Dear Dr. Ted: I have a son who has an alcohol problem that is getting worse and worse. It is hard to see him going downhill and it seems there is little I can do. Sometimes, I feel I can have rational talks with him and then he turns around and does the opposite. It is like his mouth says one thing and his actions do the opposite. Do you see this with other people who are dealing with addiction? Thanks, Clarence
Dear Clarence: Addiction has a strong grip on our society and impacts the individual, family, community and the world at large. According to the American Medical Association, addiction is a chronic disease, which means that it is progressive, and without some sort of intervention, it can lead to death.
At first, you may partake in an addictive behavior as it makes you feel good. Slowly you move from “like” to “want” to “need” to “require.” As this takes place, you operate more from one part of the brain to another section that operates differently than a brain that is not influenced by addiction. Simplified, your decisions and behaviors come from two parts of the brain, one being the frontal cortex (frontal lobe) and the other from the limbic system.
The frontal lobe is your rational brain, where conscious decisions are derived. It is also where your morals, values and care are located.
The limbic system is your survival brain as well as your pleasure center. This section of the brain is not decision-oriented, it is more similar to a reflexive reaction. It is triggered by the environment around you such as people, places, circumstances and even stressors such as weather. When a substance enters your system, it can give relief to these stressors and the lower brain starts to integrate this into your system as the way to relieve the stress. As time goes on, your limbic system no longer just wants this external source of relief but actually craves it.
Over time the limbic system starts to control your actions rather than the frontal lobe which would include making rational decisions. A problem is that you will think you have control and you will normalize your situation to the point that the brain has almost tricked you into thinking addictive behavior is normal and life should include actions that in your “right mind” just don’t make sense, such as lying, stealing, hurting self and others.
Addictive behavior is when you know that an action is going to negatively impact yourself (physically, emotionally, spiritually or cognitively), family, your profession or others and you still choose to do this action. This would give evidence that you are coming from your limbic system rather than your frontal lobe. Even though the limbic part of your brain cannot be directly controlled, there are actions that can allow you to have your frontal lobe be the director of your life once again through different types of recovery programs such as 12-step support groups, treatment centers, therapy, intensive outpatient or inpatient and church-oriented recovery programs.
Recovery rarely can be successful alone. Finding a program that allows you the opportunity to improve your quality of life is worthwhile and will allow you to reconnect to the world around you and remember your true self.
Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.
Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Dr. Ted Wiard, EdD, LPCC, CGC, Founder of Golden Willow Retreat at GWR@newmex.com
This weekly column seeks to help educate our community about emotional healing through grief. People may write questions to Golden Willow Retreat and they will be answered privately to you and possibly as a future article for others. Please list a first name that grants permission for printing.