Before we go any further, we
first need to review some basic notions about what addiction
is — and what it isn’t.
That’s necessary because research
breakthroughs in recent years have revolutionized our understanding
of how and why psychoactive drugs affect the brain, even shedding
light on how the brain itself works to generate consciousness.
And that has far-reaching implications for your trip through
‘Addiction’ vs. ‘Dependence.’ We also need to define some basic concepts
and terms. For starters, we should point out that throughout
this booklet we’ll use the word addiction to describe all types
We won’t make a distinction between
physical and psychological dependence, mainly because we think
splitting hairs about “addiction” and “dependence”
is basically beside the point.
Too often, people make too much
of words, reading into them things that really aren’t there —
or shouldn’t be. The language of addictions is a case in point.
To many people, the term “physical
dependence” means something a lot more serious and potentially
life — threatening than does “psychological dependence,”
a phrase that’s often tossed around as if it describes something
minor, or even imaginary.
The fact is that any addiction
is a serious matter, as anyone who’s gone through one knows.
Similarly, we’re not going to
waste time sorting through theories of addiction, for the simple
reason that it doesn’t matter much in the context of where we’re
going in this booklet — and hopefully where you’re going with
Let’s just say that you used
chemicals for the reasons that you used chemicals and I used
them for the reasons I used them.
We had a problem and chemicals
covered it up. Then chemicals became the problem.
Endorphins: Turning the Key.
There is an aspect of
addiction science that we should spend a little time with, though.
It involves recent research into a group of body chemicals known
loosely as “endorphins.” They may turn out to have
everything to do with why some of us become addicts and some
of us don’t.
And even more importantly, endorphins
may tell the some of us who do become addicts how we can reverse
the process of addiction and accelerate the process of recovery.
Discovered by researchers John
Hughes And Hans Kosterlitz in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1975, endorphins
are molecules produced in the body that turn off and on internal
systems that regulate pain and pleasure, especially during times
of stress or injury.
The existence of such a system
had only been guessed at previously. But as research expanded
our understanding of other brain processes, it also began to
provide insights into addictions, and investigators gradually
began to suspect that the body had to contain receptor sites
for specific drugs for the chemicals to exert any influence in
the body at all. One researcher even predicted how the system
would fit together: like locks and keys.
Hughes and Kosterlitz found the
key — at least the first one. What they discovered were short
chains of amino acids, organic molecules sometimes referred to
as “building blocks of life.” They named the first
one “enkephalin” from the Greek words for “in
the head,” where the substance was produced.
Later, more complex molecules
were identified, including Beta-endorphin — a contraction
for endogenous (or internal) morphine — and, in 1992, an internal
cannabinoid (dubbed anandamide) that activates marijuana
receptors in the brain.
Endorphin captured the most early
attention, because of the variety and desirability of effects
— including just about everything from pain relief to relaxation
— it seemed involved in.
Today, evidence ties the chemicals
(and a broader group of other internally-produced chemicals like
them) to the foundations of consciousness itself. From pain to
pleasure, appetite control to analgesia, these chemicals play
a main part in many of the events that shape our lives — or,
at least, that form our perceptions and feelings about our lives.
Most interesting about that,
from a recovery perspective, is the growing body of research
that shows some of the ways in which we can directly influence
endorphin levels through activities that stimulate their production
— that we all, in effect, “roll our own” endorphins
(and produce our own Prozac®) by doing the things that make
And that brings us to the very
interesting notion that we can change our feelings by changing
our actions — a situation that has important implications for
anyone recovering from a chemical dependency problem.
Me, for example. And you.