Unfortunately, there are still many misconceptions about the disease of addiction. Medical science has been making progress, but the topic of addiction isn’t always in the mainstream. Those who struggle with addiction, as well as their loved ones, often don’t discuss addiction. This makes it more difficult for people to understand how addiction works. Many people believe that addiction is a choice, but this is far from the truth. Most people who are struggling with an alcohol or drug dependence have tried to quit or wish they could stop.
Understanding Addiction and the Brain
The human brain is an extremely complex organ. Not only are there billions of neural connections in the brain, but it gets even more complicated with different section of the brain controlling various responsibilities. Some parts of the brain help us understand language as well as non-verbal communication. Other parts of the brain regulate different aspects of our personality. When it comes to addiction, the two parts to focus on are the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is stimulated whenever someone does something that brings them pleasure, and the prefrontal cortex is designed to help moderate the pleasure system.
It’s extremely important that humans know to repeat actions that bring them pleasure because it’s the auto-response that tells us when to eat because we’re hungry or drink when we’re thirsty. The problem is that alcohol and drugs release an excess flow of dopamine, and those with an addiction have a prefrontal cortex that isn’t regulating the flow properly. What eventually happens is that the brain begins to prioritize drugs and alcohol above other important parts of life like family, friends, and security. Since the brain believes that drugs or alcohol are necessary for survival, the person loses the power of choice.
The Debate About Powerlessness
There are some people who don’t agree with 12-step programs because the first step is about powerlessness. This is sometimes mistaken for what the step is really about. The step is an act of surrender to the fact that the man or woman has an abnormal reaction to drugs or alcohol, and this is when they lose control. As a person stays sober for days, months and years, they’re regaining their power of choice. After the physical dependency has been overcome, a person can now make the choice of whether or not they’re going to stay sober.
Powerlessness comes the moment the person takes the first drink or drug. In order to maintain one’s sobriety and prevent relapse, complete abstinence is necessary. A mistake that many people make is that they think after a certain amount of clean time, they’re able to drink or use drugs like other people. The reality is that even if a person has years of sobriety, once they take that first drink or drug, they lose control just like before.
Those in recovery from addiction learn a variety of different techniques in rehab to help avoid relapse. The most important lesson one can learn to maintain their sobriety is to be as mindful as possible about the choices they’re making. Although a person’s choice may not be a drink or drugs, choices in life can be the first steps toward relapse. With the right choices, a person can maintain their sobriety for years to come. With the right tools learned in recovery, people see that the power of choice is in their hands. During recovery, people learn that they have the power to make the right choices that can lead them to a fulfilling life free from dependence.