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The “Enough” Factor in the Brain

What separates an alcoholic from a normal drinker? The compulsion to drink despite negative consequences has baffled scientists, family members, spouses, and loved ones for centuries. How is it that two perfectly normal people, standing side by side, can consume alcohol and react in completely different ways? Even “normal” drinkers who drink heavily or binge drink do not experience the peculiar phenomena of craving as alcoholics do. Additionally, they have the simple ability that alcoholics do not: the ability to stop.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains that for the true alcoholic one is never enough. A common saying in recovery is that “one is too many, a thousand never enough.” The insatiable thrist for alcohol is unending in the alcoholic. Unique to addiction is the tendency to be lacking in a stopping limit, especially in consideraiton of negative consequences. It is the alcoholic who fools himself into believing he can have just one. “Cunning, baffling, powerful” is how The Big Book describes alcohol. Until now, alcoholics have been seen to be “powerless” over alcohol. While many argue this as a matter of willpower, AA sees it as a matter of spiritual malady. New research suggests that the alcoholic brain is actually deficient in a very important protein which helps with that “power”.

The “Enough” Factor in the Brain

PRDM2, according to inews, controls various nerve signals that help stop drinking. Meaning, that this protein is essential to having power over when enough is enough. The protein is located in the frontal lobes of the cortex, which is where the brain makes decisions. Specifically, PRDM2 manages how one nerve cell signals another. If there isn’t enough protein present, there will be ineffective communication about impulsivity among nerve cells.

The research found that in brains of alcoholics, PRDM2 was practically nonexistent. Not only does this impair the ability to stop drinking at any point, it also impairs the impulse to drink. Decision making about alcohol includes when and why to pick up alcohol in addition to how much. For example, active and present PRDM2 might contribute to avoiding a drink in times of stress. A better functioning frontal lobe means making more rational decisions.

Science continues to help destigmatize alcoholism and addiction. One day there might be a “cure” for the disease of addiction. Until that day, the more information gained, the greater treatment experiences we can provide.

What that “Ah-ha!” Moment Looks Like in Your Brain

“Burning Bush” is a description used to communicate a sudden and profound spiritual experience, usually leading to an awakening or deeper understanding. In early recovery, the recovering brain is still impaired in its cognitive capabilities. Cognitive function is critical to creating knowledge. The ability to grasp big ideas, vague topics, and intangible concepts can be challenging to the recovering brain. Spirituality is unchartered waters to many entering recovery for the first time. Grasping and developing a spiritual manner of living without the ability to grasp and develop spiritual ideas can be frustrating. While others are experiencing mind-blowing “ah-ha” moments, others are struggling to remember what day it is.

Thankfully, as The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous points out in its Appendix titled “Spiritual Experience”, having a sudden and profound realization is not required. Most people’s experiences, the authors explain, “develop slowly over a period of time. Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone.”

Much of that change does happen on it’s own in the brain, however stimulated by spiritual experience. Some call profound moments creativity, or “flow”. Spiritually minded people might regard such moments as when we allow our Higher Power to flow freely through us. Catching onto the constant current of the Universe, we witness just a small moment of it’s mystery. Director of Research for the Flow Genome Project, Steve Kotler, says that “flow” happens in a third brain wave state.

Specifically, being in the spiritual flow has to do with neuroelectricity. A daydream-like state is considered being “alpha”. Hanging between daydreaming and sleeping is “theta”. Alpha and theta refer to the oscillation of brain waves. Kotler found that in between those two states is the “gamma” state where flow and profound realizations happen.

In a gamma state, the brain is producing brainwaves at the fastest rate it possibly can, between 38 to 42 times per second. Staying in gamma all the time is unsustainable. That is why our “burning bush” moments are short-lasting. The brain can only connect in short bursts. Since the quick spike is so powerful, that is why spiritual experiences and profound moments feel so profound. At the climax of that moment, the brain is working at it’s highest possible capacity.

Enlightened Solutions sees the transformational power of the spiritual experience occur in our patients. Utilizing twelve step philosophy with spiritual practices and evidence-based treatment brings our patients to heightened states. Transcending the clutches of drugs and alcohol, along with co-occurring disorders, they learn to live new lives. For more information on our programs of treatment for addiction, alcoholism, and dual-diagnosis, call 833-801-5483.

Can You “Switch Off” Your Tolerance to Alcohol?

There is a curious dividing line which separates the alcoholic from the normal drinker. Even a drinker who, on regular occasion, drinks excessively, will not develop alcoholism. Tolerance is part of the disease of alcoholism. In alcoholics, the tolerance threshold for alcohol continues to get higher. Meaning, that overtime more and more alcohol needs to be consumed in order to achieve an equal or greater state of intoxication than before. That is why many alcoholics find themselves frightened when suddenly multiple bottles do not get them drunk.

For nonalcoholics, however, their tolerance level remains unchanged. Additionally, their tolerance level seems to communicate tolerance. In the alcoholic, tolerance is always surpassed as a challenge and obsessive craving desire to acquire more. Nonalcoholics do not have the compulsive need to consume more. They are able to decipher when they’ve had enough. Most importantly, nonalcoholics are able to stop.

Investigating the neuroscience of alcoholism has become an obsession in the scientific community. Tremendous discoveries have been made, clueing the world in on how exactly alcoholism works in the brain. Ultimately, the goal of such scientific inquiry is to find a “cure” for alcoholism. Recent research has found an interesting lead.

The cerebellum is the part of the brain responsible for motor functioning. Motor control and alcohol do not mix well. Alcohol impairs motor control, which is why drunk people slur, stumble, and fall down. Granule cells are found in the cerebellum which dictate the inhibition of motor functions. If granule cells get “excited”, motor control is inhibited. Alcohol slows down the cerebellum and slows down motor functions. It does so by interacting with the GABA protein. GABA is being recognized as a key player in alcoholism. Many people in treatment are being prescribed medications such as GABApentin to help reproduce this essential brain protein.

Essentially, the new research shows that by stimulating the right GABA receptors, test subjects (mice) stopped wanting alcohol. They also didn’t display many of the motor malfunctions from intoxication. What this means for the future of alcoholism treatment is that GABA stimulation can change the way a person craves and tolerates alcohol. Being able to turn that off in a person’s brain could reduce relapse timelines, cravings, and provide early intervention to alcoholism.

Enlightened Solutions supports the discovery of new treatments for alcoholism. We feel confident in our proven methods of combining evidence based treatment with twelve step philosophy and holistic healing. Our treatment facility offers partial care, intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment levels to men and women seeking recovery. For more information call 833-801-5483.

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