Amber Hollingworth, a Master Addiction Counselor from Hope for Families, presented an engaging lecture which addressed some of the underlying conditions that make a person more vulnerable to developing an addiction. From the brain perspective, there is the down regulation of several important brain chemicals(endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin) and people often use substances to make up for these deficits in neurochemicals, especially when they experience some sudden loss, like death, divorce, major injury, loss of dream, etc. The substance abuse often progresses to addiction, where disconnections with others often follow. Without connection, the disease will continue to progress as all humans are made to connect with each other.
In treatment, the best way to help heal these deficits is to help clients reconnect with others. With new, positive connections, the brain chemicals naturally begin to rebalance making it easier for the individual to address their depression, anxiety, trauma, ADD, or grief. Addressing these things helps to jump start and strengthen the recovery process and maintain sobriety. Luckily, when people engage in recovery programs, support groups, and treatment, this natural process almost immediately begins to help heal the brain. The connection to others is a major change factor! Thus the reason that addiction treatment centers around group therapy and 12-step meeting attendance. It is the process of engaging in these groups that is healing the client.
Amber also provided a different perspective on “tough love.” Instead of pushing the person out of their lives until they “learn their lesson,” she showed how healthy connection is more effective in supporting change. It is true that sometimes family and friends need to distance themselves for their own emotional safety, but the idea of instituting a withdrawal of love as a technique that would make the addict get clean simply doesn’t work.