PART 1 : Learning Goals
1. To understand the biological part of addiction. This will expose your enemy within and reduce a significant amount of shame.
2. To finally realize “why” you continue to do things that hurt yourself and your family even though you really don’t want to.
3. To gain knowledge about how each different neurotransmitter chemical is effected by using and abusing drugs and alcohol.
4. To answer the question of why you couldn’t say no to that invisible magnet pulling you and making you do what you promised you would never do again?
ASAM – Definition of Addiction:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Have you ever asked yourself one or both of these two questions?
1. Why do I continue using and hurting myself and my family even though I really don’t want to do it?
2. Why can’t I say no to this invisible magnet pulling me and making me do things I promised I would never do again?
If you’ve never asked yourself one of these questions, and you keep using drugs, give it a little while and you’ll eventually ask yourself one or both of these questions.
If you have asked yourself one or both of these questions, hang on and allow us to explain.
Basically, your brain is made of two parts; a top part and a bottom part. The top part of your brain is called the neocortex; the Real You. The bottom part of your brain is called the midbrain; the animalistic part of your brain. We refer to this as your Beast Brain.
Neocortex : ( Real You)
The neocortex allows you to be conscious, to think, to have language, to control your voluntary muscles, to solve abstract problems and have consequential thinking in which to plan and reach goals.
Your neocortex is “you,” and you are capable of defeating any appetite, even for oxygen or food. ( Anyone can stop breathing until unconscious or stop eating until dead.) Your voluntary muscles ( hands, feet, etc.) are “wired” directly to your neocortex — to the real you.
The real you ( neocortex) originally did not want to use drugs. It had no desire to have to deal with the stressful consequences of addiction. It never did. You (neocortex) want to be a good parent and spouse, a productive member of society and live a healthy productive life with joy and peace.
Midbrain: (The Beast)
Your midbrains primary mission is to keep you alive. It’s built for one reason – survival. The midbrain is where you get the uncontrollable desire to drink water and eat food so that you can stay alive. It controls the automatic functions of your body; it keeps your heart beating, lungs breathing and eyes blinking. Your beast-brain is essentially a quadriplegic, unable to get what it wants, unless you give it what it thinks it needs. Drugs and alcohol warp or twist the function of the midbrain’s real survival needs.
Once you start abusing drugs and alcohol it perverts the midbrain and eventually makes people feel willing to do most anything to continue the use of that substance — even if it means the loss of everything else that is important. The midbrain “Beast” is ruthless, cunning and baffling in getting what it thinks it needs to survive.
These chemicals are stored in a small organ located near the bottom of your midbrain. In order to keep this simple we’ll call this organ a pump. It looks similar to a bulb used to clean out a baby’s nose. This pump is full of different chemicals. These chemicals give you feelings.
Basically, most everything you experience in life stimulates this pump. The pump releases chemicals and gives you a feeling. The feelings are everything from A to Z ; anger, happiness, sadness, pleasure, anxiety, excitement, etc.…
God intended for you to experience all these emotions when he created your midbrain pump. He wanted you to have fun, be adventurous, cry, laugh, and enjoy life within the parameters of goodness and without moving into sin. He also wanted you to feel sad and angry at times. Sadness is part of the grieving process and anger is normal too. The bible says be angry and sin not. He wanted you to be a human being full of emotions.
Listed below are seven chemicals and the normal feelings they should give you. Let’s now look at these chemicals and how they normally work in life.
Dopamine is released when you catch a big fish, watch your son slide into second base, cheer for your favorite team when they score the winning point, listen to your daughter sing at a Christmas play, ride a roller coaster, eat good food, have sex and do anything that brings you pleasure and gives you a sense of reward.
Serotonin is released as you start getting sleepy. The release of this chemical is how we all go to sleep. It’s also released when you have a need to calm down, relax and feel sad.
Endorphins are released when you experience pain. If you hit your finger with a hammer it’ll cause pain and then your midbrain releases endorphins to help reduce the pain as much as possible. People that run a lot understand about the runners high or the second wind. The exercise is causing enough pain to release more endorphins which numbs the pain therefore helping you run further and/or faster.
PIP is an acronym for a chemical that gives you the feelings of caring, love and relationship. This does not necessary always mean romantic feelings toward your spouse or girlfriend. It could also mean the feelings you have for other family members, close friends and opportunities to demonstrate compassion.
Acetylcholine is released to help you with perception, movement and memory. It gives you the correct feelings of balance and how fast or slow you may be going.
Let’s now look at how drugs and alcohol can damage your midb rain pump
Whenever you do something natural that stimulates your pump, it releases a chemical and gives you a feeling. After the chemical is released and you experience the feeling, your pump will fill right back up. It’s designed to replenish itself immediately.
Whenever you put drugs and alcohol into your system your pump releases an abnormal amount of chemicals. That’s where you get the high or drunk feeling. It’s pumping out to much chemical.
If you continue using drugs and alcohol your pump will eventually start depleting. It’s like taking one step forward and two steps backward. It’ll get lower and lower until your midbrain starts feeling like it can’t function as a normal human being. Your midbrain will then drive you to do what you promised to never do again just to get that chemical feeling back to normal.
Cocaine releases an unnatural amount of this chemical. The first time a person uses crack it releases the amount of dopamine as if a person had a 10 minute orgasm. It never reaches that amount again. Methamphetamine and alcohol also release too much dopamine. The alcohol buzz comes from dopamine but the drunken feeling comes from serotonin. If you keep using drugs the pump will slowly become depleted of dopamine, tolerance will go up and the midbrain will take control of the rational top part of your brain and make you go get more drugs to try and fill that dopamine level back up to normal.
Alcohol releases an unnatural amount of this chemical. As mentioned earlier the buzz comes from the dopamine. But it’s followed by major amounts of serotonin. That’s why you pass out; you’re getting an overload of serotonin. Remember, serotonin makes you go to sleep. You’re actually going into a coma, the first stages of death. If you keep using alcohol the pump will slowly become depleted of serotonin, tolerance will go up, depression kicks in and the midbrain will take control of the rational top part of your brain and make you go get more alcohol to try and fill that serotonin level back up to normal.
Opiates release this chemical. If you’re abusing pain pills or heroin, your pump will release abnormal amounts of endorphins and start depleting the pump of this chemical. Nicotine and self-mutilation will also effect this chemical and create strong cravings and high tolerance. If you keep using opiates the pump will slowly become depleted of endorphins, tolerance will go up and the midbrain will take control of the rational top part of your brain and make you go get more opiates to try and fill that endorphin level back up to normal.
Cocaine and Meth releases an unnatural amount of this chemical. Abusing benzodiazepine will also deplete the GABA. When this chemical is low you can have anxiety and panic attacks. Abusing any of these three drugs may cause a serious depletion of GABA and can lead to paranoia. When this happens you will begin to see things and hear things that are not real.
Meth, cocaine and alcohol releases an unnatural amount of this chemical. Meth will make most people wired with so much of this chemical they feel like fighting. For some people alcohol will also produce more of this chemical and cause people to fight. A lot of people have anger problems caused by abnormal amounts of epinephrine.
Cocaine, Meth and alcohol releases too much of this chemical. When the pump gets low of PIP you’ll begin to lose your ability to care for others. You can deplete this chemical so low that you will not care about anything important to you like your career, freedom, sanity, and even your own family. Your beast brain will drive you like an animal to get more drugs
Marijuana and alcohol release too much of this chemical. Smoking pot over time will cause you to get low of Acetylcholine. You’ll start losing your memory and your motor skills will slow down. I call it the Cheech and Chong syndrome. Old pot users forget what day it is and they struggle with concentration. When this chemical is low you can’t keep a job or be the parent or spouse you need to be.
You need to understand your midbrain really doesn’t care about the drugs and alcohol. It wants the chemical rush from the unnatural release of neurotransmitters in your pump. And once that pump gets to a certain depletion level, it (The Beast Brain) will make you go get what it thinks it needs to survive. The midbrain “feels” like it can’t function as a normal human being. It really feels like it’s going to die. That feeling is in the same area of the brain as if you went 5 days without water or 50 days without food. It’s being tricked and it’s trying to survive.
The good news is the midbrain pump will most often fill back up with the normal chemicals it needs to function correctly. The replenishing process takes most people 6 to 12 months. This is why it’s important to have a strong aftercare plan and an understanding of the post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Your toughest battle the first year is the beast (physical). You need to surround yourself with a solid support system and learn how to silence the beast. (Part 2)
Dallas Bennett is the author of: Midbrain and The Beast: A Simple Guide to Long Term Sobriety. Dallas has a passion to share his simple way of explaining the complicated subject of the biology of addiction. He currently works at Penfield Christian Homes, a licensed residential drug treatment center and ministry of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. Visit his website at: dallasbennett.com