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"Why do I keep using drugs or drinking?" If you found this website because you are trying to solve that problem, you may be out of answers. As you can imagine, many have tried to solve this riddle. One theory that is still prevalent among some is that addiction is merely a behavioral issue, or more specifically, a moral issue. "Good" people don't use drugs or drink. "Bad" people do. So, if you want to stop, simply stop behaving that way, and make good choices." Certainly, reaching for the next drink or pill is a behavior.
On the other hand, advances in medicine seem to confirm that addiction is more complicated than that. Many have proposed that it is actually a disease. A disease is a disruption in a part or parts of the body causing them to function incorrectly. Substance abuse is a disease which affects that part of your brain that determines what is necessary for survival. A part of your brain was designed to learn what is necessary for survival and to release pleasurable and rewarding chemicals (already stored in the brain) to let you know that, "This action is good. Do it again." For someone who has become addicted, the brain (an organ) begins to believe that your drug of choice or alcohol is required for survival. Since your drug of choice or alcohol are not necessary for survival, this is known as an "abnormal symptom," and this is why addiction is considered a disease.

This is why it is so difficult for some people to stop using or drinking; they are fighting against their own brain

Continuing to use the drug or alcohol will tend to exaggerate this distortion, which is why stopping-a behavior-is necessary to reverse the disease. Eventually, your brain prioritizes your drug of choice higher than even food. This is why it is so difficult for some people to stop using or drinking; they are fighting against their own brain. This is illustrated in the video, "Pleasure Unwoven." Kevin McCauley, M.D. explains that dopamine plays a major role. Dopamine is released in your brain to teach it that something you did or ingested is better than expected, so it might be important for survival. Dopamine also plays a role in memory, attention, problem solving, and in anticipation of pleasure. Dopamine is also released during adverse circumstances or stimuli. That might explain why when you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired-all stressful circumstances-you reach for the solution that you remember that relieved the stress before: your drug of choice or alcohol. Taking your drug of choice or drinking then results in more dopamine release, leaving you to feel better, and "teaching" you that you did the "right thing" to relieve your stress. But we know that the consequences which have resulted from drinking and using drugs are often too much to bear. So, in this case, your brain is telling you the wrong thing.

Dopamine in your brain is naturally released during activities such as eating and sex, placing them on a priority list for survival. Drugs and alcohol cause a much higher than normal release of dopamine, raising your brain's expectation level. That means when you stop using or drinking, you become unsatisfied: "Why don't I feel as happy as I used to feel? Something seems wrong." Fortunately, when you quit using or drinking, eventually your brain lowers this expectation to your own body's normal level, so that normal activities without drugs and alcohol will feel satisfying. In the meantime, you should add other activities to your life that stimulate this reward system which might be missing. Examples are physical exercise and meditation. Also, it is believed that certain foods might help dopamine production (though a direct connection to dopamine release has not been established), such as almonds, chocolate, green tea, and other foods. For more information, it's best to consult with your doctor, a nutritionist or dietitian. In the end, addiction is probably a combination of a disease and a matter of behavior. So how do I change my behavior? We'll cover that in our next article.


In the last article, we discussed how misused anger can be a dangerous relapse warning sign. Like a plane that flies below the radar anger and resentment often go undetected our lives. They have a way of weaving themselves into our personalities until we cannot recognize them for what they are. Rather than examining ourselves to see if anger is there, we often excuse it: "I'm just a tough-minded person, because I've had to be," or "This is how you have to play the game in life; act nice to people in public, but do what you have to do to get what you want from them in private." For the addict or alcoholic, you cannot afford the "tool" of anger anymore, because, as we've seen, it leads to unhappiness, unacceptance of life circumstances, and more often than not, relapse.

So how do I manage my anger? You can always count to ten or take a deep breath. Unfortunately, that will not always resolve the issue. To reach a resolution, there are three ways to generally handle anger. Sometimes, a combination of them is also the answer:

  1. Assertively ask for what you want
  2. Forgive the offending party
  3. Be realistic about the part that you played in the offense

As we discussed in the last article, we become angry for various reasons, such as a reaction to an injustice or as a means to protect ourselves. Rather than respond in anger, a better way is to be assertive; ask for what you want. In this method, rather than getting even with the offending party, a rather childish response, instead, you take the adult approach. A handy tool is to follow the "X-Y-Z" method. Tell the offending person, "When you did "X," in situation "Y," it made me feel, "Z." For example, "When you did not finish your chores this week after we discussed this already, it made me feel frustrated." Here, you are expressing a fact-what actually happened, and a feeling-how you feel about it. It is very brief and to the point. Notice you express your feeling verbally, but you should avoid acting out your emotion. Get yourself under control, as if you were at work, and present your complaint as a professional adult. Howard Markman and Scott Stanley in their book, "Fighting For Your Marriage," discuss four danger signs of communication. Although the application they make is regarding marriage, these principles apply to any relationship. There are four things to avoid when assertively expressing your complaint. Avoid:

  1. Name-calling
  2. Withdrawing
  3. Escalating
  4. Invalidating

Their research revealed that these are the primary actions or attitudes that prevent true communication. Name-calling refers to even implying an insult toward the other person. Saying, "Whenever you didn't complete your chores like a dummy, it made me feel annoyed." That contaminates the conversation. Second, withdrawing from the issue and never addressing it would be the opposite of being assertive and addressing your problem. Third, escalating is not helpful: "And not only do you not do your chores, but you also have bad breath!" Last, invalidation will not win over the other person: "I'm sure whatever your complaint is it is trivial compared to mine, so would you please start doing your chores?"

A second approach to managing anger is to simply forgive the offending party. Like it or not, some people will not feel sorry for offending you, or perhaps feel you are too sensitive, and that an apology from them is not necessary. In those cases, forgiveness is a powerful tool, which can help you let go of your anger. True, sometimes it is a tough pill to swallow. But staying angry at someone else is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. In other words, you're the one left feeling unhappy, not them. A third approach, which often helps with forgiveness, is recommended in the "Alcoholics Anonymous" book. Ask yourself, "What part did I play in this offense?" In other words, I might be angry with someone, but did I actually play a role, too? If so, it can help lessen the pain when considering how you were offended.

In the mythical werewolf legend, you can kill a werewolf with a silver bullet to its heart. In recovery from alcohol and drugs it usually isn't just one thing that makes a person stop using or drinking, but a combination of things. Recovery is actually more like a jigsaw puzzle. Now it doesn't have to be one of those 1,000-piece monster puzzles. Probably, simply putting a few key pieces in place will complete a great recovery picture for you. One of the most important pieces of that puzzle is changing how you think; to change your thoughts. Why? Because we don't do anything until we first tell ourselves to do it. So if you want to stop your drug or alcohol habit, it has to start with finding out just what it is you think about.

What difference does that make? Maybe you're like I was. You might believe that whatever thought comes to your mind is somehow "meant" to be there. "I have no real control over it. So if my thoughts tend to lead me toward doing something that is self-defeating, the most I can do is try not to listen to the thoughts. 'I'm not ultimately in charge.'" I was amazed when I found out that isn't true. I could actually learn to change my thoughts-so much so that for the most part it no longer became necessary to ignore negative thoughts, because I started not to even allow them in the first place.



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Axcel Treatment and Recovery Clinic

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