Landscape of the Mind: Addiction Explained

Landscape of the Mind: Addiction Explained

[MUSIC PLAYING] I’ve been helping people
with addictions for 15 years. People that are
addicted aren’t bad, but addiction can
destroy their life. If there’s anything
I could teach people, it’s that addiction
is a disease. The next 12 minutes could
change or even save your life. Join me as I explore the
landscape of the mind. [MUSIC PLAYING] I wonder what it
would be like if I could walk through the brain the
way I could hike through Utah. I find the comparison
quite striking. The brain has bumps and
grooves the same way this land has
mountains and canyons. The brain is shaped
by experience over the course of a
lifetime the same way this land is shaped by wind and
water over countless lifetimes. One is made of genes,
the other geology. When I compare the
anatomy of the brain to the geography
of Utah, it helps me understand that
the brain is a place. We can go to these places. We can even photograph them. There are two places
in the brain that are important in addiction. One is deep inside:
the midbrain. The other is on the outside. It’s called the frontal cortex. If we landed on the
surface of the brain, we would find ourselves
walking on the bumps and grooves of the cortex. The bumps are called gyri, and
the grooves are called sulci. All of our conscious lives–all
of that thinking, feeling, speaking, everything we
see and hear and taste and touch–occurs
here in the cortex. Our memories are here, carved
somehow into the brain, like these petroglyphs left
by the Native Americans and these names carved into the
rock by the Mormon pioneers. But the parts of the cortex
that we’re interested in, the bumps and grooves
that matter most to us, are up there in
the frontal cortex. [MUSIC PLAYING] This is the area
of the brain that is most linked with our
thoughts, choices, and agency. Morality, judgment,
personality–all the things that make a conscious,
self-aware being are recognized up here, in the bright
sunlight of rationality. Our spirits came from God with
desires to choose the right and keep the commandments. The righteous exercise of our
agency–loving God and others and knowing right from
wrong–comes with our spirit. Much of what the Apostle Paul
in the Bible’s New Testament referred to as the
“natural man” can be found in the physical body
with its emotions and drives. In addition to our spirits
giving life, agency, and action to the physical body,
God also uses the brain as a place of emotion. Current research
shares that it’s up here in the frontal cortex
where we evaluate the world. This is where we weigh options
and understand consequences. So this is where we
exercise our agency. The frontal cortex is where we
give things emotional meaning. So this is the part of
the brain where we attach. So this is where a
mother loves her child or where we love Mom back. The frontal cortex is where we
select our romantic partners and our friends. This is where we give
things moral meaning. And this is the part of the
brain where we give things spiritual meaning. It’s easy to see
how doctors once believed that the
defect of addiction was up here in the
frontal cortex. If this is the thinking, loving,
moral, spiritual, social, choice part of the
brain, then drugs must somehow break
the frontal cortex to create all that nasty,
addictive behavior. It’s a powerful idea that drugs
work in the frontal cortex and that addiction is due to a
moral failing or a personality disorder or a bad upbringing. There’s only one problem
with that idea: it’s wrong. Drugs do not begin their work
up in the frontal cortex, and addiction does
not begin up here. Where do drugs work? Deeper down, in a far older
part of the brain called the midbrain. [MUSIC PLAYING] The midbrain does not think. It does not make choices
or understand consequences. It handles the next 15 seconds. It gets us from moment
to moment alive. [MUSIC PLAYING] The midbrain tells us to eat. It tells us to defend
ourselves, even kill. It fires our sex drive. These are all behaviors that
are critical for survival. This is similar to what
the scriptures teach us as the “natural man,” or where
we have our carnal drives. Ordinarily, the frontal cortex
keeps the midbrain in check. It exerts a top-down
control over the midbrain. But in addiction, this
top-down control fails and the midbrain becomes more
powerful at guiding behavior than the cortex. In other words, in
addiction, something goes wrong at a level of brain
processing long before morals or personality or choice. Now, how do we know all of
this–that drugs work primarily in the unconscious,
survival midbrain and not in the rational,
decision-making cortex? We know this because of a
very famous set of experiments done in the 1950s on mice. The midbrain’s role in reward
was discovered by Dr. James Olds and Dr. Peter Milner. They found that a mouse
will press a lever to deliver a tiny electric
current to two very small, very specific
areas of the brain: the ventral tegmental area
and the nucleus accumbens. And not only will a
mouse press a lever to deliver an electric
current to these two areas of the brain;
that’s all he will do. He won’t eat. He won’t mate with other mice. If you put an electrified
grate in front of the lever and shock the mouse, he
won’t step off the grate. He just continues
to press the lever, ignoring all other survival
drives until he dies. Olds and Milner had discovered
the pleasure centers in the brain. Our brains have
these same two areas. And the nerve pathway that runs
between the ventral tegmental area and the
nucleus accumbens is known as the pleasure circuit. Later, scientists
discovered that a mouse will press a lever to deliver
drugs to these same two areas. And again, that’s
all he will do. He won’t eat. He won’t mate. He just sits on that
electrified grate and fries and keeps on pressing the
lever until he is dead. So mice can get
addicted to drugs. Big deal. Well, think about it. Drugs produce a very powerful,
rapidly fatal addiction in a mouse. A mouse has no personality. A mouse does not weight
the moral consequences of pressing the lever. There are no mouse gangs
selling drugs to other mice. And yet mice can
still become addicted. This research dramatically
weakens the idea that the cause of
addiction is a personality disorder or bad morals or a bad
social or family environment. These things might
accompany addiction, but they cannot be the
cause of addiction. It shows that in addiction,
the drug hijacks the survival mechanism of the midbrain. Now the drug is in the
number-one survival spot. The solution to starvation is
no longer eating; it’s the drug. And the relief from being
burned by an electrified grate is no longer in simply
stepping off that grate. The relief is in the drug. The drug and survival
are now so close together that as far as this addicted
midbrain is concerned, they’re the same thing. In other words, the
drug and actual survival are indistinguishable. This is what
happens when someone is in the throes of
their addictive cycle and craving a substance or
to engage in a behavior. The midbrain overpowers
the frontal cortex and takes control. [MUSIC PLAYING] It’s important to remember
that even with addiction, people can still make choices
and still be held accountable. Addiction can never
be used as an excuse to escape responsibility for
our choices and our actions. But understanding
the brain helps us make sense of the
chaos of addiction. Addiction can come
upon us quickly, without us being aware. As we use substances and
engage in addictive behaviors, our brains can quickly
become addicted. It’s hard to say
how long it takes or just what exactly
we’ve become addicted to. But once we’ve become addicted,
the substance or behavior becomes extremely important. The pleasure center of the brain
has changed and now prioritizes the substance or behavior. It becomes as though
it were life itself. So in addiction, something
goes wrong with the very part of the brain we use to tell
the difference between things that are good for survival
and things that are harmful. A neuroscientist would call this
the brain’s hedonic capacity. We can simply call it the
brain’s pleasure sense. For instance, we can
tell the difference between things like broccoli
and things like chocolate cake. And why do we have
a pleasure sense? Because we have to tell the
difference between something that is good and bad for us. If I am sick to my
stomach and nauseous, then even though I like
candy, chicken noodle soup might be better for me. And so, to identify and
prioritize those things in the environment that
are good for survival, the midbrain makes
them pleasurable. In addiction, this is
the sense that breaks. Now think about that. If you can’t perceive
light correctly, that’s called blindness. No one is going to question
your morality if you’re blind. If you can’t perceive
sound correctly, that’s called deafness. No one’s going to try
and throw you in jail and take away your
child if you’re deaf. But that word, pleasure,
is very morally loaded. It comes with a lot
of moral baggage. And so perhaps you
can see, if a person has a defect in
this brain sense, they’re far more likely
to be interpreted as being immoral than they ever
are as something akin to deaf or blind. What addiction is is a
defect in the brain’s ability to perceive,
process, and then act upon pleasurable experiences. And it’s because this brain
disorder’s about pleasure that these patients
are seen in moral terms and they make bad decisions
in response to being addicted. Because addiction
rewires the brain and causes us to see
things differently, there are many
implications for us. First, it helps us to
understand why it is so hard to quit an addiction. Many times we were able to get
some sobriety and clean time and may think that we
have finally beaten it. When we have cravings
or temptations to use, these are not signs that we
have failed or are somehow a sinful people. Rather, it signifies to us that
our brains have not yet healed. The midbrain has not
had the necessary time to adjust and revert
back to normal. [MUSIC PLAYING] But there is hope. We learn from neuroscience
that the brain is plastic, or than it can change. Just as wind and rain have
carved this majestic landscape, our brains can change as well. We just have to be patient and
to not engage in our addictions long enough for the
brain to begin to heal. Another application
of this knowledge is that it helps inform us
of what we need in order to overcome addiction. The Savior can heal us
and is there for us. However, we should
also do all that we can to help heal ourselves as well. If addiction significantly
impacts our brain, we should do everything we
can to help our brains heal. The first step is to pray
and to ask the Lord for help to heal and resist the cravings. We should also tell a family
member, spouse, and bishop. We should get a mentor or
someone who can be there for us when it is hard. We can attend 12-step
meetings and perhaps professional counseling. These actions and
others will help us as we move forward in giving
our brain the time to heal, to overcome addiction, and to
change the landscape not only of our mind but of our future. [MUSIC PLAYING]


  1. If a non-Christian is an addict who has been clean for a while and is yet struggling, what should he do first? Take the discussions so that references to prayer and God helping him make sense or just jump directly into the church's 12 step program? I have a friend I'd like to help, if I can.

  2. I am a member. I believe very strongly in the power of choice. The power to choose to have faith in an unseen God and his Son is at the core of my understanding. One of the ongoing issues I have with those who classify addiction as a disease along with cancer, colds, leukemia, and other types of sickness is that at one point, the addiction was a choice. I chose to look at pornography, smoke meth, or shoot heroin. I didn't have someone hold me down and repeatedly inject me until I became hooked.

    Maybe I don;t fully understand what the new definition of disease really is. I see one of the hardest things in recovery as moving beyond the feeling of "It's out of my control because it is a disease." I see the word disease as a way people ignore the responsibility of their choice.

    I get that there are physical side effects of continued use of drugs and pornography. I have seen the studies and read all the research.

    Maybe there needs to be a new definition of the condition resulting from a choice like this. Calling the actual addiction a disease puts it into the same category as things that are most of the time out of control of individuals. We are so quick to define something as a disease in order to get acknowledgement or official validation to be eligible for treatment.

    Maybe I lack the right kind of empathy. Maybe I lack real understanding of those who haven't yet understood the power of choice in their daily lives. Impulse control is about choice and accountability. Are we afraid to hold people accountable for their actions because they will have their feelings hurt? Can someone help me understand the other side of this without calling me names or labeling me as a way of discounting everything I say?

  3. This wonderful video explains the neurological issues surrounding addiction in an extremely straightforward and easily understood way while still focusing on the healing power of the Atonement. Thank you!

  4. I hope that this video will one day also be available in different other languages, because I think it will help many people ..

  5. I think it's actually the mentality of the addiction that wires the brain and not the brain itself causing the mentality. Also the mice could have been just a reflection in reality of us and this psychological addiction rooted in anxiety and not any particular substance.

  6. The comparisons are terrific and make addictions so much easier to understand, and understanding how addictions work is key to overcoming them. Very well done.

  7. Thank you so much! Like most diseases prevention is best and Satan knows that! I found it very inspiring and now it really makes sense! I guess I am a visual learner. I just read that conscious thought travels at 120 MPH and unconscious at 100,000 MPH! Correct me if I am wrong. That's a great reason to pray!
    Addiction's a disease
    You can ultimately die
    The pain does naught but increase
    Here is the explanation why…
    Think of your brain as a landscape
    Life and experience have formed its shape
    There's vast expanses full of bumps and grooves
    Carved out like the wind and water that moves
    The brain is a place you can see, visit, and explore
    Where we can consciously taste, feel, hear and more
    Walk along the cortex bumps, which are called gyri
    To the front lobes that rise up from those grooves called sulci
    Here form our thoughts, life goals, and personality
    In the bright sunlight of rationality
    Perhaps the Light of Christ is here in the mind?
    Here, all are given to know right and wrong ,we find
    As here is where we weigh out our options
    And we exercise agency and see cautions
    This is the part of the brain where we attach
    Here our bonds keeps us from behaving rash
    This is where spiritual meaning is found
    And where decisions of charity abound
    So when there is an addiction did this area break?
    Actually, they work deeper down, making it harder to shake
    The midbrain does not think to ask, "Why?" or "How?"
    It is primal for survival "in the now"
    It is also referred to as the natural man
    Here addictions hijack so pleasure can expand
    The mid-brain thinks it's needed for survival
    So, addicts, this is not a good time to be prideful
    Start the 12 step program, now, right away
    See your bishop and continually pray
    Through the atonement recovery is real!
    Still know this: it takes time for the brain to heal!

  8. I'm a former active member of the LDS Church… have a ton of respect for the people and the way of life. Great values and morals… resulting in happiness… no doubt when lived without the controlling factors involved in my opinion. But this is great technically sound information. Great video!

  9. Finally, a God -send. And I can share with people who are not interested in anything overly religious …Well done, thank you.

  10. This is a great video! It really helps us understand what goes on in the brain and helps us better target treat addiction. Thanks for publishing this video! Dr. Kevin McCauley is awesome.

  11. We serve in a woman's prison as
    ARP leaders and would like to show this video but we cannot take in electronic devices.
    we can bring in videos so would like to download this video to show the women. Is that possible?

  12. Thanks Doctor. I am a recovering addict who is in the hospital being administered heavy narcotics to alliviate pain. I have 11 1/2 months free from active addiction in its wrecking form. I appreciate you.

  13. It should be noted that although Dr McCauley makes a point of urging the addict to pray to be able to resist the temptations, we should go further, and commit the weakness (addiction) to the Savior to shoulder. There is little that we can do for ourselves to overcome our addiction. We can do everything expected of a Latter-Day-Saint, and one that is afflicted by an addiction, and still not overcome the addiction. It MUST be turned over to the Lord to permit healing. He has paid the price for it, and he owns the recovery of it.

  14. I'm glad we come a long way in understanding adiction. I can't help but to think about previous generations who suffered this awful disease just to be judged and not effective treatment provided to them.

  15. Thank you for this video. It definitely clears the air regarding addictive behaviour and hopefully it will open up new opportunities to effectively support those who suffer this condition.

  16. this has helped me understand addiction more than any other video i have watched …..i feel hope again for my kids addicted….they can heal their brains im just scared for them they wont make it …and have time to heal

  17. Also think about the words Nephi used to describe Laman and Lemuel. They were required to leave their gold, silver, and precious things and they thought they were going to perish in the wilderness. Because of this, Nephi called them stiffnecked. Basically, they needed a soft midbrain.
    And what counsel did Lehi give them? Continually run to the Savior for help and also be firm and steadfast and immovable in taking effective righteous action.
    If the Savior can visit Nephi and soften his heart, then surely He can visit any one of us and soften our midbrain.
    (1 Nephi 2:7-12)

  18. thank you for your willingness to share this. AA and NA will not ever allow you to help those in their programs because of the money they receive

  19. Thank you for these explanations who help so much understand what's really going on with addiction. I hope we can soon have it in french.

  20. So is there any neuro-science regarding time abstinence for specific addictions?
    ie, from last drink or last meth pipe to neurological recovery?

  21. Wow! That was honestly one of the best videos I have ever seen. It hit on so many levels: Knowledge-based, faith-based, science-based, psychology-based. This is a high-quality resource.

  22. I appreciate their approach to addressing both the neuroscientific and spiritual perspectives regarding addiction. I've slowly come to realize the transformation of my own mind as it heals from the destructive effects of pornography.

  23. I believe you But isn’t our choice to try Drugs and or behavior? Specially when we may know that certain things may be addicting? Have we somehow become deceived by the Devil or Deceived by our own selves?

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