Addiction Counseling – Brain Chemistry Key to Understanding Addiction

Posted by admin on March 15, 2011

Addiction counseling is a trip this time of year. The months after our New Year’s Resolutions are the aftermath in the world of one more drink, just this once. Understanding addiction is understanding brain chemistry. The three categories are Use, Abuse and Dependency. Alcoholism, for instance, is the “progression” from abuse, across this magical demarcation to a state of dependency mandated by brain chemistry. If the brain could speak, it might shout: Great, you dragged me for years across the tundra of broken glass, resulting in ruined relationships, financial excess, poor health and NOW, now you want to cut back and do the moderation thing. NOT! Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m not the same; my shape is different. I have holes where gray matter used to be. It’s way too late my friend.

This is the hard part for most people to understand. Dependency is about the brain changing its biochemistry, its shape and the inability to change back. Daniel G. Amen, M.D. wrote a terrific book entitled: “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life”. Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist, child and adolescent psychiatrist, and medical director of the Amen Clinic for Behavioral Medicine in Fairfield, California. His work does not deal exclusively with addiction. In his bestseller, “you’ll see evidence that your anxiety, depression, anger, obsessiveness or impulsiveness could be related to how specific structures in the brain work.

Our teens are dealing with the scourge of opiate dependency, at near epidemic states. Severe brain blood flow abnormalities appear to be associated with opiate abuse. Heroin abuse causes some of the worst brain damage documented. This reduced brain activity is also true with methadone, codeine, Demerol, Dilaudid, Percodan/oxycodone, and Vicodin/hydrocodone. These meds are very addictive and cause overall decreased activity throughout the brain. They are also in the majority of medicine cabinets.

Well, you might ask, how about marijuana? It’s medicine in California and now in Arizona. The SPECT scan has been used to study both the short and long-term effects of marijuana on the brain. Dr. Amen has “noticed the decreased temporal lobe activity” and wonders if newer findings were the cause of memory and motivation problems associated with marijuana use. To my youthful readers I ask: does THAT ring a bell? MRI’s confirm these findings, in terms of memory, learning and motivation. This clinician suggests caution in the medical marijuana area. Dr. Amen makes a very strong case for how our biochemistry mandates addiction’s approach.

Depression counseling, anxiety counseling and trauma counseling address many of the brain’s biochemical dynamics mentioned above. We need to realize that our thoughts are real. After a thought, the brain releases chemicals. If we didn’t know better, we might freak-out subsequent to a sad thought. Oh my God; there’s water pouring out of my eye sockets! Naturally, we know that as crying, but the process is the same. Once we become aware of what we’re thinking, we will realize that our thoughts have a dynamic impact upon how we feel and how we behave.

Our lives are about awareness and education, or a lack there of. Angry, unkind thoughts release brain chemicals that make us feel bad. We tense, increase our heart rate and suddenly we get a headache. The opposite is true with positive thoughts. The brain releases serotonin, dopamine and other pleasure chemicals that allow us to relax and appreciate our good fortune. We have a significant amount of thought control ability. Nobody can force us to be upset if we are aware and choose not to. We have that power. In this New Year, let’s choose to use it.

This was published in The East Valley Tribune January 2011. Go to

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