A Disorder of Free Will

Addicts are all around us. At times, they are easy to identify. We rush by them on the street, putting our heads down to avoid eye contact. Other times, they live among us, hiding in plain sight. When it comes down to it, every addict's plight is the same. In the beginning, the substance they are using, whether it is alcohol, drugs, sex, or food, works as the perfect numbing agent. It softens the pain from the end of a relationship that broke your heart, drowns out the noise of the voices saying you are not enough, numbs the anxiety which suffocates you... until (first slowly & then all at once) it stops working. You are then left with pain, and only that horrible tortuous pain, many times worse than what you were numbing yourself to forget.

As a professional in the industry of addiction treatment, I have given much thought to the fact that it is a disease. Often called a "chronic brain disease," what we find is that it boils down to a very vague and abstract concept. Just to compare, if you were a parent with a gravely ill child and you rushed to the hospital for treatment & the doctor told you, "Your son is sick because he has epilepsy," and the doctor further explained that epilepsy is a chronic disease of the nervous system, you would likely not have a full understanding of it. What would be beneficial to know about your son’s condition is that when nerve cells in the brain are interrupted, seizures or periods of unusual behavior can occur and that anticonvulsant drug therapy can be used to get it under control.

To explain the destructive changes in a person’s behavior who has an addiction, even when you give the gritty details that furthering the use of that substance would result in death and that it has so much control of them that they would give up everything they previously cared about for one more fix...it is just not enough to understand it. And to look a loved one in the eye and say that addiction is a “chronic brain disease” is not enough to explain the circumstances they are faced with. What we are really saying is very specific and complex: that because of the addiction, a person's brain no longer has the ability to produce something necessary for normal day-to-day functioning and that that is something healthy people take for granted. It is called free will.

All drugs that are abused, whether legal by prescription or illegal, cause the brain to have large surges of dopamine in specific areas that are considered crucial for motivating our behavior. This happens in both the reward regions and the prefrontal regions which control a person’s higher functions such as self-control, decision making and judgment. The person’s brain adapts to these surges of dopamine by becoming less sensitive to it. We call this process “receptor downregulation.” What happens as a result of this process is that normal, healthy things in an individual’s life, including positive social and physical interactions which are typically rewarded by small surges of dopamine during the day, are no longer enough to motivate the person to just live normally. The individual continues to need those extreme surges of dopamine from the drug in order to feel even temporarily okay. And then this is repeated over and over and over in the vicious cycle of addiction.

As a community, we can create change. We can work to remove the stigma of addiction and try to educate ourselves and others that addiction is not simply a “a disease of the brain,” but it is a disorder that derails the circuits of the brain which enable a person to exert free will until the ability to do so no longer functions at all. An addict does not choose to be addicted; the choice to take the drug is no longer theirs to make.

If together, we take the time to help people understand the underlying pathology of addiction, those who are affected by it will no longer have to navigate through today’s obstacles to obtain evidence-based treatments. Instead they can simply receive the help they need without feeling shame, like a child with epilepsy or a person with cancer. Here at Evolutions, we do our best to educate our clients and their families on addiction and treat them with respect, dignity and provide top-notch care to achieve long term recovery.

We welcome you to reach out if you would like to learn more about the addiction treatment programs we provide from our South Florida facility for yourself or someone you love.

Seeking Treatment

The important thing in all of this is that you seek help for your drug addiction. Do not let fear keep you from the life you have always wanted. You do not need to fight this disease alone and any and all concerns that you have can be addressed as you move through the process of recovery. So call the professionals at Evolutions Treatment Center today, at 1-866-771-7091. We are standing by to help you finally overcome your addiction.


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