-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling
The brain contains around 100 billion neurons that communicate to each other by means of neurotransmitters, which are tiny molecules.
There are groups of neurons that have specialized functions organized into multiple structures of the brain. In order for the brain to function at an optimal level, the neurons must maintain homeostasis – or an internal balance – among their constituent neurons and other brain structures.1
The brain tries to keep every component and system balanced by keeping neurotransmitters firing at appropriate times.
Addiction causes an imbalance of the brain by spiking neurotransmitters at much higher levels than normal, and at inappropriate times.
Dopamine is the main neurotransmitter involved in the limbic "reward" center and normally fluctuates around 20 to 30 percent.2 But when it comes to addiction, (the artificial "rewards") it overstimulates the limbic "reward" system spiking dopamine levels nearly 10 times greater than normal.3
When this happens, the emotional part of the brain (limbic system) starts to override the rational part (prefrontal cortex).
Scientists call the brain a "team of rivals"4 because these brain structures are in a constant struggle for domination. These two brain structures (the limbic system and pre-frontal cortex) are constantly pushing and pulling against each other. The prefrontal cortex is rational and understands the consequences of behavior, while the limbic system, seeks pleasure and concerned with avoiding pain (psychological or physical).
Essentially the prefrontal cortex warns us of our behavior, while the limbic system strongly urges us to continue. These urges that the limbic system sends us is very strong and may seem to dominate our thoughts, motivations and efforts to live addiction free.
The limbic system is strong due to the below reasons:
- The limbic system is made up of very dense material. This allows more signal
transmission. That is why it seems our thoughts and impulses run wild!
- The limbic system is also working largely at a subconscious level. Thoughts to use our drug of choice, cravings or urges seem to come out of no where.
- The limbic system pre-dates humans. This limbic system has been found in ancient forms of life before humans even arrived on earth!
- The limbic system is also completely developed around the age 5, while the preforntal cortex is still developing into our mid 20s.
And when the spiking of dopamine happens at higher than normal levels, the brain starts to alter in favor of the limbic system. It overrides the rational, planning and assessing pre-frontal cortex that usually keeps the limbic system in check.
Because the rational part of the brain is subdued, the behavior of addicted individuals appears irrational.
Addicted individuals try to obtain their drug of choice, regardless of its apparent and worsening consequences. The addicted brain values the high psychological payoff, "reward," over negative consequences of behavior.
Because of this "hijacking," a normally balanced brain becomes switched to a pathologically imbalanced brain. This is why scientists literally call this process hijacking.5
As an addicted individual continues to use, there is an increasing craving for a diminishing pleasure. Tolerance starts to develop. Because the brain wants to maintain proper homeostasis, after the repeated over-stimulation of the brain's reward center from drugs, the brain reacts in a defensive way by making neurons less excitable and decreasing the natural production of dopamine (along with other chemicals). This ultimately makes the "reward" center under-stimulated when you attempt to quit.
This is why recovering addicted individuals often have a dismal outlook on life without their drug of choice. They have a hard time finding pleasure in natural rewards that non-addicts naturally enjoy.
Typically, addicted individuals will notice this "tolerance" and start to increase their drug-taking because it takes more and more of the drug to maintain their high.
Addicted individuals initially started to use their drug to get high, but end up using just to feel normal.
Without their drug, the brain system is thrown off. This contributes to mood swings, anxiety, depression and intense cravings when attempting to quit. The depleted chemicals during this time produces powerful urges and cravings.
But, neuroscientists know that the brain is extremely malleable. It can adapt, change and rewire. Successful methods to manage addiction are evidence-based practices that not only use nutrition to restore the brain's neurotransmitters, but techniques that have been proven to rewire the brain, changing the pathways chemical messengers flow.
Nutrition implemented in addiction recovery has shown to produce incredible success. One researcher revealed that the use of key nutrients resulted in a 92 percent success rate.6 Compare that to the shockingly low reported 5% success in conventional treatments.7 The reason why nutrition is so successful, is because it restores depleted and malfunctioning neurotransmitters in the brain caused by addiction. Neurotransmitters are synthesized by nutrition (particularly amino acids, the building blocks of protein).
Key nutrients combined with evidence-based cognitive and mindful techniques, restore the brain's chemicals while changing the neural pathways.
Most people go about recovery the wrong way. They react to cravings by fighting them or suppressing them, which research has shown to make them stronger.8 But using lesser-known techniques, founded in cognitive-behavioral therapy has shown dramatic improvement in managing it.9
These effective methods, combined with feeding the brain with key and targeted nutrients, are what high-end and luxurious treatment centers fail to practice, explaining why the acute methods continue to produce dismally low success rates.10,11,12
Feeding the brain with targeted nutrients while and using techniques produce change, is what the Truth Of Addiction system is all about. See the video here.