Neurochemistry what the heck does that have to do with addiction?

This is my third blog post on addiction and completes this series.

Disclaimer: I am not a scientist, I have studied the subject of neurochemistry in relationship to addiction, but these are my own conclusions and opinions coming from that studying and my experience.
Do your own homework, remember you are your own best teacher!
I am not the font of all knowledge or the oracle (Yet! lol, I need a few hundred years, crap do I have to become a vampire …. damn, well it might not be so bad!) I’m a mere mortal with some life experience which once healed, ended up with a touch of wisdom. (Well I like to think so anyway.) Neurochemistry of addiction

I’ve mentioned being ‘at choice’ in my previous posts. Within the context of addiction this means how much will power do I have at my disposal in this moment in order to apply my sobriety strategies successfully.

Here’s an exert from my previous blog post:
“Another huge piece of unwrapping the puzzle for me anyway was with a biofeedback machine, from the HeartMath institute. With a simple program on the computer I was to get the program into ‘coherence’, the sweet spot where I was happy. So once I had that down, I started to play with my thoughts to see where some of my triggers were. I got the machine into coherence and thought one word ‘Cocaine’, my coherence vanished into the toilet, that didn’t surprise me, to this day 11 years later, I get butterflies in the stomach thinking the word.
What did surprise me, was that even though I got right back to thinking the thoughts that got me into coherence the first time, it took 3X as long to get me back to my happy place. This was shocking and illuminating to me. No wonder when we use ‘whatever’, the ability to stop gets harder and harder. We are less and less ‘at choice’, and this brings us to neurochemistry. ”

So to explain we need to get a bit sciencey which I actually love.

We need to start at the very beginning of your life, which starts in utero.
There used to be a belief that our neurochemistry was set at birth and that was that. Now we know better, we know about the brain’s plasticity. The brain can change and heal, yes you heard me. Now that doesn’t give you a free pass to go and drink yourself into oblivion thinking that all the cells your are killing will heal. (Yes I know some of you went there, don’t bullshit an ex-bullshiter).

From the time we are fully formed in utero to approx. 6 yrs old all experiences from the child’s perspective create a reaction in the brain’s neurochemistry. Perceived positive experiences make it rise and perceived negative experiences make it drop. (I’m sure it’s far more complicated that that, but in simple terms ….). Then around 6 yrs old the neurochemistry sets to the average of all those experiences.

Now the word perceived is very important as these experiences are from the child’s perspective, not necessarily the truth (whatever that means, and I will not go down that particular rabbit hole!). So a child that is ill and ends up in the hospital for days, may experience abandonment due to their parents not being able to stay with them the whole time. They are actually not abandoned, but we come from our perspective of reality even when little. I imagine many parents when playing hide and seek with their little child had the experience of their child being totally shocked when you found them easily. You found them easily because you could see a part of their body. When the child is very young, if they can’t see you they think you can’t see them, and are astounded when you find them because even though part of their body was clearly visible to you, they cannot yet imagine that. “How did you find me mommy?” I loved those moments with my child, absolutely precious.

So your neurochemistry is now set, but where did it set? I have a hypothesis that addicts that prefer booze and pot, (downers, they chill you out) have their neurochemistry set higher than non-addicts, and addicts who prefer stimulants like cocaine, (They ramp you up) have their neurochemistry set too low. This is purely speculation but I like my theory, would that someone does a research paper on this, I’d love to find out. If I am correct it would also help create better pharmaceuticals that target more accurately, rather than the hit or miss that seems to be the norm at the moment. Not that I’m advocate for the pharmaceutical industry far from it, but some medication is good, it’s not all black and white in life.

So regardless of where your neurochemistry is set, the more you use your addiction of choice, the more it affects your neurochemistry. As illuminated with the HeartMath biofeedback machine even the word, of my favourite substance affected my neurochemistry, imagine what actually using if for hours did. Then (I’ll use cocaine as it is what I most familiar with), you crash once you stop using it. In particular your dopamine crashes, as cocaine is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor which is why it makes you feel so damn good. It jacks your dopamine up and then stops it from coming down. Now you awake with a cocaine hangover, which means your dopamine is in the proverbial toilet, which means you are severely depressed neurochemically and otherwise. Which lasts from my experience 3 days with day 2 being the worst. Now think back to the first blog post about my experience as an addict, add to that this information …… and shitballs if you have no compassion now you are the spawn of Voldemort and do not have a heart!

To illuminate the ‘at choice’ concept I’m going to use a neurochemistry set point scale of 1 – 20, 10 being the average for non-addicts. Say before I started using cocaine my neurochemistry was generally (yes it does fluctuate) set at 8. Then I use cocaine, it skyrockets to 16, then I stop and it plummets to 4. Then once I’ve gone through the depression stage after not using, it goes back up but only to 7 not my usual setting of 8. Then I use cocaine, it skyrockets to 16, then I stop and it plummets to 3. Then once I’ve gone through the depression stage after not using, it goes back up but only to 6 not my usual setting of 8. Then I use cocaine, it skyrockets to 16, then I stop and it plummets to 3. Then once I’ve gone through the depression stage after not using, it goes back up but only to 5 not my usual setting of 8. Getting the idea, I’m making the numbers up to show a cycle, do not take these numbers as factual they are not. I tried to make a fancy ass diagram to illuminate this, but once I started all the other factors made things much too complicated for me to draw out. As one needs to add to that the knowledge that it takes longer and longer to get back to normal, that the drugs effects wane and more and more is needed, depression increases, that stresses play a role, on and on. Well that’s one rolling ball than never mind ‘gathering no moss’, will just explode at some point. The proverbial ‘bottoming out’, straw that broke the camels back, etc. happens.

So no matter what strategies I use for sobriety, at each stage I have less and less chance that my strategies will be successful, no matter how much I intellectually want to not use, physically my neurochemistry is handicapping me. I am less ‘at choice’.

So …… yes I take full responsibility for choosing to use cocaine, and yes I chose addiction as a way to numb my pain, the pain that I had before I started using addiction as a self medicating strategy. I started numbing pain when I was very little, with food. Then came cigarettes at 13, then pot at 18. I fought them all successfully on and off throughout my life. It wasn’t until I was 40 that I tried cocaine and knew with the very first line that I was well and truly screwed. I had found the substance that hit my sweet spot of numbing that pain, and having battled addiction for as long as I could remember, I didn’t think I would win this one. Thankfully I was wrong.

Hopefully now you have learnt something new about addiction and why it is so hard to overcome it. Addicts need our help and support when they ask for it. They have to recreate their world from scratch with a neurochemical imbalance, depression and choosing to stop using the thing that made life tolerable. They have to face and feel a lifetime of pain and heal.

Do not try and rescue an addict or force them into treatment, it will not work in the long term, addicts need to make that choice themselves. If you feel that you have to rescue or force them into treatment, take a big look in the mirror, because you are not actually doing it for them, even if you think you are. You are doing it for you. That might be hard to hear, you may be calling ‘bullshit’, but underlying everything we do, is a motivation that leads right back to us.

For my part, my motivation for this series on addiction I knew wasn’t to just to help addicts and non-addicts alike. I knew because when that person talked about addicts with disgust and loathing (see 1st blog post on addiction) I had an uncomfortable reaction. That was my red flag. If I had completely healed my issues around addiction the disgust and loathing would not have created a reaction in me. I would have know it was just their stuff without any emotional reaction other than compassion. I know this to be true from all the healing work I have done.

It has been through writing these posts that what lurked beneath …. has become clear. What I now know, is underneath my desire to write these posts, I was hoping for forgiveness, hoping for acceptance from outside myself. (Do not give it to me, you will not be helping!) Trying once again to dislodge feelings of inadequacy, judgement, shame and blame through others acceptance. It was exactly this dance that I did with my parents as a young child, changing who I was, in order to be loved. That was how I wounded myself, so much so, that I needed to numb the pain of my own betrayal.

I did not realize this when I started this series, I thought that layer of the proverbial onion was healed, but alas it was lurking in my subconscious, I did not want to see it. However …. hello, bonjour there it was.

Now I once again have done my healing work around my shit, healing a little more, and become a more balanced human. Grateful for the person who unknowingly pushed my buttons. They brought the next piece in my healing journey front and centre, and I am grateful to myself for seeing it.