Originally written - July 30th, 2015 by White Wolf
In this third article I move into a very specific area that can many times be found under addictions. This is the subject of pain itself. This is a sensation no human being upon this earth is unfamiliar with or exempt from unless in the case of rare diseases that inevitably prevent a human body from living more than a few weeks to a few years. And when it comes to pain, no matter how painful it gets, the pain can always get worse.
To start to understand a little bit about why pain might be one factor behind certain addictions we need to understand a bit about pain itself. I am not talking about feeling or not feeling pain, but rather a very real look at the physical aspects of what pain is.
Pain itself can only be felt due to our nervous system, which of course is run and controlled by our brain. If the brain did not register what the nerves were picking up from the rest of the body, we would not feel pain. The brain itself contains no nerve endings to feel pain and so is the only part of our body exempt from feeling pain. Every other region of the body contains nerves in-which pain can be “felt”, but only by transmitting the sensation back to the brain to be processed and identified as pain.
Even though the brain processes what our nervous system picks up, there are two very specific regions of the brain responsible for the task of identifying the pain sensations of the body. They are the thalamus and the cortex. The thalamus is the first real region of the brain to receive nerve impulses registering pain sensations. Once the thalamus had identified the sensations as pain, it moves them to the cortex. The cortex is responsible for our complex thought patterns. Our thoughts pick up the thalamus’ transmissions and then tell us we feel pain, where and what kind.
Each cell in our body contains a surface much like our skin. The skin of the cell is coated in neurotransmitter receptors. These receptors are windows that allow pain messages to enter and communicate with surrounding cells.
Nociceptor’s are a different kind of nerve receptor that registers pain. They are basically very thin fibers of the nervous system, like minute tentacles that pick up pain impulses in our tissues. Nociceptors carry pain impulses directly to the spinal cord for their lightning fast journey to the brain. Typically you need to be smacked for the nocieptors to register pain as they only pick up strong pain sensations. This is unless you have been exposed to some kind of skin damage, which increases the nociceptors sensitivity level and then the slightest sensation can activate them into registering pain. The process is kind of a system to try preventing re-injury or continued injury of a damaged area.
All of the nerves that can register pain rely upon naturally produced chemicals in our bodies. Without these chemicals we could not feel pain. This is how pain medication works. The chemicals in the medication, in one form or another, block the body’s chemicals that allow the nervous system to pick up pain. Opioid drugs do just that, block the nervous system from feeling pain by inhibiting the chemical hormones of the body that allow the opiod receptors from transmitting pain to the brain.
It all comes down to the hormone production of the body’s endocrine system. Increased glutamate reduces pain register, which is one reason it is given to animals with arthritis. Serotonin levels dramatically drop in people just prior to a migraine fit. Prostaglandins are hormones that register pain and thus create feverish and inflammatory conditions.
A-Delta nerve fibers are responsible for picking up and carrying a style of pain known as “Sharp”. C-Fibers only carry other kinds of pain. In the science world of pain there are only 3 main kinds of which all pain is categorized under.
The sharp pain/fast pain includes all skin pain associations such as cuts, scrapes, abrasions, lacerations, splinters, rashes and the like. The A-Delta fibers quickly carry these types of sharp pain to the brain for identification. It allows for a type of first response reaction to quickly and specifically identify hazards that are attempting to more seriously harm the body.
The soreness and burning pains are carried by C-fibers and deal more with burns and inflammation. The C-fibers move pain sensory more slowly than A-delta fibers. The pain is slower to register and lasts longer than pain connected to A-delta fibers. The burning, sore pain ratios deal mostly with the skin and since they are slower to register they are harder to indentify exact locations.
The aching pain style also deals with the C-fibers, but work much deeper areas of the body like bone and organ. The pain is long lasting, can be excruciating, intolerable.
Interestingly both the A-delta fibers and the C-fibers can be activated during the same pain impulse which sends what is termed “Double Pain” sensations to the brain, so we can experience both a sharp pain and an aching pain at the same time.
The chemicals of Histamine, Endorphins, Globulin, Acetylcholine and Arachidonic Acid are all released upon the stimulation of pain. Epithelial receptors, Messner and Pacinian corpuscles are free nerve endings that sense pain in our bodies. No other nerve ending can sense pain.
Due to genetics some people have more free nerve endings than other people and also produce less of certain pain inhibiting chemicals, which allows them to feel more pain and thus deal with it less affectively in general. Redheads are one genetic line that falls into this category.
Now how does this help us understand how pain can accompany, support, intensify or diminish addictive behaviors? Pain is based upon nerves and chemicals in the body and the brain’s ability to register the unique communication pathways between them. If the brain does not develop properly in childhood because of extreme trauma then it can create interferences, enhancements and other imbalances within the make-up of those chemicals responsible for the identification of pain in the nervous system. The cortex of the brain can also develop in ways that does not seek to avoid pain, but rather run towards it so to speak.
If a child is abused over and over and the abuse is physically painful, their cortex may develop with the understanding that pain releases chemicals that can in small ways help free them from the pain and assist in dissociation. An intense euphoric state separates the consciousness from the body, removes the consciousness from feeling pain, sadness, misery, grief and the like. The overproduction of chemicals such as acetylcholine can also create a sort of invincibility to pain. What can occur in such cases is the brain develops in ways to dissociate from pain and move into a mental high. This can process could lead to addictions later in life when the physical pain stops. Stress in life can be more than enough to drive the grown child to seek that mental high, and this many times happens through addictions. The brain has been trained in that survival mechanism in childhood and later in life can fall back to that primal cycle because it found it was proven sets of techniques to cope.
In other cases an abused child or a child who lives through extreme trauma may end up producing such chemical releases from the intense and ongoing stress. The brain could do the same thing in using the chemical release as a survival instinct to dissociate so the mind and body do not breakdown.
Yet another scenario is an aggressive child could fight back against the trauma in physical ways, fighting, anger and whatnot. This in-turn can create painful situations compiled upon the original layers of extreme stress and pain. Their fighting back actions can bring about more production of those chemicals released during pain and create a sense of invincibility, competitive drive to win over their oppressors or yet another state of an almost euphoric dissociation through the extreme aggressive or competitive state.
No matter how we look at it or what circumstances may have occurred originally in childhood, each of them allows for an escape route based in primal survival instincts of the body to cope with the intensity of life. This imprints the brain and later in life under stress the brain can revert to using those previously imprinted survival tactics to once again cope with life’s challenges.
Smoking, gambling, sex, alcohol, fighting… they can all lead the cortex of the brain to various states of euphoria which helps the person dissociate from the challenges they do not want to face, the old traumas hidden deep within their minds.
With me it was fighting. When I was abused in childhood through regular and ongoing beatings, screaming, emotional and mental abuse, anger and rage I rose up to fight back. At first it was inside. I was far too young to physically fight back. I had no choice but to take the punishment and endure. This meant my body created pain inhibiting chemicals far more often than the average person. They would flood my nervous system and brain and help me dissociate from the situations. Once I started physically fighting back those same chemicals would release and take me into a kind of “high”. The pain I endured in fighting would only further stimulate the chemical release as well as allow me to dissociate into an emotional state of fighting the abusers of my younger childhood, both became a sort of release for me. The traumas were so deep and powerful I had not the tools at those young ages to deal with them and so the only way I knew how to relieve the constant mental and emotional turmoil was to fight and try attaining that high which would both help remove me from the pain and release my focus on the darkness of the past for a little while.
I was addicted so I fought and fought and fought until I was recruited into the S.O.E.S. training facility within the special operations group contained in the special activities division. From there my addiction was only enhanced, redirected and used against me and for the imbalanced purposes of others.
In my civilian life my addiction to fighting slowly drove away friends and alienated me from various blood family relations. To them it was all my fault and something they had no desire to help me with. Underneath they were not true friends at all and abandoned me to my misery I could not even come close to understanding. Only through years and years of struggle, pain, near death events, dark and filthy paths did I find people who knew how to help me help myself. People who genuinely cared.
Addictions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are blatant and others well disguised. And the primal survival instincts our body has evolved with in response to pain can be a big factor.
Once again I hope this helps whoever it needs to help in whatever way it may. To your peace of mind and heart.
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Elder White Wolf: