Why Not “Just Say No”?

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February 9, 2013 by Dr. Bob Weathers

As I shared in an earlier blog, where it’s important that we engage in all new learning by becoming active mentors — teaching what we’ve read or heard to someone else within 48 hours of our first learning it — I’d like to share with you something I’ve recently learned. 

This means sharing this new material, as you will with others, in the spirit of what we know by heart.  This requires considered reflection, yet also with a willingness to risk being spontaneous.  Doesn’t this seem like the opposite attitude of a most formal classroom settings?

Here goes then; a recent observation, with clear implications for some of our most common cultural attitudes toward addiction:

“Neurobiology research is investigating the complex hallmark of addiction pertaining to loss of control: [specifically,] continued drug use despite significant adverse consequences…

Additional areas of intense study that address the compulsive nature of addiction and continued use despite adverse consequences (i.e., an inability to stop using even after major family, job, or integrity losses) involve a [specific] part of the brain, the cortico-basal ganglia network

‘All addictive drugs, including alcohol, can affect the capacity for change (i.e., plasticity) in the cortico-basal ganglia networks, thereby altering normal learning processes that are critical for selecting and controlling actions.’

This emphasis on brain circuitry alteration can assist counselors to improve their understanding and empathy when the addict will not ‘just learn to stop’ as compulsive using or drinking continues; critical research suggests the brain is physically damaged and less capable of unlearning” (the above quoted from Capuzzi & Stauffer, Foundations of Addiction Counseling).

For today’s Topic for Reflection:

Have you ever found yourself judging someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol as simply weak (or worse)?  How might the above neuropsychological finding perhaps affect your previous attitude?

While we are certainly not counseling anybody to make excuses for addiction, and the ravages it entails, imagine for a moment: what place might American psychologist Carl Rogers’ concept of unconditional positive regard play in our addressing the needs of those who are addicted?  Particularly when we discover that the drugged brain is indeed toxic, and severely hampered in regards to unlearning negative behavior patterns, much less learning new, more adaptive ones.

At the very least: an addicted brain may very well require being detoxed, back to what one psychiatrist calls the “birthday brain,” before any further work — psychological change, including cognitive, behavioral, and emotional — really takes effect.



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