It could well be argued that if addiction “exists” anywhere, it exists in the amygdala. The amygdala is the brain’s integrative centre for emotions, emotional behaviour, and motivation. It is about the size and shape of an almond and located deep and medially within the temporal lobes of the brain. It has been shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses. This is the part of the brain that initiates the automatic fight, flight or freeze response.
These responses are triggered when instinct and our senses tell us we are under threat. However, the amygdala, can’t distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat. Sometimes a perceived threat is so intense that it triggers a “fight, flight or freeze” response.
Through prolonged exposure to substances that dampen the emotional responses, an opiate for example or alcohol, the amygdala develops a fourth option in its drop-down menu of responses. Now when you experience a threat, real or perceived, the amygdala gives you the options of a “fight, flight, freeze or use” response, and by “use” I mean to use heroin or alcohol.
This is only one description, explanation or cause of addiction and there are many others. The variety of causes of addiction is, one could argue, as various as the number of people who experience addiction. This is what makes our work endlessly fascinating. In the end it is about people. There is endless debate about whether or not addiction is a disease or a consequence of social circumstances. There have been many experiments, most famously the “Rat Park” experiments conducted in the late 1970s by Canadian psychologist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues at Simon Fraser University in Canada (the subject no doubt of a future blog). The basic texts of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have their own explanations.
In the end, what causes addiction is less important than how it is experienced by individuals and the loved ones around them. There is no doubt that addiction causes considerable harm to individuals, families and communities. However, recovery from addiction is possible and realistic. We see it every day.
At The Hygrove our approach is to work on an individual scale. Everyone’s programme is bespoke and personalised. No two recovery action plans, and no two weeks are the same. We work towards helping people to put in place a framework for balance in their lives. We use a tool called “The five ways to wellbeing”. However, in striving for balance it is interesting to look back at how other cultures; ayurvedic, shamanic, native American, Celtic, and Buddhist, see balance in life as the key to health and wellbeing. We have even mapped our programme to a native American medicine wheel.
While our team consists of professional therapists and clinicians from a variety of disciplines, we know that groups aren’t for everyone and that receivers happens not only through therapies but through reconnecting with nature, spending time with loved ones, getting outdoors and setting yourself personal challenges, living mindfully in the day, being creative and yes, through taking risks.
The Hygrove is breaking new ground in its approach to recovery from addiction.