Addicts Are Not Always Moral Wrongdoers or Weak-willed

-By A. Scott Roberts
M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling, Addiction Specialist

Addiction was thought to only affect moral wrongdoers or those that are weak-willed. But addiction is much more. The pervasive nature of addiction penetrates the lives of the poor and rich, successful and unsuccessful. Medical doctors as well as homeless transients, can easily become addicted.

Some people become addicted to heroin, while others, snack foods and sweets. Addictions, are really chemical addictions inside the brain.

Addiction boosts chemicals in the brain by activating the limbic “reward” center. This limbic “reward” center is very limbic systempowerful in directing behavior because it is denser, developed before other brain structures, and works largely at a subconscious level.

Addictive behaviors such as drug taking, activates the motivational-incentive system in the brain that is associated with a species survival. The same reward system has been found in ancient life, including anthropoids, inveterate phyla and mollusks.1

This is the same area that is tied to the autonomic nervous system. It is activated when we step outside in freezing temperatures and our bodies begin to shiver. We do not consciously control these things, they just happen.

Scientists know that addition is not just a mental or moral weakness, but has biochemical roots that throw off the homeostatic state of the brain. When dopamine (a brain chemical) spikes at dramatic levels it starts to “hijack” other parts of the brain.2 As a result, addicts start to value the emotional payoff of their drug over the perceived negative consequences.

Because the brain is a multiple structured system, the brain must be at balance to function properly.3

Addictive behaviors work on the emotional system, while the rational brain structure competes to warn the individual of the consequences of such behaviors.

This explains why many addicts feel as if there is a different part to them – a part that wants to quit, while another part strongly urges them to continue.

TOA_HydeAmbivalence (should I or shouldn’t I?) is a common feeling for those who are addicted…

Family members often describe their loved one as a Mr. Jekyll and Dr Hyde because their drug-taking behavior has become priority. Addicts may lie, cheat and steal to hide and maintain their drug using. This is a result of the addicted brain.

Instead of viewing addicted individuals as moral wrongdoers, understanding that an addict often has a biochemical condition which can be corrected, brings hope.

One example, Dr. Gant, Medical director of Tully Hill Hospital reported a 83 percent success in treating people with addictions by addressing the biochemical deficiencies. Dr. Gant and colleagues showed certain nutrients can restore the imbalance that continues to fuel addiction. Once it is fixed, behavior improves.4

These studies were repeated, resulting in similar outcomes.

-A. Scott Roberts
 M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling, Addiction Specialist

1. Neese R.and Berridge. K. (1997) Psychoactive Drug Use in Evolutionary Perspective. October. Vol. 278 no. 5335 pp. 63-66
2. Blakeslee, Sandra (2002). “Hijacking the Brain Circuits with a Nickel Slot Machine.” The New York Times (February 19), Sec. F, 1.
3. David Eagleman Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain. London: Penguin Books, 2011
4. Grant L.P., et al. “Nutrition Education is Positively Associated with Substance Abuse Treatment Program Outcomes.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association; 104(4):604-10. April

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