It’s okay to talk about it

The dirty word people ignore

Tim Pangburn
Apr 7, 2017 · 3 min read

Addiction is the fucking devil. There’s really no other way to put it. I’m not going to cite academic papers or statistics, I’m just going to speak from the heart and my own experience. Addiction ruins lives.

When people think of addiction, they think of frail, crooked toothed ruffians grifting in the streets to score a fix. The real face is more familiar than that. It’s your coworkers. It’s your buddy you watch the game with. It’s your child. I can’t count the number of people I’ve known who struggled with an addiction, and I can’t count the number of people I’ve known who have died because of it. It’s that prevalent.

I just want to smash the argument I often see that addicts get what they deserve because they made those decisions. That if they make better choices, things would be fine. It’s the biggest load of horse shit of an argument I’ve ever seen. It points to an extreme lack of understanding of the nature of addiction. Let me set some shit straight so maybe you can have a better handle on it.

Brain stuff

What goes on in the brain of an addict is incredibly simple to understand, but most people don’t take the time to learn about it. You see, the reward system in the brain is set to release dopamine, that feel good chemical, when you complete tasks and challenges. It usually takes a certain amount of effort to make that happen. Drugs and alcohol, along with a slew of behaviors, bypass that effort and cause the brain to release that dopamine with basically no action. It’s reward with no challenge. Eventually the reward system identifies the drug of choice as being the only source of pleasure. It’s been hijacked.

This is where things get really interesting. The frontal cortex is responsible for logic and reasoning, as well as decision making. This area of the brain DOES NOT have control over the reward system. In fact, part of its job is to fight the impulses that are happening.

We all know that when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your judgment is impaired. That impairment can last beyond the time you are actually under the influence. For an addict, this impairment is constant due to continued abuse, and still manifests for a long period of time even when they’re not high. It can take weeks, months, even years before the reasoning function of the frontal cortex returns to normal.

Okay, what does that mean?

This means that for an addict, the reward system has been overridden by substances so that it believes the only source of any joy comes from that substance. At the same time, their reasoning and logic skills are basically fucked from constant abuse. This is how addicts seem to be able to justify the deplorable. Their judgement is broken, and that’s an issue of chemistry, not simply will.

Now I’m not implying that a certain level of will isn’t required to quit. It takes immense strength and willpower to enter recovery. The difference is that the willpower used to quit is attempting to fight against complex, ingrained neural pathways formed through long term repetitive action.

You literally have to restructure the neural pathways of your brain. Take a minute to process that.

Changing your brain chemistry is more difficult than it sounds. And it sounds hard as hell. It takes years of hard work. Recovery requires community, study, practice, service to others, and often people need outside resources like rehab and therapy. But there is hope. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. You need diligence, commitment, and patience, but lasting sobriety is real.

If you or a loved one suffers from an addiction, there is help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You deserve to live a happy and fulfilled life, and admitting there is a problem and you need help is the first step to get there.