In the body of someone who, for whatever reason, is predisposed to substance abuse, alcohol and drugs excite the BEST, MOST AWESOME part of the brain. The part linked with sex, eating, great times with friends; the most powerful/primitive part. The effects of alcohol/other drugs (AOD) on the brain mimic that of our natural feel good chemicals - particularly dopamine. (These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters) In a body that is prone to react this way, the BODY needs more of the feel good. At the same time, though, the brain senses a kind of dopamine satiation and therefore produces less natural feel good, mood elevating and mood stabilizing chemicals. That means when the person is clean/sober, they have less natural dopamine and..... you guessed it, they want to feel good again. So, they use AOD. Where upon they feel better, and the brain registered "enough dopamine" and makes even less......
Eventually, the addict's brain is such that they use AOD to not feel like crap. Clean/dry, they do not have sufficient natural feel good to feel normal, so they use to feel not like crap.
In a teen that began using at very young ages, the recreation use to addiction process can happen FAST (for reasons related to the underdeveloped brain, and the parts that are not developed). In an adult who started later, the progression may be slower.
Alcoholism is a disease - like any other disease, lifestyle, behavioral, and cognitive changes support recovery. But, due to ignorance and misunderstanding and stigma, you would expect an alcoholic to "just stop" and "be strong". You would never walk up to a cancer patient and say that, even if they need to made some changes (with the exception of cigarettes, which is an addiction and people feel they can say something.) You wouldn't say it to an asthmatic or a person with Diabetes I.
Getting dry (not drinking) is the first step in recovering. (And drinking is the LAST act in a relapse). After abstinence, early recovery is full of risk and stress and a lot of stuff needs to be done to heal the brain. Healing activities that have the most impact are:
- Routine, especially combined with fellowship
- Meaningful social exchanges (the steps of 12 step programs do this, but there are other ways)
- Quality Nutrition
- Cognitive behavioral intervention
- Meaningful service
- Forms of music, song, worship
My research and experience shows me that total abstinence is necessary - no brain can become not predisposed and people who were addicts can never *not* have a body that reacts in the way depicted here.
Recovery is a long, slow process. A 28 day treatment, a 3 month or 6 month treatment is only a crude beginning. Recovery is hard, and frequently stressful. Recovering people who have all elements in their favor still have dismal stats. Recovering people who don't fill their lives with recovery positive brain impacting activity are going to use again. As such, healing and recovery requires that the person with the disease continue to participate in sufficient brain-healing habits and activites. Relapse is associated with dropping recovery; the brain's malfunction then grows larger than the reduced mitigating and healing effects.
Contact me for my "Why Do I Need Help" article that describes the need for family members and friends to get help and support regardless of what the addict does (or doesn't do!)