There is a common road that addicts travel along.
Its beginnings lie in a zone influenced by circumstances and genetics. As you keep on travelling, you pick up stresses along the way. Still, you know where to take pauses and indulge in pleasure-seeking activities and sensations related to your own “stress-relieving substances,” be it alcohol, cannabis, harder drugs, etc.
With time this road becomes a motorway that many travellers can never leave. They have reached the territory of full-blown addiction which is a chronic relapsing disease-with complex behavioural processes, and in this “safe land” they feel “at ease” they have found their sense of identity and refuge.
As a doctor involved in addiction treatment very often, I keep asking myself “how can this individual carry on with a habit that he knows will destroy him on all levels, and still he can’t put an end to this habit?”
Quitting becomes almost an impossible challenge despite personal problems, financial issues, legal complications, family tensions, and personal unhappiness. The off button does not work anymore; the brakes have failed, falling over the cliff is the inevitable terminus.
What happens in the brain of addicts is a rewiring in some parts of their brain circuitry which results in major changes in the brain biochemistry, and with time we can even detect changes in the brain’s physical structure.
This will explain why drugs and alcohol abuse change people’s behaviour in such a way that fosters compulsive and self-destructive abuse.To answer these questions, neuroscience has offered the best explanation so far, and this will clarify the self-destructive behaviour that addicts display so often.
There are three zones in the brain that are actively involved in addiction: the Amygdala, the Prefrontal Cortext and the Ventral Striatum.
1 – The Amygdala
The amygdala are two almond-shaped structures in our brain that control fear, anxiety and involved in storing memories associated with pleasurable sensations.
In experimental animals, exciting the amygdala makes the animal aggressive.
2 – The PF – Prefrontal Cortex which is an Analyser
Helps you to decide whether to say yes or No. This is where we get the message, if you take another drink, you won’t be able to drive back home.
Most animals don’t have these extra layers of grey matter, as they work on the more primitive reptilian part of brain tissues: the amygdala, hippocampus and others.
These lower creatures work on a simple choice between Yes or No. To bite or not to bite, type of reaction.
3 – The Ventral Striatum tissues
The ventral Striatum is the centre that processes rewards and links our emotions to our actions. So once we get that kick from using a substance, this centre is activated and records all the associated sensations.
These three centres have some sort of special fast track connections that make sure that whenever you have taken a powerfully exhilarating substance that has shot your dopamine levels through the roof, they come into play.
The PF says – ok, that was great, but I can’t have another go or else I won’t be able to go to work tomorrow and deliver that presentation!
So the result is you don’t overindulge because of consequences, and other considerations that the Pre Frontal cortex is processing.
However and this is the sad part with time, and repeat sessions, there is a shortcut that happens between the amygdala and the Striatum. They just connect directly and bypass the Frontal cortex, so the brakes are gone, and the red lights are switched off!
We no longer care whether we are going to lose our job, or get in jail or lose our health, the immediate focus is high dopamine release and that special kick through another dose of drugs or whatever substances that works for you!
So this is now all about brain circuitry, neurotransmitter release – this is why we are no longer saying that addiction is a matter of weak will power, moral failure etc.
It is now recognised as a medical disease just like diabetes or high blood pressure and needs a medical approach to get long term cure. Of course, reconditioning the mind with CBT, talk therapy, trauma release methods-will speed up the recovery and maintain long term sobriety and success.
At Les Mariannes wellness sanctuary, we approach the problem of addiction with an initial medical intervention, restoring the brain biochemistry. This phase uses medications to rebalance the neurotransmitters in the brain-serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, glutamate, acetylcholine,etc.
Next, we cool down the amygdala and ventral Striatum with targeted breathing exercises, yoga stretches to relax the tense muscles and increase mind-body coordination. This usually calms down the agitated circuits of instant dopamine release linked with the addicted substances and behaviour.
With mindfulness, meditation, we help to rewire the brain circuitry so that the Pre Frontal Cortex takes over its role as the “Analyser” and can process information from the amygdala in a more integrated way. The no thinking type of addictive behaviour is slowly brought under its control.
Once the electrical storm has cooled in the brain circuitry, and we have reconnected the brain centres with their natural inbuilt order of priority, the counselling becomes effective for you are now talking to a person whose brain is no longer hijacked by shortcuts that are messing up his neurotransmitters and behaviour.
You can not talk about philosophy and poetry to a starving individual. Give him food first, and then his brain will be receptive to words and concepts.
This is how our brain has been wired for our physical survival is our top priority
Our philosophy at Les Mariannes is simple, we work with the flow that Nature has programmed inside our brain and all our therapies are designed around this concept.
Each day of treatment brings our clients a step ahead along the journey of rebuilding wholesome persons and overcoming negative habits like addiction.
We’re here to help. Contact us today for a free and strictly confidential conversation with one of our clinical team.