The continuing power of meaning

I spent this morning out in Ladue at a workshop led by Dr. Kevin McCauley, on addiction and codependency.

McCauley is very passionate about it. He spent most of the workshop laying out a case for addiction as a disease (a stress-induced disorder of the midbrain when the brain cannot properly interpret pleasure coming from normal sources and must seek it in stronger and stronger doses) but toward the end of the session he had a remarkable insight.

The midbrain is a primitive section of the brain dealing strictly with life-or-death decisions. It focuses on EAT IT, KILL IT, MATE WITH IT. The brain's reward/pleasure centers are in this part, and drugs stimulate those areas so much that the pleasure coming from the drug becomes the first priority, even over food, sleep and sex. One of the steps in helping a substance abuser, according to Dr. McCauley, is to identify the thing that is a higher priority (which he insists every patient has, although it will be different and probably hard to find) and put that thing/person/activity back in its proper place.

One audience member asked how parents of teens should approach them if they are in an addicted state and how they can help. McCauley answered-- both for prevention and helping-- that a large part of the answer is cultivating and supporting healthy experiences with strong meaning.

Well, duh! Study after study, doctor after doctor, is starting to realize that humans ABSOLUTELY REQUIRE MEANING in their lives; they must be connected with something larger than self, some experiences that powerfully affect them, some way to challenge the body and the mind.

So how are we doing? Are we building healthy rituals, rites of passage, traditions? With those tools, we can not only bond youth to Christ and to each other, we can raise their quality of life by growing healthier brains!

God's sitting up there saying, "I was wondering when they'd remember that part!"


vikki said...

hey isaac? the link to your journal in you AIM profile is kinda messed up. you might wanna look into fixing it....

that's really interesting about that there's always something more important that someone's addiction.. (assuming of course that i read that correctly) i wouldn't have guessed that seeing the bad physical condition that a lot of junkies get themselves into... very interesting

Esther said...

I totally agree. I think that to a certain extent the decision to start doing things that become addictive is a part of the human search for meaning. It's almost a way of trying to ignore that desire for a meaningful life. Put something else in front of it so it's not sitting there staring you in the face. If that makes sense.

I also think that many Christians ignore that search for meaning in others. We think that people are just dreadful, or annoying or something like that. Instead we should realize that people who commit wrong acts are only as sinful as we are and searching for meaning in a way that is completely lost.

Isaac, The Rookie said...

The easy part about this is that everything means something. A mom last week told me that I made a huge impact on her son by going to a school play, even though I didn't get the chance to talk to him there-- the card I sent the next day did it.

The hard part is that everything means something. In Michigan, I was supposed to go to a hockey game for one of my students, but the brakes broke on my car just before and I couldn't go... and I never saw the kid again.