We ARE Addicts - Part II
Scientists studied smokers and found that the smokers with lesions on a part of the brain called the insula could quit smoking completely and easily. For decades scientists believed that the insula was nothing more than a center that sent signals to the body alerting to hunger, pain and rather normal feelings of that nature. There was additional research concerning insula damage and the conclusion was that if insula damage could keep someone from smoking and smoking was the same as other addictions, then unfortunately, the addiction cure is brain damage.
Now no one is suggesting such a thing but it was a revelation to the scientists who did the study and it is rather mindboggling. This brings smokers now into the circle of addiction. Personally, being an ex-smoker, I found abstaining from nicotine more difficult in many ways than alcohol. Today, I am not tempted to drink but the temptation to pick up a cigarette comes back more often than I would like. Bechara, the neuroscientist who conducted the above study, said that addicts had long been screened for aberrant behavior. But not smokers. Addiction in terms of visible consequences separated smokers from other addicts. There is an immediate harm if I have a drink but the results are harder to quantify if I have a smoke.
Here is the clincher though. Bechara says, “If you would have asked me 40 years ago if smoking is an addiction, I would have said no. We didn’t know smoking was harmful then. But now we know it is harmful. Addiction is about persisting in a behavior despite knowledge of negative consequences.” Without calling it by name, Bechara is saying that smoking, like other addictions is insanity! We know the consequences and do it anyway.
Studies have been made to show that prolonged abuse of alcohol and drugs makes it more difficult for the user to feel pleasure. I believe we know that and probably may be one of the reasons, conscious or not, that we decided to recover. We didn’t get that buzz any long. It took too long to feel that high. This has to do with the fact that there is a decrease in the dopamine receptors.
Since the brain is affected by alcohol and drugs, addiction is a disease. Davies and Alkana, USC, agree that addiction is associated with voluntary choices that can, over time, interact with genetics and environmental factors. I talked about that “nature and nurture” in Part 1. Unlike other disease, though, with addiction the symptoms burden the cure. “Bad choices compromise our very stability to make choices. If addiction is a disease, it is a disease of self-destruction.’
In 2009, a Harvard psychologist challenged the idea that addiction was a disease since it can be overcome by sheer will. Now, I don’t know about you but I’m thinking I’m glad this guy isn’t my psychologist because if he were, I’d still be drinking. But I believe there are still many, many professionals as well as the general public who believe such nonsense. Dr. Drew has stated that “Addicts are responsible for their own treatment but they are not responsible for the disease. I’ve never met an addict who was happy with being an addict.”
The remainder of the article concerns itself with how the brain works in an addict and that if the brain becomes active when someone smokes, drinks or uses, then the thought is perhaps scientists will be able to bolster the parts of the brain to help addicts make better decisions. There are areas in the brain that are in charge of self-control and that might be a new way of looking at addiction. Under any circumstances, rats which are always the “guinea pigs” will become addicted to anything. But John Monterosso, USC, notes that this is always one sided. Rats seek reward. But “Addiction is not just about seeking reward. It is about being conflicted.” We do have the capacity to trade short-term pleasures for true happiness.
The last part of this article was about a new treatment for alcoholism called Ivermectin. I’m not going to go into great detail with it because in a way it is not new and after reading the article, was disappointed that I still think these scientists just don’t get it. In a specific group most of the researchers had experienced or seen the devastation caused by addiction. Because of that, they wanted to find a “cure”. Ivermectin is a chemical and is an anti-parasitic. It is found as an additive to flea and tick medication for dogs and cats.
Ivermectin was tested on mice and when given alcohol, the mice drank 50% less. The researcher (Davies, USC) doesn’t know why but thought it might be used in humans to depart from abstinence-based models as we lovingly know as the 12 Steps. Ivermectin therapy could enable alcoholics to consume a drink or two, without the compulsion to drink to the point where the alcoholic loses control. Most of the other drugs made to treat alcoholics make alcohol undrinkable or undesirable. Ivermectin is supposedly “unlikely addictive” itself.
My own comments? Well, if I didn’t think the article were interesting I wouldn’t have shared it. But deep down inside my thought is, “Why on earth are all you guys sitting around in your lab coats, wasting time and money trying to reinvent the wheel? Why don’t you just get a group of us together and ask us about addiction? Ask about our disease? Listen to what we have to say? Oh, if it were all that simple. I’m not underestimating their work and desire to help but I get frustrated at the fact that they truly don’t get it. The ivermectin? God help us! What happens seeking the cause of our addiction? Will we change because we take ivermectin and can have a drink or two? I would be very interested in what anyone of you out there has to say. For me, I’m glad I’m in recovery today and I’ll stick to the 12 Steps that have given me a life!
Namaste’. May you walk your journey in peace and harmony.
“Like” Grateful Recovery in Facebook. Kathy L. is the author of “The Intervention Book: Stories and Solutions from Addicts, Professionals, and Families (Conari Press)
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