I’ll have the life-destroying addiction, with a side order of scrambled brain please! - by Candice Gurran 18 Feb 2017

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Sound inviting? Didn’t think so. So why is it that thousands and thousands of people voluntarily put poisonous chemicals into their bodies, up their noses, down their gullets and into their veins, knowing that there is risk of addiction? Think back to when you were in grade 1 (for some this may require digging deep into your grey matter) and your teacher was asking the class “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I hardly imagine any one of you put up your hand and said: “Well Miss, I really hope I land up in the gutters of Hillbrow, not a cent to my name, not a friend in the world, with a dirty needle sticking out my arm, nursing one chronic heroin addiction”. No one chooses to be an addict. No one takes their first drink, first puff or first snort thinking they will loose a battle for control because in the beginning stages of using drugs and alcohol, there is a degree of control. But as the usage becomes more and more frequent, the less and less control there is, until the using becomes compulsive in nature. A major reason this happens is because drugs alter the chemistry and structure of the brain! Let’s look at an analogy that’s useful when talking about structural brain change and chemicals. Imagine walking the same line on a carpet, every day, all day for a year. At first the carpet – all brand new – doesn’t have any indication of a path. But the more you walk on the same line, the more and more the carpet will begin to wear until eventually it is completely worn in, with a clear pathway of where you have been treading. After a year the pathway you have walked, is clearly visible and the carpet is certainly worse for wear. It cannot ever go back to way it was when you bought it. It cannot be repaired. If you want a carpet with no path, you have to buy a new one. Chemicals do the same thing in the brain as they activate the pleasure pathway (i.e. it feels good, that’s why people say you feel high). At first, your brain – prior to the ingestion of substances – it a beautiful mass of mess. Consisting of billions and billions of neurons. But the more and more you use, the more and more the pleasure pathway becomes activated until it is completely worn in – more like a trench than a pathway. And as was the case with the carpet, so is the case with the brain. It cannot ever go back to the way it was before. It cannot be repaired. And that ladies and gentlemen is why no addict can ever return to a state of controlled use. Unlike the carpet, you cannot buy a new brain! What’s done is done and cannot be undone (I doubt Shakespeare had this in mind when writing Macbeth).

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