Stop. It’s a natural function of the human brain. We see an octagonal red sign and we know it means stop. We see the letters s-t-o-p and we know to stop. For the most part, we know that we shouldn’t touch a hot stove. When we step on something that hurts we promptly remove our foot because our brain says stop. We learn how to understand when we are tired and stop. We slow down when we get too hungry because our body tells us to stop. Stopping should be natural and effortless which is what makes the inability of someone addicted to drugs and alcohol to stop such a wonder.
“I can’t stop” or “I can’t stop on my own” are two of the most common phrases uttered in admittance by those who finally realize they have become addicted beyond their control. The words mirror a pattern in the brain which has been shifting since the individual started abusing drugs and/or alcohol. Addiction is widely understood to be a disease. What exactly addiction is a disease of is complex. At once, addiction is an illness of the mind, the body, and the spirit. Interwoven in the web of addiction is the matter of choice. Somewhere in the course of addiction’s development, the ability to choose or change the mind is lost. Anyone who has not suffered from addiction cannot understand it. Why, after life has become so unbearably painful and doing drugs leads to so many horrendous consequences, would someone continuously choose their addiction, their drug of choice? The answer may not lie in intention, but attention.
A report published conducted by Johns Hopkins University, published in Neuron in 2017 reveals that stopping happens in the brain in three areas, according to NBC Montana. First, two parts of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex- the dorsal and ventral. Second, the bilateral frontal eye fields. Somewhere within the time span of 100 milliseconds determines whether or not the brain will be able to stop its original plan. The press release for the study explains that being able to stop is a matter of changing your mind from doing something to not doing something. Attempting a serious decision change after 100 milliseconds or less will likely be successful. Go anywhere near 200 milliseconds or above, which is less than a quarter of a second, and your original intent will likely be executed. At that quarter second point, the signals of the brain have already made their way to the muscles, “past the point of no return”, the authors write.
Many a man who has become addicted to drugs and/or alcohol has found himself driving to the liquor store, a drug dealer, has had a drink in hand, walking into the bar, walking toward an opportunity to get high. He’s found himself asking “should I do this?”. He’s possibly found himself pausing. What gets lost in translation between the brain and the body? Lead study author Susan Courtney suggests it’s a matter of attention. NBC Montana writes that Courtney proposes a scenario for exploration in which an alcoholic in recovery passes by their old favorite bar. Due to the nature of addiction and the way the brain is programmed to be triggered by any hint of the substance of choice, the recovering individual will likely notice the bar. If their attention can be redirected quickly toward their goals, they won’t enter the bar.
“We know that (in) people who are addicted…their attention is captured by stimuli that are associated with their previous drug taking,” wrote Courtney. Having the mind of someone in recovery temporarily distracted is not a problem, because these encounters are guaranteed to happen in more ways than one, more than once in a lifetime. “You can be distracted, but then the important thing is, can you redirect your attention to what your current goals should be in that context?” Treatment for drug and alcohol addiction teaches men how to focus on their sobriety and not let the impulsive decision-making complications of addiction deter them. Creating sustainable change makes for sustainable recovery so that men can confidently choose sobriety and keep their attention directed toward their goals.
Tree House Recovery is a men’s treatment program located in Portland, Oregon. Our program pulls inspiration from the magnificent nature of the Pacific Northwest to help men find freedom from addiction. Creating sustainable recovery through sustainable change, our programs help men learn how to live sober with adventurous lives. Call us today for information: (503) 850-2474