the field of psychology is beginning to understand–and what we embrace at Maui Recovery–is that many of these underlying stressors (anxiety, depression, isolation, fear, low-self esteem, a sense of emptiness) are culturally based and byproducts of our modern Western society.

According to Dr. Steven Ilardi, the University of Kansas psychologist, researcher and author of The Depression Cure (Da Capo, 2009) “Americans are 10 times more likely to have depressive illness than they were 60 years ago…and a recent study found the rate of depression has more than doubled in just the past decade”.

Globally, things aren’t much better; according to the World Health Organization (WHO) 450 million people worldwide are directly affected by mental disorders and disabilities and that by 2030 depression will top the list of all other health conditions as the number one financial burden around the world.

Why? Why are we getting more stressed out, more depressed and more addicted?

Our Mental Health Crisis as a Cultural Phenomenon

Dr. Ilardi thinks that he’s found the answer: Increased rates of depression and other mental health woes like anxiety and addiction are a byproduct of our modernized, industrialized and urbanized lives. Our love affair with the gadgets and comforts of being a highly technologically evolved society have put us on a never-ending treadmill of overworking, under-sleeping and hyper-stressing as we exhaustedly lunge towards the “American Dream”.

What happens when we work longer hours in soul-crushing cubicles to buy things that we don’t need? According to Dr. Ilardi: “We’ve been engineering the activity out of our lives. The levels of bright-light exposure-time spent outdoors-have been declining. The average adult gets just over six and a half hours of sleep a night. It used to be nine hours a night. There’s increasing isolation, fragmentation, the erosion of community.”

Thus, according to Ilardi, “We feel perpetually stressed.”

Dr. Ilardi had found that certain societies-such as the American Amish and the Kaluli people of Papua New Guinea, had essentially zero rates of depression or other mental health disorders. But how can this be? We are all essentially wired the same way–have the same DNA. And these cultures that were much more mentally healthy than ours certainly didn’t live stress-free lives. Indeed, by many measures, it is a lot more difficult living as a hunter-gatherer in New Guinea or working from-morning-to-dusk as the Pennsylvania Amish do.

So then how and why are they so mentally healthy? Answer: Their lifestyle.

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes

The more Dr. Ilardi looked at the commonalities of these mentally healthy societies, the more he was able to tease out certain common variables that he was then able to operationalize in his groundbreaking research dubbed the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Project. He took clinically depressed subjects and then incorporated several of these therapeutic lifestyle changes into their lives for several weeks.

The results? They experienced phenomenal outcomes: people who had suffered from mental health, anxiety, and depression for many years saw amazing–and measurable–improvements. Indeed, these improvements were statistically significant, not only when compared to control groups, but also when compared to people who had been treated only with depression medications.

And what were these magical lifestyle changes? Getting regular daily exercise; getting plenty of natural sunlight; getting ample sleep every night; eating an Omega-3 rich diet; being involved in some type of social activity where social connections were made; and participation in meaningful tasks that leave little time for negative thoughts or rumination.

We’ve incorporated those “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes” into the clinical protocols of Maui Recovery. Unplugging from our devices, developing a sense of healing community, physical exercise, immersing oneself in nature–those things alone can be more therapeutic than sitting for an hour in a therapist’s chair and venting about your life.

Of course, there is value to traditional psychotherapy, which our master’s level clinicians also do at Maui Recovery–but there is something even more special, more healing–and more transformative–when combined with nature immersion and the above-mentioned Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.

Nature immersion alone is an evidence-based intervention. Having adventures in the magical beauty of Maui–hiking up Haleakala, diving off of a waterfall, enjoying a majestic sunset–all have therapeutic value. Especially for people that have fallen into toxic and self-destructive and addictive habits.

Indeed, outdoor nature immersion, also known as “Adventure Therapy” has been researched as OBH (Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare), more typically associated with adolescent wilderness-style programs, but which also applies to the nature immersion and adventure therapy we are doing in Maui.

Adventure Therapy as a form of Evidence-Based Treatment

Clinicians who have worked with clients struggling with emotional, psychiatric or addiction issues have long appreciated the healing value of nature immersion as well as the benefits of “fun” recreational activities where a once-isolated, often addicted and mood dysregulated client could experience a deeper sense of connection and joy with experiences that were not related to their addictive patterns of abuse.

Indeed, there is ample research that has proven the clinical efficacy of such experiences: 91.4 percent of participants show a significant clinical improvement and, on average, participants significantly improve from intake to 6 months after completing treatment. In addition, in a study published in 2003 by Dr. Keith Russell from the University of Idaho, found that participants showed significant improvement in functioning from intake to discharge and that the gains were maintained one year after discharge.

According to Dr. Steve DuBois, Clinical Director of Second Nature, a wilderness program in Utah: “A big part of this experience is helping people experience for themselves a greater sense of self-efficacy and internal locus of control.” For clients struggling with emotional or addictive disorders, this is a critically important healing dynamic.

These experiences were often the magic moment when “the shift” occurs and a client gains the internal realization that there is more to life than addictive self-medicating, numbing and escape. In addition, for many struggling clients, there is a profound sense of healing and grounding that comes with re-connecting to nature.

Indeed, Dr. Kardaras–who has long used nature immersion as a therapeutic tool–recalls one particular case:

“I had been working with a young woman who had become horribly and self-destructively addicted to crystal meth. She came from a good family but had been living on the streets for years in many dangerous and abusive situations. She had been to many traditional residential and outpatient treatment programs where she was ‘therapized’ and talked to by an army of clinicians. And still, she would relapse and wind up in hospitals. Finally, she began integrating nature immersion into her therapy–a sunrise beach walk (or jog) with her therapist. It was on one such walk that she had “the shift”; she broke down sobbing when she fully experienced the overwhelming beauty of the sunrise and said “I feel sorry for the people in my old addictive life who aren’t able to experience this…I don’t want to live like that anymore.” And ever since that moment, she hasn’t. She has just celebrated 4 years clean and sober. We can debate whether it was JUST the nature event–or the combination of nature and therapy–that led to this breakthrough. But what is undeniable is that the nature experience was a CRITICAL component of her shift and personal insight that she no longer wanted to live that addictive lifestyle anymore.”

At Maui Recovery, we try to create a variety of such nature immersion/adventure therapy opportunities where clients can also experience just such a potentially life-saving “shift”.

Nature, Myth, Archetypes and the Hero’s Journey

Nature immersion can be even more powerful and transformative when the struggling person begins to understand the deeper significance of certain experiences. In Jungian psychology, eminent psychiatrist Carl Jung pointed out that there are certain universal myths and archetypes that help us to not only better understand our lives, but also the universe around us; these myths and archetypes–often found in nature–can imbue our lives and our experiences with unimaginable power and meaning.

So often, the struggling addict feels lost and devoid of a healthy sense of self or of a sense of purpose in their lives. But when they can finally begin to reframe their experiences using the intrinsic power of archetypes such as the “hero’s journey”, they can then begin to understand and reframe their addiction. Thus, instead of the archetype of the villain or the victim that is so often unconsciously adopted by the addict, the person suffering from addiction can now begin to see the adversity of their addiction as an opportunity to be the archetype of “the hero”. When that occurs, unimaginable magic–including sobriety–can happen!

At Maui Recovery we are the world’s only addiction treatment program that uses Myth, Archetype and “the Hero’s journey” as an intrinsic part of our treatment model and employs masters-level clinicians that are trained to help guide each client through this “Hero’s Journey”–all while using the magical, mythical island of Maui as an essential element and ingredient in this transformative experience.

If you are looking for treatment where you sit in a circle in a folding chair in a generic office venting about your life–Maui Recovery is not for you.

If you want to go on the adventure of your life and to get to know who you really are–to transform into that person that you’ve always know that you can be–then we welcome you to Maui Recovery where miracles and transformations truly do happen!

View our latest Maui Recovery brochure to learn more.


The Maui Recovery Team

What Makes Maui Recovery Unique

  • A centrally located pristine, private, and tranquil setting
  • Integration of Hawaiian culture and traditions in treatment
  • Inclusion of neurobiological factors in diagnosis and clinical treatment
  • Deep Cathartic Emotional work targeting and addresses buried and repressed shame, pain, grief, anger, guilt and low self worth that often cause compulsive behaviors and addictions.
  • Adventure Therapy twice a week that includes excursions throughout Maui and Surf Therapy.
  • Codependency treatment that addresses the dysfunction of the self through the family system.
  • An inward psychological program that focuses on Jungian Concepts, Hero’s Journey, Mythic-poetic life of understanding deep internal universal spiritual truths and true individuality
  • Trauma-informed treatmnet that targets and addresses the past trauma that is stored in the psyche, releasing the grips of anxiety, fear, depression and shame that continually manifest in sabotaging patterns.
  • Family therapy that can help educate family members about the disease of addiction as well as healing the rifts and dysfunctional patterns that often occur in addictive households.
  • Mindfulness meditation and engaged living that cultivates a true spiritual life.
  • A full continuum of care, offering Residential inpatient, Extended AfterCare, Sober Living and Intensive Outpatient Therapy.

Learn more about how neurobiology factors into diagnosis and treatment here.

We know that in the field of addiction certain modalities or treatment methods have consistently been demonstrated to be effective. We select and customize your treatment plan from choices such as the following:

  • Board Certified Physician Consultation & Treatment
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI)Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Group and Individual Therapy
  • Spiritual Consulting with Hawaiian Kahuna
  • Psychoeducational Classes
  • Stress Reduction Classes and Groups
  • Somatic Therapy
  • Mindfulness Meditation
  • 12-Step Attendance
  • Relapse Prevention

Research Citations: 

Bettmann, J. E., Gillis, H. L., Speelman, E. A., Parry, K. J., & Case, J. M. (2016). A Meta-analysis of Wilderness Therapy Outcomes for Private Pay Clients. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25 (9), 2659-2673.

Bettmann, J.E., Tucker, A., Behrens, E., & Vanderloo, M. (2017). Changes in older adolescents and young adults’ attachment, separation, and mental health during wilderness therapy. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(2), 511-522. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0577-4


Chang, T., Tucker, A., Javorski, S., Gass, M., & Norton, C. (2016). Cultural issues in adventure programming: Applying Hofstede’s five dimensions to assessment and practice. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning.Advance online publication. /10.1080/14729679.2016.1259116


Combs, K. M., Hoag, M., Javorski, S., & Roberts, S. (2016). Adolescent self-assessment of an Outdoor Behavioral Health program: longitudinal outcomes and trajectories of change. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25(11), 3322-3330. doi: 10.1007/s10826-016-0497-3

DeMille, S. M., & Montgomery, M. (2016). Integrating narrative family therapy in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare program: A case study. Journal of Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(1), 3-13.

Gillis, H.L., Kivlighan, D. M., & Russell, K.C. (2016) Between-Client and Within-ClientEngagement and Outcome in a Residential Wilderness Treatment Group: An Actor Partner Interdependence Analysis. 53(4 ), 413-423.

Gillis Jr, H. L., Speelman, E., Linville, N., Bailey, E., Kalle, A., Oglesbee, N., … & Jensen, J. (2016). Metaanalysis of Treatment Outcomes Measured by the Y-OQ and Y-OQ-SR Comparing Wilderness and Non-Wilderness Treatment Programs. Child & Youth Care Forum, 45(6), 851-863.

Hoag, M. J., Combs, K. M., Roberts, S. D, & Logan, P. (2016). Pushing beyond outcome: What else changes in wilderness therapy? Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, 8(1), 45-56.


Liermann, K., & Norton, C.L. (2016). Positive relationship outcomes between parents and adolescent children following a therapeutic wilderness program for struggling teens. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38, 14-22. doi: 10.1007/s10591-015-9371-5


Liermann, K., & Norton, C.L. (2016). Enhancing family communication: Examining the impact of a therapeutic wilderness program for struggling teens and parents. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38(1), 14-22. doi: 10.1007/s10591-015-9371-5


Norton, C.L., & Peyton, J. (2017). Mindfulness-based practice in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, 9(1), 7-20.


Norton, C.L., & Tucker, A.R.., Farnham, M., Borroel, F., & Pelletier, A. (2017). Family enrichment adventure therapy: A mixed methods study examining the impact of trauma-informed adventure therapy on children and families affected by abuse. Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma. Advanced online publication.doi: 10.1007/s40653-017-0133-4


Roberts, S., Stroud, D., Hoag, M. J., & Combs, K. M. (2016). Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare: Client and Treatment Characteristics Effects on Young Adult Outcomes. Journal of Experiential Education , 39(3), 288-302 doi: 10.1177/1053825916655445


Roberts, S., Stroud, D., Hoag, M. J., & Massey, K. (2017). Outdoor behavioral healthcare: A longitudinal assessment of young adult outcomes. Journal of Counseling and Development, 95, 45-55.

Russell, K., & Gillis, H. L. (2017). The Adventure Therapy Experience Scale: The psychometric properties of a scale to measure the unique factors moderating an adventure therapy experience. Journal of Experiential Education, Advance online publication. doi: 1053825917690541.

Russell, K. C., Gillis, H. L., & Heppner, W. (2016). An examination of mindfulness-based experiences through adventure in substance use disorder treatment for young adult males: A pilot study.  Mindfulness, 7(2), 320-328. doi: 10.1007/s12671-015-0441-4

Russell, K.C.(2005). Two years later: A qualitative assessment of youth-well-being and the role of aftercare in outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment. Child and Youth Care Forum, 34, 3, 209-239.

Russell, K.C. (2003). Assessing treatment outcomes in outdoor behavioral healthcare using the Youth Outcome Questionnaire. Child and Youth Care Forum. 32, 6, 355-381.

Russell, K.C. (2004). Two years later A qualitative assessment of youth-well-being and the role of aftercare in outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment. Technical Report 1, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative, School of Health and Human Services, University of New Hampshire, Durham NH. 43 pp

Russell, K.C. (2002). A longitudinal assessment of treatment outcomes in outdoor behavioral healthcare. Technical Report 28, Idaho Forest Wildlife and Range Experiment Station, Moscow, ID. 35 pp

Russell, K. C. (2002). Does outdoor behavioral healthcare work? A review of studies on the effectiveness of OBH as an intervention and treatment. Journal of Therapeutic Camping, Summer/Fall, 2, 1, 5-12.

Tucker, A., Combs, K. M., Bettman, J., Chang, T., Graham, S., Hoag, M., & Tatum, C. (2016). Longitudinal outcomes for youth transported to wilderness therapy programs. Research on Social Work Practice. [Advanced online edition]. doi: 10.1177/1049731516647486.

Tucker, A.R., Norton, C.L., DeMille, S., & Hobson. (2016). The impact of wilderness therapyon physical and emotional health: Utilizing an integrated approach in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare. Journal of Experiential Education, 39(1), 15-30. doi: 10.1177/1053825915607536

Tucker, A.R., Norton, C.L., Itin, C., Hobson, J., & Alvarez, M.A. (2016). Adventure therapy: Non-deliberative group therapy in action. Social Work with Groups, 39(2-3), 194-207. doi: 10.1080/01609513.2015.1048416

Tucker, A., Paul, M., Hobson. J., Karoff, M., & Gass, M. (2016). Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare: Its impact on family functioning. Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, 8, 21-40. doi: 10.19157/JTSP.issue. 08.01.05

Tucker, A., Widmer, M., Faddis, T., Randolph, B., & Gass, M. (2016). Family therapy in Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare: Current practices and future possibilities. Contemporary Family Therapy, 38, 32-42. doi: 10.1007/s10591-015-9370-6