When I was a kid growing up in Arlington, Massachusetts, I loved hearing the music blaring from the ice cream truck coming to our neighborhood on a hot summer day. Our ice cream man was a skinny, wrinkled, old man named Joe who was a bit crabby with us kids. Nevertheless, when we heard the music, we came running with our coins in hand. The sweet treats were so tempting!
Now imagine yourself as a kid running to get an ice cream from Joe’s truck across the street. Your instinctive brain wants the pleasure and calories of the ice cream and it drives you towards the truck. But because you have a pre-frontal cortex or thinking brain and you understand the dangers that moving cars represent, you stop at the curb and look before crossing.
That’s a good thing because there’s a big semi-truck rumbling your way and you wisely decide to wait for it to pass before crossing the street to get your much anticipated treat. When it passes and everything is safe, you sprint across and get in line. Now both your brains are happy!
But what about the person who’s developed an addiction? The addict’s thinking brain has been hijacked by his instinctive brain. The addict is both compulsive and impulsive. He is compelled to get what his brain—his instinctive or limbic brain—feels is necessary for survival. The addict’s thinking brain has been short-circuited and consequently weakened. He doesn’t have the braking system to stop at the curb and look for the truck or even wait for it to pass if he sees it. Sooner or later, as the addiction grows in intensity, the addict gets mowed down by the oncoming semi-truck.
In fact, that is a hallmark of addiction and part of the definition: being unable to stop doing the addictive behavior despite negative consequences. When you understand how powerful addictions can be you can begin to understand why addicts lie, cheat, steal and hurt others to get what their brains are convinced they need for their very survival.
People who get hooked on pornography sooner or later get hit by the truck. Case in point: New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. In 2011 he was amassing donations for a 2013 bid for the mayor of NYC. Sadly, his sexual addiction caused him to make unwise, risky and just plain stupid decisions. What was he thinking??? Well, he just wasn’t.