Have you ever heard someone use the expression: my cup runneth over? It as an expression of thankfulness, of appreciation for all the things that we have. It means, we have so much, too much, in fact. Our cup, our vessel, is so filled that we can afford for some to overflow, onto the floor or in the hands of those in need.
What an amazing feeling! What a gift!
Someone who has an addiction, unfortunately, has a hole in the bottom of their cup, one they may not realize is even there. They keep trying to fill their cup, their vessel, but it never fills to the top. They begin to rely on the things that make them feel as if their cup is full, as if they are whole. It’s constant battle for someone in the midst of their addiction. Too much, and more, is just never enough to be fulfilled.
When More Is Never Enough: Neuroplasticity And Habit
When our vessel is filled, or our cup runneth over, our needs are met, our problems are solved, or on their way to being solved, and we don’t have to worry. We have all we need; we are fulfilled. Someone with an addiction, or a severe dependence, feels that emptiness deeply. It’s always there and the last time they remember feeling almost full may just have been the first time they did their drug of choice, or reached that high that we keep chasing after.
Neuroplasticity is a word that describes our brain’s ability to grow and change with us, our habits, and our personal experiences. When we drink too much or use drugs, our brain chemicals change in response to that drug, that habit, and it becomes dependent on that drug to run the way it has learned how to run. Without that drug, the brain has to relearn how to function as it once did, before those bad habits set in. It’s important for our recovery to understand how the brain works.
Messages are sent, throughout the body and the brain, by neurons that release neurotransmitters that take messages from cell to cell. Our brain is full of synapses, or pathways, for these neurotransmitters to travel from cell to cell with information, and we have the amazing ability to create new synapses, or new ways to connect thoughts and feelings to different parts of the brain. The chemical balance in our brains is delicate, where any change in one area may cause chaos everywhere else
Different drugs affect this process differently. For example, marijuana and heroin, activate neurons to transmit because they are structured similarly to neurotransmitters, but the messages sent and received are not normal. Meth and cocaine, on the other hand, increase the amount of neurotransmitters released by the neuron, flooding the synapses and overloading, or disrupting, effective communication. Opioids, however, affect the brain stem as well, decreasing our heart rate and ability to breathe, making overdosing easy.
The Biology Of Addiction: Dope And Dopamine
You may have learned that drugs and alcohol increase the amount of dopamine released into our brain, and our brain loves it. Our brain gets used to relying on the chemical and hormonal changes that addictions cause. As we move through our addiction, the things we used to find pleasure in, such as time with family, football, and religion, fall to the side. They can no longer create the same amount of pleasure that the drugs can and that our brain desires to continue working in the same capacity.
Dopamine used to be referred to as the feel good chemical, but scientists now believe that dopamine isn’t exactly what makes us feel good, it’s what makes us come back for more, which means it has a large hand in what exactly more means. The increase in dopamine receptors released each time the act is repeated will increase our chances of coming back to that activity, over and over again. Each time we use, our tolerance raises and the euphoria lessens, and we need more to feel okay again. It’s a neverending cycle.
Unintentional Conditioning And Surprising Triggers
After habitual use, and much like Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, we unintentionally condition ourselves to keep repeating these behaviors without thinking, just responding. The sound of pills rattling in a bottle can cause dopamine surge in someone who thought they were over their opiate addiction, but may now feel weakened by what should be a simple noise. Running into an old drinking buddy from college or walking by a house you have done drugs in will do the same. These are triggers and the simple fact that we can be triggered in such a way makes us feel as if we still have a void to fill.
Unfortunately, drug addiction cannot be cured—and more is never enough—but much like elevated blood pressure or a problem with high cholesterol, it is a disease that can be maintained. We must retrain our brain to think in new ways, but at the same time, we must maintain our expectations. The pathways, or synapses, that we created through the habitual use of drugs may be permanent and can seem easy to fall into. The recovery process after detox is to learn how to create new, stronger pathways, than the ones we are leaving behind. The more that we normalize walking these new pathways, the easier it will be to stay on them and understand when to say enough is enough.
This means that a relapse isn’t a failure, it’s a wrong turn, and you can get back on track.
Filling The Never-ending Void: Addiction Treatment For Those Who Are Ready
Overcoming addiction may be one of the most difficult things that we have ever had to do, but we can retrain our brains to think differently, to react differently, and to heal. After we create a habitual, oft crossed pathway to recovery, we change our lives and lives of our loved ones in so many fulfilling ways.
Join us at Covenant Hills Treatment to break the chains and forge a road straight to your recovery. We have many effective treatment options and an amazing team of professionals to support your goals, whatever they may be. Contact us when you have had enough and are ready to enact some change.
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