Brain Disease – Expanding Into A Unified Model

By Terence T. (Terry) Gorski

The “Brain Disease Model” of addiction is useful but limited. I believe the best model is a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model that is described in detail in my new book Straight Talk About Addiction (Check out : and )

The bio component involves “the addictive brain response” which occurs when the drug of choice activates a flood of pleasure chemicals in the brain while slowing down the production of stress other warning chemicals that give us the gift of fear which warns us of danger.

The Psycho component involves the addictive thoughts, feelings, urges and actions that drive chemical and process addictions.

The social dimension involves personal relationships, attachment to social groups for the purpose of business and recreation, and culture. It is within this social dimension where we confront the difficult issue of the group mind or group consciousness

This addictive brain response causes changes in thinking, feelings, motivations, and actions. When the addictive brain response is activated, intuition and conscience are both affected. Intuition and conscience activate automatic signals generated by brain chemistry which come from both innate characteristics (we are programmed to know right and wrong, safety from danger, what is good for me and what is bad for me on primitive felt-sense level; our conscience or moral compass) and learned moral behavior (our sense of right and wrong is refined and developed through learning and life experience. The addictive brain response distorts or shuts down both intuition and conscience.

The addictive brain response also diminishes or eliminates anxiety and fear, which are natural warning signals that we may be in danger. The addictive brain response also causes the unconscious signaling system designed to support our family of origin program, as expressed in our personality, to diminish or disappear entirely. As a result people can overcome the unhealthy inhibitions programmed into their brain chemistry responses as children. Unfortunately, when sober these old responses return.

This unique feeling of euphoria can free people from inhibitions and allows them to feel free to be who they want to be and to do what they choose to do. As the addictive disease progresses, it takes higher doses of alcohol or other drugs of choice to get the euphoric feelings. In terms of process addictions, it takes greater and greater levels of stimulation over longer periods of time to get the euphoric effect. People drink and use drugs more often and more heavily. Their lives become focused around alcohol and other drug use. They develop an addiction-centered social life, and chasing the euphoria becomes the primary concern. This is where the “social” part of biopsychosocial enters the picture.

With sobriety, the brain heals. Brain research also provides compelling evidence for brain plasticity – the term used to describe the idea that the brain grows in response to experience throughout the course of the life span. As a result specific cognitive and behavioral therapies can systematically cause the building of new neurocircuits   that support recovery and responsibility through systematical practice of specific ways of thinking and acting when under stress. As recovering people stop using addictive thoughts, behaviors, and chemicals, the addictive  that support drug-seeking behavior become weaker . The circuits that support sober and responsible behavior get stronger.  Good news, but it takes knowledge, skill, practice, and determination over a long period of time to activity neuroplastic brain growth.

Spirituality provides a critical connection with a source of courage, strength, and hope allows people to keep moving ahead in their recovery even when they don’t feel like it. It allows them to overcome cravings, face and manage fear, and find a way to stay calm in the face of the frustrations of life and living.  This is a life-long recovery process. Life is hard. Human beings die and we know that we will do so. Living in the shadow of the inevitable deaths of ourselves and our loved ones produces a background feeling of fear and pain which has been described as angst. We need courage, strength and hope that something good will come of our recovery. This sense of hope keeps on going during hard times. To keep hope alive in the face of fear and discouragement requires courage.

The Brain Disease Model of Addiction provides useful information and helpful ideas about approaching recovery. Unfortunately, fails to take into account some critical biopsychosocial aspects of recovery encompassed in nonphysical or spiritual ideas like Higher Power, group conscience, courage, strength and hope. These nonphysical dimensions of humanity is what gives people their greatest sense of meaning and purpose. We can’t yet take brain scans that show pretty pictures of these things in the brain.  Perhaps we never will! This, however, does not mean they do not exist. The spiritual aspects of recovery may not be tangible or physical. There may very well be a nonphysical mind that inhabits and takes control of the physical brain. These nonphysical aspects of humanity provide powerful experiences that often defy description. Yet these power spiritual experiences often mark critical turning points or milestones in recovery. The importance of these of building upon these nonphysical or spiritual aspects of recovery are critical to recovery. Recovery is possible.

~ Terry Gorski  via

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One Response to Brain Disease – Expanding Into A Unified Model

  1. Mr. Gorski, I really enjoyed your two day seminar at Watauga Recovery Center in Johnson City Tn. I will use the tools you taught us, and your apporach to interacting clients. You have added so much to my recovery tool chest, and yes, yes you could do stand up!! thank you!

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