Brain Science and Addictions

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Last weekend my husband, Doug, and I attended the official opening of Bridges of Hope, a drug addiction treatment center in Anderson, IN.  I was expecting an open house tour of the new facility.  But, I arrived in time to hear the Governor of Indiana, Eric Holcomb and other dignitaries speak at the opening ceremony. I didn’t know the governor would attend. Another surprise of the day for me was the catered lunch.  Yum!

Here’s a link to The Herald Bulletin’s article about the event. Bridges of Hope Opening

Here’s a link to Bridges of Hope’s website. Bridges of Hope

I have an interest in this place for 2 reasons: 1. I’m a mental health therapist and am glad to welcome this treatment facility to my community.  2. Bridges of Hope bought my home church’s former office building.  The building looked wonderful and the remodel will serve the new agency and its clients well.

A friend and I were chatting at the event and she asked me about brain science and addiction.  One of the speakers had mentioned research that concluded that if an addicted brain can be drug free for 2 years, the brain can heal and build new neural pathways to replace damage that was done by drugs.  Amazing!  One of the goals of Bridges of Hope is to connect clients to healthy ways of living during treatment and after treatment. And within that goal, to make sure graduates get connected to healthy recovery activity in the community so they can continue to live a healthy lifestyle and allow the brain to heal.

I told my friend about the part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.  Some therapists call this the “attachment light”.  This part of the brain “lights up” when the need to connect/ relate to other human beings activates.  What is good for the brain is to interact, face-to-face, with other human beings, especially if both people are glad to be together (joy) or if both are feeling peaceful and calm in each other’s presence.  Unfortunately, addictions can hijack the nucleus accumbens. Drugs, alcohol, sex, food, shopping–any behavior that can be addictive–will partially satisfy the desire to relate to other people, but will not actually give the brain what is needed.  So, the “attachment light” gets turned off, but not satisfied. The addicted person continues to use the substance when connection with (safe enough, not perfect) people is what is needed. The person is starving for emotional connection. The body becomes physically addicted to the substance and this cements the addictive cycle. (I understand that this is a simplified explanation of a large subject).

One of the reasons Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery 12 step programs are so effective is that the honest, face-to-face connection with other human beings starts to address the long-neglected need to connect with other human beings.

In the great commandment, Jesus told people that the 2 most important moral codes to follow are to 1. Love God and 2. Love others.

 

Mark 12:28-31 (New Living Translation)

28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] No other commandment is greater than these.”

I just love that this second commandment to love others as yourself actually has a physical benefit for the person following it because the nucleus accumbens is then satisfied in a healthy way.

Daniel Siegel’s The Developing Mind is a good way to learn more about the brain. Thanks to my friend, Diane, for asking the question.  Do you have any mental health questions you would like to hear my opinion about in future blog posts?  If so, please leave a comment.

Sincerely,      April Linville, MSW, LCSW

 

Joy is a Shared Emotion

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The author and her daughter share joy at her son’s wedding.

Imagine picking up your best friend from the airport.  You have not seen this friend for 2 years due to a move and work obligations.  The first moment you see her your eyes and face light up and her face does the same thing.  This is joy-“we are glad to be together”.  When I feel joy and show it on my face to people I know, they often catch the joy and return it to me which makes me feel even more joy. Back and forth the nonverbal communication flows, building joy.

According to Dr. Daniel Siegel (The Developing Mind), joy is the human brain’s preferred state.  Our brains grow and develop best when our default emotion is joy.  Babies and caregivers spend hours a day smiling and cooing at each other, building joy.  Rest and quiet (peace) is also a necessary ingredient for growing, healthy minds. Babies and parents take a break from the joy building by looking away from each other and taking a few breaths to rest.  Then they are ready to engage in eye contact and joy building again.

Joy Starts Here: the Transformation Zone by Wilder, Khouri, Coursey and Sutton is a great handbook to learn about joy and how to develop more of it in your life.  Many homes, schools, workplaces and churches are low-joy environments.  This group of writers has a desire to spread joy in these environments so that people can grow healthy identities and improve the world around them.

Dr. Jim Wilder and another group of authors (Friesen, Bierling, Koepcke and Poole) wrote a book before Joy Starts Here called The Life Model: Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You.   It is a book about ideal states of human development.  The Life Model also promotes joy as a healthy state of being and gives some simple ideas about how to start joy in your world.  I often share this list of ideas with my clients found on page 12 in The Life Model.

  • Building Joy
    1. Smile whenever you greet those you love.
    2. Use a warm tone of voice, particularly when you are saying “Hello” or “Goodbye” to them.
    3. Ask them questions that invite them to tell you how they are doing and listen to what they are saying without correcting or advising them.
    4. When you get to the end of a discussion do whatever you can to end it positively.
    5. Before you fall asleep at night, make every attempt to get to joy from whatever feeling you may be stuck in.
    6. Use touch whenever appropriate: Hold hands, link arms, give hugs, and stay connected as effectively as you can.

    7. Give people you love little surprises that will cause their eyes to light up (these can be inexpensive or free gifts, too, like flowers from the garden or yard.  Or a poem you wrote for them.  Or their favorite brand of chewing gum…..).  Let your eyes light up too!  The joy builds as the glances go back and forth.

Linville Counseling Services therapists would love to help you build your joyful identity. Give us a call to schedule an appointment to develop a new strength in your life.

What are some ways you share joy with the people you love?

-April Linville