Addiction in the Age of Brain Science

Studying The Brain Functions

In this talk Markus Heilig presents new findings in the science of addiction, as viewed from a neuroscientific view point. Dr Heilig is a professor of psychiatry and the founding director of a new Center for Social and Affective Neuroscience at Linkoping University. His research group studies brain processes connected to stress and negative emotionality and how these contribute to psychiatric disorders including addictive disorder.

In this video Dr Heilig illustrates the role social exclusion plays in the addictive cycle. He begins the talk by illustrating that while early on in an addicts using history the brain’s reward center is primarily responsible for triggering using behavior, this is not the case by the time an addict is seeking help. At this point in the life cycle of addiction the individual is not being motivated by the brain’s reward center he or she is now being driven to action through the brain stress and aversion system. That is to say early on in someone’s substance use, they are trying to capture a good feeling, but by the end they are trying to avoid feeling miserable.  The stress and aversion system has been compromised in such a way that it is overactive. The addicts brain is super sensitive to feelings of stress, anxiety, and fear. Meaning that in the absence of a mood altering substance the addict is plunged into a state of misery.

Understanding The Damage

This damage to the brain, and its particular instantiation is complicated by our very nature a social group orientated primates. For us, as humans, one of the most profound stressors is social exclusion, being marginalized. The particular problem for addicts in this respect is that their lifestyle creates, by its nature social exclusion. Acute experiences of these stressors drive craving. Intense craving causes relapse. Relapse begets behavior that results in social exclusion. This cycles is repeated over and over again. Dr Heilig states, that unless we can create an intervention in this cycle by offering alternative measures to diffuse the stress the addict has little hope of recovery.

While neuroscience may be a long way from “curing” addiction. As a discipline they have begun to take the problem seriously. At Granite Mountain Behavioral Healthcare we also take addictive disorder seriously. Our program is based on current neuroscientific research. We engage in physical exercise as a way to generate neuroregeneration within our patient population. In effect we are working to undo the damage to the brain’s stress and aversion system that has rendered it hyperactive. We do this in a community setting that is grounded in an effort to help our patients feel a real sense of connection with each other and with the staff. Working to minimize or eliminate feelings of social exclusion within our community. We are attacking the addictive cycle on at least two fronts each day.

As the science of addiction continues to evolve so will our program in lock step. We are committed to bringing to bear the newest advances for the benefit of our patients. We are currently working to develop a fully realized nutritional component to our program. This element of programing won’t simply be about nutrition for general health and wellbeing. Rather it will be a nutritional plan specifically designed to support and create neuroregeneration.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction please contact us.

Until next time
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell
VP of Communications & Market Development


If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use disorder please contact us today

Transforming Your Life With Exercise

In as little as three to four thirty minute sessions of aerobic exercise per week Dr. Suzuki’s research indicates that an individual can significantly alter their brain at three levels. 

1. Exercise Increases Your Mood

“Exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain today.”

This is how Dr. Wendy Suzuki begins her talk on the power of exercise as a prophylactic to all manner of brain disease and disorder. Dr. Suzuki, who had been a neuroscientist focused on memory changed the entire course of her research when she inadvertently began doing exercise research on herself. She is now a foremost expert on the transformative impact on the brain of exercise.

In as little as three to four thirty minute sessions of aerobic exercise per week Dr. Suzuki’s research indicates that an individual can significantly alter their brain at three levels. First, there are the immediate impacts on mood. A single workout will signal the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin which not only boosts an individual’s mood but will also increase their ability to shift and focus their attention. These immediate impacts will last for at least two hours. Secondly, if an individual makes fitness a part of their daily life this decision will actually alter the anatomy of their brain and the way that it functions on a long term basis. That is to say that, regular exercise creates neuroregeneration in measurable amounts. Third, regular exercise has been shown to have protective effects on the brain. Exercise protects an individual’s brain from the impact of neurodegeneration and the effects of aging.

2. Exercise Can Help Make Changes In Your Brain

At Granite Mountain BHC we employ our Recover Strong therapeutic model in an effort to take advantage of these effects. Several times each week we begin our day in the gym. We exercise for forty-five to sixty minutes as a community. We move from this right into more traditional therapy. We do this to take advantage of the effects noted by Dr. Suzuki. When brain chemistry is at a peak in terms of being conducive to neuroregeneration and the processing of new information, we engage in therapy and learning. We do this day after day, in order that our clients may engage in a process of self discovery and heal their own brains. Substance use disorder is more than the chronic overuse of a mood altering chemical. At the very least what we can say about it is that it is a disorder of the brain. Traditional therapies, especially those that focus on the processing of emotional states are beneficial. Undertaking them within a framework that maximizes brain growth and repair from a biological level is what we have found to be most effective. At Granite Mountain we are always evolving. As our own research and the research of neuroscience continues to evolve our programing will evolve in lock step. Our purpose is to bring to bear the most recent revolutionary ideas in the treatment of substance use disorder and other behavioral health concerns.

I hope that the reader will find the above linked video as inspiring as I have. For all of us the beneficial effects of exercise are too numerous and too profound to ignore. Once again, in the words of Dr. Suzuki, “exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain today.”

 

Until next time
Your friend in service,
Rob Campbell
VP of Communications & Market Development


If you or somebody you love is in need of help for substance use disorder, give us a call today at 1.844.878.3221