This simple little exercise takes no special training or skills. On a clean sheet of paper, write down the values that are important to you. Don’t try to put them in any particular order, just write them down as you think of them.
They could be groups of people, like friends and/or family. They could be traits like loyalty, honesty, or professionalism. Whatever they are, they’re yours, and there are no right or wrong answers, so write them all down.
When you’re done with your list, and it can be as short or comprehensive as you like, make a short list of the five values, from those on your list, that are the most important to you. Again, write them down in no particular order.Continue reading
From Reward to Slavery, the Stages of Addiction
The word “addiction” is derived from a Latin term for “enslaved by” or “bound to.” Anyone who has struggled to overcome an addiction — or has tried to help someone else to do so — understands why. In the first chapter, addiction was presented as a continuum, as there are degrees of severity, it’s not an on-or-off condition. In chapter 2, we saw that the criteria become more severe as the disorder progresses. In this section, we are going to look at addiction from a new direction — from the standpoint of neuroplasticity. If a substantial part of addiction is learned behavior, how and why does it happen, and most importantly, how can we go about reversing or countermanding the learned part of the process.
Earlier, we learned that there are three phases, or stages of normal learning. the acquisition phase, where we gather sensory data and decide what to do with it; the declarative phase, or memory we use in conscious decision-making; and finally, working or habit memory, which governs actions we take without the intervention or collaboration of our conscious mind. Although behavioral characteristics vary with the particular drug, the process of addiction can also be divided into three distinct stages, which correspond to the three memory phases.[i]
All drugs of abuse trigger the limbic system by stimulating the release of dopamine in the neurons.[ii],[iii] This stimulation focuses our attention, gives us pleasure, and causes our brain circuitry to record the entire experience, so it can be repeated in the future. Because it’s the limbic system that’s involved, the message is powerful, and even the early experiences are encoded quite strongly.[iv] The dopamine release triggered by drug use is two to ten times stronger and of much longer duration than that of any normal biological rewards.[v] For such rewards, (eating, sex, etc.) once the person has learned the most efficient behavior to obtain a reward, dopamine release to facilitate further learning is not necessary and does not occur.[vi] Drug use, on the other hand, always produces a dopamine release if a sufficient amount is taken, even in chronic users.[vii]Continue reading
In February, I had the opportunity to address a group here in Ajijic on the topic of neuroplasticity, and how it applies to addiction and an ageing population. The video is in three segments, and totals about 40 minutes in length. The talk was given on the 19th of February, following three weeks that were unseasonably chilly here, and we even had a little rain, if anyone is curious about the references to the weather in the first part of the talk.
The venue was our Sunday morning “Open Circle” gathering. Each week we have a speaker on a different topic, typically someone local with specialized expertise in a certain area. They let me speak anyway, and, in fact, they let me come back on April 22nd to talk about Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, which I’ll be posting here in a week or so.
Enjoy the video! When you reach the end of the first segment, click on the little white box to start the second segment. Rinse, repeat.
What we can learn, we can unlearn
Up to now, we have been discussing neuroplasticity as though our brain is a one-way street, but that’s definitely not the case. Our brain is totally fluid, what we can learn we can unlearn just as quickly. In the first part of this chapter, I mentioned that our neural circuits are pruned to the tune of 20 billion synapses a day, or so, during adolescence, and this practice continues, although at a slower rate, for our entire lives.
Pathways we don’t use simply shrivel-up and die. We forget people, places, and things; we lose skills, some acquired with a great deal of effort; we change habits, likes, dislikes, political parties; we adapt new ways of doing things, discarding the old; in other words, if we are the sum of our experiences, we become different people over time, and this is all a result of neuroplasticity.
Baseball players have batting practice every day, during the season, and many continue all winter; actors rehearse again, and again, and again; in fact, every learned skill must be practiced to maintain the neural circuits we have created, or we lose it, over time. Jascha Heifetz, the renowned violinist is rumored to have said: “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.”Continue reading