There are many reasons individuals reach out to drugs or alcohol but the primary underlying factor is a sense of meaninglessness or isolation. Life has lost its meaning and substances offer a means to temporal relief from their condition. Despite valiant attempts to resolve this disconnect by self-directed methods, individuals just want a pathway that embodies purpose.
Neurobiology instructs that protracted substance abuse affects the brains ability self-regulate inappropriate behavior. This skews our thinking into believing we can manage substance use and that it is a mechanism that subdues our anxiety sufficiently to offer balance. Yet, this only perpetuates the problem until the addict admits that they are powerless to quell this behavior.
If addicts uses substances that are attractors to sooth this consternation, then they assign meaning to it as an attachment. The greater their use, the greater it holds meaning in subduing the emotional strife they are experiencing. This creates a circular causality that entraps them in a cycle of distorted thinking. The paradox here is that we are each endowed with a drive to find purpose but when that pathway is obscured by horizontal stressors, they are drawn back to the false narrative that substance relief is the only pathway left.
Abstract Versus the Tangible
Many individuals have difficulty grasping a spiritual understanding and require science to evidence that this is not just an abstract approach, but one grounded in something tangible. So, consider what it is that we process as meaningful and something phenomenological such as love. Why are we born with something so pervasive that it connects us to something or someone other than our self?
What is it about the nature of a mere family pet such as a dog that is hard-wired with the propensity for unconditional love, even when we may be unworthy of it? Where does this come from? It is not endowed in all of creation, nor is it something that evolved from anything we can explain. So, for the person adversely impacted from experiences in church, or simply as a nonbeliever, neurobiology offers this platform for further explanation.
This approach of submission and acceptance is rooted in the belief that (1) we are hardwired to find purpose and (2) that substances do not hold the key to that actualization (Newberg, D'Aquili, & Rause; May, 1988 ). The twelve-step method and its counterparts each hold that meaning is ascertained through an existential self-understanding and that we are meant to connect in relationships.
On a deeper level this manifests the belief that there is a greater power at work that created everything we see, feel, and touch. Expanding upon this, meaning is found in tapping into the understanding that we were designed to channel our gifts to impact the lives of others and find relation with that greater power.
Neurotheology has bridged science with religion to map the brain and validate cerebral activity using fMRI's during prayer (Newberg, 2010). It inculcates the idea that science is beginning to evidence that mankind was designed to connect with this higher power. If we zoom out for a moment and consider this notion, then this suggests that we are never alone, and that there is a greater power at work in this world that seeks to connect with us. This opens a doorway to an alternate pathway, to a spiritual attachment that supersedes the meaning of attachments to substances themselves.
Submission or acceptance that we are constrained by substances leads to the proposition that lifting up or objectifying our weaknesses can be discharged and replaced with the meaning that living free of substances holds (May, 1988). This requires guidance to comprehend how to work through a process of intentional change. However, the foundational element here is recognizing there is hope.
The mechanism for transformative change within the mind of the addict is that an alternative pathway has more profound meaning than an attachment to substances. It is an attitudinal personification that substances hold no promise for sustainability. It progresses to an understanding that somehow we are not alone.
In this transformative struggle this belief empowers meaning in change itself. It embodies that we were born with the capacity to reconcile our past and move forward to something greater. In that visioning, we find meaning and purpose that offers the resilience to stay the course worthy of that new pathway thinking.
Blair Hollis M.A. GCDF BCCC
Crossroads Consulting, Inc.
Newberg, A. B. (2010). Principles of neurotheology. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate Pub.
Newberg, Andrew B., Eugene G. D'Aquili, and Vince Rause. Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine, 2001.
May, G. G. (1988). Addiction and grace. New York: HarperCollins.
McCauley, K.T., & Reich, C.A. (2007). Addictions: New understanding, fresh hope, real healing. Salt Lake City, UT: Institute for Addiction Study.