Why can’t they just stop drinking? A common refrain said by anyone who is tired of watching someone sink down the hole of addiction.
It’s a reasonable question, and one that perplexes anyone who is not addicted. A family member can watch as one’s health deteriorates, family and friends turn away, money is lost and legal problems arise. Why can’t someone just stop?
We often help non-addicts understand addiction, and why the logical mind does not control the addicted mind. Think about the feeling of being hungry. Can you think yourself un-hungry?
When you’re hungry and you try to think about it logically, the result is that you feel more hunger. The desire for drugs exists in the very same part of the brain that triggers the desire for food. Deep in our brain is the limbic system, or the “brain reward system”. When we are thirsty or hungry, water or food are a reward to the limbic system. Eating food and drinking water makes us feel good and so we do it again and again, ensuring survival.
Drugs and alcohol hit the limbic system pretty hard. Drugs and alcohol can be quite enjoyable and the reward system kicks in. The same part of our brain that triggers hunger for food, triggers a similar hunger for alcohol and drugs. But whereas food and water will keep you alive, drugs and alcohol eventually begin to break your body down.
We can trigger the feelings of addiction in you right now. Think of an amazing ice cream sundae…with whipped cream…and a cherry… on a hot summer day…. Now stop thinking about it…. More than likely, you’re still thinking about it, sometimes this trigger gets so strong we HAVE to have ice-cream. Maybe even memories were even triggered from childhood eating ice cream sundaes with grandparents. The reward center of your brain wants that sundae!
The logical part of our brain is the cerebral cortex. Logic and judgement are in a totally different part of our brain. The logical part of the brain doesn’t control the automatic responses of the limpic system (think about fight or flight, sexual attraction and anger).
Our brain becomes hungry for substances, drugs hit the pleasure center with perfect accuracy, they never miss. An ice-cream sundae may not be that good, it may not return as much reward as the anticipation, but drugs always hit the mark. Thinking logically about this hunger doesn’t reduce the desire.
This is why the path for a recovering addicted is never a one day process. While thoughts can prevent you from acting on a desire, they don’t stop you from having the desire, and eventually you feel unable not to give into the desire. Recovery involves rewiring this desire. It takes time.
I put forth this analogy not to simplify addiction, but to help
people that can’t imagine addiction understand it a bit. Addiction is multi faceted and complex, and it is very hard to understand from the outside looking in. Understanding that addiction is deeply rooted in part of the brain that we have no control over helped me to understand my addiction.
Adam Banks is a certified recovery coach and interventionist at Suntra Modern Recovery. He received an MBA from the University of Chicago and built a company which United Health Care acquired. He learned his rigor and attention to detail from his career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.
Suntra Modern Recovery provides medical treatment for alcohol and opiate addictions via video visit with medical doctors. Suntra’s alcohol and drug intervention services are available in New York, Long Island, and the Hamptons. Treatment for opiate and heroin addiction, including Suboxone treatment, can start today.