Our brains contain two small almond shaped pieces called the amygdalae. For such small components of our brain, they play an immense role, especially for those recovering from active addiction.
The amygdala is the center of our fight or flight response, the primal, survival instinct we have developed and maintained since the beginning of mankind. Acting as a source for detecting threat, the amygdala becomes active when it needs to work with the sympathetic nervous system to send stress hormones throughout the body in preparation for taking action.
Stress reactions are mismanaged for those recovering from active addiction. Addiction programs the brain in such a way that it considers drug use the most important thing for survival. Any kind of stress is considered a threat because stress is in direct opposition to pleasure, which is what drugs create in the brain by producing a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Overtime, a hyperactive amygdala grows. With a growing amygdala comes growing fear, fear associated emotions, and easily triggered stress responses. The body is in a constant state of alarm, repeating and replenishing the cycle of stress, which, for those in recovery, can mean ongoing cravings for drugs.
There is an interesting dynamic of contrast at play when this occurs. On the one hand, recovery from addiction proves true neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to regrow. On the other hand, stress is considered to be neurotoxic, meaning, like drug addiction, it kills brain cells. Stress grows, the amygdala grows, and dysfunction continues to grow as amygdala takes control of the brain.
Mindfulness And The Amygdala
Numerous MRI studies have found that just two months of practicing mindfulness based techniques shrinks the amygdala. When the amygdala shrinks, the communication between the prefrontal cortex and other areas of the brain strengthen their communication. As the prefrontal cortex regains its dominance over the brain, the amygdala’s hold weakens. Stress, feeling threatened, being on edge, having cravings, being distracted, all of that changes with the simple practice of mindfulness.
Researchers have found that the difference in brain size and activity is significant between practitioners of mindfulness and those who do not practice mindfulness. If the benefits of mindfulness are undeniable, then incorporating the practice into one’s recovery should be inarguable. There are many ways to start practicing mindfulness throughout the day. We’ll discuss some in our next blog.
Brain-centered, body-focused healing with a sense of the outdoors and adventure. At Tree House Recovery in Orange County, California, you’re in for the transformation of a lifetime. Call us today for information on our men’s treatment programs: (855) 202-2138