Alcoholics Anonymous and Reduced Impulsivity: A Novel Mechanism of Change

Impulsivity or lack of behaviour inhibition, especially when distressed, is one psychological mechanisms which is implicated in all addictive behaviour from substance addiction to behaviour addiction.

It is, in my view, linked to the impaired emotion processing as I have elucidated upon in various blogs on this site.

This impulsivity is present for example in those vulnerable to later alcoholism, i.e. sons and daughters of alcoholic parents or children  from a family that has a relatively high or concentrated density of alcoholics in the family history, right through to old timers, people who have decades of recovery from alcoholism.

It is an ever present and as a result part of a pathomechanism of alcoholism, that is it is fundamental to driving alcoholism to it’s chronic endpoint.

It partly drives addiction via it’s impact on decision making – research shows people of varying addictive behaviours choose now over later, even if it is a smaller short term gain over a greater long term gain. We seem to react to relieve a distress signal in the brain rather than in response to considering and evaluating the long term consequences of a decision or act.

No doubt this improves in recovery as it has with me. Nonetheless, this tendency for rash action with limited consideration of long term consequence is clearly a part of the addictive profile. Not only do we choose now over then, we appear to have an intolerance of uncertainty, which means we have difficulties coping with uncertain outcomes. In other words we struggle with things in the future particularly if they are worrying or concerning things, like a day in court etc. The future can continually intrude into the present. A thought becomes a near certain action, again similar to the though-action fusion of obsessive compulsive disorder. It is as if the thought and possible future action are almost fused, as if they are happening in unison.

Although simple, less worrying events can also make me struggle with leaving the future to the future instead of endless and fruitlessly ruminating about it in the now. In early recovery  especially I found that I had real difficulty dealing with the uncertainty of future events and always thought they would turn out bad. It is akin to catastrophic thinking.

If a thought of a drink entered into my head it was so distressing, almost as if I was being dragged by some invisible magnet to the nearest bar. It was horrendous. Fortunately I created my own thought action fusion to oppose this.

Any time I felt this distressing lure of the bar like some unavoidable siren call of alcohol I would turn that thought into the action of ringing my sponsor. This is why sponsees should ring sponsors about whatever, whenever in order to habitualize these responses to counteract the automatic responses of the addicted brain.

I think it is again based on an inherent emotion dysregulation. Obsessive thoughts are linked to emotion dysregulation.

My emotions can still sometimes control me and not the other way around.

Apparently we need to recruit the frontal part of the brain to regulate these emotions and this is the area most damaged by chronic alcohol consumption.

As a result we find it difficult to recruit this brain area which not only helps regulate emotion but is instrumental in making reflective, evaluative decisions about future, more long term consequence. As a result addicts of all types appear to use a “bottom up” sub-cortical part of the brain centred on the amgydala region to make responses to decisions instead of a “top down” more cortical part of the brain to make evaluative decisions.

We thus react, and rashly act to relieve the distress of undifferentiated emotions, the result of unprocessed emotion rather than using processed emotions to recruit the more cortical parts of the brain.

Who would have though emotions were so instrumental in us making decisions? Two parts of the brain that hold emotions in check so that they can be used to serve goal directed behaviour are the orbitofrontal cortex and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

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These areas also keep amgydaloid responding in check. Unfortunately these two areas are impaired in alcoholics and other addictive behaviours so their influence on and regulation of the amgydala is also impaired.

This means the sub cortical areas of the amgydala and related regions are over active and prompt not a goal directed response to decision making but a “fight or flight” response to alleviate distress and not facilitate goal directed behaviour.

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Sorry for so much detail. I have read so much about medication recently which does this or that to reduce craving or to control  drinking but what about the underlying conditions of alcoholism and addictive behaviour? These are rarely mentioned or considered at all.

 

We always in recovery have to deal with alcoholism not just it’s symptomatic manifestation of that which is chronic alcohol consumption. This is a relatively simple point and observation that somehow alludes academics, researchers and so-called commentators on this fascinating subject.

Anyway that is some background to this study which demonstrates that long term AA membership can reduce this impulsivity and perhaps adds validity to the above arguments that improved behaviour inhibition and reducing impulsivity is a very possible mechanism of change brought about by AA membership and the 12 step recovery program.

It shows how we can learn about a pathology from the recovery from it!

Indeed when one looks back at one’s step 4 and 5 how many times was this distress based impulsivity the real reason for “stepping on the toes of others” and for their retaliation?

Were we not partly dominated by the world because we could not keep ourselves in check? Didn’t all our decisions get us to AA because they were inherently based on a decision making weakness? Isn’t this why it is always useful to have a sponsor, someone to discuss possible decisions with?

Weren’t we out of control, regardless of alcohol or substance or behaviour addiction? Isn’t this at the heart of our unmanageability?

I think we can all see how we still are effected by a tendency not to think things through and to act rashly.

The trouble it has caused is quite staggeringly really?

Again we cite a study (1) which has Rudolf H. Moos as a co-author. Moos has authored and co-authored a numbered of fine papers on the effectiveness of AA and is a rationale beacon in a sea of sometimes quite controversial and ignorant studies on AA, and alcoholism in general.

“Abstract

Reduced impulsivity is a novel, yet plausible, mechanism of change associated with the salutary effects of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Here, we review our work on links between AA attendance and reduced impulsivity using a 16-year prospective study of men and women with alcohol use disorders (AUD) who were initially untreated for their drinking problems. Across the study period, there were significant mean-level decreases in impulsivity, and longer AA duration was associated with reductions in impulsivity…

Among individuals with alcohol use disorders (AUD), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is linked to improved functioning across a number of domains [1, 2]. As the evidence for the effectiveness of AA has accumulated, so too have efforts to identify the mechanisms of change associated with participation in this mutual-help group [3]. To our knowledge, however, there have been no efforts to examine links between AA and reductions in impulsivity-a dimension of personality marked by deficits in self-control and self-regulation, and tendencies to take risks and respond to stimuli with minimal forethought.

In this article, we discuss the conceptual rationale for reduced impulsivity as a mechanism of change associated with AA, review our research on links between AA and reduced impulsivity, and discuss potential implications of the findings for future research on AA and, more broadly, interventions for individuals with AUD.

Impulsivity and related traits of disinhibition are core risk factors for AUD [5, 6]. In cross-sectional research, impulsivity is typically higher among individuals in AUD treatment than among those in the general population [7] and, in prospective studies, impulse control deficits tend to predate the onset of drinking problems [811]

Although traditionally viewed as static variables, contemporary research has revealed that traits such as impulsivity can change over time [17]. For example, traits related to impulsivity exhibit significant mean- and individual-level decreases over the lifespan [18], as do symptoms of personality disorders that include impulsivity as an essential feature [21, 22]. Moreover, entry into social roles that press for increased responsibility and self-control predict decreases in impulsivity [16, 23, 24]. Hence, individual levels of impulsivity can be modified by systematic changes in one’s life circumstances [25].

Substance use-focused mutual-help groups may promote such changes, given that they seek to bolster self-efficacy and coping skills aimed at controlling substance use, encourage members to be more structured in their daily lives, and target deficits in self-regulation [26]. Such “active ingredients” may curb the immediate self-gratification characteristic of disinhibition and provide the conceptual grounds to expect that AA participation can press for a reduction in impulsive inclinations.

…the idea of reduced impulsivity as a mechanism of change…it is consistent with contemporary definitions of recovery from substance use disorders that emphasize improved citizenship and global health [31], AA’s vision of recovery as a broad transformation of character [32], and efforts to explore individual differences in emotional and behavioral functioning as potential mechanisms of change (e.g., negative affect [33,34]).

Several findings are notable from our research on associations between AA attendance and reduced impulsivity. First, consistent with the idea of impulsivity as a dynamic construct [18, 19], mean-levels of impulsivity decreased significantly in our AUD sample. Second, consistent with the notion that impulsivity can be modified by contextual factors [25], individuals who participated in AA longer tended to show larger decreases in impulsivity across all assessment intervals.

References

Blonigen, D. M., Timko, C., & Moos, R. H. (2013). Alcoholics anonymous and reduced impulsivity: a novel mechanism of change. Substance abuse, 34(1), 4-12.

They can fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

Phillip Larkin – This Be The Verse

Looking back on my own childhood it is easier now to observe the fertile ground from which my genetic seeds of alcoholism started to flourish. I have long maintained that growing up in a dysfunctional family environment did not create my alcoholism but certainly did not help. A family environment were emotional expression was limited and veered between sentimentality and  outright anger.

It is difficult to see how I learnt the essential adaptive skills of emotional regulation then; how to identify, label and express emotions freely without sanction, verbally, and non-verbally. For me emotions where something you cut off, experientially avoided, resisted. The more you did not let them get to you the tougher you were mentally somehow. Emotions were strangely dangerous things almost.

Emotions, having them, made you weak! People who indulged in them were weak.

I also grew up with a father who was a boxer and alcoholic (abstinent, thank God, via the local Church) who insisted emotions had to tolerated like a man, like some tough  hombre in a 1950s Western. I had a host of uncles and a Grandad who agreed and they all set out to toughen me up. I even had boxing matches with cousins at various homes to show how I was progressing!

When I started drinking I found that this tough guy routine was greatly enhanced. Alcohol made me bullet proof. I drank and grew up to manhood in one go. Or so I thought – I didn’t realise that I stayed at that emotionally  impaired 14 years old for nearly three decades later.

The worst effect on my emotional regulation  skills was my relationship with my mother who struggled with valium abuse most of her adult life. This meant she was emotionally distant a lot of the time. Wose than that, she mixed mawkishness with being cold as a stone. It was an insecure attachment.  You were never sure, emotionally, where you were at with her. It made me insecure, anxious and eventually very very angry. Cold blue angry.

But did this also have an effect on my ability to processing emotions. How could maternal emotional deprivation have an effect on my emotional processing skills? Andd how could this emotional processing difficulty affect the amount I craved alcohol??

I recently came across this article (1) which looked at this very question.  I refer widely from it here.

Attachment theory is a widely used framework for understanding emotion regulation as well as alexithymia, and this perspective has also been applied to understand alcohol use disorders. One hypothesized function of attachment is the interpersonal regulation of affective experiences (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2007; Sroufe, 1977).

One hypothesized function of attachment is the interpersonal regulation of affective experiences (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2007; Sroufe, 1977). In the development of alexithymia, attachment theories stress the importance of significant others in childhood (Krystal & Krystal, 1988; Nemiah, 1977; Taylor et al., 1997). Evidence suggests that alexithymia is related to dysfunctional parenting (Thorberg, Young, Sullivan & Lyvers, in press).

Insecure attachment is associated with alexithymia and both harmful drinking and alcohol-dependence (Cooper, Shaver, & Collins, 1998; De Rick & Vanheule, 2006; Thorberg & Lyvers, 2006; Thorberg, Young, Sullivan, Lyvers, Connor & Feeney, 2009). In addition, alcohol abuse has been hypothesized to be a consequence of alexithymia (Taylor, Bagby, & Parker, 1997).

Research on alexithymia (1) has found significant positive associations between alexithymia, difficulties identifying feelings, difficulties describing feelings and alcohol problems (Thorberg, Young, Sullivan, & Lyvers, 2009; Thorberg, Young, Sullivan, Lyvers, Connor & Feeney, 2010). Individuals with alcohol-dependence and alexithymia report more severe alcohol problems compared to those with alcohol-dependence alone (Sakuraba, Kubo, Komoda, & Yamana, 2005; Uzun, Ates, Cansever, & Ozsahin, 2003). They also have poorer treatment outcomes (Loas, Fremaux, Otmani, Lecercle, & Delahousse, 1997; Ziolkowski, Gruss, & Rybakowski, 1995).

Individuals may use alcohol to escape feelings of rejection and establish a “secure attachment base” (Hofler & Kooyman, 1996), given alcohol’s stress and anxiety reducing effects.

In this study (1)  results highlight the importance of alexithymia and difficulties identifying and describing feelings as related to preoccupation, obsessions and compulsive behaviors regarding drinking in those with alcohol-dependence. Or in more simple terms between alexithymia and craving.  In this study 32.4% of this alcohol dependent groups were alexithymic. This is less than previously reported prevalence rates of 45-67% (Thorberg et al., 2009).

In this study (1)  alcohol-dependence severity, alexithymia and insecure attachment were associated with more intrusive and interfering cognitions, ideas and impulses about alcohol, including an impaired ability to control these thoughts and impulses. This cognitively based “craving” as measured by the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale (OCDS; Anton, Moak, & Latham, 1995), which is designed to assess obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior toward drinking.

Hence there was a demonstrated relationships between alexithymia, craving, anxious attachment and alcohol problems in an alcohol-dependent sample. Higher levels of alexithymia led to a stronger desire for alcohol that was partially explained by an underlying mechanism, anxious attachment. One possible reason for this  it may reflect an impairment in affect regulation.

Findings of the RAAS-Anxiety scale measured insecure attachment as related to a current or previous relationship, these findings may suggest that worries about being rejected, not cared for or unloved lead to an increased craving for alcohol.

One explanation for this mediational relationship may perhaps be that increased relationship stress is associated with a fear of intimacy and anxious attachment that leads to increased craving and perhaps a stronger attachment to alcohol. In other words, the alexithymia of insecure attachment may cause a stress dysregulation which prompts craving particularly as craving is a consequence of dysregulated stress systems. Stress dysregulations is also implicated in increased or more chronic alexithymia as suggested by George Koob in various articles. This has also been observed in other studies – this relationships of negative affect (anxiety, negative mood and emotion) with both alexithymia and craving (Sinha & Li, 2007).

To summarise, the results of this study support important relationships between alexithymia, difficulties identifying and describing feelings in relation to alcohol craving. These relationships extend to significantly higher levels of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors in relation to alcohol use and alcoholism severity amongst individuals with combined alexithymia and alcohol-dependence, compared with alcohol-dependence alone. This study identified anxious attachment as a potentially important mechanism, in the relationship between alexithymia and alcohol craving.

References De Rick, A., Vanheule, S., & Verhaeghe, P. (2009). Alcohol addiction and the attachment system: an empirical study of attachment style, alexithymia, and psychiatric disorders in alcoholic inpatients. Substance use & misuse,44(1), 99-114.

Is the Impulsive Behaviour that Precedes Addiction Hardwired into the Brain?

In various blogs we have forwarded the idea that emotional and stress dysregulation are that the heart of addiction and alcoholism and are also possible present in those at risk to these disorders.

Essentially we suggest that the behavioural endpoint of addictive behaviours, the distress based impulsivity (negative urgency) seen in alcoholics and addicts which shapes decision making may be the consequence of chronic neurotoxic activity (as the consequence of chronic alcohol and drug use)  on brain areas which have a pre-existing impairments or vulnerability such as brain regions involved in emotional regulation, processing, inhibition and stress and reward response.

Here we cite an article (1) which looks at some of these brain regions, specifically those involved in emotional regulation and impulsivity and considers whether these deficits may be “hardwired” into the brain in terms of white and grey matter impairments.

 

Brain areas actively developing during adolescence include the prefrontal cortex, limbic system areas, and white matter myelin ( electrically insulating material that forms a layer, the myelin sheath – the yellow insulation below), usually around only the axon of a neuron. It is essential for the proper functioning of the nervous system.)

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These areas serving cognitive, behavioral, and emotional regulation may be particularly vulnerable to adverse alcohol effects.

Alternatively, deficits or developmental delays in these structures and their functions may underlie liability to accelerated alcohol use trajectories in adolescence.

The prefrontal cortex, limbic brain regions, white matter ( composed of bundles of myelinated nerve cell axons which connect various grey matter areas (the locations of nerve cell bodies) of the brain to each other (see below – grey on outside, white inside) and carry nerve impulses between neurons. Myelin acts as an insulator, increasing the speed of transmission of all nerve signals, and reward circuits undergo active development during adolescence (Chambers et al., 2003; Spear, 2000).

 

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These structures and their functions, involving behavioral, emotional and cognitive regulation, may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of alcohol exposure during adolescence.

Delays or deficits in the development of neural substrates necessary for these psychological regulation abilities to fully develop may be termed neurodevelopmental dysmaturation.

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Psychological Dysregulation

The development of accelerated alcohol involvement in adolescence is not an isolated phenomenon, but is typically presaged by persistent behavioral characteristics including attentional deficits, conduct problems, and irritability (Chassin et al., 1999; Clark et al., 1997a, 2005; Tapert et al., 2002).

Two main psychological factors have been identified: (1) Behavioral Undercontrol, comprised of conduct disorder symptoms and personality characteristics including aggression and diminished constraint, and (2) Negative Emotionality, comprised of depression, anxiety and stress reactivity variables (Martin et al., 2000).

These two factors were significantly correlated. These correlated characteristics have been hypothesized to comprise the early phenotypic manifestations of a core liability for SUDs (Tarter et al., 1999).

The proposed construct manifested by these psychopathologic features has been termed psychological dysregulation (Clark and Winters, 2002). Psychological dysregulation is a deficiency in the ability to regulate attention, emotions and behavior in response to environmental challenges. Psychological regulation is thus the ability to modulate prepotent responses in order to optimize reward opportunities. The skills involved in psychological regulation include executive cognitive functioning (ECF), behavioral inhibition and emotional management.

Deficiencies in psychological regulation may be the result of delays or persistent deficits in the acquisition of behavioral, emotional, and cognitive regulation skills.

Adolescents at risk for developing SUDs exhibit deficits in psychological regulation. Childhood psychological dysregulation, or neurobehaviour disinhibition, correlates with parental substance use disorders (SUDs) and prospectively predicts adolescent alcohol and other substance use as well as related disorders (Clark et al., 2005; Tarter et al., 2003).

The psychological dysregulation dimension integrates several psycho patholological dimensions heretofore considered distinct, including affective disorders and SUDS themselves (Krueger et al., 2002).

Neurobiological Basis of Psychological Dysregulation

The functions subsumed under the construct of psychological dysregulation are thought to be served by the prefrontal cortex (Koechlin and Summerfield, 2007). The capabilities that comprise psychological regulation improve during adolescence (Levin et al., 1991; Welsh et al., 1991). The ongoing development of the prefrontal cortex has been hypothesized to be the primary neurobiological foundation for the advancement of these abilities (Happaney et al., 2004; Spear, 2000). Developmental abnormalities in the frontal cortex have been found in children and adolescents with behavioral problems reflecting psychological dysregulation (Rubia et al., 2000; Spear, 2000).

Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies  indicated that white matter organization increases from early childhood to young adulthood (Klingberg et al., 1999; Nagy et al., 2004; Schmithorst et al., 2002; Zhang et al., 2005).White matter development may underlie advancing executive functioning. The prefrontal cortex is a brain region undergoing relatively late gray matter pruning, and volumes of gray matter appear to decrease over adolescence (Gogtay et al., 2004; Lenroot and Giedd, 2006; Sowell et al., 2001, 2004). Unlike grey matter volume, white matter volume appears to increase during adolescence, particularly in the prefrontal area (Ashtari et al., 2007;Barnea-Goraly et al., 2005; Lenroot and Giedd, 2006).

 

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White Matter Development and Alcohol Exposure

Selective white matter loss has been reported among adults with Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs) (Carlen et al., 1978, 1986) and with fMRI (Agartz et al., 2003), and postmortem specimens (Krill et al., 1997).  Compared with controls, adolescents with AUDs have been found to have smaller prefrontal white matter volumes (DeBellis et al., 2005). Prefrontal grey and white matter volumes were compared in adolescents with AUDs. Compared with control subjects, subjects with AUDs had significantly smaller prefrontal white matter volumes.Marijuana use has also been found to be associated with smaller white matter volumes in adolescents (Medina et al., 2007b). While these volumetric findings suggest problematic frontal development among adolescents with AUD, the emergence of neuroimaging techniques developed to examine white matter organization may prove to be more specifically relevant to understanding the effects of alcohol on neurodevelopmental maturation.

Changes in gene expression may be involved in alteration of white matter structure in AUDs.  In a postmortem study, myelin-related genes were found to be down-regulated in the AUD group (Lewohl et al., 2000).

While evidence has been presented that alcohol consumption may disrupt white matter organization, the possibility remains that delayed or diminished white matter organization may presage alcohol involvement and constitute a risk factor for AUDs. Immaturity of white matter development and the related deficits in the functional integration of brain areas may in part explain individual differences in psychological regulation during adolescence. For example, disruptive behavior disorders in childhood, particularly conduct disorder, have been found to predict accelerated trajectories of alcohol use, cannabis use, and substance-related problems in adolescence (Clark et al., 1999).

Limbic System Development and Alcohol Exposure

The limbic system is central to the processing of affective stimuli, the successful formation of new memories, and the implementation of related responses. Limbic system structures, including the hippocampus and amygdala, may be susceptible to alcohol-induced dysmaturation.

Smaller hippocampal volumes have been reported in adults with AUDs compared with control adults (Sullivan et al., 1995). As hippocampal development progresses in adolescence (Gogtay et al., 2006), this brain area may be particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of alcohol involvement during this developmental period.

DeBellis et al. (2000) compared the hippocampal volumes of 12 adolescents and young adults with adolescent-onset AUD to those of 24 control subjects. Both left and right hippocampi were significantly smaller in AUD subjects compared to the volumes in controls. Specifically, left hippocampal volumes were smaller in teens with AUD than demographically similar controls, and youth with greater severity of AUD had the smallest left hippocampal volumes (Medina et al., 2007a; Nagel et al., 2005).

The amygdala may also be important for understanding the neurodevelopmental effects of alcohol exposure. The amygdala, along with ventral striatum, has been hypothesized to be involved in reward mechanisms and thereby critical for understanding alcohol use trajectories (Koob, 1999). Amygdala volumes have been found to be relatively smaller in high-risk older adolescents and adults with SUDs compared to that in control subjects (Hill et al., 2001; Makris et al., 2004). Lack of correlation with use levels has led to the suggestion that this may be a predisposing characteristics rather than a substance effect.

Interacting brain areas are involved in reward processing (McClure et al., 2004), motivation (Chambers et al., 2003), and decision-making (Verdejo-Garcia et al., 2006).  The interactions between the prefrontal cortex and subcortical areas, including the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, constitute the neurocircuitry involved in reward responding. In the affective component of reward responding, the amygdala appears to be a network node involved in reactivity to emotional stimuli (Hariri et al., 2006; Schwartz et al., 2003). An understanding of the adolescent development of neural circuits underlying reward processing and decision making is central to considering the role of these systems in the development of alcohol involvement.

Impulsivity, defined as acting without forethought, progressively decreases from childhood into adulthood. This change has been thought to occur as a result of neuromaturation in the prefrontal cortex (Casey et al., 2005).

The generation of behaviors optimizing long-term reward opportunities often involves behavioral inhibition. The activation of prefrontal cortical areas during response inhibition tasks has been found to increase from childhood through adolescence, a change corresponding to the development of abilities to suppress prepotent behaviors (Luna and Sweeney, 2004; Luna et al., 2004). The ability to select an optimally adaptive behavioral response while suppressing a predominant or prepotent response with problematic consequences defines impulse control and is fundamental to psychological regulation skills. Improved abilities in response inhibition and related prefrontal activation during adolescence are thought to involve maturation of functional connectivity subserved by ongoing myelination.

Adolescents with psychopathology predictive of SUDs, similar to adults with alcohol dependence, have difficulty with behavioral inhibition during laboratory tasks (Bjork et al., 2004a; Dougherty et al., 2003; Schweinsburg et al., 2004). Furthermore, adolescents with histories of substantial marijuana use, compared with control adolescents, showed more activation in frontal cortical areas during behavioral inhibition tasks (Tapert et al., 2007). More activitation suggests greater effort was required by the marijuana using group.

 

References

1.  Clark, D. B., Thatcher, D. L., & Tapert, S. F. (2008). Alcohol, psychological dysregulation, and adolescent brain development. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(3), 375-385.

 

What makes some children of alcoholics vulnerable, and some resilient?

I come from a family of four siblings, two of whom are alcoholic and two who are not. I have often wondered why this is the case? Why is it the case that certain children of alcoholic parents will grow up to become alcoholics and why some will not? What is it that makes certain children vulnerable to alcoholism and other children, from the very same family, protected. What do these children have that protects them from later alcoholism?

This is especially important to know in terms of prevention strategies to help children at risk.

Obviously environment has an impact on vulnerability but does an inherited protectiveness help prevent this sometimes dysfunctional and abusive childhood environment of alcoholic parenting from having the same impact as those children who have inherited a genetic vulnerability?

Throughout our blogs has been a thread suggesting alcoholics, and children of alcoholics, may have difficulties in processing and regulating emotions. Is this the vulnerability, is there a difference in affective/emotional circuitry in the brain?

We cite a very interesting article here  Affective circuitry and risk for alcoholism in late adolescence: Differences in frontostriatal responses between vulnerable and resilient children of alcoholic parents

in setting out an argument that children of alcoholics who are at greater risk of later alcoholism may have inherited impairments in brain neural circuitry which is responsible for affective/emotional processing.

Children of alcoholics (COAs) are at elevated risk for alcohol use disorders (AUD), yet not all COAs will develop AUD. One aim of this study was to identify neural activation mechanisms that may mark protection or vulnerability to AUD in COAs.

 

Thoughtful little girl

 

Some differences between alcohol abusers and control samples may precede alcoholism onset and thus constitute markers of precursive risk. After all, behavioral and affective markers early in life can predict later alcoholism (Caspi et al., 1996; Mayzer et al., 2001). Thus, it is reasonable to hypothesize that pre-alcoholic differences in the functioning of relevant neural systems will be related to risk for alcoholism.

In hoping to identify neural activation mechanisms that may mark protection or vulnerability to AUD in children of alcoholic fathers, the guiding conceptual framework was that the functioning of affective and behavioral regulation networks in the brain may serve as such mechanisms.

Consistent with that framework, the resilient and vulnerable groups were distinguished from one another by remarkably consistent inverse or opposite patterns of activation in the brain in response to the processing of emotional stimuli and which were most apparent with regard to negative affective stimuli and the vulnerable group.

These results suggest separate pathways of risk and resilience in the COA’s. First, the COA group that was not prone to early problem drinking (the resilient group) had more activation of the orbital frontal gyrus (OFG) than controls in response particularly to negative affect stimuli, but also to some extent in response to positive affect stimuli. The OFG is involved in the monitoring and evaluation of the affective value of stimuli, allowing for appropriate behavioral responses (Kringelbach and Rolls, 2004; Rolls, 2004).

The resilient group also had increased left insula activation to negative words. The insula is involved in evaluating internally generated emotions and the monitoring of ongoing internal emotional state (Phan et al., 2002).

The present findings, then, are consistent with the hypothesis that resilient youth have enhanced monitoring of emotionally arousing stimuli, even compared to typically developing youth. Yet, in an important nuance, they did not suppress the emotional experience.

They were prepared to modify behavioral response while maintaining affective response to these stimuli. This pattern of response in resilient youth may represent increased flexibility in emotional and social behavior.  These youth may be exhibiting precisely an ability to delay external response to arousing stimuli, while internally processing those stimuli. In short, this may be a “reflective” pattern of approach to the world.

It is not difficult to speculate how this pattern might protect these at risk youth from substance misuse: they are able to respond to the emotional stimuli, but demonstrate enhanced monitoring that may allow for the inhibition of inappropriate responding, buying time for flexible response options based on well-processed information.

Interestingly, the vulnerable group displayed no differences from the control group in emotional monitoring and behavioral regulation systems (OFG and insula), suggesting that weakness in that system is not a risk factor. Rather, they demonstrated over-activation of DMPFC and an atypical under-activation of key emotion processing regions (particularly extended amygdala and ventral striatum). This pattern was more notable in regard to negative affect, it was also observed to a lesser extent with positive affect.

All of this may be consistent with a reactive approach to the world, in which affect is not fully processed.

Supporting this interpretation, neuroimaging studies have consistently shown the involvement of the DMPFC with conscious self-monitoring of emotional responses (Beauregard et al., 2001; Kuchinke et al., 2006; Levesque et al., 2003; Levesque et al., 2004; Phan et al., 2005). For example, during the voluntary suppression of negative affect in healthy adults, activation in the dorsal medial and lateral prefrontal cortex increased and that in the nucleus accumbens and extended amygdala decreased (Phan et al., 2005). It has been suggested that emotional information is conveyed from limbic regions to the prefrontal cortex allowing conscious, voluntary emotional self-regulation (Levesque et al., 2003; Levesque et al., 2004).

Therefore, one interpretation of the present findings is that the vulnerable youth were recruiting an emotional control system that was suppressing emotional response.

 

References

Heitzeg, M. M., Nigg, J. T., Yau, W. Y. W., Zubieta, J. K., & Zucker, R. A. (2008). Affective circuitry and risk for alcoholism in late adolescence: differences in frontostriatal responses between vulnerable and resilient children of alcoholic parents. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 32(3), 414-426.

 

Understanding Emotional Processing Deficits in Addiction – Guest Blog

Understanding Emotional Processing Deficits in Addiction

by alcoholicsguide

We recently blogged on how alcoholics, and children of alcoholics, have difficulty with recognizing and differentiating external signs of emotions such as facial emotional expressions, now we will consider increasing evidence that alcoholics have difficulties with identifying and differentiating internal emotional states also.

Both these areas of research point to real difficulties in alcoholics in relation to the processing of emotion.

As we shall explain below, this deficit in emotional processing has real consequence for decision making capabilities and this has an important role to play in the initiation and maintenance of substance abuse and eventual addiction.

Alexythymia and Addiction

Effective emotion regulation skills include the ability to be aware of emotions, identify and label emotions, correctly interpret emotion-related bodily sensations, and accept and tolerate negative emotions (2,3).

Alexithymia is characterized by difficulties identifying, differentiating and expressing feelings. The prevalence rate of alexithymia in alcohol use disorders is between 45 to 67% (4,5)

Finn, Martin and Pihl (1987) investigated the presence of alexithymia among males at varying levels of genetic risk for alcoholism. They found that the high risk for alcoholism group was more likely to be alexithymic than the moderate and low genetic risk groups (6).

Higher scores on alexithymia were associated poorer emotion regulation skills, fewer percent days abstinent, greater alcohol dependence severity (7). Some studies have emphasized a right hemisphere deficit in alexithymia [8,9] based on the hypothesis that right hemisphere plays a more important role in emotion processing than the left [10, 11].

Dysfunction of the anterior cingulate cortex has been frequently argued, e.g., [12], and others have focused on neural substrates, such as the amygdala, insula, and orbitofrontal cortex (see the review in [13]). All different components of the the emotional regulation  network.

These models may interact with each other and also map onto the brain region morphological vulnerability mentioned as being prevalent in alcoholics.

Magnetic resonance imaging and post-mortem neuropathological studies of alcoholics indicate that the greatest cortical loss occurs in the frontal lobes, with concurrent thinning of the corpus callosum. Additional damage has been documented for the amygdala and hippocampus, as well as in the white matter of the cerebellum. All of the critical areas of alcoholism-related brain damage are important for normal emotional functioning (14) .

One might speculate that thinning of the corpus collosum may render alcoholics less able to inhibit negative affect in right hemisphere circuits.

Alcoholics are thus vulnerable to thinning of the corpus collosum and perhaps even to emotional processing difficulties (15 ). The inability to identify and describe affective and physiological experiences is itself associated with the elevated negative affect (16) commonly seen in alcoholics, even in recovery (17.

Thus, this unpleasant experience might prompt individuals to engage in maladaptive behaviors, such as excessive alcohol consumption, in an effort to regulate emotions, or, more specifically, cope with negative emotional states (18 )

One neuroimaging study (19) looked at and compared  various models of alexithymia showing people with alexithymia showed reduced activation in the dorsal ACC and right anterior insula (AI), and suggested individuals who exhibit impaired recognition of their own emotional states may be due to a dysfunction of the ACC-AI network, given these regions’ important role in self-awareness. These studies suggest alexithymics may not be able to use feelings to guide their behaviour appropriately.

The Iowa gambling task (IGT) was developed to assess decision-making processes based on emotion-guided evaluation. When alexithymics perform the IGT, they fail to learn an advantageous decision-making strategy and show reduced activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a key area for successful performance of the IGT, and increased activity in the caudate, a region associated with impulsive choice (20).

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The neural machinery in alexithymia is therefore activated more on the physiologic, motor-expressive level, similar to the study on children of alcoholics and thus may represent a vulnerability.

The function of the caudate is to regulate or control impulsivity and disinhibition. Individuals with alexithymia may work on the IGT impulsively rather than by using emotion-based signals. This IGT study suggests that individuals with alexithymia may be unable to use feelings to guide their behavior appropriately.

Alexithymic individuals thus may be unable to use emotion for flexible cognitive regulation. Thus, there may be dysfunction in the interaction of the aspects of the emotional response system in alexithymia with greater activation in the caudate (basal ganglia) and less activation in the mPFC in alexithymics during the IGT.

Thus alexithymics show weak responses in structures necessary for the representation of emotion used in conscious cognition and stronger responses at levels focused on action. This ties in with the blog on an emotional disease? and also  so how is your decision making? which suggested that alcoholics do not use emotion to guide decision making and rely on more motor, or automatic/compulsive parts of the brain to make decisions.

Consequently, alexithymics experience inflexible cognitive regulation, owing to impairment of the emotion guiding system. These dysregulated physiological responses over many years may result in untoward health effects such as drug addiction.

To illustrate this, one study demonstrated that patients with cocaine dependence had higher alexithymia scores compared with healthy control subjects (21).

In a study of 46 inpatients with alcohol abuse or dependence, the total TAS (Toronto Alexithymia Scale) score was significantly higher among those who relapsed after discharge than among those who did not, even when depressive symptoms were taken into account(4)

Cocaine-dependent patients also failed to activate the anterior cingulate and other paralimbic regions during stress imagery, suggesting dysregulation of control under emotional distress in these patients (22).

Instead, cocaine-dependent patients demonstrated greater craving-related activation in the dorsal striatum, a region that has been implicated in reward processing and obsessive–compulsive behaviours. The greater activation associated with alexithymia in men in the right putamen during stress is broadly consistent with earlier studies implicating the striatum in emotional motor responses.

This also corresponds to  the study of  children of alcoholics show significantly more activation in the left dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and left caudate nucleus a region associated with impulsive choice, illustrating perhaps in children of alcoholics a bias in brain decision-making systems as an underlying  elevated risk for alcoholism.

We have also suggested previously a ‘compulsive’ emotional  habit bias in endpoint addiction which reflects a stiumulus response or automatic behaviour in the face of emotional distress, which then influences an automatic decision making profile. This may be the effect of chronic drug use impacting on an inherited emotional expressive-motor decision making vulnerability seen in children of alcoholics.

In simple terms, these vulnerable individuals may recruit more automatic rather than goal-directed areas of the brain when making decisions. This would result in impulsive/compulsive decisions which do not fully consider consequences, negative or otherwise, of their decisions and resultant actions. This decision making profile would then have obvious consequences in terms of a propensity to addiction.

 

References (to be finished)

1. Naqvi, N. H., & Bechara, A. (2009). The hidden island of addiction: the insula.Trends in neurosciences32(1), 56-67.

2. Berking M, Margraf M, Ebert D, Wupperman P, Hogmann SG, Junghanns K. Deficits in emotion-regulation skills predict alcohol use during and after cognitive-behavioral therapy for alcohol dependence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2011;79:307–318

3. Gratz KL, Roemer L. Multidimensional assessment of emotion regulation and dysregulation: Development, factor structure, and initial validation of the Difficulties in Emotion Regulation Scale. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment.2004;26:41–54

4. Loas G, Fremaux D, Otmani O, Lecercle C, Delahousse J. Is alexithymia a negative factor for maintaining abstinence? A follow-up study. Comprehensive Psychiatry. 1997;38:296–299.

5. Ziolkowski M, Gruss T, Rybakowski JK. Does alexithymia in male alcoholics constitute a negative factor for maintaining abstinence. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics. 1995;63:169–173.

6.  Finn PR, Martin J, Pihl RO. Alexithymia in males at high genetic risk for alcoholism.Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics.1987;47:18–21

7.  Moriguchi, Y., & Komaki, G. (2013). Neuroimaging studies of alexithymia: physical, affective, and social perspectives. BioPsychoSocial medicine7(1), 8.

8. Miller L. Is alexithymia a disconnection syndrome? A neuropsychological perspective. Int J Psychiatry Med. 1986;7:199–209. doi: 10.2190/DAE0-EWPX-R7D6-LFNY.

9. Sifneos PE. Alexithymia and its relationship to hemispheric specialization, affect, and creativity.Psychiatr Clin North Am. 1988;7:287–292.

10. Buchanan DC, Waterhouse GJ, West SC Jr. A proposed neurophysiological basis of alexithymia. Psychother Psychosom. 1980;7:248–255. doi: 10.1159/000287465.

11. Shipko S. Further reflections on psychosomatic theory. Alexithymia and interhemispheric specialization. Psychotherapy and psychosomatics.

12. Lane RD, Reiman EM, Axelrod B, Yun LS, Holmes A, Schwartz GE. Neural correlates of levels of emotional awareness Evidence of an interaction between emotion and attention in the anterior cingulate cortex. J cognitive neuroscience. 1998;7:525–535. doi: 10.1162/089892998562924.

13. Wingbermühle E, Theunissen H, Verhoeven WMA, Kessels RPC, Egger JIM. The neurocognition of alexithymia: evidence from neuropsychological and neuroimaging studies.Acta Neuropsychiatrica. 2012;7:67–80. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-5215.2011.00613.x.

14. Oscar-Berman, M., & Bowirrat, A. (2005). Genetic influences in emotional dysfunction and alcoholism-related brain damage.

15. Sperling W, Frank H, Martus P, et al. The concept of abnormal hemispheric organization in addiction research. Alcohol Alcohol.2000;35:394–9.

16.  Connelly M, Denney DR. Regulation of emotions during experimental stress in alexithymia. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2007;62:649–656

17. Stasiewicz, P. R., Bradizza, C. M., Gudleski, G. D., Coffey, S. F., Schlauch, R. C., Bailey, S. T., … & Gulliver, S. B. (2012). The relationship of alexithymia to emotional dysregulation within an alcohol dependent treatment sample.Addictive Behaviors37(4), 469-476.

18.  Thorberg FA, Young RM, Sullivan KA, Lyvers M, Hurst CP, Connor JP, Feeney GFX. Alexithymia in alcohol dependent patients is partially mediated by alcohol expectancy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2011;116:238–241

19. Moriguchi, Y., & Komaki, G. (2013). Neuroimaging studies of alexithymia: physical, affective, and social perspectives. BioPsychoSocial medicine7(1), 8.

20.  Kano M, Fukudo S. The alexithymic brain: the neural pathways linking alexithymia to physical disorders. BioPsychoSocial medicine. 2013;7:1. doi: 10.1186/1751-0759-7-1.

21.  Li, C. S. R., & Sinha, R. (2006). Alexithymia and stress-induced brain activation in cocaine-dependent men and women. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience,31(2).

22.  Sinha, R., Lacadie, C., Skudlarski, P., Fulbright, R. K., Rounsaville, B. J., Kosten, T. R., & Wexler, B. E. (2005). Neural activity associated with stress-induced cocaine craving: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study.Psychopharmacology183(2), 171-180.

Do alcoholics drive through life with Faulty Brakes!

There has been a lot of debate in the last thirty – forty years about genetic inheritance – with at least half of children of alcoholic families at risk for later alcoholism. What is less known is what exactly is inherited in our genes? What marks us out for later alcoholism? Prior to drinking are there aspects of our behaviour, personality or emotional responding that marks us out compared to so-called normal healthy types.

Recently research has looked at brain systems which overlap in decision making such as cognitive control over impulsive behaviour and also emotional processing. Children from alcoholics seem to have difficulties with both these overlapping circuits in the brain – they are not only impulsive but also do not seem to process emotions in the same way their “health” peers do. Research has also begun  to show that emotional processing is indeed important to making decisions, as is the ability to inhibit impulsive responses.

It seems  young alcoholics in the making, are not using our emotions  to make decisions and  are also prone to being impulsive. This difficulty with making decisions must shape all other future decisions ?

Youth for families with a history of alcoholism (FH+) are more likely to engage in early adolescent alcohol use (1), they may be more prone to experience the neurotoxic effects of alcohol use during adolescence.

_54075099_teenage_girl_drinking_

Heavy alcohol use during adolescence is related to poorer neuropsychological functioning, including response inhibition (2), working memory (3-5), and decision-making (6).

Neuroimaging studies have shown that alcohol abusing teens have atypical grey matter volume in the PFC (7,8), and subcortical structures, such as the hippocampus (9,10) OFC and the amgydala.

Further, they have reduced integrity of white matter pathways, in both long-range connections between frontal and parietal brain regions as well as in pathways connecting subcortical and higher-order brain areas (11,12).

FMRI studies have found reduced BOLD response in adolescent alcohol abusers
in brain regions important affective decision-making (13).

The raging debate in research has been to whether these deficits are a consequence of heavy alcohol use or if genetic and environmental factors, such as family history of alcoholism, may contribute.

Risk Factor for Alcohol Use Disorders (AUDs): Family History of Alcoholism

The observation that alcoholism runs in families has long been documented
(14-16). Over the past few decades, adoption (17,18) and twin (19)
studies have suggested that there is an increased likelihood of individuals with a family history of alcoholism to develop the disorder themselves (20, 21).

These studies indicate that familial alcoholism is one of the most robust predictors of the development of an AUD during one’s lifetime. Furthermore, this risk factor appears to be stable over time, since it also predicts the chronicity of alcohol dependence at multiple time points (22).
This indicates that higher familial density is often associated with greater
risk (23), with genetic vulnerability accounting for about 30-50% of
individual risk (24-26).

 

One of the best characterized findings in individuals with familial alcoholism are greater impulsivity and difficulties in response inhibition which are commonly seen in this population (27,28), and FH+ individuals are less able to delay reward gratification compared with their peers (29).

Emotional processing and its relationship with executive control has received much less
attention in FH+ individuals.

Alcohol Use Disorders and Emotional Processing

Emotion Recognition and Affective Processing – Research suggests that alcohol use disorder (AUDs)  are associated with deficits in emotion recognition
(30-33), which may be related to atypical brain structure and functioning observed in the
limbic system among alcoholics (34-37).

Alcoholics not only tend to overestimate the intensity of emotions seen in faces  but they also make more negative emotional attributions and often confuse one emotion for another, such as mislabeling disgust as anger or contempt (32). Additionally, these deficits seem to be specific to alcoholism, since alcoholics, both recently abstinent and long-term abstinent, perform poorer on emotion recognition tasks than individuals with other drug abuse history (38). Alcoholics have also been shown to have slower reaction time when recognizing emotions (39).
Furthermore, poorer accuracy on emotion recognition tasks in alcoholics does not improve across the duration of the task, even though better performance is seen over time with other drug abusers (38).

Polysubstance abusing adults, the majority of whom were alcohol abusers, showed emotion recognition deficits on angry, disgusted, fearful, and sad faces (40). Based on the evidence of emotion recognition deficits in alcoholics, it is necessary to determine whether similar difficulties are present in FH+ youth that could be disruptive to emotional functioning and may contribute to the ultimately higher prevalence of alcohol abuse in this population.

Ultimately we may be observing here external emotional processing difficulties in the same manner we observed “internal” emotional processing difficulties in those with alexithymia, the reduced ability to “read” internal emotions of which a majority of alcoholics appear to suffer.

In summary, alcoholics and children of alcoholic families appear to have both external, i.e. recognition of other people’s emotions as well as their own and these may relate to immature development of brain regions which govern emotional, processing, recognition and regulation, which appears to contribute greatly to the initiation and progression of alcohol abuse.

binge_drink404_675458c

In addition to emotional processing deficits, alcoholics have various structural
and functional abnormalities in affective processing brain regions. Studies of the limbic system have found reduced volume in subcortical structures, including the amygdala, thalamus, ventral striatum, and hippocampus among adult alcoholics (41,42). Alcoholics with smaller amygdalar volumes, are more likely to continue drinking after six months of abstinence (37).

Marinkovic et al. (2009) alcoholics exhibited both amygdalar and hippocampal hypoactivity during face encoding, and when recognizing deeply encoded faces, alcoholics had significantly reduced amygdalar activity to positive and negative emotional expressions compared with controls (35). These results help explain findings in behavioral studies of alcoholics that have found considerable evidence for emotion recognition deficits in this population.

Furthermore, during emotion identification, alcoholics showed comparable
performance to controls, but had reduced brain response in the affective division of the
anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) to disgust and sadness, with this lack of affective response to aversive stimuli believed to underlie disinhibitory traits in AUDs (36).

There is also evidence to suggest that non-alcohol abusing FHP individuals
share similar deficits in affective systems to alcohol abusers, including reduced
amygdalar volume, less amygdalar activity in response to emotional stimuli, and high
rates of internalizing symptoms such as anxiety and depression (37; 45-47).

Furthermore, research examining the relationship between emotional
processing and cognition has found that poor inhibition in individuals with co-morbid
substance and alcohol abuse is associated with atypical arousal in response to affective images (48), and affective measures in FH+ alcoholics also relate to deficits in executive functioning, e.g impulsivity (47).

This suggests that familial history of AUDs may put individuals at greater risk for problems with emotional processing and associated disruptions in executive functioning (47), which could, in turn, increase risk for alcohol abuse (49).

As we suggested previously, in relation to decision making profiles, in those at risk, those with alexithymia and also with cocaine addicts, decision making often involves more emotion expressive-motor areas of the brain like the caudate nucleus which is more of a “feel it-do it” type of reaction to decision making or a emotionally impaired or distress-based impulsivity. If there is a difficulty  processing emotions, these emotions can not be used as a signal to guide adaptive, optimal decisions. Decisions appear more compulsive and short term.

It may be this tendency to act now, rather than later,  that defines the vulnerability in FH+ children. It is like driving through life with faulty brakes on decision making, which sets up a chain of maladaptive choices such as alcohol abuse which then damages these affective based decision making regions of the brain even more, with increasing  deleterious consequences as the addiction cycle progresses until the endpoint of addiction of very limited choice of behaviour as emotional distress acts eventually as a stimulus response to alcohol use.  Emotional processing usurped by compulsive responding.

 

References

Main reference – Cservenka, A., Fair, D. A., & Nagel, B. J. (2014). Emotional Processing and Brain Activity in Youth at High Risk for Alcoholism. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

1.  Dawson, D.A., 2000. The link between family history and early onset alcoholism: earlier initiation of drinking or more rapid development of dependence? J Stud Alcohol 61, 637-646.

2. Ferrett, H.L., Cuzen, N.L., Thomas, K.G., Carey, P.D., Stein, D.J., Finn, P.R., Tapert, S.F., Fein, G., 2011. Characterization of South African adolescents with alcohol use disorders but without psychiatric or polysubstance comorbidity. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 35, 1705-1715.

3. Brown, S.A., Tapert, S.F., 2004. Adolescence and the trajectory of alcohol use: basic to clinical studies. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1021, 234-244.

4.   Brown, S.A., Tapert, S.F., Granholm, E., Delis, D.C., 2000. Neurocognitive functioning of adolescents: effects of protracted alcohol use. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 24, 164-171.

5.   Squeglia, L.M., Schweinsburg, A.D., Pulido, C., Tapert, S.F., 2011. Adolescent binge drinking linked to abnormal spatial working memory brain activation: differential gender effects. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 35, 1831-1841.

6. Johnson, C.A., Xiao, L., Palmer, P., Sun, P., Wang, Q., Wei, Y., Jia, Y., Grenard, J.L.,  Stacy, A.W., Bechara, A., 2008. Affective decision-making deficits, linked to a dysfunctional ventromedial prefrontal cortex, revealed in 10th grade Chinese adolescent binge drinkers. Neuropsychologia 46, 714-726.

7. De Bellis, M.D., Narasimhan, A., Thatcher, D.L., Keshavan, M.S., Soloff, P., Clark, D.B.,  2005. Prefrontal cortex, thalamus, and cerebellar volumes in adolescents and young adults with adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders and comorbid mental disorders. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 29, 1590-1600.

8.  Medina, K.L., McQueeny, T., Nagel, B.J., Hanson, K.L., Schweinsburg, A.D., Tapert, S.F., 2008. Prefrontal cortex volumes in adolescents with alcohol use disorders: unique gender effects. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 32, 386-394.

9.  De Bellis, M.D., Clark, D.B., Beers, S.R., Soloff, P.H., Boring, A.M., Hall, J., Kersh, A., Keshavan, M.S., 2000. Hippocampal volume in adolescent-onset alcohol use disorders. Am J Psychiatry 157, 737-744.

10.  Nagel, B.J., Schweinsburg, A.D., Phan, V., Tapert, S.F., 2005. Reduced hippocampal volume among adolescents with alcohol use disorders without psychiatric comorbidity. Psychiatry Res 139, 181-190.

11.  Bava, S., Jacobus, J., Thayer, R.E., Tapert, S.F., 2013. Longitudinal changes in white matter integrity among adolescent substance users. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 37 Suppl 1, E181-189.

12.   McQueeny, T., Schweinsburg, B.C., Schweinsburg, A.D., Jacobus, J., Bava, S., Frank, L.R., Tapert, S.F., 2009. Altered white matter integrity in adolescent binge drinkers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 33, 1278-1285.

13. Xiao, L., Bechara, A., Gong, Q., Huang, X., Li, X., Xue, G., Wong, S., Lu, Z.L., Palmer, P., Wei, Y., Jia, Y., Johnson, C.A., 2012. Abnormal Affective Decision Making Revealed in Adolescent Binge Drinkers Using a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study. Psychol Addict Behav.

14. Cotton, N.S., 1979. The familial incidence of alcoholism: a review. J Stud Alcohol 40, 89-116.

15. Goodwin, D.W., 1979. Alcoholism and heredity. A review and hypothesis. Arch Gen Psychiatry 36, 57-61.

16.  Schuckit, M.A., 1985. Genetics and the risk for alcoholism. Jama 254, 2614-2617

17. Bohman, M., 1978. Some genetic aspects of alcoholism and criminality. A population of adoptees. Arch Gen Psychiatry 35, 269-276.

18. Cloninger, C.R., Bohman, M., Sigvardsson, S., 1981. Inheritance of alcohol abuse. Cross-fostering analysis of adopted men. Arch Gen Psychiatry 38, 861-868.

19. Merikangas, K.R., Stolar, M., Stevens, D.E., Goulet, J., Preisig, M.A., Fenton, B., Zhang, H., O’Malley, S.S., Rounsaville, B.J., 1998. Familial transmission of substance use disorders. Arch Gen Psychiatry 55, 973-979

20. Finn, P.R., Kleinman, I., Pihl, R.O., 1990. The lifetime prevalence of psychopathology in men with multigenerational family histories of alcoholism. J Nerv Ment Dis 178, 500-504.

21. Goodwin, D.W., 1985. Alcoholism and genetics. The sins of the fathers. Arch Gen Psychiatry 42, 171-174.

22. Hasin, D., Paykin, A., Endicott, J., 2001. Course of DSM-IV alcohol dependence in a community sample: effects of parental history and binge drinking. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 25, 411-414.

23. Hill, S.Y., Yuan, H., 1999. Familial density of alcoholism and onset of adolescent drinking. J Stud Alcohol 60, 7-17.

24.   Heath, A.C., Bucholz, K.K., Madden, P.A., Dinwiddie, S.H., Slutske, W.S., Bierut, L.J., Statham, D.J., Dunne, M.P., Whitfield, J.B., Martin, N.G., 1997. Genetic and environmental contributions to alcohol dependence risk in a national twin sample: consistency of findings in women and men. Psychol Med 27, 1381-1396.

25. Kaprio, J., Koskenvuo, M., Langinvainio, H., Romanov, K., Sarna, S., Rose, R.J., 1987. Genetic influences on use and abuse of alcohol: a study of 5638 adult Finnish twin brothers. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 11, 349-356.

26.  Knopik, V.S., Heath, A.C., Madden, P.A., Bucholz, K.K., Slutske, W.S., Nelson, E.C., Statham, D., Whitfield, J.B., Martin, N.G., 2004. Genetic effects on alcohol dependence risk: re-evaluating the importance of psychiatric and other heritable risk factors. Psychol Med 34, 1519-1530.

27. Acheson, A., Richard, D.M., Mathias, C.W., Dougherty, D.M., 2011a. Adults with a family history of alcohol related problems are more impulsive on measures of response initiation and response inhibition. Drug Alcohol Depend 117, 198-203.

28.  Saunders, B., Farag, N., Vincent, A.S., Collins, F.L., Jr., Sorocco, K.H., Lovallo, W.R., 2008. Impulsive errors on a Go-NoGo reaction time task: disinhibitory traits in relation to a family history of alcoholism. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 32, 888-894.

29.  Acheson, A., Vincent, A.S., Sorocco, K.H., Lovallo, W.R., 2011b. Greater discounting of delayed rewards in young adults with family histories of alcohol and drug use disorders: studies from the Oklahoma family health patterns project. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 35, 1607-1613.

30. Foisy, M.L., Kornreich, C., Petiau, C., Parez, A., Hanak, C., Verbanck, P., Pelc, I., Philippot, P., 2007b. Impaired emotional facial expression recognition in alcoholics: are these deficits specific to emotional cues? Psychiatry Res 150, 33-41.

31.  Foisy, M.L., Philippot, P., Verbanck, P., Pelc, I., van der Straten, G., Kornreich, C., 2005. Emotional facial expression decoding impairment in persons dependent on multiple substances: impact of a history of alcohol dependence. J Stud Alcohol 66, 673-681.

32.  Philippot, P., Kornreich, C., Blairy, S., Baert, I., Den Dulk, A., Le Bon, O., Streel, E., Hess, U., Pelc, I., Verbanck, P., 1999. Alcoholics’ deficits in the decoding of emotional facial expression. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 23, 1031-1038.

33.  Townshend, J.M., Duka, T., 2003. Mixed emotions: alcoholics’ impairments in the recognition of specific emotional facial expressions. Neuropsychologia 41, 773-782.

34.  Gilman, J.M., Hommer, D.W., 2008. Modulation of brain response to emotional images by alcohol cues in alcohol-dependent patients. Addict Biol 13, 423-434.

35. Marinkovic, K., Oscar-Berman, M., Urban, T., O’Reilly, C.E., Howard, J.A., Sawyer, K., Harris, G.J., 2009. Alcoholism and dampened temporal limbic activation to emotional faces. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 33, 1880-1892.

36.  Salloum, J.B., Ramchandani, V.A., Bodurka, J., Rawlings, R., Momenan, R., George, D., Hommer, D.W., 2007. Blunted rostral anterior cingulate response during a simplified decoding task of negative emotional facial expressions in alcoholic patients. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 31, 1490-1504.

37.  Wrase, J., Makris, N., Braus, D.F., Mann, K., Smolka, M.N., Kennedy, D.N., Caviness, V.S., Hodge, S.M., Tang, L., Albaugh, M., Ziegler, D.A., Davis, O.C., Kissling, C., Schumann, G., Breiter, H.C., Heinz, A., 2008. Amygdala volume associated with alcohol abuse relapse and craving. Am J Psychiatry 165, 1179-1184.

38.  Kornreich, C., Foisy, M.L., Philippot, P., Dan, B., Tecco, J., Noel, X., Hess, U., Pelc, I., Verbanck, P., 2003. Impaired emotional facial expression recognition in alcoholics, opiate dependence subjects, methadone maintained subjects and mixed alcohol-opiate antecedents subjects compared with normal controls. Psychiatry Res 119, 251-260.

39.  Maurage, P., Campanella, S., Philippot, P., Martin, S., de Timary, P., 2008. Face processing in chronic alcoholism: a specific deficit for emotional features. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 32, 600-606.

40.  Fernandez-Serrano, M.J., Perez-Garcia, M., Schmidt Rio-Valle, J., Verdejo-Garcia, A., 2010. Neuropsychological consequences of alcohol and drug abuse on different components of executive functions. J Psychopharmacol 24, 1317-1332.

41.  Durazzo, T.C., Tosun, D., Buckley, S., Gazdzinski, S., Mon, A., Fryer, S.L., Meyerhoff, D.J., 2011. Cortical thickness, surface area, and volume of the brain reward system in alcohol dependence: relationships to relapse and extended abstinence. Alcohol Clin Exp Res 35, 1187-1200.

42.   Makris, N., Oscar-Berman, M., Jaffin, S.K., Hodge, S.M., Kennedy, D.N., Caviness, V.S., Marinkovic, K., Breiter, H.C., Gasic, G.P., Harris, G.J., 2008. Decreased volume of the brain reward system in alcoholism. Biol Psychiatry 64, 192-202.

43.   Benegal, V., Antony, G., Venkatasubramanian, G., Jayakumar, P.N., 2007. Gray matter volume abnormalities and externalizing symptoms in subjects at high risk for alcohol dependence. Addict Biol 12, 122-132.

44.  Glahn, D.C., Lovallo, W.R., Fox, P.T., 2007. Reduced amygdala activation in young adults at high risk of alcoholism: studies from the Oklahoma family health patterns project. Biol Psychiatry 61, 1306-1309.

45.   Hill, S.Y., De Bellis, M.D., Keshavan, M.S., Lowers, L., Shen, S., Hall, J., Pitts, T., 2001. Right amygdala volume in adolescent and young adult offspring from families at high risk for developing alcoholism. Biol Psychiatry 49, 894-905.

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48.  Verdejo-Garcia, A., Bechara, A., Recknor, E.C., Perez-Garcia, M., 2006. Executive dysfunction in substance dependent individuals during drug use and abstinence: an examination of the behavioral, cognitive and emotional correlates of addiction. J Int Neuropsychol Soc 12, 405-415.

49.  Fox, H.C., Hong, K.A., Sinha, R., 2008. Difficulties in emotion regulation and impulse control in recently abstinent alcoholics compared with social drinkers. Addict Behav 33, 388-394

 

The earlier you start drinking the greater the chance of being alcoholic

Early Onset to Begin Drinking

It is a very common theme in AA meetings and other 12 step groups about how young alcoholics started drinking. I always wondered if this had an effect on later alcoholism, although I know many alcoholics who started drinking much later in life. Looking at the research below it seems that the age a person started drinking can predict later problems with alcohol. Interestingly “disinhibited” behaviour, such as impulsiveness and not being able to “stop oneself” from engaging in certain behaviours also have a bearing on later alcohol problems, as does adverse childhood experiences   and the amount of alcoholism in the family.

The age of onset to begin regular drinking is an important predictor of age of first alcohol problem and subsequent alcohol dependence (1,2),  as well as greater severity and persistence of problems with illicit drugs (3).

dangerous_ways_young_people_consuming_alcohol

For individuals that initiated drinking prior to age 14 years, the likelihood of adult alcohol dependence was 40%, four times more likely than individuals who began drinking at 20 years or older (2) .  It was also reported that individuals that drank before age 14 years were more than twice as likely to become alcohol dependent than those trying alcohol after age 16 years (4).

A number of factors such as early adverse childhood experiences (5,6)  and familial density of alcoholism (7,8), predict earlier age of drinking onset.

Earlier onset of drinking also appears to be related to the presence of behaviors often characterized as “disinhibited”.There is also abundant evidence that behavioral under-control is an important determinant of later development of substance use disorders (SUD) (9,10). Behavioral under-control observed as early as 3 years is predictive of alcohol-related problems at 21 years (11), and in adolescents mediates the relationship between family history of alcoholism and young adult SUDs (12)

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References

1. Hawkins JD, Graham JW, Maguin E, Abbott R, Hill KG, Catalano RF. Exploring the effects of age of alcohol use initiation and psychosocial risk factors on subsequent alcohol misuse.Journal of Studies Alcohol. 1997;58(3):280–290.[PMC free article]

2. Grant BF, Dawson DA. Age at onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey.Journal of Substance Abuse. 1997;9:103–110.

3. Kandel DB, Yamaguchi K, Chen K. Stages of progression in drug involvement from adolescence to adulthood: further evidence for the gateway theory. Journal of Studies Alcohol.1992;53(5):447–457.

4. Sartor CE, Lynskey MT, Heath AC, Jacob T, True W. The role of childhood risk factors in initiation of alcohol use and progression to alcohol dependence. Addiction.2007;102(2):216–225.

5. Rothman EF, Edwards EM, Heeren T, Hingson RW. Adverse childhood experiences predict earlier age of drinking onset: results from a representative US sample of current or former drinkers. Pediatrics. 2008;122(2):e298–e304.

6. Waldrop AE, Ana EJ, Saladin ME, McRae AL, Brady KT. Differences in early onset alcohol use and heavy drinking among persons with childhood and adulthood trauma. American Journal on Addictions. 2007;16(6):439–442.

7. Hill SY, Yuan H. Familial density of alcoholism and onset of adolescent drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol.1999;60(1):7–17.

8.  Hill SY, Shen S, Lowers L, Locke J. Factors predicting the onset of adolescent drinking in families at high risk for developing alcoholism. Biological Psychiatry. 2000a;48(4):265–275.

9. Stice E, Barrera M, Jr., Chassin L. Prospective differential prediction of adolescent alcohol use and problem use:examining the mechanisms of effect. Journal of Abnormal Psychology.1998;107(4):616–628

10. Zucker RA. Anticipating problem alcohol use developmentally from childhood into middle adulthood: what have we learned?Addiction. 2008;103(Suppl 1):100–108. [PMC free article]

11.  Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Newman DL, Silva PA. Behavioral observations at age 3 years predict adult psychiatric disorders. Longitudinal evidence from a birth cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry. 1996;53(11):1033–1039.

12. King KM, Chassin L. Mediating and moderated effects of adolescent behavioral undercontrol and parenting in the prediction of drug use disorders in emerging adulthood.Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 2004;18(3):239–249.

Maintaining emotional sobriety (and sanity) via Steps 10-12

When I have did my steps 4-7, noting the situations, the people, the institutions  that have caused persistent resentments in me, then examining what parts of my self have been affected,  I also, thanks to one sponsor was asked me to,  put down exactly what “sins” or defects of character I also experienced during these resentments. This jotting down of the exact sins I was in during these resentments  has proved to be very useful in my recovery ever since.  What I noticed was that I had the same array of sins or negatively (immaturely) expressed emotions in relation to all resentments regardless of the situation or the person I had the resentment, the same web of sins was weaved in every situation.  For me this shows clearly how I do not process and regulate my emotions properly, how it has a canalized form of reaction.

I have found increasingly in recovery that when I want someone or something to be the way I want it and it doesn’t go that way or I want something to stay a certain way or I believe someone is threatening to interfere or take away something that I have (when I am controlling basically), I find I respond by either being dependent or dominating of the person or situation. This is what Bill Wilson also found out in ten years or so of psycho-analysis with Harry Tiebout.

Immature emotional response I call this, followed by emotional reasoning. I rarely react in a balanced manner to these prompts. The situations invariably provoke a fear based response in me which somehow also leads to me suddenly becoming dishonesty in my thinking. It is as if this self centred fear as cut me off from the truthful sunlight of the spirit and I am suddenly in the dark shadow of dishonesty. In fact, according to Father Ralph honesty comes from the Greek to be at one with God funnily enough.

Then I feel shame as the result of my pride being hurt, which can lead to self pity it if I let it. I may also feel guilt. Then I may decide to strike back via being arrogant, impatient or intolerant, in behaviourally expressed sometimes as putting others down to elevate one self. Again immature emotional response. I am obviously also being self centred and selfish while in this process. I can also be envious or jealous of others in the midst of this for taking what I wanted or threatening what I have, like a child in the park or playground with friends. Other ways of fixing my feelings rear their heads and I can be gluttonous as a reaction or become greedy. Eat too much or go on a shopping frenzy. All instead of processing the emotions which are driving this behaviour I react, act out of distress based impulsivity. I can be so distressed that I can tend towards procrastination, which is sloth in five syllables. These sins or negatively expressed emotions truly grip me and these sins seem to  hunt in packs.

I found this fascinating when I first discovered this during my steps. It seemed to map the reactions of my heart when I react via resentments to the world. They describe accurately how I relate to the world especially when the world does not give me what I want or I have stood on it’s toes.

What else is this but an immature emotional reaction based not just on me being the same age as I started drinking  but also on the fact that the regions of the brain which govern emotional regulation in the brain of the alcoholic are immature, are smaller, not connected as well or do not function as well as healthy folk.  This is according to many academic studies and also seen in the brains of children of alcoholics, so our emotional brain regions may never have worked properly and thanks to years of alcohol abuse have gotten a whole lot worse.

When I am not in charge of my emotions they are in charge of me, in other words. They are controlling me and not the other way around. This type of emotional immaturity happens throughout the day sometimes. So there is no point waiting to the end of the day to do a step 10, to see when have I been fearful, dishonest, resentful or selfish. I have to do it continuously throughout the day to maintain my spiritual and emotional equilibrium, because it needs constant attention and maintenance, because I have no naturally maintained balance. I have to manage it. I impose homoestasis to an allostatic system. There is not naturally resting place. I am in charge of my serenity.

So I spot check continuously to ensure my emotional sobriety. Another word for sober is sane. I ike this because  while I am in emotional dysregulation or immaturity, I am far from sane. In fact, I am strangely deluded, distinct from from any reasonableness. I need to do my step ten to be restored to sanity.

The other problem with this emotional lability and dysregulation is that it send streams of distorted thinking into my head. I remember ringing my sponsor in early recovery, a few months in, with the startling relevation, to me,  that my thoughts were all leading me to a place of emotional pain. My emotional dysregulation leading to cognitive distortions which leads to further emotional dyregulation etc.  Spot the negative emotions underpinning these thoughts and they disappear like wispy evaporating clouds. This has similarities here with the practice of mindfulness.

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I do this all in a very simple way – I simply ask God to remove my sins, which are usually fear, dishonesty, pride, shame,guilt, self pity, leading to intolerance, arrogance and impatience and so on, warmed in a dendritic spreading across my heart and polluting of my mind with stinking thoughts.

It is interesting that in the 5th century a religious man called Evagrius Ponticus suggested that one gets rid of troublesome thoughts by pinpointing the negative emotions which were somehow underpin then and weight these thoughts in one’s mind, like anchors weighing down lassoed clouds. I do the same effectively.

I ask God to remove these emotions after I have first identified them and offered them to Him for help in removing. What I am doing, in a sense, is also identifying, labelling and letting go (processing) of the negative emotions that have kept these thunderous grey black clouds of thoughts in my head, and striking my heart with forked pain. I am asking God to help me do what I cannot do for myself it seems; namely emotional regulation.

People outside AA often wonder how this spiritual program can help people recover. As  I blogged about recently recently it does so, I believe partly, because it helps us learn how to practice identifying, labelling  and processing emotions (often by verbalising them to someone or via step 10)  in a way that is not only healthy and adaptive but in a way I was seemingly never able to do prior to coming into AA.  Or had never been taught to do.

I have learnt all these development skills not in my childhood but in my surrogate home of AA.  How many of us have come home in AA?

An Emotional Disease?

Is Addiction an Emotional Disease!?

“Addiction”, is widely viewed as a chronic, relapsing, neurobiological disorder, characterized by compulsive use of alcohol or substances, despite serious negative consequences. It involves both physiological and psychological dependence and leads to the emergence of a negative emotional state.  The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5, combines DSM-IV categories of substance abuse and dependence into a single disorder, on a continuum from mild to severe.  The previous definition of addiction by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) includes the terms, craving, persistent risk, and emphasizes risk of relapse after periods of abstinence triggered by exposure to substance-related cues and emotional stressors . This conceptualisation points to the role of substance-related cues, e.g., environmental stimuli that are strongly associated with the effects of the administration of substances and acquire incentive salience through Pavlovian conditioning, as well as stress (an internal cue), as major determinants of relapse.

For example in terms of the reasons for relapse implicated in much research, alcoholics relapse due to ‘cue-reactivity’ i.e. they see ‘people, places, or things’ associated with their drinking past and they are drawn to it and simply relapse.

 In some years of recovery, we have rarely heard of a committed abstinent alcoholic addict in recovery who relapsed simply because he/she was lured siren like to some cue associated stimuli. That is not to say cue reactivity is not a valid construct, it is obviously. Recovering alcoholics  exhibit an automatic, that is involuntary,  attentional bias towards drug and alcohol-related “cues”. This is a torturous aspect of early recovery thus most therapeutic regimes advise those in early abstinence and recovery to avoid “people, places and things” that act as  cue-associated stimuli. In fact, some in early recovery do challenge this only to learn painfully as the result by thinking they can spend time, like before, in drinking establishments,  only to find that it is “like sitting in a hairdressors  all day and not expecting to eventually get a haircut!”

A more recent  ASAM definition includes “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

We appreciate the role now afforded to “dysfunctional emotional response” in this new definition as we believe it is dysfunctional emotional response which is at the heart of alcoholism and addiction.

Our own experience of recovery, coupled with our neuroscientific research over several years, has  made us curious as why the ways addicts and alcoholics talk about their condition or the explanations they forward all generally point to what they would call an “emotional disease” or “a parasite the feeds on their emotions”, an “emotional cancer” or a “fear based disease” yet these are rarely countenanced in any theory of addiction, whether neurobiological, psychological, psycho-analytical (although there have been very interesting ideas based on attachment within this methodology).

How could addicts and alcoholics be so wrong about themselves and what ails them? Especially when they see it also in hundreds of others with the same condition? We doubt that they are wrong, in fact, we have in recent years taken the opposite approach and started to explore, in terms of research, if addiction and alcoholism, especially, have their roots in emotional dysregulation and emotional processing deficits

In even more recent times, we have been encouraged that these difficulties also shape decision making difficulties, distress based impulsivity (leading to compulsivity) lack of inhibition across various psychological domains, as well as more revealingly the cognitive and executive dysfunctions and ‘flight or flight’ reactions which seem common to this group, over reacting in other words.

There appears to be a short term decision making profile which we suggest is distress based, which implicates more emotive-motoric “automatic,compulsive”regions of the brain rather than goal-directed. A more “let’s do it NOW!”way of making decisions.  This is also seen in children of alcoholics.

Could this be an important vulnerabilty to alcoholism? In order to get this debate going we will now consider whether there are possibilities for re-defining the DSM criterion in relation to the manifest difficulties observed in these clinical groups in relation to emotional dysregulation. The “official” nosology (e.g. DSM IV) is largely limited to physical manifestations of addiction although addicted individuals display additional psychiatric symptoms that affect their well-being and social functioning but which have been relegated to the domain of psychiatric “comorbidity.” 

Although the relationship of these psychiatric symptoms with addiction is very close, substance abuse may modify pre-existing psychic structures and lead to addiction as a specific mental disorder, inclusive of symptoms pertaining to mood/anxiety, or impulse control dimensions, decision making difficulties or, as we suggest, the various characteristics of emotional dysregulation. All of which suggests the current DSM based nosology of addiction-related mental comorbidity does not consider the overlap of the biological substrates and neurophysiology of addictive processes and psychiatric symptoms associated with addiction, so fails to include specific mood, anxiety, and impulse control dimensions and decision making difficulties in the psychopathology of addictive processes.

Addiction reaches beyond the mere result of drug-elicited effects on the brain and cannot be peremptorily equated only with the use of drugs despite the adverse consequences produced. Addiction is a relapsing chronic condition in which these psychiatric manifestations play a crucial role. Thus it may be that the aetiology of addiction cannot be severed from its psychopathological underpinning, it’s roots.  In may have been initiated by these mechanisms and also the addiction cycle may be continually perpetuated by them. Particularly in view of the undeniable presence of symptoms, of their manifest contribution to the way addicted patients feel and behave, and to the role they play in maintaining the continued use of substances.

In other words, the latter symptoms frequently precede the addictive process constituting a predisposing psychological background on which substance effects and addictive processes interact, leading to a full-fledged psychiatric disorder. Within the frame of the current DSM, numerous relevant psychiatric issues in substance abuse disorders may have been overlooked.   Even in the absence of psychiatric diagnosis, specific psychological vulnerabilities may constitute a background for the development of  disorders. The neural circuitry implicated in affective reactivity and regulation is closely related to the circuitry proposed to underlie addictive behaviours.  Affect is related to dysfunctional decision-making processes and risky behaviours,  In fact, we suggest these affective processing difficulties cause inherent decision making difficulties and constitute a premorbid vulnerability.

Substance dependence is associated with significant emotional dysregulation that influences cognition via numerous mechanismsThis dysregulation comes in the form of heightened reward sensitivity to drug-related stimuli, reduced sensitivity to natural reward stimuli, and heightened sensitivity of the brain’s stress systems that respond to threats. Such disturbances have the effect of biasing attentional processing toward drugs with powerful rewarding and/or anxiolytic effects. 

Emotional dysregulation can also result in impulsive actions and influence decision-making. It appears clear in addiction and alcoholism (substance dependence)  and that emotional processing significantly impairs cognition in substance dependence. Emotionally influenced cognitive impairments have serious negative effects with both the resultant attentional bias and decision-making deficits being predictive of drug relapse. 

The influence of emotion is clearly detrimental in substance dependence, and many of the detrimental effects observed are due to the ability of drugs of abuse to mimic the effects of stimuli or events that have survival significance. Drugs of abuse effectively trick the brain’s emotional systems into thinking that they have survival significance!

They trick the alcoholic into thinking he needs to drink to survive! 

It is important to note that the neural mechanisms implicated in neurobiological accounts of the transition to endpoint addiction from initial use are also experienced emotionally in human beings, in addicted individuals. That human beings, addicted individuals have to live with these profound alterations and impairments of various regions and neural networks in the brain. And that it is in treating these human manifestation of this neurobiological disease, i.e. one’s “dysfunctional emotional responses” in every day life that is required for long term recovery. We have to manage the emotional difficulties which perpetuate this disease, this “parasite on our emotions”, otherwise these dysfunctional overwhelming emotions manage us.   

It is through this emotional dysregulation that the addiction cycle is experienced and via emotional means perpetuated! It is through living “emotionally light” and spiritually aware lives which help manage our emotions that perpetuate our long term recovery.

Emotional distress is at the heart of addiction and alcoholism, and relief from it on a continually, daily basis is at the heart of recovery.    

References

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. pp. 5–25.

Pani, Pier Paolo, et al. “Delineating the psychic structure of substance abuse and addictions: Should anxiety, mood and impulse-control dysregulation be included?.” Journal of affective disorders 122.3 (2010): 185-197.

Murphy, A., Taylor, E., & Elliott, R. (2012). The detrimental effects of emotional process dysregulation on decision-making in substance dependence. Frontiers in integrative neuroscience6.

Cheetham, A., Allen, N. B., Yücel, M., & Lubman, D. I. (2010). The role of affective dysregulation. in drug addiction. Clinical Psychology Review30(6), 621-634.