Patience is a skill that addicts generally lack. They may have had a firm grasp on the concept of patience at some time in the past, but with addiction, that skill just slowly disappeared. Waiting and giving things time to progress is a concept that is altogether alien to a veteran addict. How can it be any other way, considering that he needs that next bump just to survive, or at least he believes he does.
There is a bit more behind the general lack of patience among addicts though. Midbrain – the part most affected and stimulated by addiction is one of the parts directly responsible for encouraging activities that contribute to survival. It releases dopamine in the pleasure centers of our brain to make sure we create pleasurable memories of doing things that help us stay alive and survive for longer. Eating, drinking, making love and even such seemingly trivial activities as breathing and blinking.
Sadly we have little to no direct control over this part of our brain, it runs on instinct and impulse alone. As a matter of fact, midbrain is directly responsible for rash and impulsive acts. Everything that you have ever regretted doing in the heat of the moment is all to do with your midbrain making you feel good about whatever you need to do in order to survive. Well, it thinks it is a matter of life and death, and it may have been at some point in our evolutionary path, but in this day and age midbrain might tell you to do such “survival” oriented acts as cheating on your partner because the need to procreate is very strong in every living organism. Likewise, it may tell you to punch someone who simply said something you did not particularly like because your midbrain felt challenged and decided a “fight or flight” response is in order. In this particular case – fight. Overstimulated midbrain makes people act rash and irresponsible. A hungry person spurred on by his midbrain may steal food to feed himself rather than paying for it as our culture dictates. The need to feed is so strong, that it overrides the sense of shame and any values of honesty and self-respect.
Addiction tricks midbrain into thinking that use of drugs is a vital activity to survival by overstimulating it with pleasurable chemicals. This causes addicts to become less and less reasonable and patient.
The brain needs to survive. Drugs made brain feel like it did something benefitting its survival. Brain issues continuous impulses to use in order to survive.
It is a “catch22” situation with only one possible outcome at the end of this loop – death. Either by overdose or chronic internal organ failure.
One of the core pillars of any recovery plan is re-introduction of patience, as a concept, to the addict. They need to be reminded how patience is a virtue and an important part of fully functional adult life in today’s society. This is achieved by minor exercises that gradually get explored further during the addict’s recovery plan. Solving Rubik’s cubes, doing crossword puzzles and playing sudoku at first. Yoga, being made to wait in line to receive something, working towards a reward that will not arrive for a while – all these things teach the addict how to deal with impatient feelings and impulses. They also teach empathy and the ability to put someone else before you, being selfless.
Exercise is another excellent way to learn the value of patience. The idea of working hard today for benefits that will come tomorrow is slowly but steadily re-introduced in your brain as a normal thing.
Many recovering addicts have reported great success in teaching themselves patience by taking on a big project or signed up for a new course in some school of their interests. Anything that puts aside the “instant gratification” mindset that addicts brain is so used to, is like a breath of fresh air, even if it is difficult to accept and cope with at first.
All good things require patience. Building a house. Rebuilding a classic car. Making a detailed painting. It can seem painstakingly slow and unsatisfying at first, but when you hang that picture or rev that car for the first time, it was all worth it. The turtle was right – slow and steady does win the race.