Well, well, well…A Rat Tale

In the 1950s scientists did one of those infamous experiments with rats: They stuck a wire into their little rat brains and turned on the juice … just for a second. And they taught the happy little rat that it could get more happy by pushing a lever and getting another buzz. And another and another. Pretty soon the happy little rat was so hooked on pushing the lever that he didn’t eat his rat food, make rat love, or do any ratty things. All that mattered was the next buzz—2,000 times an hour, 24 hours a day. He was addicted. And eventually…he was dead.
Thus began our understanding of addiction. We now know that stimulants like food, sex, alcohol, and drugs set off a system of chemical reactions in the brain that make us very, very happy. And they set off a system that keeps us coming back for more.
However, as the behavior becomes compulsive, eventually the brain is flooded with chemicals, and it becomes harder and harder to feel pleasure. That’s why it takes more—sex, alcohol, drugs—to get the now elusive pleasure. The chase for it becomes more and more intense as the buzz becomes less and less.
In short, that’s addiction.
In the case of drugs, crystal meth and cocaine are even more addictive than other options because they change the brain’s chemical processing system in two ways rather than one. Crack cocaine and injected heroin are also highly addictive because their effect is rapid and powerful.
The trap with a sex addiction is that there is a way to boost the diminishing pleasure: by adding risk to the encounter. Sex in a dangerous environment, with a stranger, in public, bareback—these can make the juices flow again. Literally. Especially in the brain.
So what separates the occasional party dude or dudette from the junkie? Control.
Addicts cannot take it or leave it. They cannot walk away from it forever. Addicts cannot stop—eating, drinking, cruising, partying—even when they no longer find it satisfying; even when they lose friends, partners, money, jobs; even when they know it could kill them.
Still they chase the buzz. Even when they know. Which only adds to their torment: “How can I be so stupid?!” In this case knowledge does not equal power.
Why would anyone continue to engage in something they fully understand is destroying their lives?
At least one theory is that the limbic part of the brain (emotion, motivation, desire) overrides the neocortex of the brain (rational thinking).
Whether your triggers are the arches of McDonald’s, a smoky bar, a hairy chest, or a line of coke, if you were wired up for a PET or MRI scan and presented with your choice of pleasure, you’d see the blood flowing freely to the limbic area of your brain but only trickling to the neocortex.
Desire trumps reason. The chase is on. Nothing else matters.
We do not yet understand why some people are more prone to addiction than others. We do know that men are more susceptible than women. Men use drugs sooner, longer, more often, and in larger quantities than women. Men are twice as likely to binge drink. They’re more likely to have affairs and engage in risky sex. Ah…those guys gone wild. They’re also more likely to land in a jail, a hospital, and a morgue. Ah…those guys gone dead.
So what’s the out-of-control person to do? Well, there are all kinds of treatment models—from abstinence to control, from support groups to outpatient and inpatient treatment programs. The choice should depend on an individual assessment of how a person is likely to best accept help.
But nothing works until the thinking starts. Change never happens without thinking about it first.
If you’re beginning to think you might not have control—if you feel like a rat pushing a lever more and more and getting less and less—check out these resources. Start thinking about it.
Living intentionally is the only thing that will save us.
(Information for this article was drawn from “Hooked,” by Laurence Gonzales, Men’s Health, October 2005.)
Well, Well, Well, Continued from page 10.
For more information, please refer to the following books:
Cruise Control : Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men
by Robert Weiss, ISBN 1555838219, Alyson Books, Paperback, July, 2005.
Tweakers : How Crystal Meth Is Ravaging Gay America
by Frank Sanello, ISBN 1555838847, Alyson Books, Paperback, February, 2005.
Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men, and Barebacking
by Michael Shernoff, ISBN 0415950244, Brunner-Routledge, October, 2005, Paperback.
Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction
by Patrick Carnes, ISBN 1568386214, Hazelden, May, 2001, Paperback
Well, Well, Well, Continued from page 10.
For more information, please refer to the following books:
Cruise Control : Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men
by Robert Weiss, ISBN 1555838219, Alyson Books, Paperback, July, 2005.
Tweakers : How Crystal Meth Is Ravaging Gay America
by Frank Sanello, ISBN 1555838847, Alyson Books, Paperback, February, 2005.
Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men, and Barebacking
by Michael Shernoff, ISBN 0415950244, Brunner-Routledge, October, 2005, Paperback.
Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction
by Patrick Carnes, ISBN 1568386214, Hazelden, May, 2001, Paperback

For more information, please refer to the following books:
Cruise Control : Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men
by Robert Weiss, ISBN 1555838219, Alyson Books, Paperback, July, 2005.
Tweakers : How Crystal Meth Is Ravaging Gay America
by Frank Sanello, ISBN 1555838847, Alyson Books, Paperback, February, 2005.
Without Condoms: Unprotected Sex, Gay Men, and Barebacking
by Michael Shernoff, ISBN 0415950244, Brunner-Routledge, October, 2005, Paperback.
Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction
by Patrick Carnes, ISBN 1568386214, Hazelden, May, 2001, Paperback
Alex Westerfelt, Ph.D., is the Director of the Healthy Living Project which promotes sexual, physical, and emotional health for gay and bisexual men in the Greater Kansas City area.

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