September 26, 2015

Who owns addiction?

I used to think my addiction to drinking had control over me, that it ruled me. I saw it as an unsavoury force in my life, dictating my behaviour. It was something to curse when I woke up in the morning with a hangover. It was almost as though I’d personified it … identified it as something external.

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[Qualifier: I manage my ‘addiction’ within acceptable social boundaries. Many would argue I’m not even  ‘addicted’. I believe I am though as drinking is an almost daily practice, it’s challenging to stop for a period, and I find it hard to imagine stopping all together.]

Last December I read a book called Be by Design, How I be is up to me by Christine McKee. I don’t normally read self-help books but I happened to meet the author and we exchanged self-published  books. I’m so glad I did, because reading that book changed my life.

It made me realise that my addiction was not some external force controlling me. ‘How I be is up to me.’ I have an addiction, bad habit, whatever you want to call it, because I want to have it. I drink because I like it. It’s great social fun, relaxing and tastes good. There is no external force controlling me. I’m controlling myself.

The good thing about this shift in perception is that it is the first step towards change … taking responsibility. If I have this habit because I choose to, then I can choose not to have it. Simple … or is it?

My research into neurology for my second book Mind Minders taught me that addiction is a learned habit, a series of neural pathways well-developed, matured and strongly defined. The brain gets used to the influx of foreign particles, the drug, and neurotransmitters become reliant on the chemical transaction, making them lazy and unproductive on their own.

When you stop consuming the chemical, whatever drug, your body still demands it. It must be coaxed, persuaded by another part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex. If commitment to change is strong enough, the prefrontal cortex will override the cravings, enabling us to endure the transition to health again.

In time the neurotransmitters recover and begin to produce their own dopamine and serotonin, restoring the feeling of well-being and satisfaction with life. But that takes time and many addicts relapse before this transition occurs.

The longer we desist in the behaviour/habit, the stronger other neural networks become, including the network which enables us to say ‘NO’.

There is always hope for change if we can just click the override button into gear and when we do, the neurological transition can take place. The really great thing is that we all have this neurological capacity!

I think it helps to understand the mechanics … it gives me hope.

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