Addiction, Neuroplasticity and Mindfulness

(Post share from the IRATAD Blog)

I recently read a book by Miriam Boleyn-Fitzgerald (2010), Pictures of the Mind: what the new neuroscience tells us about who we are.  This book explains how new technology is contributing to groundbreaking discoveries related to how the brain works and its influence on our behavior.  . . .

I find it hopeful to know that we have the ability to change and heal within us because of neuroplasticity.  Not only can we retrain our brains to heal and recover from addictions, but the author states researchers have identified neural pathways for spiritually significant mind states like empathy, compassion, and forgiveness . . .

Empathy, compassion, and forgiveness toward the self and other people are important skills to cultivate during the journey of recovery from addiction.  Often recovery may feel like being on an emotional rollercoaster, making it more difficult to develop prosocial skills.  It is helpful to remember that we are not our emotions.  Emotions are fleeting lasting only a matter of seconds; it is our moods that are more pervasive.  Being aware of the fleeting nature of emotions will make it easier to let them go and not identify with them.

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What Role Does Neuroplasticity Have In Addiction Treatment?

Neuroplasticity, neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability), is what neuroscientists refer to as the brains ability to change and adapt at any age. As we make decisions, think about something, make memories and feel emotions, neural pathways in the brain hold and store this information which can occur on different levels.

A great deal of research went into patients that suffered from disease and brain injuries as they realized that over time the brain found ways of rewiring itself to other parts of the brain, actually going around the injured area to reconnect with other neurons and compensate for the injury. This new finding created a positive response as doctors and therapists began looking for changes in the patient’s rewiring skills, as this ‘flexibility of reorganization’ was taking place and patients found that they could improve and recover.

Another important aspect to understand is realizing that addictions have 4 components:

  1. Using a behavioral action with the body
  2. Thinking thoughts before or after the behavior
  3. Feeling emotions that are generated as a result of the thought such as sadness, guilt, disappointment, shame, or depression
  4. The brain has a physical response to thoughts, feelings, and actions that causes neurochemicals to be released into the body as it responds to the behavior

Understanding these 4 components is crucial in treating addiction because it’s about the pleasure centers in the brain being seized and taken over. People create habits that generate different neural pathways in the brain which allows them to become accustomed to their new source of pleasure. The brain is now wired to link this sensation to feeling good from the pleasure they receive. Soon, the need for more creates an obsession to experience the euphoric sensations they previously had that ultimately creates an addiction. But this can all change, and here is an explanation why:

With the continued study of neuroplasticity, scientist realize that the brain is structured to change and can respond to certain stimuli over a person’s lifetime. Besides the way a brain can make changes when new information is presented, our behaviors are another way our brain and body react to certain stimuli like emotions, stress, and other physical senses. A person, addict or not, can walk into a room and smell something delicious baking in the oven that triggers a memory that they hadn’t thought of or remembered for a number of years. This stimulus recalls on cellular memory groups, and can be activated from this type of inducement, making it easy to remember or respond to the stimulus that was previously known. But for addicts, this is especially hard as it triggers the same feelings and images that they are trying to avoid.

Understanding behaviors and how closely they relate to our senses, memory, and cognition is important to comprehend when dealing with neuroplasticity and rewiring the brain. Since they all rely on repetition and other challenging activities, the brain is able to make changes and literally rewire new pathways to improve its performance. And the best part is that the more you practice this new way of thinking, new skills can be developed to create happy connections among neuron pathways in the brain.

Now that we understand that humans have the ability to change behaviors, those with sexual addictions can literally retrain their brains to make new pathways that will reconnect them to a healthier way of living.

Addiction Treatment and Neuroplasticity

(Post share from the IRATAD Blog)

Neuroplasticity is the alteration of neural pathways due to changes in behavior, environment and thinking processes.  New research is making discoveries about brain functions that were previously believed to be impossible in relation to neuroplasticity. It was not so long ago that the scientific community thought neuroplasticity within an adult brain was impossible.

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What Do I Do If Someone I Care About Has An Addiction To Pornography?

Knowing how to deal with someone that has an addiction to pornography can be a very difficult road for many. And most often those affected by this type of addiction happens between a husband and a wife. This behavior can leave one with a low self-esteem, feeling betrayed, alone, and end up with a shattered relationship. Even if the addiction is between friends, relationships will suffer, so the issue shouldn’t be ignored.

Once you have discovered that someone close to you has an addiction problem, talk with them and share your concern. This is probably one of the hardest steps to take emotionally, but can be the most rewarding long term.

Some of you may not know that pornography is a neuron changer. The reason for this is due to the way it floods the brain with dopamine‒ giving the body a rush that eventually rewires the brains reward center. Neuroplasticity is a word meaning brain and change. It works like this:

A neuron is a cell in the brain that is activated by smell, sight, sound, taste, or touch, etc. Every time something good happens, chemicals are released in the brain, telling you how wonderful you feel. Your brain builds pathways like this for everything including emotions, and it does the same for those that engage in pornography. The problem with pornography is that the brain gets overwhelmed by the constant overload of chemicals it’s experiencing, and starts to fight back… eventually taking away some of its dopamine receptors. This begins a numbing effect, causing a result in the brain to find more arousal from pornographic materials, and ultimately becoming addicted, and always looking for something bigger and better to satisfy the addiction. Now, the addict is constantly searching for that dopamine high that they first experienced, and the more they look at porn, the harder it is to find satisfaction, and more difficult to break free from the unhealthy behavior.

Addictions of any kind use these same neurons. Within the last decade, research has proven that addictions cause the brains frontal lobes to start shrinking. This is the part of the brain that controls our logical thinking and basic problem solving. It wasn’t just drugs and alcohol causing this type of trauma to the brain. It is all types of addictions and compulsive behaviors that cause the same damage.

Now that the brain is relying on this chemical response, it suddenly has a new sense of craving that cannot be satiated. Pornography short-circuits the brain since it remembers where the sexual high came from, turning the viewer into an addict.

With this information, there is hope for those you love. Often times you may wonder how you can you assist those you care for who are suffering from an addiction to pornography. This can be achieved with a 30 step task program that was designed by Dr. Patrick Carnes, who has pioneered treatment for sexual addiction. Without identifying the core issues that contribute to the addiction, the ability to overcome and maintain sobriety with an addiction to pornography would be nonexistent.

Neurons and Addiction

(Post share from the IRATAD Blog)

The more I learn about the brain, the more I am in awe of how it explains human behavior and thought processes. Research on the brain helps us understand better why a person with an addiction can't just quit, and why it seems sometimes that we are hardwired to continue certain patterns despite their negative consequences.  I am amazed at the hope that comes from understanding addiction in terms of a brain disease.Today I am going to focus on the neuron, which is the basic building block for the brain.

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