Dr. Kevin McCauley, of the Institute for Addiction Recovery, has been helping people with addiction for fifteen years. He has studied the brain and how it is affected by addiction.
In his new video for the Mormon Channel, Landscape of the Mind, McCauley compares the brain to the geography of Utah, shaped by experiences over time. These experiences are carved into the cortex of the brain and they affect the decisions that we make and our personalities.
The frontal cortex is connected to our thoughts, our decisions, our ability to understand consequences and reason. In addiction, the frontal cortex is overpowered by the midbrain, which is where our survival instincts and sex drive are controlled. The midbrain does not process reason or understand consequences: it reacts to pleasure in the moment instincts.
The midbrain is an important part of the brain as it allows us to distinguish between what is good for us and what is bad for us. Addiction causes a defect in that ability to reasonably think through decisions and actions– addicts will do anything that they can to seek their “high” because it feels like a necessary part of their survival. This type of brain re-wiring makes it so difficult to quit, even if the addiction is painful and life threatening. It is literally a disease that needs concentrated care to be able to overcome.
Understanding how addictions affect the brain helps loved ones and addicts themselves to be more patient and understanding. There is hope. The brain is pliable and can continue to be molded. We must be patient in the healing process, doing all that we can to refrain from the addiction, while also relying on the Savior and the power of the Atonement that is put into action in the LDS 12-Step Addiction Recovery Program.
If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please visit https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/?lang=eng