For those who do not struggle with some form of drug or alcohol addiction, it may seem crazy that someone would throw their entire life away for their next high. The idea of cutting off contact with one’s family, losing hard-earned money and destroying a future is not something that most people aspire to do, however those who are suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction seem intent on accomplishing all of these things.
Dr. Brad Lander, Clinical Director of Addiction Psychiatry at Ohio State University, explains how addicts are no longer themselves and that the drugs actually chemically alter the brain, suggesting that the choices addicts make while in the midst of an addiction are no longer choices that the person is making; rather they are choices that the chemically altered brain is making.
Lander illustrates his point by discussing a study with rats. Scientists connected electrodes to the part of a rat’s brain that is responsible for pleasure, the same part of the brain that would be affected by drugs. When the rat tapped on a bar the electrode would become stimulated, creating a euphoric feeling. Essentially the scientists were conditioning the rats to become addicted to tapping on a bar. Left to their own devices, the rats continued to tap on the bar. They did not eat. They did not sleep. They did not try to procreate. They ceased all activity related to survival in order to continue receiving their “high” from tapping on the bar.
Lander describes the human brain in relation to addiction, “It doesn’t understand future. It doesn’t understand consequences. It doesn’t understand the impact of its behavior”
By understanding the rat study, family members can begin to see that their loved one is no longer the person they once knew. Drugs and/or alcohol have turned someone’s brother, son, husband or father into the rat. Lander emphasizes the central point to his speech by insisting that addicts will die without treatment. The way the brain is altered by the drugs puts the person a direct path to death if no intervention is performed.
Other theories don’t fully agree with the rat study theory, though, and believe that people do have the power to change and retain control of themselves, even in the midst of their addiction. While studies like the one mentioned here to have significance and help us understand mechanisms, they leave out the important human element of awareness and decision-making abilities that people possess and animals do not.
Regardless, Lander’s warning of needing some type of intervention rings true universally, whether it is friends and family members who decide to do something about it or some other form of life intervention.