A Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center Doctor Explains Relapse
The limbic system is the part of the brain that learns and responds on a primitive level. According to many alcohol treatment center scientists, this part of the brain is most affected by alcoholism and addiction. Many researchers at substance abuse treatment centers call this part of the brain the "lizard brain." The lizard brain has remained with human beings as we have evolved to our current level of intelligence. It functions to help us avoid pain and to acquire the satisfaction of basic needs. The lizard brain, therefore, can be viewed as an emergency system, unlike the neocortex, which is the higher level intelligence portion of the brain. The neocortex helps people analyze situations to make decisions. The lizard brain does not analyze. It simply reacts as a survival mechanism, according to some drug rehab professionals.
When we are placed in a situation where a quick decision may be made without any time for processing, the lizard brain activates to protect us. For instance, if a person places his or her hand on a hot stove, the lizard brain by -passes the neocortex and takes control of the brain quickly to let this person know that the heat is painful. In response, the person removes their hand from the hot stove immediately.
While the lizard brain is a necessary component of our genetic make-up, it does not utilize rational judgment and it does not analyze situations to postpone satisfactions. It simply reacts. This part influences feelings and actions related to feelings, such as eating when hungry, fleeing when afraid, and satisfying urges for pleasure. Because human beings are advanced creatures compared to animals, the neocortex protects us from making bad judgments related to our primitive lizard brain’s desires. The neocortex helps people to evaluate situations, delay gratification, take preventative measures and overwrite decisions based on primal urges when they are not beneficial to us at the time.
Biological addiction, however, confuses addicts and alcoholics. For these individuals, the limbic system associates drugs and alcohol with the primary source of pleasure and relief. In time, this correlation becomes so confusing that the lizard brain misguides the addict into believing that the drugs and alcohol he or she consumes is necessary for survival. The limbic system associates addiction with relief from fear, anxiety, and depression. It tricks the addict into believing drugs and alcohol are pleasurable rewards, even though an addict deep in the throngs of addiction may not feel any pleasure or comfort from their use any longer.
Non-addicts do not have this confusing biological condition. They have other pleasure/relief methods that they depend on. For non-addicts, it is easy to know when to stop using or taking drugs when they feel it no longer satisfies them. The typical addict who first enters a drug and alcohol treatment center does not have the ability to utilize this type of rational thinking. Their limbic system overrides the neocortex and tells their body to continue consuming drugs and or alcohol. The lizard brain uses rationalizations that outweigh the logic of the neocortex.
In order to recover from a lizard brain that has dominated and consumed the rational thinking of the neocortex, an addict needs to discontinue use of the drug. Most often, addicts require some type of medically supervised detoxification and psycho-social methods to help them heal from how the lizard brain has tricked their bodies. Entering a substance abuse treatment center can help a person who needs medically supervised drug and alcohol detox. After detox, total abstinence from drugs and alcohol is the only cure for such destructive, misguided thinking. In time, dependency weakens and the body normalizes. However, people with the disease of addiction must never take drugs and/or alcohol again if they hope to not be consumed and influenced by the irrational thinking of their lizard brains.