The ADDICTED BRAIN

Substance abusers live in two worlds

By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG 

Posted 2/9/18

Tim Hilton, community engagement liaison at Bradford Health Services in Chattanooga, spoke to a local crowd Thursday night to share what it is like to struggle with addiction. The event, …

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The ADDICTED BRAIN

Substance abusers live in two worlds

Posted

Tim Hilton, community engagement liaison at Bradford Health Services in Chattanooga, spoke to a local crowd Thursday night to share what it is like to struggle with addiction. 

The event, co-sponsored by local anti-drug organization ATS The Bridge, was planned to help people better understand why substance abuse is so common today. 

Before he got to the place where he could help others overcome addiction, Hilton struggled with active addiction for 25 years. He described how he had abused alcohol, cocaine and heroin, “throwing away” the positive things he had worked for in life. 

“To all the world, my life looked like the American dream,” said Hilton. 

Hilton described how he had gotten his first taste of alcohol at the age of 11, sneaking drinks from his parents’ liquor cabinet. While he would not become an “addict” until much later, he said he learned at an early age that alcohol could make him feel good and distract him from the pain in his life. 

Before addiction took hold, Hilton had graduated from university, launched a successful career, got married and started a family. His substance abuse led to many losses, including his job, family and friendships. 

At one point, he found himself homeless, hungry, alone and depressed. Hilton said he at one point even contemplated suicide, going so far as placing a gun in his mouth and “praying for the courage to pull the trigger.” 

After hitting rock bottom, he did eventually seek out recovery. For more than a decade now, he has been working in the addiction recovery field to help others claw their way back from rock bottom. 

After sharing his story, he offered some additional insight into what goes on in the mind of someone affected by addiction. 

“Every addict has two worlds — the real world and the secret world,” Hilton said. “Most people with addictions … try to keep them hidden. What a ‘bottom’ actually is for an addict is when the two worlds collide.” 

Hilton spent the bulk of his presentation summarizing how addiction affects the brain. He said research in the field of neuroscience indicates that addiction is, in fact, considered a disease. He called this “neurotransmitter pathway disregulation.” 

Addiction, he explained, is caused by a problem with the brain’s coping system. While there are multiple factors at play in an addict’s brain, chief among them is a problem with how dopamine is delivered within the brain. 

He said many people despise addicts because they perceive all the addicts’ actions to be the result of personal choice. However, he said addiction actually changes the brain, resulting in the person no longer being fully in control of his or her actions. 

Hilton said addicts often do realize that their actions “have serious consequences.” However, the reaction triggered within the brain causes the brain to see the addict’s drug of choice as “necessary for survival,” kind of like food. 

As hopeless as this might sound, Hilton said he is proof that those suffering from the disease of addiction can get to a place of recovery. 

The key to getting this place is a person getting the drug out of his or her system and finding a new coping mechanism to replace the drugs. Hilton noted this is something addiction counselors will discuss with recovering addicts. 

The speaker said his coping mechanism has been “spirituality,” and principles of spirituality have helped fuel his desire to avoid further negative consequences. 

Again describing addiction as a disease, Hilton said he still suffers from addiction today. This means he can no things like “drink socially,” lest he return to his former habits. 

“If I reinforce this, it will become the dominant coping mechanism again,” said Hilton. “I factor this in when making my decisions each day. That is what all recovering addicts must do.” 

Hilton encouraged those affected by addiction to reach out to organizations like Bradford Health Services to start working toward recovery. He added there are many, like him, who are in recovery and can help others in their journeys. 

Reba Terry, executive director of The Bridge, said she was happy with the event's turnout and said she expects attendees learned a lot about addiction that they did not know before. 

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