Learning is an essential part of rewiring the brain. Having healthy concepts and emotions are crucial to healing not only addiction but some of its underlying disorders such as depression, anxiety, and trauma as well. At Olympia House, we want to share what we know about how the brain works in relation to addiction. We believe this will help you understand how healing is possible as well as show the science behind the powerful results we promise.
How the Brain Changes: Neuroplasticity
The brain is a truly incredible organ. With around 80 billion neurons and more connections than stars in our home galaxy, the milky way, the possibilities of our brain to change and rewire are endless. The brain is a profound network that processes the world on several different levels of emotion, language and symbolic reasoning all at once. Our memories, emotions, and feelings, originate on a physical level. This means that when we suffer from diseases like addiction there is hope if we can just understand how the brain changes as a biological system.
One of the most important discoveries in neuroscience is a concept called neuroplasticity. When we are young, our brains are constantly measuring how much stress and support there is in the environment. This greatly affects how the brain changes. In our youth, we store a lot of information we don’t need. In result, our brain prunes itself. This means the brain cuts out connections, memories, and ideas that aren’t really necessary for a given individual. However, this means that if our young selves are constantly feeling stressed, our brain will think the environment is unsafe and prune anything that isn’t directly related to survival. If our brain is filled with social chemicals such as oxytocin and serotonin that result from being in a consistently stress-free environment, it is more likely to save abstract knowledge like things we learn in books or class.
Though psychology and neuroscience have often emphasized the importance of the young years in brain formation, we’ve found that the same processes of neuroplasticity apply in older brains. We bring this knowledge to bear in our practice at Olympia House.
One of the greatest tools we have against combating addiction is understanding habit formation. When you very deliberately decide what you want, how to get it and evaluate your own reasoning in regards to this plan, you are employing the OFC or the orbital frontal cortex. However, the OFC takes a lot of resources to operate because it can continue analyzing itself without taking any action. We know action is necessary for decisions to be made on a day to day basis.
There are certain calming neurochemicals that quiet the cells of the brain, or the neurons. When they quiet the neurons of the OFC, they stop conscious decision making. The brain then goes to something less conscious, the habit. The habit takes less cognitive resources because the brain has already gone through this wiring several times. It knows what it’s doing. When the OFC is employed, it has to reevaluate the situation afresh every time. This takes up a lot of resources in the brain.
We now understand that addiction is a habit of feeling something negative–usually angry, scared or anxious, craving a drug that relieves those symptoms, getting the drug, and taking it. Every time someone with addiction takes these steps, the habit becomes stronger. However, by strengthening the decision-making OFC and getting it to interfere with this cycle, addiction can actually be stopped in its tracks.
How Concepts Affect How We Feel
Language also has a biological basis. Words can actually relieve or create stress. Imperatives like “must” and “should” are stressful but create focus. Gentler words such as “I feel”, “it’s possible that” create a sense of safety. Finally, uplifting words such as “joy,” “hope”, “love,” and even “yes” cause the brain to engage in circuits associated with happiness and comfort.
Studies also show that people with depression engage in a set of words that may be setting their brain up to feel it is unsafe, unhappy, and hopeless. This is where CBT and DBT come in. CBT and DBT deliberately change the language around addiction and other painful topics in a way where these circuits are no longer running on negative emotions, but positive, abundance-based emotions. Being flooded with the chemicals associated with these emotions allows the brain to better heal.
The Chemistry of Addiction
Finally, addiction creates a dependency and withdrawal in the human nervous system. We address the dependency and withdrawal symptoms by utilizing Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT. These medication alternatives are utilized under the supervision of our consulting physicians and are shown to be very safe. This approach allows the rehab experience to be positive, gentle and ultimately healing.
We Believe the Brain Changes During Rehab
At Olympia House, we know that peace, excellent therapy, and the right medication are methods based on neuroscientific research to treat addiction. We know that with the right science, medication, and compassionate intention, your brain has the capacity to heal itself. Let’s get your journey started today. We serve many locations near you. Call Olympia House at (888) 795-1965.