applied Neural PLasticity & dynamics

The brain has the amazing ability to change and rewire itself.

Lets use that as a tool and basis for treatment.

Addiction and Addiction-Like Disorders

If various disorders all only vary in what the compulsion is, wouldn’t it be better to then look at the root  problem all of the disorders have in common?

Its seems obvious that  in all of these related disorders we should be looking at why the flexible adaptive memory system parts of the brain are no longer exercising rational conscious control, but rather allowing the rigid habitual response system to dominate. Rather than saying some are diseases, and some are disorders, let’s get past the name game, and start looking at real answers to a group of common ailments, and how the brain is no longer doing what it should be doing—adapting and changing. Or at least, adapting and changing correctly.   

Classifying addiction as a disease has increased funding for research as well as removed some of the stigma of addiction and improved opportunities for treatment. It has also, however, moved the issue out of the realm of psychology and into one of traditional medicine. The mental disorders in the brain are far too often now being approached as any kidney, liver, or infectious disease would be: Develop a pill that you can just take and be cured of the infection, or one you just take the rest of your life to control the disease. These strategies overlook that the brain is unique in the body in its ability to change itself—called plasticity. These treatments all view the plasticity as a problem to control for, not a powerful tool to use FOR treatment.

The problem with addiction is that it is not a true disease. Limited and often only passing exposure to the pathogen is all that is required for most diseases to infect a person, while few become addicted with such restricted exposure to drugs of abuse. Some drugs do have a much more rapid addiction onset, but as a whole, people start with occasional recreational use and after time move through stages to where they are fully addicted and NEED the drug. This is a critical difference, as most people once they have gotten the Flu, or some other disease, managed to get the pathogen out of there system. And once recovered, they do not then attempt to expose themselves to it again, yet alone attempt to seek it out all costs, as an addicted person will do with their drug!  

The problem of relapse also persists well after any trace of the drug has been cleared from the system, and can occur after many drug-free years. Yes, other diseases have relapses, but addiction relapse is the person seeking out the disease, not the disease redeveloping to a noticeable point.

Does this mean that addiction is just mental and in your head? Yes and no. All behavior, thought, emotion, etc. is ‘just in your head.’ They are all the result of biological processes. That is one positive aspect of addiction now being labeled as a disease and a not a disorder: it makes this problem real and physiological, not something mystical or metaphysical that can’t be changed or helped physically. Everything that we are as a human is the result of neural activity. Mess up the biological part, and you mess up how the person acts and perceives. Unlike say a kidney disease, mental disorders cause problems with how the brain processes information, evaluates information and controls how a person then acts.

However, it also leaves many highly related problems as labeled as disorders, and doesn’t help establish them as problem with physical causes and physical answers.

These are the addiction-like disorders. Compulsive eating, gambling, body-dysmorphic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, etc. Even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression have great similarities to addiction-like behavior. All of these , along with addiction itself, can be viewed as problems of compulsive and perseverative behaviors.  There is now a large debate over what exactly should be considered an ‘addiction.’ Adding this disease label has now changed it where only drug related disorders are addictions—and therefore diseases. The outward signs of perseverative behaviors, compulsions, and loss of control are the primary diagnosis and the primary problem. All resulting from changes in the brain’s wiring, but only when it was caused by a drug of abuse will it be considered a disease.

This is a very artificial dichotomy to create and it is a counterproductive path to explore!

 

Then it seemed like falling into a labyrinth: we thought we were at the finish, but our way bent round and we found ourselves as it were back at the beginning, and just as far from that which we were seeking at first.

Thus the present-day notion of a labyrinth as a place where one can lose [his] way must be set aside. It is a confusing path, hard to follow without a thread, but, provided [the traverser] is not devoured at the midpoint, it leads surely, despite twists and turns, back to the beginning.

— Socrates (Kerenyi, p. 91.)

Acquired, behavior-related disorders that are persistent