WATCH THE ANONYMOUS PEOPLE is a feature documentary film about the over 23 million Americans living in long-term recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
NO LONGER WILL WE REMAIN SILENT: MANY FACES1voice.org
Quote: The Brain and the Secondhand Drinking Connection
The precepts of the TAO ist philosophy teaches us how to survive any ISM.
To many of us in recovery it has become self-evident that we no longer drive this car, that we have turned it over to God, or our higher power, and we deal with things one day at a time. Let things flow and take a natural course, don’t force any situation; it is as simple as that.
We can now answer the kinds of “why” questions posed in this previous post thanks to new imaging technologies of the recent 15-20 years, such as fMRI (shows where the brain activity is occurring) and SPECT (shows the health of the brain).
These imaging technologies allow neuroscientists and medical professionals to study the human brain. They can see the changes it goes through as it develops. They can see the impacts of mental illness, head trauma or repeated alcohol misuse and so much more.
Learning the basics of how the brain controls everything a person thinks, feels, says and does helps explain the causes and impacts of SHD. It also helps you develop self-protection and prevention skills.
The Brain’s Communication System
When you understand how the brain goes together, you can appreciate what causes it to come apart and what it takes to fix it.
Neural Networks – How Cells Talk to One Another
The brain controls everything through neural networks. Neural networks are the way brain cells (neurons) talk to one another. They, in turn, exchange information with other neurons throughout the body via the nervous system.
This “talking” is done through an electrical-chemical signaling process. This is easier to understand if you think of neural networks as strands of holiday lights. Anything that happens along a strand of holiday lights – a loose bulb, frayed wire, power surge – changes how that strand works. This in turn changes how all other strands connected to it work.
The following is a simplified description of the basics of a neural network, which is illustrated in the image below. Remember anything that changes any one of these “things” will change the way the neural network performs (like a strand of holiday lights). If you change the way neural networks perform, you change behaviors.
Basics of a Neural Network
• Cue or Trigger (a sound, sight, touch, smell, memory, emotion…something that triggers the electrical signaling to start the neural network)
• Brain cells (neurons)
• Branchlike extensions (outgoing and incoming)
• Neurotransmitter (chemical messengers located at the end of the outgoing branchlike extensions that change the neuron’s electrical signal into chemical that can float across the synapse; other neurotransmitters help with the start and stop of the signaling)
• Synapse (the gap between the branchlike extensions of a brain cell/neuron)
• Receptors (at the end of the incoming branchlike extension that accept the neurotransmitter – like a “key in a door lock” – andchange it back into an electrical signal to carry on the message to the receiving brain cell/neuron)
Brain Maps for the Things We Do;
Through a series of connections, neural networks form systems between the brain and other organs to control our body’s major functions.
This includes the fight-or-flight stress response system, for example, as well as the circulatory and digestive systems. Neural networks also work together to form embedded “brain maps.” There is an expression to describe this brain mapping process, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Embedded brain maps take very little, if any, thought. They just happen. And thank goodness they do. If we did not have these embedded brain maps, we would still be trying to get out of bed because the millions of neuron connections needed to do that simple function would take forever to hook together. [This also points to the difficulty in changing brain maps (basically habits).]
Over the course of our lives, we create brain maps for all of the functions our bodies and brains do on a regular basis. We create brain maps for riding a bike or typing on a computer or talking on the phone or reading a book or running, breathing, reciting multiplication tables, eating, talking with our hands, playing an instrument, texting—just think about it!
Basically, then, brain maps are habits, coping skills, life skills and typical behaviors.
Where in the Brain Are You
Science groups neural network activity into three main areas in the brain – as shown in the image above.
There are three general groups of neural network activity, sometimes called sub-brains.
They are the cerebellum, the limbic system and the cerebral cortex. This means neural network activity in these three areas is responsible for the behaviors described in the image to the right.
And this is important. Why? Because it explains that if your neural networks are controlling your behaviors from the limbic system, for example, you are not “thinking,” you are “reacting.”
And why is this important to know? Because the limbic system is where neural networks involved with drinking behaviors and SHD-related stress get triggered (cued). And the brain pays close attention to things that happen in the limbic system. This is because the behaviors controlled by neural networks in the limbic system were (and are) critical to the survival of the human species. (More on this in the next post.)
Wiring Brain Maps
We are born with about 100 billion brain cells (aka neurons), but only a small number of them are “wired” at birth. This makes sense when you think about it. If all of our neural networks were wired at birth, we would come out doing what we do as adults. But about all a baby’s neural networks do is allow it to breathe, eat, sleep, cry, smile and dirty their diapers. Thus, from birth, our brains are wiring neural networks like crazy because we need them for everything we think, feel, say and do. (Please know the brain is also wiring en utero, which is why women should avoid drinking while pregnant.)
In the first decade of life, the brain wires trillions of neural networks. This is why key risk factors, such as childhood trauma (verbal, physical or emotional abuse, neglect, bullying, SHD-related stress), mental illness (anxiety, depression, ADHD) and social environment have such a big influence on the developing brain and a child’s behaviors. Genetics is another significant influence. So are a child’s own thoughts and behaviors and lack of cerebral cortex wiring (explained shortly).
Then Comes Puberty
The above describes neural network wiring for the first decade or so, but then comes puberty. Puberty is an instinctual wiring process (meaning it is built into the human species). It causes lots of neural network wiring activity–especially in the limbic system (the reactionary, not thinking, part of the brain).
The purpose of puberty-related brain wiring is to cause the species to turn to its peers and take risks. It is also to take care of the obvious–-hormonal changes and adult-like bodies capable of reproducing. These three instinctual drives (take risks, turn to peers and reproduce) were critical to the survival of the human species back in the day when mankind had a much shorter lifespan (meaning mom and dad might very likely have been dead around the time a young person was going through puberty so they weren’t around to protect them). Today, however, these instinctual drives can be a bit of a problem because we live much longer, more complex lives. .
And Finally, the “Thinking” Part of the Brain
Here’s where the problem comes in. There is about a four-year lag time between the start of puberty and the start of the last stage of brain development—wiring in the cerebral cortex. As described in the 3-brain map image above, the cerebral cortex is responsible for sound reasoning, good judgment and weighing the consequences of one’s actions. It is also the brakes on the risk taking behaviors that start with puberty. And it is when the brain starts to “prune” neural networks not used much and “strengthen” those that are. This pruning and strengthening process is designed to make the brain more efficient.
Dr. Paul Thompson’s 10-year time lapse study of brain development ages 5-20 show just how much wiring – brain maturity – occurs from approximately ages 16-20. It’s now understood this maturity process continues until roughly age 25.
Back in the day, life decisions were pretty simple. Basically it was about gathering food, finding shelter, reproducing and surviving. Today, our lives are far more complicated and much longer. This means the consequences of the mistakes we make and the brain mapping we set into place as teens can last for a very long lifetime (unless we take steps to correct or fix them, of course).
Why Ages 16-25 Matter So Much or Why Wait Till 21 to Drink
While wiring in the cerebral cortex starts around age 16, it takes until around age 22 for girls and age 24 for boys to complete. The darker colors in brain time-lapse study image show us just how much brain development is happening.
This lag time between the start of puberty and the start of the cerebral cortex wiring helps explain why teens make poor “decisions.” It also explains why “Just Say, ‘No,’” typically doesn’t work and why teen brains handle alcohol and SHD-related stress (explained in the next post) differently than adult brains.
Lastly, it helps us understand that the neural networks strengthened become our embedded brain maps for many of our adult-like coping skills and behaviors. These can include drinking behaviors and unhealthy ways of coping with SHD.
Raising awareness about both sides of the drinking equation – drinking behaviors and secondhand drinking.
No One Sets Out To Cause Secondhand Drinking And No One Sets Out To Cope With It In Harmful Ways
This science and this common term can help those causing and those coping learn what it takes to change. Visit again next week to read more about this science in Part 4 of my Alcohol Awareness Month 2014 celebration!
©2014 Lisa Frederiksen – the above article shares portions from two upcoming books of mine. One is a book titled, Secondhand Drinking in Our Workplaces, Schools, Families and Communities. The other is a very abbreviated version (from which this piece is taken) for a QuickSeries guide, titled, Secondhand Drinking: Prevention and Protection, to be published later this year for use by Army, Navy, Veterans, DOD, Forest Service and similar groups.
If you have questions or would like to talk further about secondhand drinking or my SHD consulting, training and presentation services for individuals, families and businesses, please give me a call at 650-362-3026 or email me at lisaf@BreakingTheCycles.com
BUY THE DVD
FIND & HOST SCREENINGS|LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FILM & COMPANION BOOK
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
We are moms and dads, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters – all bringing the power and proof of recovery to our communities. Together we will change public perception, and ultimately the public response to the addiction crisis…FOREVER. Will you join us?
Thank you! Your email has been added.
SHARE YOUR STORY
Give back. Save others. Become a face & voice for change.
Connect with US, at HOW IT WORKS in WESTwooD: Gordon BOWCOTT 1 760 668 1855