©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
Human beings like to be comfortable, feel good, and experience pleasure. In order to achieve this, they continually self-medicate to alter the “flavor” of their brain’s chemical stew so they can experience a sense of well-being. All humans do this—all the time. The way in which they choose to do so, however, can result in positive or negative outcomes and consequences.
Think of your brain as a pot of chemical stew. In the real world of food you could have three identical pots on a stove with each containing identical basic ingredients. The final taste would depend on the type and amount of seasoning you chose to add to each pot.
For example, if you wanted Minestrone in pot #1 you would need to add bay leaf and other Italian herbs. Adding curry to pot #2 would result in an East Indian taste. And to make something more Asian in pot #3 you could add soy sauce, sesame oil, or black-bean sauce.
Much as in the world of culinary arts, the “taste” of your brain’s stew is related to the type and amount of seasonings (e.g., neurotransmitters, hormones, brain chemicals) present. You continually season your brain by what you think, drink, eat, and do.
The self-medication can be direct or indirect.
Examples of direct self-medication include:
- Eating food
- Drinking beverages
- Taking prescribed medications
- Taking over-the-counter drugs
- Shooting heroin into your blood stream
- Smoking tobacco or marijuana
- Chewing or sniffing tobacco products
- Sniffing glue
- Using street drugs
- Ingesting nutritional products
Direct self-medication changes your brain’s neurochemistry “directly,” as the substance binds with receptor molecules in your brain.
Examples of indirect self-medication include:
- Thinking thoughts
- Taking risks
- Being in the grip of a strong emotion
- Engaging in sexual activity
- Watching TV, movies, videos
- Listening to specific types of music
Indirect self-medication changes your brain’s neurochemistry “indirectly,” as the behavior triggers the secretion of brain chemicals or results in alteration of levels. Following are a couple of examples:
- Having a sexual orgasm results in alteration in a number of hormones and brain chemicals that flavor your brain’s chemical stew. If this did not occur, you would probably gradually stop engaging in sexual activity (unless you wanted to have a biological child)—because sex tends to be messy and time-consuming. People can become addicted to sexual activity because of the alterations that result in the brain’s chemical stew.
- Allowing yourself to be in a state of anger increases the level of adrenalin in your brain and body. Increased levels of adrenalin, in turn, trigger the release of dopamine—the feel-good chemical. When you hear “that person is addicted to anger,” what really is happening is that the individual is addicted to the body substances that are altered/released when in a state of anger.
Refer ro Addictive Behaviors under Brain Lead for additional information.