Dr. Don Middleton
(excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Dunamis Effect: When Your Higher Power is Jesus)
Whenever we are faced with difficulty, whether it is the end of an important relationship, an unexpected or undeserved firing, or when receiving a very difficult medical diagnosis, there is a strong temptation to ask why it happened specifically to you. It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy, and even though most people agree with this thought, when bad things happen to you, you cannot help but ask: Did I do something wrong? Is it just inferior genes? A consequence of sin? Or does God just not care, and everything is just random and without explanation?
There can be no more poignant question in addiction than “Why me?” It is asked almost universally and often met with a crushing absence of a satisfactory answer. The pain, humiliation, expense, loss of things and people held dear, and complete demoralization common in advanced stages of an addictive life, appear to the person with the addiction, and everyone near him, to be an utter waste. The toll exacted on families makes any explanation seem hollow and valueless. This chapter aims to explain addiction from first a biologic perspective, and then look at it from God’s point of view.
There has been a whole library filled with writings about addiction over the last couple of decades, and a tremendous amount of research has gone into understanding HOW it occurs. There is incredible detail known about this process and verified via various sources. Any explanation of addiction that occupies several pages will necessarily be a brief sketch and overly simplified.
Apologies in advance to the neurobiologist reading this description. As for the rest of us, it is hoped that understanding the process will give you some relief that you’re not an evil person, but at the same time, we do not wish to leave anyone with the impression that self-knowledge about addiction is the key to walking away from it. Frequently, self-knowledge seems to be of little benefit.
Biologically, there are three main components: Use of the chemical or behavior, one’s unique genetics, and the brain’s ability to change, called neuroplasticity. (Side note: It has been hypothesized that biologists get paid by the syllable – double word score if it’s in Latin.) Let’s try and unwrap these one by one.
It would be impossible to become addicted to something you have never had any exposure to. There must be use, and for addiction, there needs to be repeated use. The exact amount and the duration vary from person to person, so it is impossible to tell exactly which drink or pill tipped the boat over into addictive waters. Nevertheless, repeated exposure is required.
Sociologists and psychologists have repeatedly asked the question “Why use in the first place?” and have come up with several main categories:
- TO FEEL GOOD – This is curiosity or a wish to feel differently by altering one’s chemistry, i.e., to get “high.”
- TO FEEL BETTER – In this scenario (which is very common,) chemistry and/or behaviors are used to self-medicate a feeling or emotion. Most commonly this is anxiety or depression, although the desire to soothe any pain can be expected to fit into this category.
- TO DO BETTER – Perceived or actual performance enhancement is common and occurs from the sports field to the classroom to the board room.
- Early gains tend to promote use beyond the drug’s ability to help.
- TO FIT IN – Social groups and certain cultural norms promote and, at times, demand use in order to belong.
God’s design for humans is that they have within them a system of nerves and chemicals that get them to pursue things that help continue the species. In fact, the overwhelming desire of all biology is to pass on their genes to future generations. In other words – to reproduce.
The way we are programmed is partially through a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps us to recognize and assign value to those things that help us reproduce and to stay alive long enough to reproduce. This means we assign a great deal of value to food and sex. When a human has good food, or experiences sex, their brain says, “I like that, and it seems very important to my biologic mission. I’ll assign value to that to remember it in the future.”
The midbrain, which is a very primitive part that’s common in most animals (also called the “lizard brain”) makes chemicals including dopamine, which go to the frontal cortex and say, “Remember this activity, and repeat it when you have a chance.” The frontal cortex is the decider of things and separates us from most lower species. It remembers data, calculates risk, and modifies behavior that might get out of control. Any casual observer could point to a majority of people that have used, and even used heavily without becoming addicted. Some people seem to just walk away from chemical or addictive behaviors without a second thought. What makes them different from a person with an addiction?
The overly simplistic answer is genetics. There seems to be a tremendous amount of effort to search for the “addiction gene” in hopes that it may be “turned off” and cured. Current thinking is that addiction is about 50-60% genetic, mostly in the midbrain, with hundreds of genetic locations involved.
Repeatedly, we see addictive behavior clustered in genetic lines. Obviously, there are people who have no one who suffered addiction in their lineage that get addicted, and others with a heavy addiction burden surrounding them including everyone on both sides of the family, that do not get addicted. There must be use, and it needs to be significantly prolonged use, even though many knew they liked it, or felt “normal” after the first exposure.
Get the first chapter of The Dunamis Effect at https://dunamisinitiative.com/
Excerpt used with permission.