Addiction Part 1

By Lisa Shanken | Healthy Living

This month I would like to focus on the illness of addiction, which can get worse during the holiday season for many people. For part one of my two-part series on addiction, I’ll focus on education and understanding the illness of addiction. Next month, I’ll share sp​​ecific strategies to help those facing addiction.

First, it’s important to know that addiction is extremely difficult, not only for both the person struggling, but also for those helping that individual.

To understand how addiction works in the brain, I’d like to share this eye-opening and informative podcast episode from the Huberman Lab, hosted by Dr. Andrew Huberman. As a Stanford neurobiology and ophthalmology professor, Dr. Huberman studies and shares many fascinating aspects of neuroscience, which is always backed by evidence-based research. (I highly recommend all of his podcast episodes!)

In this episode, he interviews author, psychiatrist, and addiction specialist Dr. Anna Lembke (also from Stanford). She recently authored a wonderful book I also recommend called Dopamine Nation.

I encourage you to listen to this podcast (found on Apple podcasts and Spotify), and I’d like to highlight some of what I found most fascinating:

  • Pleasure and pain are located in the same place in the brain, and the brain works hard to maintain a balance between the two. However, addiction tries to tip the scale more towards pleasure, which can ultimately lead to more pain.
  • Addictive substances and behaviors release extra dopamine, leading to pleasure, after which the brain compensates by trying to regulate dopamine levels. For single/occasional uses of substances, waiting a short time enables the brain to rebalance its pain-pleasure homeostasis. However, chronic substance use can lead to dopamine deficiency and more pain (e.g. clinical depression).
  • The addictive process in the brain applies to all forms of addictive behavior (e.g. gambling, sex, porn, substance abuse, etc...), which is why addicts often experience cross addictions.
  • Neuroscience has shown the importance of addicts being 100% truthful in their recovery process. Doing so ideally strengthens prefrontal cortex circuits that become disconnected during addiction.

These are just a few of the many fascinating takeaways from this highly educational podcast. I encourage you to listen, and I welcome your thoughts or questions.

Stay tuned for next month’s newsletter when I focus on the second part of the topic of addiction, covering tools and strategies to help recovery.

Until then, wishing you safe, healthy, and happy holidays!