MYTH: There’s something wrong with the addict brain.

By: John Brooks LPC, MFT

Our brain reward system isn’t wrong. It’s working as expected. We see evidence of this reward system in every creature inhabiting this planet…even fossils of extinct animals show evidence of these brain structures.

This brain reward system works by causing us to get excited when we sense or experience something worth remembering or repeating. This is how we survive. Humans know about this process: if you offer a reward for something, people respond. Go look at “Lost Pet” signs in any neighborhood.

Our brains do something similar when we experience anything that feels good…a piece of chocolate cake…falling in love…there’s a reason those things all feel similar: dopamine, the feel-good brain chemical!

This neurotransmitter, dopamine, causes us to feel excited and want more of whatever we were experiencing; whether it was a great song, or a great relationship…and of course, this is where drugs come into the party and mess things up. Drugs hijack that dopamine release and artificially enhance it to last longer and feel more intense than nature intended.

This interaction between our brain reward system and these massive artificial dopamine surges, causes us to become highly motivated (pun intended) to continue using whatever drug did it for us. It’s different for each individual, and this helps explain why “drug of choice” is such a common phenomenon in this population.

Since human creatures only do 2 things biologically: seek pleasure and avoid pain; this is how the insidious nature of addiction rears its ugly head. You’re never quite aware of when your brain reward system switches over from “seeking pleasure” into the “avoiding pain” side of things, but it inevitably happens. No one asks for help because they’re tired of feeling so great all the time!

One of the foundational components of treatment at Second Chances is the way our counseling staff will show you how to intentionally replace the substance with something you value emotionally more than any “drug of choice.” Your brain reward system can be healed and you can find pleasure in the naturally occurring experiences that we were intended to enjoy: family, friends, validation, intimacy.

You can switch your brain out of survival mode and learn how to find peace and serenity when you’re ready. There is hope because there’s nothing wrong with your brain…it works fine…come let us remind you how again.