Addiction: the erosion of choice

Lance Echo-Hawk, MA
January 2007

Addiction is looked at by some as simply a choice. Volition, or the lack of it, is seen as the problem and volition is therefore seen as the solution. Others see the problem as something more than that. The following illustrates how something that may start as a choice becomes out of control at a biological level as other factors enter the picture, undermining the natural operation of sound and rational choice.

Dr. Daniel Amen has written, among others, the book, "Healing The Hardware Of The Soul." In it he builds the case that if your brain is not protected, cared for, and functioning at its best then you will not be able to be your best self. We can all see how this would be so in the case of serious strokes or other head injuries. The book also describes the toxic effects alcohol and other drugs have upon the brain when these substances are abused habitually. Dr Amen uses SPECT scan technology to show the damage done over time to the brain on drugs, some of this damage being deep and in severe cases, not always fully reversible.

Observe the following pictures which depict the tragic consequences when a life becomes out of control due to substance abuse. The physical effects on the outward body are obvious.

Meth (click to enlarge)

Heroin (click to enlarge)

It is easy to see the outward impact of drug addiction in these above instances. Below are images taken from the work of Dr. Amen on the less visible but still crucial physiological brain conditions that determine functioning. The first of his pictures is a top view of a normal and healthy brain. The other views show the destructive effects of substance abuse on brain functioning.

-- a noraml and healthy brain viewed from the top

-- a METH user's brain

-- a Heroin user's brain

-- an Alcohol user's brain

More of Dr. Amen's work on this subject is avaible for your reference at Amen's SPECT image gallery. Additionally, at this link he discusses other physiological and psychological problems and their presentations on brain SPECT scans. (Note: SPECT scans show areas that are active and functioning. The above views show areas that are "missing" functionally, but the brain matter is still present physically. What looks like holes are actually areas of inactivity, not physical holes.)

We can look at the faces and the lives of those who are addicted to drugs and see that they have crossed some line that others have not. If we could see just as readily their brain funtioning and its deterioration over time under the chronic influence of substance abuse, would we able able to see that their brains crossed the line well before their faces and lives showed it?

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