What does the
The human brain likes to
be in a state called "homeostasis". That means that it likes things to
remain the same, level, no peaks and valleys. Many things occur in our
daily lives that cause chemicals to increase and decrease in level in
our brains. Simple things like eating, sleeping, watching a good movie,
going to work all cause chemical levels to increase and decrease in our
brains. This is normal and how the brain works.
What is a
The brain is a very
adaptable, and it "learns" things over time. One thing that our brains
learn to do is to anticipate reactions to stimuli. You know the thing
about Pavlov's dogs where they rang a bell before they fed the dogs
every time they fed them, and after a while just ringing the bell made
the dogs salivate? This is because the dog's brain learned to anticipate
the food arriving because of the bell ringing. Our brains associate
things going on around us with things that happen.
How does this
relate to drug use and recovery?
Remember when I said the
brain likes to "stay the same"? Well, once someone's brain has
associated a "Trigger" with something happening in the brain, the brain
starts to compensate for that event before it even happens. Let me
explain with a story.
The Story of Bob
stopped by a friend's house after work one day. There was
some rock music playing in the background. Bob had been
working overtime all week and happened to be really tired.
Bob's friend offers Bob some meth. Bob gives it a try.
Bob's brain had no idea that it was about to be bombarded
by dopamine. It was not prepared for this to happen. Bob is
now Super-alert, extra-happy, not hungry at all, and all the
other things that happen at the beginning of meth use. Bob
-- is high. Bob notices that he doesn't feel tired anymore
and can party all night.
Bob's brain immediately starts to attempt to regain a
normal state and begins breaking down the meth, transporting
the remaining dopamine back to the barrels, and destroying
any excess dopamine. Bob's brain wants normal. Bob's brain
doesn't like being high. Bob's brain wants homeostasis!
24 hours later Bob feels worse than he started out. He's
exhausted, depressed and has an overwhelming desire to eat
the house down.
The next week...
Bob sleeps all day Sunday and things are back to normal
by Monday morning. Bob starts another long work week. By
lunch on Friday Bob is pretty tired. He remembers last
Friday, and how great it felt to be high. Bob decides to
repeat last Friday.
He again goes to his friend's house, and again there is
rock music playing . His friend hooks him up with more meth.
Here's where the brain says "OK.... now listen here just
one minute!!" Bob's brain takes a little note about Bob's
friend, and Bob's friend's house, and Bob's friend's music
and how Bob was tired. Bob's brain determines that those
things means that Bob is about to get high.
Well, Bob manages to party all night, but he feels even
MORE like crap the next Monday. Bob decides that the meth
isn't worth it and that he will go back to catching up on
his sleep on the weekends to combat his tiredness.
The next week...
Well Bob makes it through the week and Friday
comes. He's determined not to get high anymore, but decides
that he can still go visit his friend, have a beer or two,
then go home and catch some sleep.
Bob arrives at his friend's house. Bob's brain goes "OH
NO!!!!! I know what He's going to do! I see Bob's friend and
I see the kitchen table where the drugs were and I hear the
music and Bob is tired! Well screw this! I'm going to start
working on getting back to normal RIGHT NOW, because I know
So Bob's brain starts transporting the little bit of
dopamine that was released when Bob was happy to see his
friend and be done with another week of work back to the
barrel. It starts destroying any extra. It starts to combat
the super-energized state that it knows is coming by making
Bob feel super-tired. Bob's pulse slows. Bob's blood
pressure drops. Bob is now the opposite of high.
But Bob didn't use yet!! His body has already started
reacting before he even took a hit. So his brain has now
caused a new problem -- now his dopamine levels are too low.
A few minutes later the brain now says "Oh... damn.... well
now I need something to bring me back up!"
So now Bob starts rethinking his initial resolve to stay
away from the drugs. He feels SOOO tired, and gosh the meth
really did give him energy last time. Maybe just a little
bit would be OK? His brain agrees.
Did you hear that? HIS
Bob's brain's desire to maintain homeostasis has now
caused his brain to tell Bob to use.
If Bob had just gone home, or decided to visit a
different friend, then his brain would not have had the same
Our brains have long been
responsible for keeping us alive, and homeostasis is one way that our
brains insure that we function normally. Arguing with our brain
chemistry is not a battle we are designed to win. Avoiding triggers can
go a long way in making recovery obtainable. It is likely that your
brain has associated the following as triggers:
If you used to avoid hunger or
fatigue, try not to let yourself GET too hungry or tired, as your brain
may react to those feelings as if you were going to use.
Sometimes triggers are unavoidable. Maybe you used at your own
kitchen table. Moving may not be a realistic option! It may make it
easier to avoid a trigger response if you change the look of your
environment. Add a coat of paint in a new color, redecorate. If you can
make things look different, your brain will have a harder time
associating your environment with the trigger it has learned.
What if a trigger is impossible to avoid? For example, maybe you used
with your spouse, and they always prepared your hit for you?
Unfortunately, seeing your spouse walk through the door may be a
trigger. Being aware that triggers happen may help you fight that
trigger. Knowing that your sudden desire to use, even though 10 minutes
ago you vowed not to, is just a trigger, might give you the knowledge
you need to fight that trigger.
brain, and winning
Your brain will
eventually start reversing the reaction it has had to a trigger.
Remember, it wants to be back to normal, too. If you can wait it out,
the desire caused by your brains response to a trigger will pass.
Studies show that the average trigger-driven craving lasts approximately
2 minutes. So find something else to do for 2 minutes. Remove yourself
from the situation for 2 minutes. Drink a glass of water, it's good for
University of Texas at Austin
Disclaimer: I am not a
medical doctor and this page was not intended to provide medical advice.
Other articles by Lori Pate:
The Brain Chemistry of Being a Loved One
is more than meth going on
Methamphetamines, and You
Back to Crystal Meth & Methamphetamine Questions, Answers & Advice