Brain Habits – Helpful Vs Unhelpful
Nora Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse ( video below) has noted that people suffering from addictions may experience some dysfunction in in brain areas related to personal motivation, reward recognition, and inhibitory controls. Neuroscientists have utilized various brain imaging techniques to document this possibility in addicted individuals. These finding bring us to a new look at ALL addicted behaviors as possible forms of brain-based disease (brain area, neuronal, neurotransmitter malfunctions, habitual behaviors, and their related plasticity). This more scientific research on addiction as disease moves well beyond common views noted in AA/12 Steps (it is a disease so it is not your fault); this more scientific research is specific to the brain’s role in developing and maintaining unhelpful, addictive habits. Such habits often follow the escape from pain and approach to pleasure principles so well established in scientific psychology. Core research has focused mainly on alcohol-drug addictions; however, a reinforced habit is a reinforced habit as far as brain functioning is concerned. It is true that chemical addictions add specific molecular realities to addicted behaviors – molecular basis for instrumental and classical conditioning of habitual behaviors leading to recognized changes in the brain’s reward centers. All addictive behaviors – all unhelpful habits – narrow personal motivation to the rewarding effects, enhance craving for the rewarding effects, increase fear of being without the rewarding effects, and reduce one’s ability to slow or stop the habitual behavior itself. Because people are self-medicating their moods and emotions, they tend NOT to learn more effective life coping skills (mindfulness, etc.), thus becoming even more dependent on the unhelpful habit for short-term relief of suffering and, perhaps, some intermittent joy. It is quite common for depression, anxiety, fear, trauma, and other serious life challenges to be the emotional bases for initial self-medicating behaviors.
To assist readers in their personal efforts to attain mindful, wise mind skills – thus reducing the impact and probability of unhelpful habits and addictions – I am expanding this post to include more on my conceptual process about CABS-VAKGO-IS-Rels. These letters represent: Cognition, Affect, Behavior, Sensorimotor, Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Gustatory, Olfactory, Intuitive, Spiritual, and Relational REALITIES on how humans function emotionally inside and outside of their own brain-mind and body. This is the reality in human functioning, both helpful and unhelpful. By focusing your attention on the various categories of human emotional experience (CABS-VAKGO-IS-Rels), you may be able to identify the areas of your brain that are helping you to maintain health and happiness AND the the areas that are moving you into poor health and more suffering. Try to problem solve by noting what areas are your working allies to remain safe, productive, and happy as well as what areas serve as your ENEMIES.
Yes, even if you derive some brief pleasure or respite from suffering from an unhelpful or addictive habit (via self-medication), this short-term emotional strategy ALWAYS leads to more suffering in both the original “thing” you are trying to escape AND in future addictions that simply add to your suffering and stress load. This is not difficult: find out which areas help you and which areas harm you; do more in the areas that help you, and do less in the areas that harm you. Obtain qualified, licensed professional help as needed.
This formula may be helpful:
Internal/External Cues/Stimuli (people, places, things, experiences) – LEAD TO } Thoughts, Beliefs, Emotions, Behaviors – LEAD TO } Consequences of the Selected Behaviors
If the consequences of the behavior are reinforcing (releasing dopamine in the brain’s reward centers) – you got what you wanted and the behavior is far more apt to continue until it becomes just about automatic (no other skills, neuronal sensitization, and brain plasticity).
Unhelpful Behaviors LEAD TO more suffering AND Helpful Behaviors LEAD TO less suffering/more happiness.
I hope you are able to use this information and wise mind skills to improve your emotional life – starting right now!
By Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont
Author of Mindful Happiness
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