‘Why can’t you JUST Stop’?
This is the exasperated wail of parents, husbands, wives and children who have an addict in their family. If they can have a cheeky occasional glass of wine or a couple of beers on a Saturday night why then, in the name of moderation and balance, does their addicted loved one drink to the point of obliteration, or God forbid use a range of illegal substances to continuously blur the edges of reality. Why, despite the massive range of consequences including DUI’s, missed appointments, enraged bosses and enlarged livers, does the addict keep using . Surely this has something to do with a deficiency of will power? Civilians can just stop doing something that’s bad for them or cut back to a sensible amount so why do addicts take it to the next level of insanity?
Will Power and Self Will
Addicts actually thrive on self-will and this can be one of the very factors which proves so perplexing to them and to the people close to them. Why, when they have the will to get up and go to work through the mother of all hangovers or pull all night study sessions the night before an exam while half-cocked on stimulants and cheap wine and deal with all manner of chaos that would see most normal people quivering under the bedcovers, can they not just stop? Why do individuals, stubborn as mules around so many of life’s challenges, lack the conviction to change the one thing that is destroying them? Addicts and alcoholics are so obstinately adherent to their own desires and ideas so why, when they desire to stop using and drinking, do they catastrophically fail time and time again?
Self Will: A New Perspective
Self-will, is not positive force for the addict and is essentially based on fear as opposed to strength and courage. What you see them display is actually not will power at all. When you understand that the alcoholic went to work with a humdinger of a hangover to avoid discovery for their indiscretion with the bottle last night and the addict who studied like a fiend was doing it out of the fear of not being good enough, the whole concept of will power and self-will is coloured with a somewhat more negative hue. Self-will for the addict is driven by fear and self-seeking and often that seemingly flawless ability to deal with pandemonium is just an elaborate way to run away from self. All the time the addict is fire-fighting the next calamity, they don’t have to look too closely at the cluster bomb their life is becoming.
The Disease of Addiction – There’s something different about the brain
Moreover, addicts can’t do moderation because of the way the disease affects the reward system in the brain. Their inability to control their actions around drink or drugs is nothing to do with will power at all, it’s to do with the chemistry. Often, addicts, even before they pick up a substance have grey matter characterised by poor neurotransmission and in particular low dopamine production. Dopamine is the naturally occurring happiness chemical manufactured in the brain and because this doesn’t work in the way it does for civilians, addicts do not experience the sense of reward that normal people get from participating in typically pleasurable activities. This imbalance of chemicals in the brain is characterised by lack of motivation, lack of meaning, boredom, lethargy and discontent. So, addicts medicate their reward systems to make life worth living.
However, the more drink and drugs that are consumed, the more havoc is wreaked in these centres of the brain, further meddling with their ability to function. Substances act on these in different ways so for example, methamphetamine actually destroys the dopamine receptors while other substances like heroin simply ‘put them to sleep’.
This chemical malfunction is the basis for the physical obsession and compulsion or craving for more of the substance which gives the user pleasure. It is estimated that in approximately 50% of sufferers the disease is genetic and it is likely that this figure is actually much higher. As research into genetics progresses so does our understanding of the disease. Currently exploration is being done into how the genetics of an addict predisposes them to preferring one drug over another and researchers are starting to believe that there are certain genetic markers that incline someone to a love affair with stimulants over sedative drug and vice versa.
Having said all this it is also recognised that environmental factors also have an influence on addiction, things like trauma, neglect and abuse trigger problems with the brain chemistry and can result in a lowered dopamine output therefore disposing a person to use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate.
How do you give up Self-Will?
Addiction is also famously known as the only disease which tells you that you haven’t got it…..and the only way to start to treat it is to ‘just’ stop using drugs and alcohol. Many people depending on their poison and the length of their use have to get help to stop because it really isn’t easy. After this initial detox phase comes the real work, retaining your brain to function with recovery principles ultimately replacing fear with faith and self-will with humility. Changing behaviour and thought processes is not an easy feat and here is where CBT, the 12 steps and all manner of therapies come into play, helping to literally change the way the brain works.
If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and want to stop and retrain your brain why not give our addiction specialists a call at the Hader Clinic today.