Brain chemistry for beginners. This is where it’s at, my friends. The whole essence of addiction is narrowing down to a little part of the brain, sort of in the middle of the brain. I find this stuff fascinating, but then, I am a little off. I am going to try to explain in laymen’s terms, my terms about the brain chemistry of addiction.
When I came into the business about a hundred years ago, actually in 1981, we had one shaky theory of addiction. It was based on research done by a coroner, a coroner, what does that tell you? The research indicated a difference in the brains of alcoholics verses the brains of non alcoholics. One type. One difference. All the research and it wasn’t much, was done with alcohol. And we are still arguing about a genetic link, 32 years later. HELLO! The culprit of addiction appears to be in the pleasure centers of the brain. Each type of drug, amphetamines, cocaine, marijuana, opiates and alcohol have different areas that they target, but relatively speaking, they are near each other in the center of the brain. Now if we magnify that pleasure center spot, like a billion times, we have 2 cells next to each other. The tail of one is near the head of the other, separated by a synapse, a space (remember high school biology?) Basically, when we are going through daily life, not high, messages or neurotransmissions are sent from one cell to another really fast, faster than a speeding bullet..kind of thing. They are chemical messages, neurotransmitters. They jump each synapse like jumping a small creek when playing in the woods. Does anyone even do that anymore? When a person uses drugs or alcohol(and alcohol is a drug, my friends, it is not a fruit or a vegetable), the neurotransmitters flow differently through the brain from cell to cell. There are several kinds, but dopamine is one for pleasure. It sends a wonderful, powerful, incredible message through the cells. Actually, when you use drugs, dopamine floods the brain with a bazillion powerful messages of happiness, smoothness, excitement; you get the picture. A bazzillion, like a bazzillion friends on face book. (I feel like I need a dry erase board and a Jimmy Hendrix CD to explain this well, but stay with me.) The dopamine can also only land in special spots in the next cell, but that does not seem to be much of a problem, not like parking places at the mall at Christmas time. The flood of dopamine changes the cells, which makes the person want more and more of the drug to get the same high. And they do, use more and more of the drug to get high. The brain keeps changing because of the flood day after day into the pleasure center. So, not only does a person NOT “get high” naturally like when you hear the Eagles sing” Desperado” live, but they are desperate to get high because of their changed brains.
So, what do I want you to get out of this stuff? If you are an addict, you have changed your brain. You cannot use again, in Georgia, in Idaho, in Missouri. You cannot use drugs with your ex-girlfriend, a new one or President Obama. You are not stupid or weak; you have changed your brain, perhaps forever. Some parts of the cells grow back; others do not. Stop using. If the thought of being clean and sober makes you tremble, you may be in the club of addiction. Ask for help. Look online. Ask your preacher, your teacher or the best alcohol and drug counselor in the world, me. You are a good person, with a brain disease. Period. End of story.