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Disconnected Brains: How isolation fuels opioid addiction | Rachel Wurzman - Part 4

Jul 3

It is going to be a heat seeking missile for our social reward system is it any wonder people in today's world are becoming addicted so easily?

Social isolation contributes to relapse. Studies have shown that people who tend to avoid relapse tend to be people who have broad reciprocal social relationships. Where they can be of service to each other where they can be helpful. being of service lets people connect. If we don't have the ability to authentically connect, or society increasingly lacks this ability to authentically connect it used to and experience things that are transcendent and beyond ourselves. We used to get this transcendence from a feeling of belonging to our families and our communities.

But everywhere, communities are changing, and social and economic disintegration is making this harder and harder. I'm not the only person to point out that the areas in the country most economically hard hit where people feel most desolate about their life's meaning are also the places where there have been communities most ravaged by opioids. Social isolation acts through the brain's reward system to make this state of affairs literally painful. So perhaps it's this pain, this loneliness this despondence that's driving so many of us to connect with whatever we can, like food, like handheld electronics, and for too many people to drugs like heroin and fentanyl. I know someone who overdosed who was revived by Narcan and she was mostly angry that she wasn't simply allowed to die. Imagine for a second how that feels that state of hopelessness, okay.

But the striatum is also a source of hope, because the striatum gives us a clue of how to bring people back.

So remember that the stray them is our autopilot, running our behaviors on habit and it's possible to rewire to reprogram that autopilot but it involves neuroplasticity. So neuroplasticity is the ability of brains to reprogram themselves and rewire themselves so that we can learn new things. And maybe you've heard the classic adage of plasticity neurons that fire together wire together. Right? So we need to practice social connective behaviors instead of compulsive behaviors. When we're lonely when we are cued to remember our drug.

We need neuronal ly firing repeated experiences in order for the striatum to undergo that necessary neuroplasticity that it allows it to take that go find heroin autopilot offline. And with the convergence of social neuroscience, addiction and compulsive spectrum disorders in the striatum suggests is that it's not simply enough to teach the striatum healthier responses to compulsive urges we need social impulses to replace drug cute compulsive behaviors, because we need to rebalance neuro chemically our social reward system, and unless that happens, we're going to be left in a state of craving. No matter what besides our drug we repeatedly practice doing. I believe that the solution to the opioid crisis is to explore how social and psycho spiritual interventions can act as neuro technologies in circuits that process social and drug induced rewards.

One possibility is to create and study scalable tools for people to connect with one another over a mutual interest in recovery through psycho spiritual practices and as such psycho spiritual practice could involve anything from people getting together as mega fans of touring jam bands. Or parkour jams featuring shared experiences of vulnerability and personal growth, or more conventional things like recovery yoga meetups, or meeting centered around more traditional conceptions of spiritual experiences. But whatever it is, it needs to activate all of the neurotransmitter systems in the striatum, better involved in processing socialconnection.

Social media can't go deep enough for this social media doesn't so much encourage us to share as it does to compare.

Studies show that people actually tend to feel more isolated from social media. It's the difference between having superficial small talk with someone and authentic deeply connected conversation with eye contact. And stigma also keeps us separate. There's a lot of evidence that it keeps us sick.

And stigma often makes it safer for addicts to connect with other addicts, but recovery groups centered around reestablishing social connections could certainly be inclusive of people who are seeking recovery for a range of mental health problems. My point is, when we connect around what's broken we connect as human beings. We heal ourselves from the compulsive self destruction. That was our response to the pain of disconnection. When we think of neuro psychiatric illnesses, as a spectrum of phenomenon that are part of what makes us human, then we remove the otherness of people who struggle with self destruction.

We remove the stigma between doctors and patients and caregivers. We put the question of what it means to be normal versus sick back on the spectrum of the human condition, and it is on that spectrum, where we can all connect and seek healing together for all of our struggles. With humaneness. Thank you for letting me share

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