Addiction can leave you feeling torn. On one hand you see the consequences of drug use and don’t want to use. On the other, you don’t know how to stop and don’t know if you really want to. You see the effects of morphine, oxycodone and other opiates can have on your life, and you want those consequences to end. You want to heal relationships with family, reestablish your physical health, remove the stress, pressure and pain of addiction and find a new, normal life. However you also want to continue using drugs, or you at least find yourself doing so even despite your best intentions and decisions to do otherwise. This can leave you feeling like you have two brains or that you are not in control of your own brain. This is a frustrating and overwhelming mindset, but as hard as this may be to believe, it is also a great mindset. It means you are ready for change, and, while you cannot make all the changes needed for recovery on your own, you are ready and able to reach out for the help that will allow you to do so.
Addiction is a mental health disease rather than an issue of control or willpower, yet these latter concepts constantly arise when thinking about drug use. For a long time it was believed that addiction was simply a matter of willpower, but this misconception gave rise to many of the stigmas and misunderstandings that haunt those considering addiction treatment. It seems like we, or loved ones using drugs, should simply be able to stop. What’s easier than not doing something, right? Yet the deep changes drugs make to the body and the brain make this nearly impossible to do on one’s own. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains, “Chronic exposure to drugs of abuse disrupts the way critical brain structures interact to control and inhibit behaviors related to drug abuse…Drug addiction erodes a person’s self-control and ability to make sound decisions, while sending intense impulses to take drugs.” Addiction insinuates itself into the brain, and the changes it makes are changes that support its continued existence and make not doing impossible despite strong intentions in that direction. This can lead to a frustrating stalemate where part of your brain is constantly unhappy about continued drug use and all the other behaviors that come with it, while another part just wants to use again and again. However when you listen to that first voice, that healthy voice, you make recovery a possibility. You open up a window through which you can yell for help and get the professional support that makes recovery a reality. Through therapy and inpatient or outpatient treatment, you can loosen the hold addiction has on your mind and on your life, and you give your healthy brain the chance to become the stronger, louder brain.
As mentioned previously feeling mentally pulled in two directions is not the negative experience it seems to be. When you feel like you have two brains, use them. Use the healthy brain to get help, to utilize recovery tools, and use your addicted brain to learn more about how and why it functions. The exertion of “willpower,” that supposed holy grail of change, can actually backfire when it involves ignoring the addicted part, or any part, of your brain. Scientific American shares a recent study that reveals the benefits of listening and learning rather than demanding and seeking control: “Those with questioning minds were more intrinsically motivated to change. They were looking for a positive inspiration from within, rather than attempting to hold themselves to a rigid standard. Those asserting will lacked this internal inspiration, which explains in part their weak commitment to future change.” In other words asking questions, listening to both of your brains and feeling your way forward is a better way to exert change than demanding immediate, directly, rigid change. Scientific American continues, “Put in terms of addiction recovery and self-improvement in general, those who were asserting their willpower were in effect closing their minds and narrowing their view of their future. Those who were questioning and wondering were open-minded — and therefore willing to see new possibilities for the days ahead.” Addiction recovery requires flexibility, not one, ultimate decision to stop and never use again. While that is the ultimate goal, getting there involves being open to help, adapting and learning. How do you deal with two minds? You use, and listen, to them both. Ignoring the addicted side of your mind will not make it go away and neither will directly challenging or fighting with it. This just leads to frustration and typically ends in no change or even relapse for those in recovery.
When you feel like you have two brains, embrace it. This means you do still have a healthy brain, you do still have self and intention despite addiction’s best efforts to take over. You have a brain that can ask for help, that can learn from this help and that can ultimately become the strongest part of you. This strength is not willpower. As Willpower Is Not Enough: Understanding and Overcoming Addiction and Compulsion explains, “What prevents an addict from recovering, in fact, is relying on willpower alone…You can use willpower to get rid of the symptom of your addiction, but you’ll still be vulnerable to relapse or to new compulsive behaviors until you make other—internal—changes in yourself.” Real strength, and real change, comes from asking for help. It comes from breaking through your addiction to use your healthy brain and call a helpline like ours. We are here 24 hours a day to connect you to the resources that make change and recovery real possibilities. Take the first step towards gaining one mind, one healthy brain, and call today.