Neuroplasticity… The Good, the Bad & the Probable

While research confirming the impact of our choices and how we live especially in terms of exogenously consumed substances of abuse is not so new, considering the impact of endogenous, process, or natural addictions has been more slow to get attention. Not surprisingly so, as this can be seen as blurring the territory between pathological and “normal” behaviors. And by an large, we humans are more at east with clearly definable boxes.

Real Drugs Change Our Brain

So while it is not surprising to the scientist or the layperson, that “real drugs” can produce measurable, anatomical change in the brain, it may be more surprising to discover that there is reason to believe that a lot of addiction is the result of experience… repetitive, high-emotion, high-frequency experience. And that “endogenous” addiction—occurs even in the absence of drug-taking— stems from neuroadaptation. That is, changes in neural circuitry that help perpetuate the behavior.”

Now when we stop to think about it, it really shouldn’t be surprising. How many habits have you and I formed over the years both help and hinder us? We each know well the simple challenge we have to change any of our habits which, like “ruts in the road” put us on familiar paths that are tough to escape. Dr. Nora Volkow, Head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is now realizing that in addition to the traditional addictions to drugs, addictions such as pornography, gambling and food should be included.

So what does this mean for our daily lives? Do you or someone you know have a “closer than healthy” relationship with alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling or food?

Can Gambling or Food Addictions Change Our Brain Too?

Discovering the neuroplasticity of the brain is both facscinating, scary and hopeful. Depending upon your vantage point. But taking the more hopeful, useful and forward-looking angle on this, what this means is that change is possible. We are not “fenced in” to how we are today, though it may at times feel like it. And, like each of us on planet earth, while we know that it is possible to get to the moon by escaping the reality of earth’s gravitational pull, we tend to think that it will take superhuman effort and resources beyond our grasp to pull it off.

So, that’s where it’s time to change images, metaphors and challenge the self-talk assumptions we use. Let’s leave those cosmic images of inter-galactic travel for others, at least for a while. We’ve probably played with them enough already, so now it’s time to tuck them away and reach for something a little more helpful. Something a little closer to home that we know works. It’s time to fix our brakes and tune our engines.

Let me explain, first using some information from Donald L. Hilton, Jr and Clark Watts associated with the Department of Neurosurgery, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX:

A significant postulate of this commentary is that all addictions create, in addition to chemical changes in the brain, anatomical and pathological changes which result in various manifestations of cerebral dysfunction collectively labeled hypofrontal syndromes. In these syndromes, the underlying defect, reduced to its simplest description, is damage to the “braking system” of the brain. They are well known to clinical neuroscientists, especially neurologists and neurosurgeons, for they are also seen with tumors, strokes, and trauma. Indeed, anatomically, loss of these frontal control systems is most apparent following trauma, exemplified by progressive atrophy of the frontal lobes seen in serial MRI scans over time.

So in even in the less than pathological, it would seem that in relation to particular practices (habits) our braking system may not work so well. We have less resistance to those habits. So we do need to pay them some extra attention. But as noted in our special report, the kind of attention is critical. The “woe is me” or reiteration of all the details of the problem of the problem (the explanations of a problem expert) is not what is needed here when change is desired.

Rather, we do need to engage our 3-step CRP (for the detailed “how to” of that, you can access the free video tutorials here) and realize that by even calling this desired habit change a “crisis” is an indicator to ourselves that this is important. It is urgent. We are really wanting to make the change. It is not life, ho-hum, every-day business as usual, unless we want our lives to be “as usual.” This is where we need a little tough love on ourselves. Forget the self-pity for a moment. Besides, we can always get back to that very easily 🙂

Use Urgency As Your Friend

So even if you don’t know what the 3-step CRP is or you haven’t yet figured out your “what to do next,” there is one thing I would suggest you do so that you get started doing SOMETHING different—ramp up your urgency level of this issue. Not self-pity. There’s no time for that. Just simple, naked honesty: This is important enough to me that I am going to put doing something different TODAY on my schedule for today.

It may be one less beer. One more walk outside. One more look in the mirror to find something wonderful about yourself. One place you love to visit and look at the view, feel the breeze, connect with nature. Someone who needs your help with something and you speak with them—even if only for a few minutes. Whatever it might be that you can do today, that has worked for you in the past. You can find something that takes you one step closer to your goal rather then one thought closer to your “almighty dooming knowledge” about how hopeless is any effort at change.

The Good Probable

And if you haven’t invested in yourself yet to learn how to construct your own CRP (and you may end up tailoring the basic approach for different aspects of your life you wish to refine…) then do go on over to our training site and get yourself started. Because the probable thing is that as you start to do something different, even the very small, you will be starting to change your neural circuitry and help perpetuate the behavior you prefer.

Article References

Donald L. Hilton, Jr and Clark Watts
Pornography addiction – a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity

Training Reference

Crisis Mastery