Welcome to the 4th segment of a nine part series on the big areas of life that addiction/alcoholism and recovery can and need to have(for the recovery part)on our life in general. Please go into whatever archives exist on the site you are reading this to find the article from May of this year so you can get caught up on the main four areas. For the sake of bringing some people up to speed and for a quick reminder for those who read last month’s article, the main or fabulous four areas of life are: Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual. Again, see the archives for a detailed breakdown of these areas. This month, we are going to take a closer look at some of the ways that addictions affect the mental part of our life. Of course, there is so much information on this that it would literally take us at least a few years of daily articles to cover it all. Since you have no desire to spend that much time reading and ditto for me typing, we will cover some basics. As with all articles, I encourage you to do as much further research as you can/want on the subject.
How does addiction affect the mental part of our lives? Well, thankfully, not much is left to the imagination on this topic. We have well documented articles, studies, research, archives, personal experience, and on and on that detail the danger of excessive alcohol or drug use on our brain. So rather than spend a lot of time on the information you already have on the dangers and risks of addiction to the brain, let’s focus on how using affects your ways of thinking and manipulates you into negative decisions for yourself. One study I do want to point out, even though the exact details escape me, is the study done in the late 60’s and 70’s using lab rats to try to find where addiction lives in the brain. Funnily enough, the rat brain is the closest thing to the human brain as it relates to these matters that we can find. Or maybe I should say, could find, as I don’t believe they conduct these types of tests anymore. I digress. During this study, not only were the scientists able to find that addiction lives in the mid-brain, but they saw some fascinating, albeit tragic results. The rats that were addicted to the substances they used would literally hit the button that normally produced a drug reward until they either were rewarded or perished. In another study, addicted rats would cross an electric grid plate, exposing themselves to shocks, in order to reach their “drug of choice”. In other words, the addicted rats would stop at nothing from getting their fix. Sound like someone you know?
As for how a person’s way of thinking may be effected, it’s important to think of the life skills and choice recognition that most of us have. Many people form, as children, a negative opinion of dishonesty, stealing, being promiscuous, being unkind, etc. yet, many of these traits and many other negative traits just like them, have to exist in order to be addict or alcoholic. The user must manipulate and lie to themselves in order to justify their own negative actions. Over time, the user believes their own lies and becomes who they never wanted to become. All the while justifying their new negative actions. This what treatment professionals often refer to as delusional thinking from an addict.
Once new and negative thought patterns have formed, it is very difficult for the addict or abuser to break free of those habits and thought patterns. Think of this analogy, and we’ll revisit it when we discuss how recovery helps us mentally next month, imagine you had a pet dog and every day you had your dog walk through a small tunnel to reach his food. Then one day, you blocked the tunnel and had the dog walk in a different path to get his food. Years go by and one day you open the tunnel and put his food there again. At dinner time, you going to have a confused dog, who naturally will walk the different path. Until you re-train him to use the tunnel, he will walk the new path. This is like an addicts thought patterns. Once you stop using, you still have to be trained to think the right way again, or you will continue to make negative choices for yourself. Understanding this is key in learning how addicts think whether or not they are under the influence. Join us next month as we look at the positive side of this.
Try to stay cool and have a great summer! We’ll see you next month!