FAIRBORN — One of the state’s leading experts on the topic of drug addiction spoke at the Greene County Community Drug Forum Thursday night at Fairborn High School. Dr. Brad Lander, a psychologist and clinical director at The Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center presented “Understanding Addiction: Squirrel Logic,” a talk on how addiction affects the brain.
Lander talked about changes that occur in the brain when drugs or alcohol are used consistently and brought up a 1950s study on rats to help illustrate the idea. In the study researchers found that rats after having had pleasure areas of their brains stimulated, would seek to continue the pleasure stimulation even at the expense of their own health, even to the point of death.
“When you start doing alcohol or drugs on a consistent basis, your brain will interpret this as being a new environment,” Lander said. “And it will begin to adapt to the drug, alcohol environment. One of the areas that’s really getting re-engineered by this is the reward pathway. It’s physically changing in response to the alcohol and the drugs.
“Once you get enough change going, the brain now believes it has to have the drug the same way it needs food, water and sex. It’s not rational, it’s just connected.”
Lander said when a person is high or intoxicated, “you always think you’re functioning better than you are.”
“You wonder why people aren’t motivated to change, it’s because most of the time they don’t understand the problem the way someone else does,” he said. “When people are using alcohol and drugs … you’re shooting for that sensation that everything is fine. I don’t have a problem with that if you do that periodically. But if you do it too often you don’t have your sense of alarm. If you don’t have a sense of alarm, you don’t have the motivation to change anything in your life and you keep doing the same things over and over again.”
According to Lander, addiction is rooted in the individual’s “squirrel” or “animal” brain – the portion of the brain that doesn’t understand the future or consequences – that “wants what it wants when it wants it,” he said.
Lander said the battle for recovery from addiction exists between the squirrel brain and the prefrontal cortex – the portion of the brain that understands morality, the future, goal setting, etc.
Among other topics, Lander also addressed addiction recovery: “When you get into a recovery environment, your brain interprets it as a new environment,” he said. “It starts … making new connections, it’s going to make you better at being sober. It doesn’t happen overnight, but the longer you start doing those kind of activities, the more growth you get.”
Dr. Lander spoke at the Greene County Community Drug Forum at Fairborn High School Thursday evening.
Reach Nathan Pilling at 937-502-4498 or on Twitter @XDGNatePilling.