Rewiring Your Brain

A new study reported by the Huffington Post, among others, is reporting that cocaine begins rewiring the brain even after a single usage. This is old news to those of us who deal with addictions or have ever taken a class on neurochemistry. Drug and Alcohol Counselors have known for years that the opiates, though seemingly innocuous when taken at prescription strength (T3’s, Percocets, Emtec, Morphine, Oxys, Heroine, etc) have a profound and physical effect on a neurological level. Unfortunately for many of us, so does porn. Actually on some level any response mechanism, coping techniques, cognitive distortion or belief has not only a physical but also a neurochemical effect on your brain. There are fantastic and crackpot websites a plenty to explain this all over the internet. Some are informative, some are… less informative.

It’s important to understand that the brain is not a static device, set in stone as they say. It is actually possible to change the way the brain spits out those little chemicals and where those little dudes land. If you don’t believe me just start or stop a habit. Creating a habit is nothing more, on a chemical level, than rewiring where your dudes land. You can change the way you act, the way you think, what you believe, who you are. This is powerful information if you know how to manipulate it. You are not a victim of your circumstances, at least on a neurological level. You can convince yourself of virtually anything, given enough time and effort. It’s a fascinating study that has pragmatic consequences. If you don’t believe me google neuroplasticity, or synapses, or dendrites, axons or neurons and you’ll soon have a ton of new material to throw around at parties to impress your friends.

Psychology has come a long way since we liked to  drill people’s heads, and information is power. Once you realize that quitting smoking, or stopping catastophizing, dealing with your poor self-esteem, or stopping using cocaine is a matter of rewiring your brain it is possible to hope that change can come.

You can do it. It’s a scientific fact.



I have radically changed the way I think about addictions.

I work part-time in addictions and see it’s effects literally dozens of times each week. It’s easy to believe that the problem is the addiction – if we can just help people stop drinking than their life will work itself out. Unfortunately this is not even remotely true and people who understand people are realizing that the addiction is simply another symptom of something much deeper.

When I was young and drugs came calling they were just another solution to the problem called “My Life”. Chocolate made me happy right now. So did cocaine and boobies and volleyball. Basketball sorted me out, so did pot. My only crime was that I grabbed too hard at one of my solutions to stress. Why couldn’t I have developed an addiction to body-building instead? Chocolate is nice, why couldn’t it have been to chocolate?

Dealing with your maladjusted life by stopping only one of the symptoms does not make sense. Somewhere along the line in many lives drugs became medication, not recreation. Cocaine helped you not have to think about your crumbling life. Drinking and sex helped you believe you were important. Being high kept you from thinking about your struggle to hope that things could change.

In counseling I encourage clients to look beyond their need for medication and address the actual disease they have been medicating. We need to learn to put our lives in perspective and change dysfunctional thinking patterns. Taking responsibility for your own heart and happiness truly is the best thing you can do to improve your life.


Does It Really Matter What You’re Addicted To?

English: ChapStick lip balm Español: Bálsamo l...

It’s all about dopamine… and Chapstick.

The need to flee “ordinary” motivates many of us to indulge in the things that others will someday call our “addiction”. Professionals, including myself, have long delighted in shutting down those who believe they had an “addictive personality”. But what if there is more to this than I first supposed?

People working in the addictions field can give you copious examples of clients who were “poly” drug users, addicted to whatever was available. These same addicts would, while in recovery, be the first to sell out to the program, find Jesus, and plan to become an addictions counselor. People who are impulsive, struggle with impulse control, and prone to show a willingness to try anything for a good time are prime candidates for poly-drug use and “all-or-nothing” thinking. Whether it’s Chapstick or heroin, sunflower seeds or cocaine, exercise or meth, addictions all serve the same basic primary function – distraction. As I have heard countless addicts say, when asked what drug they are addicted to, “What you got?”.

Studies have shown that dopamine levels begin to rise long before someone actually snorts cocaine, for example. Just the thought of getting high on Friday is enough to alter the chemicals in our body today. This release of happy goodness serves to focus our energy on satiating our addiction while distracting us from looking at the situation more objectively. The mental build-up to our addiction warps our perception of reality and gives us tunnel-vision. This tunnel-vision is why addicts consistently choose their drug over their family. They truly believe that their family is their top priority but cannot, once the thought has become an intention, stop themselves from making a bad choice over and over again.

I have known people who get this same euphoric energy and satiation from shopping for shoes, or going to garage sales, or running on a treadmill. Addictions experts recognized this before the mainstream medical community and began recommending addictions deflection – moving unhealthy vices into less and less harmful activities through transference, not a “cold turkey” approach.

‘Life’ is usually the reason most people have problems with addiction and impulse control. Helping someone stop drinking, for example, is only a very small part of staying healthy. Learning to deal with their dysfunctional coping skills that have helped them survive their horrible lives, now that’s the real crux of the matter. The journey is not hopeless but it is fraught with work and frustration.

I know what it is like to feel bogged down by the pain of life and struggle to even care if things got better. I do not profess to understand what you are going through and have grown too tired to give you three simple steps to fixing your life.

All I can say is that it was worth it.

In spite of firmly believing that my life would never get better somehow I allowed myself to admit that I was afraid of things getting better. I forced myself to hope again.

I had no idea this article would end up like this…


Life Is Boring

For most people, real life is…well…boring. The real world isn’t like it is on television. Most of us don’t spend our days chasing bad guys and running along roofs in Monte Carlo. There is a reason there are so many exciting cop shows and gun battles on the big screen – it’s called escape. Our real lives are a series of commitments and kids and shopping and work projects. Unfortunately most of us have made financial commitments and have obligations that we need to pay for. Paying for things means work.

I have, arguably, a pretty sweet ride. I get paid to listen to other people’s problems, drink coffee, and pretend to be smart. When you think of vocations that are demanding and difficult, my career path doesn’t even crack the paint. If you have empathy and a desire to help other people it’s easy and very rewarding. Still, even this easy walk in the park gets old. Very few of us, in fact, after the initial blast of career steam, wake up every morning in a lather to get to work. Our lives are not overwhelmed with excitement and variety. Hopefully our home lives are fulfilling and stable, though probably not an adrenaline rush either. The media has us convinced that life should be a series of orgasms broken up only by trips and gunfights and touchdowns. Real life is not, unfortunately, “True Lies” and your nerd husband is not actually a super spy who hangs out with Tom Arnold. Sorry, he’s actually a nerd.

No one is talking about the catastrophic effect this is having on our dissatisfaction with life and the effect this media driven hysteria has on relationships, addictions, depression, anxiety, and life in general. Most of us grew up believing we were going to have exciting lives of adventure similar to the fantasies thrown at us since birth, and it is dawning on us that we aren’t models and rock stars and astronauts. Is it any wonder than that the statistics on depression are staggering? Why are we so shocked with the growing angst among the emerging generations? There is a reason people are doing more drugs and experimenting with sexuality and growing up later. We have bubble-wrapped our children and they are growing up unchallenged, uninjured, and curious, very curious.

When people ask me how anyone could become a drug addict I am prone to tell them the reason is – drugs are awesome! The high from Cocaine is way better than reality and if it wasn’t for the fact that it takes your house and your joy and eventually your life many of us would probably be stoned 24/7. Want to know the number one reason most of my clients who are recovering addicts return to active drug usage? Boredom. No one is talking about it at 12 Step Meetings but get an addict to be honest and he or she will probably tell you the ‘normie’ world is mind-numbingly boring.

Take the average day of a heroin addict. They get up in the morning feeling sick. Their day consists of finding money to get high, finding drugs to get high, getting high, being high, coming down, and going to bed. It isn’t much of a life but it isn’t boring, spending half the day getting high and the other half desperately on a search. Now put that same heroin addict on a Methadone Program. They get up in the morning and go to the Pharmacy at 8:15 for their cup of juice. They drink the juice. Day is over. Now what are they supposed to do all day? They have never had a job and have no capacity to lie on a resume and look for work. They come from generations of welfare recipients. They tell me all the time that they cannot imagine going to work every day and becoming a citizen. Many addicts equate that with giving up. Did you read that? My definition of success is their definition of giving up. Startling.

I have had to become ok with the real world. My life is not racing cars and nightclubs and beautiful hotel suites. Many people, however, continue to struggle with finding meaning their entire life. They are depressed by reality and long for a fantasy world of knights and damsels and adrenaline. They have a hole in their heart that they try to shove alcohol and Prozac and Ciprolex and sex and hoagies into, hoping to somehow feel like their life matters.

The real world is boring. Let’s say it together. The real world is boring. But that is actually not a bad thing. I cannot speak for everyone but I am fairly certain that I was not created or built for wall to wall orgasms. In fact most of the things in my life that matter have very little to do with adrenaline. I find more complete joy and fulfillment in the people I love and who love me than I ever could from something as shallow as a race car. The things that matter to me are the people I care about, in whose presence I feel more alive.

Fantasy is called that for a reason. I love pretending to shoot aliens and ride spaceships and being a spy as much as the next guy, maybe more. But at the end of the day I wouldn’t give up one minute with my new grandson Angus Scott for all the acclaim this world has to offer. And chances are, you wouldn’t either.

I think it was that Jesus guy who said something about that, even before Twitter.