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Understanding the Suffering Addict’s Brain

The brain of someone addicted to drugs and alcohol is maladaptive to say the least. It does not function as designed, not even close. As a result, an addict’s behavior is typically self-destructive.  Loved ones seeing this behavior get very upset. Their loved ones are destroying themselves, and it hurts.

As they witness this terrible behavior, most people get very angry with the person. That’s because the suffering addict often says and does things that are extremely hurtful, even unforgivable.

By Shayne Sundholm, CEO, Clean Recovery Centers

Night and Day

But here’s what loved ones should understand – the addict is not the person they really are. This is who they are in active addiction. The difference between the two is night and day. If you want to be angry, be angry at the disease and not the person suffering from active addiction.

Why does the addict act out so abhorrently? The simple answer is that their brain is malfunctioning. The brain of a human is amazingly sophisticated. Trillions of brain cells and millions of chemicals must interact in a certain way for the brain to function normally. Needless to say, this does not happen in the brain of someone in active addiction. In this brain, the critical interactions are often completely scrambled and blocked.

Even worse, the area of the brain responsible for judgment is largely blocked, and the primitive areas of the brain are essentially running the show. These primitive areas are capable of only basic flight or fight responses. The addict’s primitive brain equates “using” with living and “not using” with dying. As a result, suffering addicts will do virtually anything to continue to use.

 

Impossible to describe

Here’s something that loved ones need to know – Unless you have the disease of addiction, it is very difficult to understand and almost impossible to describe in words.

The emotions that a suffering addict experiences are incredibly dark. Fear, worry, remorse and regret are constant. And, because addicts lack the skills to cope with these emotions, they use even more. The consequences become ever worse, and the fear, worry, remorse and regret escalate.

This cycle includes getting high, suffering even worse consequences and then experiencing the dreadful impact of negative emotions. The addict then uses again to blot out these feelings and continues to use over and over again. The eventual outcome of untreated addiction is simple and stark – jails, institutions and death.

 

The recovery mode

When a person recovers, the maladapted brain is reprogrammed. This requires a tremendous amount of work. In detox, the substances are removed from the body. Effective treatment should start immediately and focus largely around doing the “next right thing.”

As the person continuously does the next right thing, those areas of the brain responsible for judgment begin to awaken. The brain begins to see better outcomes as opposed to the disaster of addiction.

Keeping the brain in this reprogrammed state means doing some simple things – the next right thing –  each day. But if these daily disciplines are not consistently followed, the brain can become deprogrammed, and addictive thinking can return very quickly

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