in ItalianoIt's Only In Your Head
by - Peter T. Seal


Peter T. Seal is President of the Southern Colorado Alliance of the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates (SCA-NAMA) in Colorado Springs, CO. He has worked in the field of methadone as a counselor and trainer for over 15 years.

How many times have you heard that before?!

Little did we know! It seems the world is full of Freudian Slips - we often know more than we know we know! Thoroughly confused?

What I'm talking about is that it really is "ALL IN YOUR HEAD"!

Think about it - how for years we've all been told "It's only in your head", and "You've just got to get your head together." All that time, all those people (your parents, friends, treatment professionals, etc.) were talking about the correct general area, but thinking in terms of psychological issues, instead of chemical issues. The brain chemistry IS where the problem lies. Their overall understanding was far off base!

Your addiction/disease has nothing to do with beliefs, morals or attitudes. It is the BRAIN CHEMISTRY -the metabolic processes that are deranged, and NOT the psychological condition in our heads. It is this lack of understanding that prevents nearly all of us from achieving success in recovery.

Think about it - have you read any research articles on neurotransmitters? The reason that drugs make us feel better or normal is because of their chemical action in the brain. Does it not make sense that the daily use of a substance whose chamical action is in the brain would eventually change the way the brain works? For example, lets say that for 2 years a person injected insulin every day. Eventually the body would say, "I've got all this extra insulin floating around I guess I'm making too much. Better cut back on the insulin manufacturing." That is what happens to your brain when you put drugs into it daily. From some drugs we can recover and eventually the brain will return to normal. Unfortunately, for heroin use this does not seem to be the case - the damage is permanent for some people. For others who have been dependent on heroin the damage is a matter of degree. They may feel fine under normal circumstances, but should a crisis occur - whether physical as in a medical condition, or psychological as in the death of a close friend or family member, change/loss of job, divorce, or any life crisis - they are unable to respond within the normal range. This eventually leads to relapse. So, does not heroin, cocaine, alcohol or any other drug usage change a person's BRAIN CHEMISTRY??

Isn't that what Drs. Vincent Dole, Marie Nyswander, and Mary Jeanne Kreek said before and after discovering methadone maintenance treatment thirty years ago, back in 1963?! When are we going to get it?? What the hell is "rebound effect", "protracted withdrawal" and relapse in general? The first two are nothing but the fact that your brain chemistry is still expecting extra drugs. The last one is your brain may never be normal and you just can't take it anymore, so you relapse. And, in fact, your brain may never have been normal to start with, but that is for genetics and science to answer. However, it is looking more and more like some individuals are predisposed to drug use in general and heroin addiction in particular.

But even all the experts who know these things, along with the self-righteous "recovering" people, can not believe in 30 years of scientific research, documentation, evidence and facts. Hell, addicts themselves/ourselves do not want to admit it is really is only in our heads'! We are told and sold all these psychological, emotional and spiritual things to do to achieve recovery, but they have such minimal success that more of us are dead, incarcerated or still strung out. Yet, the one thing that is missing from the picture - the BRAIN CHEMISTRY of an addict - is rarely addressed, with the rare exception of "quality" methadone treatment.

Most addiction professionals' are behaviorists and know zero about the brain or pharmacology. They do not believe in giving a "drug" to an addict. Because of this, they usually sabotage methadone treatment by doing it incorrectly. The medical profession and medical treatment are the only hope that addicts have!

It's so simple - if it IS "only in your head" - then you must address the problem in the only way that will address the CHEMICALS in your head. I know this so very well. When I detoxed from methadone, it was the "right" thing to do afterall. So for 13 years I lived in a state of protracted withdrawal! I never felt normal the entire 13 years -- not one day. You can't even go to sleep and forget about it -- first it's hard to get to sleep and even harder to stay that way. And it affected my feelings too because I had to put up a wall of protection. I dared not feel or it I might be overcome by my own emotions. I have learned the hard way, that denial is a powerful thing! Until, finally I got damn tired of it and I addressed the chemicals in my head. I will never again be "drug free" at such a cost. THANK YOU Drs. Dole, Nyswander, Kreek, Joseph and other younger researchers such as Payte, Zweben and others. You have given me the power of knowing that my addiction is truly a disease. With this knowledge I have regained the humanity that I lost as an addict. Without it I would have never had the confidence to learn that "the power of one addict helping another cannot be equaled"- NOT! It can be surpassed by going to the cause of the problem! I can firmly say as a drug therapist that going to therapy and spirituality never did a thing for me, except to side track me and waste 13 years of MY LIFE!. I denied myself my own humanity, as we all do to "stay clean at all costs".

So please learn about your disease --join an advocacy group learn about methadone, find out if you have ever had proper treatment or correct doses. And then, demand quality methadone maintenance treatment with dignity, not psycho-babble! When given in the correct therapeutic dose, methadone can normalize your brain chemistry, so that you can normalize your life! NAMA is right.- Methadone really does save lives!

A version of this article was first published in Methadone Awareness May 1994 1(10): 3.

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