Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Which is Stronger, Chemical Reactions or Willpower?

For many decades, substance abusers have been touted as having little to no strength or character to resist their abusive behavior. Although this may be true, it is interesting that substance abuse is judged by a standard of “morality” rather than by a standard of chemical reactions. The resulting chemical activity of drug and alcohol abuse within the mind and body is extremely strong and powerful and not easily conquered. In fact, medium- to long-term substance abuse changes habitual thought processes onto a track of mental “escaping.” Rather than seeing life’s challenges as an opportunity for increasing success, substance abusers essentially hide from these stress factors, even small issues which would barely be noticed in everyday life, and escape using their drug of choice.

In a paper written by Antoine Bechara, he describes the brain as using two neural systems to control decision making: The short-term amygdala system which controls immediate pleasurable and painful responses, and the long-term prefrontal cortex system which controls reflective and controlled opinions concerning future outcomes. [1] Bechara describes hyperactivity in the short-term reactive system to have the ability to override the long-term reflective system. This means that when drugs or alcohol over-stimulate the pleasure receptors in the brain, this reaction can disturb responsible long-term planning and decision making. If these pleasure receptors are over-stimulated for a long and consistent period of time, the unused reflective planning and cognition begins to suffer for longer periods of time.

Conversely, Nina Wallerstein, M.P.H, Ph.D. and Edward Bernstein, M.D. performed a three-part study on the positive results of empowering an individual’s mental stability and what the long-term effects were of receiving positive group and community reinforcement. [2] First, the study describes how empowerment is linked with health (just as powerlessness is linked with disease and mental disorders). Then, a thorough examination of Paulo Freire’s empowering education theory and lastly, a case study of how empowerment is successfully used in preventing and treating substance abuse. The case study demonstrates how important it is for an individual to have a feeling of control over their own lives and over their place in their community. This is similar to Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory, in which he describes how positive and cogent relationships in an individual’s life contributes more to their happiness level than any other factor, such as money, success, or status. [3]

Drug and alcohol testing can prevent small, manageable habits from becoming large, uncontrollable habits. Whether it is implemented at the workplace or at home, testing is used in order to encourage members of society to hold each accountable and to keep their circles of influence safe. Contact CMM Technology today and discuss how they can help you in this process: +618-9204-2500.

1. Bechara, Antoine. “Decision making, impulse control and loss of willpower to resist drugs: a neurocognitive perspective : Nature Neuroscience.” Nature Publishing Group . N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2011. http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v8/n11/full/nn1584.html.

2. Wallerstein, Nina, and Edward Bernstein. “Empowerment Education: Freire’s Ideas Adapted to Health Education.” Health Education & Behavior . N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2011. http://heb.sagepub.com/content/15/4/379.abstract.

3. Glasser, William . Choice Theory. New York, NY : Harpercollins Publishers, Inc., 1998. Print.

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