Addiction is a psychobiological phenomenon. During the addiction process, psychological changes beget organic modifications in the brain, and vice versa. Although the entire brain is affected to some degree by addiction, there are two key regions where significant organic changes take place. One is the reward center. This is where the brain’s response to addictive overstimulation is to decrease the number of dopamine receptors to reduce the sensation of uber-pleasure gotten from “using.”
Unfortunately, this biological alteration results in catapulting the addict into the vicious cycle of addiction. With the feeling of reward drastically reduced, one hit is no longer enough. And thus begins an endless, fruitless pursuit of the original pleasure from that first high. As a consequence, a whole host of psychological dramas and traumas are birthed.
The second brain center affected by addiction is what I call the “smarty pants” region, or the frontal cortex. Science shows that during active addiction, there is often significant functional impairment in this cerebral region. And that’s a major problem for recovery. The frontal cortex, or the brain’s CEO, as many people refer to it, is charged with helping you organize, strategize, plan, be mindful and vigilant, as well as controlling impulsivity. When there is biological impairment like this, psychological mal-adaptations and associated self-destructive behaviors are not far behind.
Knowing all of this can sometimes lead to feeling overwhelmed: How do I begin to heal? Where do I start? The answer is that the journey begins with a single step. Let’s start with reframing your mindset with a goal of achieving a mindful, powerful focus on successful recovery.
To keep things simple and easy to remember, here are seven fundamental “Ps” to learn and integrate into your mental management of daily stressors:
Progress, not perfection. Fight the addictive urge to aim for an all-or-nothing approach. Every single step, no matter the size, is a tremendous triumph.
Patience as you take it one day at a time to carefully integrate the mental, nutritional and physical habits of your new healthy recovery lifestyle.
Persistence as you hit life stresses that would normally drag you down into another addictive urge, sending you caving to the craving. Embrace each slip as a golden opportunity to learn how to regroup without resorting to self-destruction and to continually refine your daily healthy recovery habits.
Perseverance when the “inner addict” voices try to seduce you into believing their lies of immediate gratification. Quash them with your newly-honed empowerment, reject the push for a quick fix, breathe and make the right choice.
Presence, not mindlessness, in your life. Paying attention, staying in the moment and ongoing vigilance are essential to making the right decisions for compassionate, loving self-care.
Power is your reward and your most potent weapon to control the cravings and addictive pushes and pulls that have kept you hostage for so long.
Practice now and for the rest of your life to strengthen and refine your healthy recovery habits, striving for mastery over your addictive impulses. Only through practice will you find mastery. Remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier — not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.”
Take a moment right now to breathe deeply and feel compassion and self-forgiveness. Recite the seven “Ps” and ready yourself to meet the challenges of recovery. You can do this.