Really? Do I need this information? YOU DO! This is great news! READ ON!
The company I work for sent me (as their brand new “Assistant Clinical Director”, i.e., Nurse Educator) to a seminar on the Pathophysiology and Psycho-pharmacology of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). As I suspected, there is a direct correlation between alcoholism and PTSD. Let me jump right into the deep end.
According to scientific research using PET Scan and MRI, they have proven that the Hippocampus (located in our brain) shrinks as much as 20% with repeated and / or untreated trauma. This part of the brain #1. regulates emotion, #2. is primarily involved with judgement, and #3. plays an important part in long-term memory. (Does this ring a bell with regard to symptoms associated with addiction?) These symptoms describe my disease… my history of addiction specific to ‘binge eating disorder’. The AA Big Book describes it like this: “The Mental Twist” (poor judgement, Pg. 92), the problems with memory, (mental blank spots, Pg. 42), and the poor regulation of our emotions (“We often found ourselves handicapped by obstinacy, sensitiveness, and unreasoning prejudice. Pg. 48). By the way, Websters dictionary equates being “reasonable” with sanity. Thus, unreasoning would indicate a level of insanity. Just saying! These are symptoms that accompany any one with a serious eating disorder when they are in their “cups”.
The good news is that when the patient is treated properly (first with therapeutic treatment and if necessary, medications), the hippocampus grows back in as little as two months. This struck me because in various places in the AA Big Book, we learn that many recovered in as little as two months. One such example was Bill’s drinking buddy and friend, Ebby, the man who brought the step (6 steps for the original Oxford Group Pg. 263) program to Bill. At the bottom of Pg. 9, we are told that, “They had told of a simple religious idea and a practical program of action. That was two months ago and the result was self-evident. It worked!” Ebby was healed in 2 months (the time it takes for the hippocampus to begin to grow back). I sat listening to the information on PTSD and thought, this sure does remind me of the information we know about Alcoholism. Then, the PhD in Pharmacology, delivering the lecture ,suddenly brought up Alcoholism and that all that refers to PTSD also applies to Alcoholism.
Let me back up a little. There are three major symptoms categories of PTSD. (DSM5)
1. The patient re-experiences the event through perseverating (intrusive recollections which include thoughts, images and perceptions.) He/She experiences distressing dreams involving the event. There are many aspects to the reliving of the trauma when PTSD occurs. Sadly, it may even lead to psychosis. (Stay with me!)
2. The second symptom is “Persistent Avoidance/ Numbing”. This is where addiction comes into play. The patient experiencing PTSD will seek to avoid any stimuli that may be associated with the trauma. How will they avoid the pain? Addiction! They avoid “people, places, and activities” that arouse recollections of the trauma.
3. Feeling emotionally detached from others. (Could this be the isolation factor?)
One last symptom of PTSD is “Developing a destructive addiction to alcohol, drugs, or even gambling”. (What about binge eating? When will they include this in their studies?)
The hippocampus, the purple structure you see in this picture, looks like two purple bananas side by side, attached closest to the front. It’s a small organ located within the brain’s medial temporal lobe and forms an important part of the limbic system, the region that regulates emotions. The hippocampus is associated mainly with memory, in particular long-term memory. Damage to the hippocampus can lead to loss of memory and difficulty in establishing new memories. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to be affected, leading to the confusion and loss of memory so commonly seen in the early stages of the disease. This is interesting to me as I have often said that when I was in the thick of my eating disorder, it seemed that I had “selective dementia’; I would put the food down (through an effective diet that would last a few weeks at best) and then, as the memory of the pain and suffering dwindled, I would pick up again. For years I was taught, “keep the memory green”- by attending meetings and making phone calls. But it didn’t work! And that is because the steps of recovery were the solution, not the compensatory measures of “keeping my memory green!” And this describes the PTSD I lived with for over a year while in the binge-eating disorder accompanied by other behaviours and after I put the food down (sugar and flour and more, what ever created the “effect” PG. xxviii.) “Then would come oblivion and the awful awakening to face the hideous Four horsemen: Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, and Despair.” Pg 151 I would wake up (both, when in the food and after I put it down for over a year).
Ok, I have said a lot! But, it’s so important to addicts, real addicts! I’m excited because some day, science will realize that for some with binge dis-order, we are like the alcoholics who have lost the power of choice, we can’t stop! We binge to escape. We binged because of an allergy of our body. I used to wonder which came first, the chicken or the egg? The allergy of my body or the Trauma? In my case the trauma was my little 5 y/o sisters death in a fire in Pelham, NY when I was eight years old. That’s my first memory of bingeing, my first memory of the thought, “Wow, this feels good!” An eating disorder was born. I was skinny before then, based on the pictures. So PTSD played a role in my binge eating and subsequent eating disorder.
With this new information, I wonder if trauma is the precursor to all addictions! There is more! But I will let you think about this. More to come! Watch for Part 2: Healing the Hippocampus: pharmaceuticals!
“So we shall describe some of the mental states that precede a relapse into drinking, for obviously, this is the crux of the problem.” Pg. 35 AA BB