Addiction. A word that has become way too common in our vocabulary. We all know that addiction has taken a part in our lives one way or the other but do we really know what addiction is? The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone struggling to overcome addiction, or has tried to help someone else to do so understands why. We see the struggle, we feel the frustration, we are “enslaved by it” on a daily basis as we try to navigate through our lives with the powerful influence of addiction.
Addiction has a powerful hold on the brain; the actual addiction onetaryanifests in three distinct ways; craving for the object of addiction (most commonly heroin), loss of control over its use, and continuing usage with it despite the adverse consequences.
I believe that stigma surrounding heroin today is from studies used for many years where experts believed that only alcohol and powerful drugs could cause addiction and with this idea, addiction was treated by punishing the person by encouraging them that they can overcome addiction. They have the willpower to overcome addiction, and that addiction was a moral failing on that person. Somehow we believe they are lacking in willpower, that addiction was just a habit. We have gone as far as kicking them out of the house, using tough love. We have stopped looking at them as people with an illness and decided that they deserve exactly what they get because they choose to do drugs.
Addiction changes the brain, first by subverting the way it registers pleasure and then by corrupting other normal functions, such as learning and motivation. Today it is safe to say, with many studies, we can reasonably recognize addiction as a chronic disease that changes both brain structure and function. Just as cardiovascular disease damages the heart and diabetes impairs the pancreas, addiction hijacks the brain. This happens as the brain goes through a series of changes, beginning with recognition of pleasure and ending with a drive toward compulsive and erratic behavior.
*The brain registers all pleasures in the same way, whether they originate with a psychoactive drug, a monetary reward, a sexual encounter, or a satisfying meal. In the brain, pleasure has a distinct signature: the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens, a cluster of nerve cells lying underneath the cerebral cortex (see illustration). Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens is so consistently tied with pleasure that neuroscientists refer to the region as the brain’s pleasure center.
All drugs of abuse, from nicotine to heroin, cause a particularly powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. The likelihood that the use of a drug or participation in a rewarding activity will lead to addiction is directly linked to the speed with which it promotes dopamine release, the intensity of that release, and the reliability of that release.
Even taking the same drug through different methods of administration can influence how likely it is to lead to addiction. Smoking a drug or injecting it intravenously, as opposed to swallowing it as a pill, for example, generally produces a faster, stronger dopamine signal and is more likely to lead to drug misuse.
Brain’s Reward Center
Addictive drugs such as Heroin, provides a shortcut to the brain’s reward system by flooding the nucleus accumbens with dopamine. The hippocampus lays down memories of this rapid sense of satisfaction, and the amygdala creates a conditioned response to certain stimuli. Scientists once believed that the experience of pleasure alone was enough to prompt people to continue seeking an addictive substance or activity. Recent studies show that the situation is more complicated. Dopamine not only contributes to the experience of pleasure, but also plays a role in learning and memory—two key elements in the transition from liking something to becoming addicted to it.
*According to the current theory about addiction, dopamine interacts with another neurotransmitter, glutamate, to take over the brain’s system of reward-related learning. This system has an important role in sustaining life because it links activities needed for human survival (such as eating and sex) with pleasure and reward.
Repeated exposure to a substance such as Heroin causes the nerve cells in the accumbens and the prefrontal cortex, to stop communicating normally and creates a process of wanting and an urgent need to go after it. The main goal of this process is to take action out of the source of pleasure. (Basically, the addiction drives the person to chase after that first high where the brain registered the mighty euphoric bliss and numbness they seek.)
Over time, the brain adapts to “chasing this high” in a way that actually makes the sought-after substance or activity less pleasurable. Addictive drugs and behaviors provide shortcuts, flooding the brain with dopamine. Our brains do not have an easy way to process these feelings, emotions, memories and “this need” for the drugs. For example, addictive drugs can release two to ten times the amount of dopamine that natural rewards do. A person who becomes addicted, the brain receptors start to become overwhelmed, so the brains natural defense responds by producing less dopamine or as the person becomes chemically addicted, the brain eliminates the receptors response and dopamine stops being released completely.
This is why the addictive drug has less impact on the brains reward system and the person becomes chemically dependent at this point; which causes the “chase and the intense need”. In turn, the person takes more and more of the substance, an effect known as “tolerance”.
Now compulsion takes over. The pleasure associated with the addictive drug or behavior disappears—yet, the memory of the desired effect and the need to recreate it (the cravings) persists. The “normal processing system” of the brain is no longer functioning. It’s almost as if the person becomes someone else; their reasoning is gone and the choice to make rational decisions based on “right and wrong” is non-existent.
The learning process mentioned earlier also comes into play. The hippocampus and the amygdala store information about environmental cues associated with the desired substance, so that it can be located again. These memories help create a conditioned response—intense craving—whenever the person encounters those environmental cues.
Cravings contribute not only to addiction but most importantly, relapse too. A person addicted to heroin may be in danger of relapse when he sees a hypodermic needle, for example, while another person might start to drink again after seeing a bottle of whiskey. Conditioned learning and these memories helps explain why people who develop an addiction are at high risk of relapse even after years of abstinence.
In layman’s terms, from my own research and understanding of this process, it is safe to say that memory plays a huge role in addiction. These memories can be compared to traumatic memories stored. Addicted behavior, for example, makes a person do things they never would have without the addiction. We rationalize this behavior as “I don’t recognize my son/daughter anymore”; because they literally are not the same. Their brain at this point has changed. It is held hostage by the processing of memories and information, only needing and intensely craving the substance.
A joyous occasion can be stored and processed in our brains “normally”; a memory we can automatically bring up and explain the joyous feeling we experienced from that occasion. It is very easy to explain to another person how much fun we had, the laughs we shared etc. A traumatic experience, on the other hand is not processed “normally”, it cannot automatically bring up or explain the negative feelings we experienced because it is visually attached in our brains. Meaning, that we cannot make another person understand how we feel. We only know that we feel it, and that it can drive us to sheer panic. For example, we witness our child overdose and we see them being revived by Narcan. We are relived that they made it through this time, but the emotion and negative feeling we attached to the actual memory of seeing the overdose can haunt us in many ways and affect our lives. Sometimes we block these memories out and don’t understand why we are depressed, lifeless, hopeless, and angry; and the list goes on. We are at this point driven by the negative emotions we attached to that specific memory. I firmly believe that the addicted person suffers from this process continuously. We may see them become different, they actually experience it. They are compacting one negative memory after another daily by using the drug and also by doing things just to get the drug. If we actually pay attention to their words, their self-loathing, their beliefs that they will never be able to stop this demon and their negativity to the world we can clearly see the effects the drugs and the actual addiction has done to them. It is a very sad and vivacious cycle. They develop patterns and have intense mood swings. Their bodies become sickly in appearance, they develop poor hygiene habits and just don’t care about anything, not even their own life. The intensity of the need is all that they can process and everything and everyone takes a back seat to the addiction.
Having gone through my own traumatic memories and PTSD symptoms of my son’s addiction, I have explored many ways to overcome this depression and deep sorrow that has held me hostage over the past few years. I have reached out to doctors, therapists and psychologists for my own healing. I have explored EMDR, TAPPING (EFT) and most recently Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT). I personally have experienced the most healing from the AFT technique, and in my opinion, so far has been the most beneficial to getting right to the heart of the situation and releasing the negative emotions I attached to my own experiences. Before I explain the technique, let’s explore the modalities used by health care professionals for people suffering from trauma and PTSD.
EMDR-Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing is a psychotherapy that helps people heal from the emotional distress that are the result of traumatic and disturbing life experiences. Studies show that by using EMDR therapy, the mind can in fact heal from trauma. It is assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal by removing blocks in the information processing system in the brain. The imbalance caused by the traumatic event/s, if left untreated can cause intense suffering. EMDR therapy uses a detailed protocol and procedures for clinicians to help clients activate these “memories” and help them through to their natural healing process.
TAPPING (EFT)-A basic technique that requires you to focus on the negative emotion: fear, panic, anger, sorrow; basically anything that is bothering you daily. While concentrating and using your mental focus on the issue or emotion at hand, you are also using your fingertips to tap numerous times on the body’s meridian points. The important rule here is to keep that concentration on the emotion of the memory, not the actual memory itself. We are at this point, to resolve the negative emotion, trying to access your body’s energy and trying to restore it back to a balanced state.
In my opinion only, these two modalities did not work for me personally. Studies show that they have had great success with both techniques, but I did not resolve much. The way I look at the situation is that both techniques did not concentrate on the actual memory which causes the emotional sabotage of our minds. I became more depressed daily and got to a point in my life I couldn’t even move off the couch. I felt hopeless, depressed and cried daily. I was paralyzed by the events that happened. That is when AFT was introduced to me.
Aroma Freedom Technique (AFT) – The Aroma Freedom Technique is a powerful new modality for releasing the emotional blocks and limiting beliefs that hold us back from life and creating this unbalanced cycle of depression, sorrow and anger. By using the sense of smell, he has identified one of the key ingredients in a “satisfying/reward’ system part of life in our brain. Whether it is the smell of food cooking, perfume of someone we love, or any of the millions of smells, we gain a deep sense of comfort or joy. It is also the same as with “bad smells”, they trigger some deep emotional feeling with in us that we don’t even notice. These “good or bad” smells are attached to memories.
AFT was developed by Dr. Benjamin Perkus, Clinical Psychologist, based upon his 20 years of experience integrating therapeutic grade, pure essential oils with traditional psychological and psychology techniques. Dr. Perkus has incorporated his extensive knowledge and experience in psychotherapy by integrating the power of essential oil blends specifically designed to speak to the amygdala gland for release of traumatic emotions, by allowing someone to open the “door” to these traumatic events without further injury, thus allowing the person to experience a positive shift once the negative emotion tied to the memory is released. The Aroma Freedom Technique is still in its infancy stage and no research is shown to validate this technique; also noted that since its birth, AFT has had favorable responses from hundreds of testimonials across the nation and internationally. Health care providers are also finding this technique very favorable with clients as they become certified in AFT and use the technique in their daily practices.
I personally have had tremendous positive results by incorporating this technique daily in my life. I was able to finally open my traumatic events and release the emotions attached to them. I still struggle, but with continued use on a daily basis, I feel empowered instead of broken. I cannot speak highly enough about it. I am so thankful for this technique that I became certified in it immediately and have taken a step further to sign up and continue with my education on this with Dr. Perkus.
In conclusion, with a few key notes and questions…it is safe to say that addiction can be linked to traumatic injury that reoccurs daily with the addicted person. Can we as a whole consider the possibility that we should concentrate on treating recovery with trauma/PTSD methods of therapy verses the traditional therapy used today? So far we are certain that punishing the addict, or tough love does not work. I will also go as far to say that detox and rehab facilities don’t work, along with faith based treatment programs and the 12 step programs. Relapse is a constant reminder that there is an important key element missing. Is it possible we need to shift our thinking to using these modalities as a way of treatment for a higher chance of full recovery and a higher success rate? Is it possible that the answer is so simple and staring at us all along?
*Overcoming Addiction: Paths toward recovery
**EMDR Institute, INC. https://www.emdr.com/
***WHAT IS EFT, TAPPING.COM
****AROMA FREEDOM TECHNIQUE, AFT, by Dr. Benjamin Perkus, Clinical Psychologist and Author of The Aroma Freedom Technique