• 23 OCT 06
    • 0

    #572: Addiction: A Neurological Disorder

    The weblog version of this message is at:

    #572: Addiction: A Neurological Disorder

    The following is the first part of a long article available on-line at http://www.medical-online.com/addict.htm

    The description seems chillingly apt for the dependency symptoms reported in young cell phone users in the previous message.


    Addiction: A Neurological Disorder

    Addiction is a neurologically based disease. For many years recovery specialists have compared alcoholism or addictions to a physical disease: like diabetes. In reality addictions are more closely related to a neurological disorder like Tourette’s Syndrome* than they are to diabetes.

    If the problems you suffer stem from severe alcoholism or addiction, you must accept that these problems are not primarily mental or free will issues. Addictions are not about will power. The problems facing addicts, alcoholics, and their families are miserable, disgusting, and infuriating. They are often hopelessly discouraging. But to imagine that an addict “could change if he wanted to” is a serious misunderstanding of the long term dynamic of addictive disorder. The fact is precisely that an addict cannot change in the long run even if he wants to! That is the definition of addiction: “the loss of control over the use of a substance.” It is important to understand that this loss of control is manifested not in terms of days or weeks, but in longer term behaviors: terms of months and years.

    The reason addicts have lost control is because they have suffered permanent physical neurological changes based in their brains and nervous systems. The disorder manifests in long term obsessive-compulsive behaviors outside the realm of the addicts own control. It is true enough that the use of chemicals begins with chosen behavior. But if alcoholism or addiction develops, the problem has moved outside the realm of free choice. It has developed into a long term mental and physical neurological disorder. All the emotional ‘feelings’ involved in drug or alcohol seeking are based in neurology. Addiction is based in physical dependency created by altered neurotransmitter balances, and driven by millions upon millions of new living, functioning active neurological pathways which have been established to sustain the condition in the addicts brain. The new neurological pathways are permanently established, and they will not just disappear. The primary neurological disorder is only complicated by physical dependence on the substances. The physical dependence on the substances is secondary! Physical drug withdrawal does not change the underlying neurological addictive disorder. After drug withdrawal, long term overpowering cravings are predictable. These cravings are, in reality, spontaneous nerve impulses. Even in the longer term, overwhelming cravings are outside the addicts control.

    Example of a Nerve Pathway

    It is difficult for people to grasp the meaning of a nerve pathway, or why this is related to addiction. Often when people hear a new idea like: an addictive impulse is the result of a nerve impulse – they are left unsympathetic. Addicts and non addicts alike have a hard time believing that drug or alcohol use is anything more than a choice that is made in response to a habit. Deep down inside, most people believe that at it’s root – the behavior is always a choice. They are very, very wrong. This author was stuck in addiction for over a decade, so completely was he convinced that the mind was an immaterial spiritual power – and that to call alcoholism or addiction a disease was a cop-out for the weak-willed. This author believed that – each and every time – free choice was at the root of addictive behavior. Until one day, in another recovery facility – the author stumbled upon the concept of neuro-pathways – by reading a book called The Training of the Will – by a Jesuit priest. That book was written in the early 1900’s. Even then, the Jesuits knew that the root of almost all behavior was based – not in free will – but in neurological wiring. For the Jesuits, training the will essentially consists in training the body. After reading that book, this author began to understand that while his mind – his intellect – was indeed an immaterial power, the overwhelming cravings for drugs or alcohol were based in his body. He came to believe that addiction really was a neurological disease.

    Consider the following: Most people can not wiggle their ears. The wiggling of the ears is really nothing but flexing the muscles of the scalp above the ears. The reason most people can not wiggle their ears is because they are not familiar with the neurological pathway which controls the muscle of the scalp above their ears. However, without exception, every personin the world can be trained to wiggle their ears. Simply by applying electrodes to the muscles of the scalp above the ears causes the muscles to flex, or spasm. Once the person feels where these muscles are, he finds that in fact he CAN wiggle his ears. The only reason he could not wiggle his ears before, was because he had not established the neurological pathway which enabled him to do so. Like turning on a switch – a neurological pathway can be established simply by passing a charge of electrical current into the nerves of the body. Once a person has learned to wiggle his ears – he might actually do it spontaneously and unintentionally – just because the words are mentioned.

    This example is intended to illustrate how a simple neurological pathway is established. Before the electrode – there was no neurological pathway. After the electrode – the pathway has been established. The addictive neurological response to drugs and alcohol on the brain is infinitely more complex than this, but the physical basis is the same. The overwhelming craving fordrugs or alcohol that endlessly defeats addicts is in reality a neurological impulse – and they have absolutely no control over the craving when it is triggered. All they know is that they want, they need, they feel they MUST have the drug. This “desire”, this craving is not a free choice. This desire is an electro-chemical neurological brain impulse. A person who suffers from these cravings to the detriment of his own life, and the lives of others, is suffering from a physical, neurological disease termed addictive disorder.

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