Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Addiction affects the lives of almost half of Americans in the US. According to the recent numbers 1 of 7 adults suffer from at least one addiction, and 46% of Americans has a family member or a friend who battling addiction from addiction. It’s important for us to understand first what is an addiction, how it impacts the brain function, so that we can understand better those who are struggling.
There are two very important brain activities that are affected with addiction, they are the limbic system and the cortex. The first is responsible for our basic survival instincts. Whenever we perform essential activities to stay alive, such as, eat, drink, rest, care of the young, the brain reinforces the behavior by releasing dopamine. This hormone gives the sensation of “feel good” or pleasure. The memory of such feeling of reward is recorded in our brain, so that we can seek it again. This is our survival hardwiring. The second, the (pre-frontal) cortex, regulates our decision making and it controls our impulses. When a person has an addiction, whether substance abuse or something else, the addictive activity activates the same dopamine process from the “survival center”. The problem begins when such activity is repeated, it can “hijack” the usage of our brain to the point that it will change/rewire the brain, to make it believe that the addiction is a prime need for survival. By hijacking the brain, the addiction will change our decision making and control our impulses, so that the person is no longer making rightful decisions. It can even substitute or even “eliminate” the survival activities. One can say that it’s not logical or rational, that’s because the brain is no longer capable of making the right decisions or holding the impulses because of the hijack. As a consequence, the body will require more and more of the addiction in order to activate the same level of reward or pleasure that it would be natural for the person. All of this process also harms the brain tissue causing further consequences. This is a very simplistic explanation of the process of addiction. More could be said about the neurotransmitters that are not “enticed” with simple things after addiction, being necessary for greater pleasures.
Once we grasp a little the process of addiction, we understand a little better the struggle that people go through. The person may have made a willful decision to engage in such behavior, but the addiction will eliminate the will power to come out of it. More often than not, the addiction itself causes much pain and shame for the people more for not being able to come out of it or to stop. They would love to come out of it, but many times they can’t. So how can they be helped?
Although it’s a modern discovery, starting in 1950 and really growing in the 90’s, the study of brain disorder and substance abuse has developed a lot ever since. There is treatment out there that helps the brain to be healed, and the brain activities will no longer be hijacked by the addiction. Studies report that although a very large percentage of the population suffers from addiction, only a small fraction seeks treatment. Another element is also the shame or the stigma about addiction or substance abuse. In all treatments, family support is always the greatest ally in this battle. That’s why we as Catholics are called to step up and support not only those suffering from addiction, but also those around them. It’s not a matter of judging, bashing people, but recognizing that it’s a very difficult battle. I would like to invite those who are available to pray for those struggling with addiction in our next 24hr adoration over Labor day weekend (Sunday September 5th from 6pm – Monday 6pm). I would also like to invite those available to participate in the Candlelight Vigil this Tuesday August 31st in observance of Overdose Awareness Day. It starts at 6:45pm with a slideshow memorial and the event itself will start at 7:30pm. It will take place in front of the Walker building, but in case of rain, it will in the Lower Church or Meehan Hall. Let’s remember and pray for 2,104 people who died of overdose in Massachusetts this past year out of 93,000 who passed in the US. Let us ask our Heavenly Father to have mercy and them and may Mother Mary console their families and their loved ones, and May St. Monica whose feast day was Friday give strength to all mothers whose children struggle with addiction.
Father Steven Clemence