Addiction is a very complicated brain disease. Many of us are naturally prone to look at an addict and say, “Wow, he doesn’t care about his family,” and “What a loser,” or “She’s so irresponsible”. These words are hurtful and show that most people do not understand what happens in the brain with addiction.
We are eager to help those with addiction issues because addiction robs so many including young people of their destiny. Alcoholics Anonymous considers addiction an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind. Addiction means a person cannot say no and most of us will never understand what that’s like. Imagine if you were acting like a robot. Imagine if someone was in the driver’s seat of your life telling you what to do. This is what addiction does; it treats the person as if they are a robot verses a person of free will.
Our brain is made up of sections that we can call colonies. An example of a colony is the colony of mobility. This section moves your limbs automatically without you specifically thinking about it. If you’re able to walk and move easily, your mobility colony is in sync. Another example is the reasoning colony. This section helps us make good, rational decisions. Whenever a colony is being used, it lights up and can be observed on an MRI.
A recent study from the National Institute of Health shows when a person starts consuming alcohol or drugs a new colony is created. The colony was non-existent before the consumption of the substance. The colony grows over time and the more the substance is used, the more powerful the colony becomes. When the colony lights up, the individual experiences craving. When this colony activates and can no longer be told ‘no’ it is called addiction.
This is how people with addiction become living robots. The addiction colony and the reasoning colony are at war. This is why addiction issues must be taken very seriously. Getting clean is not a 30-day war in rehab but a 2-year war to get the addiction colony
calmed down and into a non-powerful, non-dominate state. The 2-year war of addiction consists of both dealing with symptom management, which means to get the physical brain
and the obsession of thought to calm down as well as dealing with the root cause. This can be done by creating a strong support system. Going to Alcoholics Anonymous, having a sponsor, attending addiction groups, and having the support of family and friends can help with symptom management. Eating foods that create dopamine, going to the gym, and serving in leadership positions can help the brain create dopamine where it is lacking. Lastly, dealing with the root issues are crucial to helping the addict truly recover. The way to help with this is to receive individual counseling.
One of the largest challenges for the addict is that most spouses and families of addicts do not understand that their loved one is in a state of mind much like a robot. Second, the person enabling the addict or what we call the co-addict (the person who is in a close relationship with the addict) does not realize that they and the addict are similar. While the addict is chasing the substance, the co-addict is chasing the addict. The addict is their drug. The co-addict is left chasing someone they can never be fulfilled by. They are left “waiting” for the addict to change. The co-addict believes that when the addict changes, they will finally be happy. They are typically left feeling resentful, mistreated, and angry. The co-addict wakes up one day and realizes they are what is called codependent. Codependent means they are dependent on the addict. Just like the addict, the co-addict feels that they are unable to break free.
What the codependent may not realize is they are dependent on the addict to make them feel better about themselves. The addict is a distraction so that they don’t have time to look at themselves. This is how the addict becomes a drug to them. Sometimes the codependent participates by enabling the addict and sometimes the codependent tries to rescue the addict. Often the codependent believes helping the addict will give them worth. Underneath, most codependents have abandonment issues where they feel they are
only worthy when they’re helping someone. What most people don’t understand is codependency can be just as challenging to conquer as addiction.
Any time an addict is getting help it’s equally as important to help the co-addict as well as the addict’s entire family system. All involved need help and support just as the addict does. It is essential that the addict, the co-addict, and the family of the addict all get the help that they need.
Susan Drennan is the Clinical Director for Dream, Believe… Transforming Lives Counseling. She has an M.S degree in counseling from Loyola University and holds a mental health counseling license in the states of Florida, Maryland and Michigan. Susan’s specialties are in marriage counseling and addiction counseling. She is passionate about helping the addict, the co-addict and the families of the addict recover from addiction and codependency.