Strategies for Overcoming Addiction

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Key Strategies to Overcoming “Addiction” - based on work by Dr. Marc Lewis and from Paula DeSanto

Basic Understanding of brain anatomy and neurological “learning”:

  • Role of Dorsolateral PFC (top down processing – insightful/big picture) functioning
  • Role of Striatum (motivation center where desire is ignited – part that “burns hot”)
  • Addiction results in dampening of connection between these 2 parts (like kindling that is no longer quick to light)
  • Brains develop and function based on the environments they develop and function in.
  • Where we focus our attention defines us neurologically. (The power of repetition)
  • Our brains have incredible plasticity and can be re-wired throughout our lifetime, but this requires focused effort, intention, and repetition.
  • Mindfulness has been shown to quiet the reward/desire centers and engage PFC.

Concept of ego fatigue: 

  • Frequent suppression of desire results in cognitive “wearing out” and makes it more difficult to engage machinery of self-control.
  • Resisting the urges often becomes a growing source of anxiety.
  • Re-interpreting or reframing (vs. suppression) does not cause the same fatigue.

Need to create new neuropathways by igniting other forms of desire (top down processing):

  • Reflect on our past and connect the past to our current conundrum.
  • Imagine a future very different from our present – our addiction is no longer tolerable.
  • We must see our lives progressing toward a viable future – we must believe we are going somewhere.
  • Switch from a goal of immediate need to a goal of long-term fulfillment.

Key Skills:

  • “Attitude adjustment” – Choose to be hopeful and practice gratitude.
  • Practice basic self-care – Keep the primal brain centers “cool,” so there are fewer fires to put out.
  • Understand attached detachment – All we can do is “our best” – then we need to let go.
  • Practice mindfulness – Learn to watch our thoughts, choose our responses, and understand we get to decide what meaning we choose to attach to circumstances.
  • Develop at least one meaningful connection with a peer – We are group primates that cannot thrive in isolation.