HOW ALCOHOLISM AND ADDICTION DEVELOP

If we go far enough back on any person’s timeline we will discover a point before the first using event occurred. It could be the second before, the minute before or the day before. It is a time when the brain and nervous system were free of alcohol and other drugs.

Some people will be shocked at how young others were when they first experienced alcohol, being drunk, drugs and being high or an injury due to using these substances. Some were as young as three, four or five years of age.

Other clients report first use as in their teens, 20’s, 30’s or even older. People who develop a gambling problem (addiction) later in life (50’s,60’s or older) never knew they had a problem until one day – boom! it hit them and they were taken over in a moment.

It is not necessary to cover all the brain activity or the details of the chemical reactions that occur in different parts of the brain to discuss the problem of addiction. Suffice it to say that after enough using episodes or trials the person or brain will eventually be taken over.

After repeated usage of alcohol as an example a person begins to build tolerance. More of the substance is needed to get the same effect. The person begins to experience withdrawal symptoms from that particular drug if they don’t get it. If he does not get the ‘hit’ or ‘hair of the dog’ the symptoms can persist. People can feel out of sorts, lousy, cranky, feel like they will die and may be very unpleasant to be around.

In the beginning let’s say a person could get a buzz on from one or two 12 ounce beers. It feels great and the brain says ‘Hey Stan, I like that. I want more of that.’ Before you know it I need three or four beers to get the same sensation. I begin to dose myself or titrate – determining the amount I will need to get the desired effect. Before you know it I need 12 beers to get the effect and soon after that I’m loaded.

So – why do people drink or use any drug? Why do people do any behavior? One theory is that everything we do is to either move away from pain or move toward pleasure. Using alcohol or other drugs has been called ‘self-medicating’ by some professionals.

By the way, if I define every phrase such as ‘titrate’, ‘self-medicating’ or ‘withdrawal’ this writing will turn into a thesaurus or dictionary. That is too far astray from my goal. The reader can Google these terms and come up with volumes of information. But don’t Google too much because I want you here.

Why do we shoot ourselves in the foot then? And how do we do that? Talking recently with an anonymous client who was seeking to ‘feel better’ about herself and her life, she reported that the reason she experimented with drugs was because of the ‘feelings’ she got from them and that she could ‘escape’ from how she ‘was feeling’ by artificially creating a new feeling.

That’s her ‘why’ answer. She was moving ‘away’ from the bad feelings (pain) and ‘toward’ the better feelings (pleasure). The ‘how’ was with a half dozen different drugs that she got from the most unreliable people one could imagine – dealers.

That is another problem. The dealers. Do you really think they care about you? I think they care more about my money than me. They want it to go from my pocket to theirs as quickly and as often as possible. Some of you might say ‘but it’s only weed.’ How does anyone know if and with what weed may be laced today?

The dealer wants your repeat business. If his product knocks your socks off and it seems cheaper or the same price as a competitor you might return to her or him for a ‘better high.’ If we can get a ‘cleaner clean’ today I suppose a ‘better high’ is not too far fetched.

What’s the simple take home for today? The once pure brain or nervous system can become addicted to a substance or even gambling by building tolerance. Repeated behavior reinforces the effect. Before you know it – addictio – taken over.

The next part of the simple take home is that we use or do other behavior to move ‘away from pain’ and ‘toward pleasure.’ So, we see that it is our feelings and emotions that lead to behavior choices – good or bad. One of the things that I do for clients is to show them ways to control feelings and emotions. The Power of Emotional State is critical. We will discuss that in the next post.

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