There is a natural chemical that our brain produces that is called Dopamine. This chemical is what stimulates our pleasure center and also what lets our brain interprets what measures it needs to take for survival. So, picture if you will, the following. On one side of your brain you have a "sac" that contains the Dopamine, on the other side of your brain you have a receptor (For the rest of this post I'm going to refer to this receptor as a gate for easier explanation).
Now, in a normal, non addicted brain, Dopamine is released naturally after say a good meal or sex. In the normal course of things for instance, if we eat a steak dinner, the sac will release the normal amount of Dopamine, let's say one squirt. The gate opens, receives the Dopamine, we feel good and everything is as it should be. Now, drugs also release Dopamine only at a much higher level, so while a candy bar might release one "squirt" of Dopamine, drugs release up to 100 times the normal amount of Dopamine. So, when we first begin to use, we swallow a pill or shoot some Heroin, 100 squirts of Dopamine gets released causing the Euphoric feeling that leads us to use again. The problem now though is that after a while, that one gate cannot open fast enough to accept the unusually high amount of Dopamine that is being supplied, so being the amazing organ that the human brain is, it simply grows another gate to help it accomodate. So, now we have 2 gates that are open and want to be fed. So instead of needing to only take 1 or 2 pills a day, suddenly we find that we need 3 or 4. Now 200 times the normal amount of Dopamine is being released and the process continues, these 2 gates need help so the brain grows another, and another and another........Now we find ourselves needing 6 or 7 pills a day.
While this is happening our brain is led to believe that it now HAS to have this chemical to survive, just as it knows that it needs food and sex to live and to reproduce. It now thinks that without drugs it will die, for you see the brain doesn't know what we are giving it, just that it MUST have it or die. So, with continued use, our tolerance grows due to the extra gates that we have open, that need to be fed and fed on a consistant basis. So, as opposed to the normal brain that has it's one normal gate, an addict may have 20 or 30 gates now. This is why we can take drugs in a high enough dosage that it would kill a normal person but for us it is the amount that we need just to feed all those gates and keep ourselves normal. So now, we decide to quit. Easy enough, right?, I mean, just stop swallowing the pills and all will be well (ever been told that?). Well, as you know, it's not tht easy and the reason why is when we suddenly take that drug away,stop feeding those gates, our brain goes into panic mode, it thinks it is dying. So, what follows? 7 to 10 days of extreme sickness (WD). Our brain is sending out distress signals just like it would if we quit eating (think for a minute what a human will do if they get hungry enough and then you can see why addicts will do things they never thought themselves capable of to get what they need.) Now, after the first few days, the brain begins to realize that it is not going to die and we start to physcially feel better. But that is by no means the end of the problem.
Think of those gates for a minute, wouldn't it be nice if when we quit they disappeared and everything went back to normal? Unfortunately, that is not the case, the addicts brain is forever altered. Those gates NEVER go away, we will always have all those extras. Now, this is where it is so difficult in early recovery. Ok, so we have quit taking drugs, we feel a little better, BUT now we eat a candy bar, the normal amount (that one squirt) of Doapmine is released, BUT ALL of those extra gates open to receive it and our brain starts to scream "IT'S NOT ENOUGH", which of course it is not, we have 30 gates opening, expecting to be fed and they get one little blast instead of what it is used to. This is why in early recovery anything that releases Dopamine needs to be reduced or eliminated if possible. Of course we have to eat, we can't eliminate that of course but have you ever noticed when you first got clean that you found yourself overeating or craving right after a good meal? We crave after we eat because those gates are open and we may overeat trying to satisfy the need for excess Dopamine. That is why it is a good idea to avoid sweets or products like NyQuil, because they contain sugar and alcohol, which "teases' those gates unnecessarily.
Now, while those gates never go away, the good news is that after we are clean for awhile, they do become less sensitive. Eventually even though they are still there, fewer will open and things return to as close to normal as we will ever be able to get to. So, basically we have them, they are laying dormant and if we get say a good 6 months to a year clean time, they pretty much leave us alone. BUT, how many times have you heard an addict say that they were clean for a while and thought they could just use recreationally now and control it? Of course we can't control it, once we take that first pill (or whatever) again, the HUGE amount of Doapmine is released and ALL of those dormant gates are wakened and our tolerance is just as high as it always was. We don't have to build it back up, we pick right back up at the amounts that we are accustomed to. Or how many times have you seen someone who never had a drinking problem get clean from pills and then become an alcoholic? They think that if they are not taking their DOC they will be ok. But remember, our brain doesn't know if we are feeding it Vicodin, Heroin or whiskey. All it knows or cares about it is the end result that the substance produces.
Now, we are getting clean, the WD's are over, we are not using any other substance but yet we are miserable, can't sleep, are depressed, anxious, etc, etc....Now, why is this, it's not fair, right?, I mean, we did what we were supposed to and yet we feel so ABNORMAL and it seems to last forever. Well, the reason for this is simple, when we were growing all those extra gates and training our brain to rely on a unnatural chemical, we ACTUALLY, PHYSCIALLY altered the chemical makeup in the brain. So, now we may be clean but we are left with a bunch of synopsis (sic),and receptors that are in essence "misfiring". We feel the way we do because our brain in no longer functioning normally. This does eventually heal but it is not a quick process by any means. Our brains have to repair all the damage we did when we went in and rearranged it's furniture so to speak. Usually this takes anywhere from several months to a year. The longest time belonging to those whose DOC is opiated based, such as Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin and Heroin. This is why such extreme caution has to be use in early recovery and also why so many addicts relapse.
It take so long to feel normal again that most of us give up and return to the drug induced normality that they are used to. I mean, how long can you go through living everyday just not caring about anything? Most can't get through that. BUT, if you stay strong, have a support system and be patient, one day you discover that you can smile again and while it may only last a few seconds, it is a real feeling, a twinkle of the REAL feelings we used to feel. Then you begin to have these feelings more and more. Then one day you are actually excited about sumpin or just feel happy cos it is a sunny day! And you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You become confident you are gonna reach that light very soon. And you will if you KNOW you will. The light is always there, shining so very brightly, waiting on you to reach out for it again. And the light forgives all.
There is life/light after drugs....gotta give it some time tho! (:
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