HOW ADDICTION WORKS (part II of V)
How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.
—Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
We’re going to spend a little time finishing the “dry-science” of addiction. While some people love the science and others hate it, I’m going to make it as adventurous and entertaining as I know how for both types.
I often tell you that Knowledge is Power because when we have it we can APPLY it!
Knowledge without application is useless, so we need to have something to apply!
Seratonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Endorphins (SDNEs and Oxytocin)
Serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins (SDNE) are the four chemicals our brains release when we feel pleasure. When we feel greater pleasure,
it means more feel-good chemicals have been released from our brain cells.
Once these chemicals are released, they are picked up and transported from cell to cell, and soon many cells are loaded with them.
The brain releases moderate amounts of serotonin and dopamine if you eat chocolate ice cream, and it releases copious amounts when having an orgasm.
Do we choose to like sex or chocolate ice cream?
I had chocolate for the first time, and it was enjoyable.
I was never consulted on the decision.
Other people may not enjoy sex or ice cream
(yep, these people exist),
and these individuals didn’t consciously choose this either.
They likely wish they did like them,
just as I have at times wished I did not!
But these preferences are not up to our conscious minds.
They are decided by neurochemistry:
the cells decide what triggers feel-good chemical release and what suppresses it.
Serotonin is the “happy” chemical.
If we are deficient in serotonin, we are depressed.
If we have too much, we could be manic and panicked.
Balanced serotonin helps us feel good, stable, and peaceful.
Serotonin, along with melatonin, also helps regulate sleep.
It is found primarily in the digestive system.
No wonder food makes us happy!
Dopamine is the reward chemical.
It is released as a reward when learning or achieving. It is called the “aha” chemical because when you have an aha moment, the good and meaningful feeling you get from learning something is due to a release of dopamine.
It gives us feelings of satisfaction, contentment, and reward.
Norepinephrine is the fight-or-flight, “uh-oh” chemical.
It is released from the nervous system into the bloodstream when we need to be more alert and have increased sensitivity to danger.
It is the chemical for survival needs. Increased alertness triggers the release of adrenaline, which is energy.
The word endorphin is derived by blending endo, which means “from within,” and morphine, the chemical that reduces pain or discomfort. Endorphins are the neuropeptides that inhibit endogenous opioids, the major players in our feel-good, don’t-feel-pain chemistry.
There are many of them, so endorphin is an umbrella term.
Oxytocin, is the love and bonding neurochemical and a natural empathogen.
Feelings of safety,
are regulated and influenced by oxytocin.
The mind needs to be distinguished from the brain.
The brain refers to physical tissue, while the mind is beyond tissue.
You are more than your body and even more than your thoughts and feelings.
The spirituality and philosophy sections explore the underlying constituents of
For the purposes of this discussion, it is important to know that
(1) the brain is an expression of the mind, and (2) the mind is the driver of the brain.
Brain mechanisms regulate and influence the mind, but the brain is a tool used by the mind to express itself,
in the same way an instrument, like a guitar,
is a tool used by a musical artist to express him or herself.
The brain and mind are connected by a two-directional highway of nerves and subtle energies, and both influence each other:
the brain is influenced by the mind’s feelings and thoughts,
and the mind is influenced by the brain’s chemicals.
But while they both have influence, the mind dominates.
Thus, the mind must be pacified if recovery is to take place.
The mind itself is made of two parts—
the conscious and the subconscious—
both of which must be addressed in recovery efforts.
Addiction is like having an alien in the brain that has access to all the controls.
The addict-alien is hitting buttons and levers in the brain and does not take orders from the conscious mind or brain.
The alien is in the captain’s chair and is in control of the ship.