Pain and negative emotions activate the reward centers of the brain, causing unconscious addiction to those negative emotions.
Did you know that chronic pain, and painful emotions light up the same pathways as infamous addictive drugs do. People engage in physically or emotionally self-destructive behaviors to get an unconscious “drug” payoff from chemicals your own body creates. These chemicals that create addiction are dopamine, and beta-endorphins.
We are designed as humans to survive. When we are escaping danger, an analgesic called beta-endorphin is released to distract from the pain so you can run away. An example of the analgesic and euphoric effect of these internally made “drugs” is if you’re in pain and exhaustion while running for a long time, and you get a runner’s high, and are able to keep running for another five miles. That is when you have activated the beta-endorphin and dopamine pathways.
Another chemical your body releases is dopamine, which is called the reward neurotransmitter. It creates the AHHH feeling when someone wins at gambling, that can lead to addiction. When you’re stressed, or in a flight-or-fight situation, your brain releases dopamine. The dopamine pathway activates in drive states which are necessary for survival: such as getting away from a threat, moving towards food, and mating. Cortisol, the chief stress hormone, also mediates dopamine release.
These are the same biochemical pathways that also create emotional addiction.
Have you ever been around a person addicted to anger, or complaining? Often they vent their feelings and walk away from the conversation feeling pretty good; leaving you drained and upset. They got their dopamine, and beta-endorphin fix, and you got vampired.
You also may know people who systematically sabotage their own happiness: by being habitually late; by engaging in self-pity; by putting themselves down, or seeing the worst in everything and everyone.
Cell receptor sites in our body are that are related to those kinds of emotions get linked with dopamine and beta-endorphins. These receptors are addictive because certain emotions can create a release of these compounds. When the habitual emotion occurs there is a chemical high related to it. An emotional habit is an addiction. If a person seems to always have a habitual emotion response to lots of things, there is usually an emotional addiction happening.
How can we stop emotional addiction?
There is a detox period for your neurology to return to normal. The receptors, neurotransmitters, vesicles, and reuptake mechanisms involved need time to stop their biochemical habit. This physiological rearrangement takes 7-21 days to get off the emotional/physiological addiction. During this crucial time you must get yourself away completely from the noxious behavior and its triggers. Two weeks of detox is a good rule of thumb.
How to Heal? Long term changes are needed.
The reward centers of the brain are “pleasure centers,” so it makes sense when someone gets addicted to cocaine, or crack. Because these things can make your brain light up, makes you high, and then you want more. If you follow the impulses to use in these substances it will create a physiological addiction.
That’s the addiction that people know. But you don’t need cocaine, or meth, or crack to create a self-reinforcing addictive circuit in the brain. Anything that activates the beta-endorphin or dopamine pathways will activate these addictive pathways.
It turns out that pain and negative emotions (e.g. self-pity, anger, guilt) also activate the beta-endorphin and dopamine pathways. Chronic jaw pain, or painful thoughts, and feelings, light up the same pathways as infamous addictive drugs do.
As a result, we can get addicted to negative emotions. We always can choose how we want to “be” with our emotions. Slowing things down by taking a break, orienting to a resourceful thought in our minds eye, noticing the feeling coming up and pretending the feeling in our minds eye is far away on another planet. All these things can help you stay regulated and break the addiction. It is important to practice self regulation of your emotions regularly as they will continue to arise. The more you learn to regulate your emotions, the easier it gets. However not too different from exercising regularly you have to always practice emotional regulation. These are ways you can self regulate your emotions so that you are not hijacked by your physiology. I am sure there are even more options that I have not even listed.
The prefrontal cortex is what mindfulness meditation develops and strengthens.
Breaking your emotional addiction requires you to focus on your deepest values rather than feelings. Even though feelings are powerful and enticing, they can throw your nervous system, and physiology out of whack. Just remember feelings are not facts. Watch and observe feelings that tend to arise often. They could be an addicition.
When our prefrontal strengthened it creates more bliss. That is the reward that we are aiming for. We all have two hungry “wolves” inside of ourselves. Do we feed the angry/lonely/sad wolf, or the Okay/happy wolf? We do have a choice. We are not just a victim of our chemistry. We can feed either wolf, but one creates a lot more suffering. Feeding your inner wolf that is regulated will strengthen the prefrontal cortex and create more bliss.
Recently in the past 10 years science has showed a whole new understanding of how the brain cleans itself. What has been discovered is that the brain has a lymphatic system, as well as a Glymphatic system. The lymphatic system carries lymph fluid which is connected to our immune system and detoxification. The Glymphatic system contains the fluid area between astrocyte cells and cappillaries, called the interstitial space, The glymphatic system does not contain lymph fluid. Astrocyte cells of the brain cover approximately 99 percent of all cerebral capillaries . This is a slow clearance of fluid in the central nervous system that removes interstitial fluid (assumed to be CSF), as well as waste products. One of the well known waste products is amyloid beta protein and if that builds up in your brain it is associated Alzheimer’s disease.
Two separate teams of researchers; one team at the University of Virginia, and one team at the University of Helsinki in Finland, independently found lymph vessels in the brain. These vessels, which line the dural sinuses in the brain, carry lymphatic fluid (and immune cells) toward deep nodes of the neck (cervical lymph nodes). It is likely that the Glymphatic system drains the waste from the brain on a more cellular level into the brain's Lymphatic system, to then drain into the lymphatics of the whole body.
What else is interesting is that they have found that Cerebrospinal fluid is absorbed and reabsorbed through the capillaries, and not so much the choroid plexus as thought before. Capillaries are everywhere, and surround the ventricles inside the brain, and the brain itself.
Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester Medical Center identified a system of hydraulic “pipes” running alongside blood vessels in the mouse brain carry cerebrospinal fluid around the brain, and that the fluid enters inter-cellular spaces in the brain tissue, picking up waste on its way.
Nedergaard and her colleagues also discovered that proper function of these vessels depends on movements of water around the brain, which are carried out by glial cells called astrocytes, and therefore named them the glymphatic system. They went on to show that inter-cellular spaces expand by up to 60% in the brains of naturally sleeping mice, as well as mice under anesthesia, and that this expansion drives the clearance of waste from the brain.
Researchers from the University of Virginia identified of lymphatic vessels in the central nervous system that extend into the dura mater, the thickest and outer-most of the three meningeal membranes that envelope the brain and spinal cord. These vessels run parallel to the major veins and arteries, and split to send branches deep into the brain’s crevices. The researchers believe that they could be linked to the glymphatic system, and may be the second stage of the disposal mechanism, which would transport waste out of the brain and spinal cord altogether.
Why is all this cellular detail important to us?
This new research is clarifying connections with understanding brain health and disease. In the case exercise it would explain the influence of exercise on brain health. By increasing circulation from exercise we can expedite elimination of waste products in the brain.
Using your brain for new learning creates new pathways; which help your brain, as blood supply follows brain usage. Craniosacral therapy sessions that augment exhalation and inhalation still points could have powerful results from the inside out. The ventricles/ caves in our brains are lined with capillaries. So this could quite possibly enhance the exchange of glymphatic fluid, and Cerebrospinal fluid. It has recently been discovered that cerebrospinal fluid is absorbed and reabsorbed from capillaries. In terms of concussions and traumatic brain injuries it is highly likely that craniosacral therapy enhances the cleaning of the byproducts of cellular damage from injury.
Maybe we can reach out to Dr Nederguuard to see if she would like to do a study on craniosacral therapy!
Dr Nederguuard's Research Studies showed that Good Sleep and Sleeping on your side increase the opening and flow of the Glymphatic system by up to 60%:
Here are other activities that support optimal brain health:
Dr Kate has been in practice since 1989. She utilizes Chiropractic, Nutrition, and Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy to help her patients.