Do you believe in free will?
Or are you more of a deterministic personality?
Do you think you are your neurons or that your neurons are you? Do you think you have a say or would you prefer to be helpless to the scientific process that is “thought”?
Deep questions man, deep questions. Better slip yourself an adderall for this post. Or at least your thinking cap. Maybe adderall is your thinking cap.
Arguably the biggest debate in biological sciences is nature versus nurture and most people meet somewhere in the middle–nature plays a part but you can manipulate it depending on how you live your life. I’d say that’s a fair argument. Exercise, for example, has been known for years to help your body through biological processes. The Lipoprotiens that carry good cholesterol through your blood to your liver where it is needed is increased the more you exercise and the better your diet, which reduces the amount of bad cholesterol that builds up in your arteries. You can never get rid of the bad stuff, so you might as well increase the good stuff, it’s your only hope. Shouldn’t have ate all those Burger King triple cheese bacon Whoppers in your younger years.
Your neurons change with you, it’s evident. When you’re born there’s millions of millions of them all struggling to see who will live and who will die. It’s like the Hunger Games up there except everyone participates. So I guess it’s not like the Hunger Games. I don’t know, I’ve never read the book. Or seen the movie. Whatever.
Anyway, there’s millions and millions and millions and millions of them (shit, I’m starting to sound like Carl Sagen) and by the time you’re three, half of them are gone. So yes, those younger years are vital. That’s why if you’re tortured when you’re an infant and a toddler, you’re more likely to display Antisocial Personality tendencies. You’ll start killing the dogs and learning how to manipulate and not feeling an ounce of guilt for it because, shit, no one displayed what that’s supposed to be, there is no distinguishable difference between right and wrong, and you didn’t get hugged. Yes, hugging is just as important as teaching your children right from wrong.
I don’t think anyone will argue that drugs change the structure of your brain, even the ones you are prescribed. Anti-psychotics most often change the amount of dopamine in your brain and if you’re taking an anti-psychotic (especially if it’s actually to suppress active psychosis) you already have a sensitivity to dopamine. Anti-psychotics increase that sensitivity by no fault of anyone and when you forget your medication for a day or two or three, what happens? Most often a psychotic episode. It’s not your fault, it’s not the drugs fault, it’s just the way nature responds to our attempt at thwarting it.
Alcohol does kind of the same thing. It even effects the D1 and D2 receptors the same as some anti-psychotics. Have they done extensive research on what damage or benefit anti-psychotics have on these neurons as they’ve done for alcohol? Most likely not (proof of irreversible damage isn’t exactly a good selling point), at least not to the extent they’ve researched these “addiction neurons”.
We all know what a neuron looks like:
Now picture that but mushroom shaped. That’s what alcohol does to your neurons, most likely if you have addiction and alcoholism already in your family. They get excited, start action-potential-ling all over the place, and they want to keep that level of excitement going, so you drink more. They grow more dendrites and have more access to communicate with other neurons. That’s why you now need five drinks instead of two drinks to even get a buzz. Guess what? It even increases your Long-Term memory.
Sound odd? It shouldn’t, not in this context. Because that’s all your memory gains–context based information. You’ll remember the bar’s specific location better than your buddy who has only been there a few times versus your escapade every other night.
Even more interesting is when they introduced an agonist to thwart the neuron’s excitability level directly to the D1 receptor, the poor drunken animals that were so used to getting drunk in this lab with all these strange men and women in white coats standing around, reduced their amount of consumption.
There are still a lot of questions to be answered here: why do some people become addicted and others do not? What kind of genetic sequences are there where some D1 receptors in people’s brains get mushroomed and others do not? But for now, just take the information as it is and know if you have alcoholism in your family, it could be your future.
But it also could not. That’s the catch.
As for my fellow anxiety suffers, including those with PTSD, I see GABA re-uptake-inhibitors in our future. Or at least something with GABA. If you don’t know already, the GABA neurotransmitter has a very tranquilizing effect. These anxiety neurons they found in the central amygdala have receptors for GABA and as soon as the amount of GABA receptors is decreased, the tranquilizing effect is reduced and suddenly you’re both fearful and anxious. Traumatic experiences can cause reduced GABA receptors.
So, are you powerless over your anxiety? Over your addiction? In a sense, yes. But think about it for a moment–you’re not born with these differences, they’re eventually created. You ever see a baby on the curb downing a 40oz?
And if you can create them, or if they can be created (in terms of PTSD), then you can decommission them. If you have alcoholism in your family, don’t go out and get hammered every night; it’s best to stay away from alcohol and benzo’s and painkillers entirely. If you have anxiety, know that you weren’t born with GABA deficient neurons, as much as you feel like you were. Maybe a predisposition to it, genetically, but even genes have on and off switches.
As out of control as you feel, you can manipulate your brain in any way that you please. I think that’s what’s so fascinating about it. Drugs may change the chemicals temporarily, but chemicals don’t always change the shape like we see in alcoholism. Learning, however, does. Changing mindset, does. That’s been proven many times over.
It’s even harder to gain control over your brain when everyone keeps telling you that you have no control.
The second biggest argument in biological sciences, particularly for psychology, is in the relationship between correlation and causation. The decreased brain masses we see in people suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder–are they a result of the onset of the disorder or the result of genetic differences from the moment of birth? A combination? Or are we wrong about everything entirely?
I’d summarize an article on that, but there aren’t many. We haven’t tracked anyone from birth into their adult hood because we can’t predict who will develop schizophrenia or bipolar and who won’t, regardless of their parents mental status.
Making things even more difficult is that fact that no two people with schizophrenia share the exact same symptoms. Similar perhaps, but it’s not as concrete as, say, two people with social anxiety disorder. Schizophrenia is arguably one of the most elusive disorders in the field. In other words, we don’t know jack shit. I think I’ve said that before.
You are simultaneously your brain and not your brain. It’s always going to be a power struggle between the two of you. That’s what makes life, life. You just have to believe it.