From drug addict to behavioural neuroscientist - a story about change w/Judy Grisel

Nexum bi-weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in change management.

Hosted by Morten Kamp Andersen

It’s not really hard. You just have to change your whole life”. We can all imagine how hard that must be. Nevertheless, that was the reality Judy Grisel faced, when she took the incredible journey from substance abuse to rehab to becoming an internationally recognized behavioural neuroscientist and a professor in psychology. She has authored the book, ‘Never Enough’ and given one of the best Tedx Talks, I have seen. 

In this episode, we look at addiction. What it is. How it affects our brain. And how we break free from it. Why? Because breaking an addition is a major change. One we can learn a lot from. Addiction can be many things. It can be an addiction to your phone. Your coffee. Or your daily glass of wine. I have invited Judy to tell us about her personal story and to find out, how we can break addiction and make a change. 


  • What is addiction and what does it do to our brain
  • How she broke her addiction and her criteria of success 
  • Why it is critical not to start taking abusive measures before the age of 18
  • How finding new (healthy) ways to release dopamine can help you change
I thought my drug was the solution to my problems. Not the cause.
Judy Grisel


Are you too busy? Don’t worry, I have collected three key takeaways from the podcast. I hope it inspires you to go listen. 

#1 Find new ways to release dopamine

Finding new rewards is critical to breaking addiction. You need healthier ways to get your dopamine. Find new passions; it could be sport, entrepreneurship or an exciting project. 

#2 Denial is the first major barrier

As Judy says: “I thought my drug was the solution to my problems. Not the cause”.  Denial is the biggest barrier to breaking addiction. Until you become aware of the need for change, chances are, you will never change. 

#3 Early is bad

Our brains are plastic and amazing. But if we start drinking - or taking any other abusive measure – too early, it will impact our brains forever. By example, if you start drinking by the age of 14, you have 7x the chance of developing an alcohol problem than if you had waited until you were 21 or longer. 



Your opinion means a lot. Remember to leave a review or a comment, if you liked what you’ve heard. It is very helpful for our reach.

If you want to know more about change and how to make a change stick, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunesSpotifyGoogle or Stitcher or read more on our website:


EP6 - Judy Grisel

Tue, 9/15 3:06AM • 51:20


addiction, drug, brain, people, addicted, marijuana, alcohol, dopamine, substance addiction, craving, feel, change, life, permanent, years, substances, developing, problem, smoke, important


Judy Grisel, Morten Andersen

Morten Andersen  00:05

Hello, and welcome to What Monkeys Do. My name is Morten Kamp Andersen. And this is a podcast about what it takes to make a change and make it stick.

Morten Andersen  00:21

In What Monkeys Do, we explore what it takes to make a change. But change is a broad category. Some of the changes are small, and some of them are major. Addiction is in the this is really hard to change category. Most of us are not in the situation that we have to break free of substance addiction, and thank God for that. But being addicted to our phone is probably something many of us can relate to. And if I asked you to put away your phone for the next three days, you're probably notice how badly you want it. And many of you may not even succeed with that. Addiction does more than take over our lives. It changes our brain as well, and sometimes even permanently. And that is one of the reasons why addiction is such an important change to make. Our guest is an internationally recognized behavioral neuroscientist. She's a professor of psychology at Bucknell University. She has written the excellent book, Never Enough the neuroscience and experience of addiction, truly fantastic book. She's given a great TEDx talk. I'll recommend you all to see it. It's called Never Enough. And through her research, she is looking for the root causes of drug addiction, something we'll talk a lot about today. So with that introduction, welcome to you, Judy Grisel.

Judy Grisel  01:42

Thank you. It's great to be here, Morten.

Morten Andersen  01:44

Great. Before we begin to talk about what addiction is and what it does to us and how to break free from it. I just want to hear a little bit about your personal story. Because even though you now have a PhD and your professor and you seem to have everything sorted. Actually, you have experienced substance addiction firsthand. Can you maybe share your personal story?

Judy Grisel  02:08

Sure, I'd be glad to, I guess in a way, it's characterized by extreme changes. I had a sort of average upbringing and was comfortable and grew up in the northeast of the United States. Myself, maybe I wasn't quite so comfortable, I think I tended toward being a little overly sensitive. Let's say we can maybe get into that later. But I kind of at a whim, drank a large amount of alcohol right around the time of my 13th birthday. And that literally changed the direction of my whole life. So I went from kind of a sweet girl to one that was very quickly out of control. After that first good drink, which was really had a profound impact on my inner experience, my outer experience totally changed too. And I quickly was using marijuana and then everything else I could get my hands on. And so I went and very rapidly, kind of in this descending swirl, where I was kicked out of three schools, I contracted hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles. I hit bottom, right around my 23rd birthday, so just 10 years later from cocaine, and which I was using intravenously living at that point in South Florida, but I also was homeless on and off and kind of ended up without many friends including my myself. I mean, I really didn't even like myself so I can understand why no one else like me. I guess this was fortuitous, but I ended up in a treatment center. This was in the mid 80s. And at that point, I had no idea what a treatment center was. I said I was pretty young, but You know, wasn't so clear, I thought I was maybe going something like a spa. And it's kind of a luxury I talked about in the book, how I ended up my parents meant to take me there, even though they hadn't spoken with me in a few years. But it wasn't a spot all the people had, you know, nurses uniforms, and it was more like a boot camp for sick people. But I learned that I was dying, sort of slowly, or I guess it's hard to say, but I was definitely headed toward my own demise, and that if I wanted to live at all, then I had to really change. I remember very clearly still thinking, Oh my gosh, this is terrible news because I can't live with my drugs, which are the only thing worth living for. That was kind of the start of my recovery. I remember one of the things I learned in treatment, some guy came I think he said it every Tuesday. He said, it's not really hard. You just have to change your whole life. At the time I thought Come on, but it turns out that that was true.

Morten Andersen  05:05

That's a fantastic story if you manage to get through that rehab or that spa and get back to university getting a PhD and you're now a professor What made you go that route of what why did you choose to go back to university and go all the way to to research this area?

Judy Grisel  05:26

Well, you make it sound like it was quick and easy, which it definitely was not my mindset at the time, as you could probably imagine. Well, first of all, I wasn't thinking too clearly. And I also was absolutely devastated. And if you had looked at me from you know, across the room or probably down the block, you could have seen that I didn't have many good prospects. So I I really was lacking insight or a much but I guess I liked everything. Except perseverance, which I think is a trait that addicts have in spades. So you know, don't tell me what I can and can't do. So when, when the treatment center said, you know, you, you won't be able to live if you keep using in my own little dark mind I thought, don't tell me I I'll find a way. And I had found lots of ways through my life, my short 10 years on kind of the streets. So I thought to myself, look, they say I have a disease and diseases, which I know nothing about really can be cured. And so I'm going to cure it, and then I'll be able to use, I had really no intention at the time of staying clean and sober my whole life. So this is a 1986. So I celebrated 34 years, about a month ago. And you know, I didn't expect to live for 34 more years and I sure didn't think I would stay clean, but But I thought I would fix it. And I always had a kind of an affinity for biology. So I sort of took it for granted that my problem was in my brain and I could see how my response was very different from others who seemed more reasonable, you know, who would maybe not use if they were putting their life at risk and not do so many crazy things. So I knew, you know, I had a little bit of a different way of thinking about drugs and getting high. And anyway, I figured, okay, I'm going to fix this. And for some reason, and this, I really am thankful for this little quirk of my brain, but I, I figured I started using about 10 years ago, but I think I was only really a bad addict for maybe seven years. So if I stay sober for seven years, I'll be able to fix it, and then it will sort of even out and I'll be able to normally consume drugs you know, like, socially consumed. Um, so that was my great dream. And I really set to it with the same kind of determination that I had set to finding and using substances that when I look back now, I don't think I would have had the energy but at the time, it was kind of like a swimming to an island across a stormy sea, you know, I wasn't gonna I was either gonna sit there and drowned, or I was gonna make it. And so I just pushed and pushed. And I have a very strong will, which is both a strength I guess, and a liability.

Morten Andersen  08:32

Yes. Fantastic. So you've obviously you started off getting a lot of experience, and now you have a lot of what I would call theoretical knowledge. And you have written a phenomenal book on addiction. But let's just start with the beginning. What is addiction?

Judy Grisel  08:48

Well, that's a great question. And thank you for that words about the book. I will say that the field argues about this and we change the definition and like most things, we don't quite know But I would say at the core addiction happens when the debt that you've accrued by borrowing good feelings from the future comes due. We'll get to that, I guess. But more more medically, maybe it's characterized by five things. craving, which means that you're really spend your time occupied with thinking about how to get and use and hide your use and save money for your use and only do things that enable you to use so craving consumes your mind. And then tolerance and dependence which are kind of due directly as is craving to changes in the brain. But tolerance happens when you need more and more of the drug to get the same effect. And dependence you can tell you have when you feel less than normal or less than Well, when you think Don't have the drug. So people are, say dependent on cigarettes or nicotine. They know that because if they don't smoke, they feel a huge amount of craving. And they feel definitely more irritable and more anxious and have a harder time concentrating than they would if they just smoked a cigarette. So when the when the drug makes you feel normal, then you are addicted. That happens because of these three things. Unfortunately, there are two more sort of qualifiers about it. One is that it has to be deleterious. So it has to hurt the individual and society usually. So there's a cost. And sometimes I say, you know, you're having a problem with substances if the costs of you're using outweigh the benefits, but I'm very dependent, for instance, on caffeine, but I don't think it's a problem because caffeine is actually not that for you unless you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. no reason not to Drink copious amounts of coffee may even protect against some neurodegenerative disorders. So I don't think I'm addicted to caffeine, just dependence because I do withdraw if I don't have it. And then the last criteria, which is sort of the most frustrating, I think, and the one we know the least about, but it's the most frustrating for people who are trying to help people get well is that the individual who's suffering is denying the cause of their own suffering. You know, when I went to treatment, as I said, I was looking for the spa, because I knew my life was a mess. It was really just a disaster in every area, but I did not think it had anything to do with my drug use, I thought my drug is was the solution to my problems, not the cause. And that's really typical. If I had a brain tumor, and people said you need to do this or if I was diabetic, and they said, You know, I think I would say, Oh, Okay, I got it, you know, do the treatment and change But with addicts, we say no, no, no, you got it all wrong. And so that's really difficult. And I don't I don't know the neuroscience of that, but the other, the craving and tolerance and dependence are pretty clear from the perspective of a brain.

Morten Andersen  12:14

And I guess that denial is also part of how you why you can actually have an addiction for very, very, very long time without making any changes or wanting to do any changes. And therefore you might also hide it for from other people, because you're in denial that this might even be an issue.

Judy Grisel  12:34

It's unbelievable. Actually, it's sort of a requirement for I think, having an addiction and then the more the more you sort of surround your life or make your life about drugs, the more denial grows and i i think it's not only a problem, before we recognize it, but in in recovery, I was just talking with someone yesterday and this person is a little younger than And then to the hospital several times, and social services are involved in her children. And, you know, she's always determined, and then I just don't hear from her. And she, for some reason, thought it would be different this time. And so it's just heartbreaking. It's really tough. Yeah.

Morten Andersen  13:19

Yes. So when I read about the 1960s, and I wasn't born then, but the 1960s and 70s. Obviously, drugs were also popular, then it's something that is more of a problem today, or is it about the same level? Or has it always been? What can you tell us about how this has evolved over the last 50 years?

Judy Grisel  13:41

Sure. So since the beginning of time, and people have been taking substances to change the way they feel and think and act. What's new since probably industrialization is using alone. So normally, you know, in our long evolutionary history, we took drugs as part of a community ritual. That's no longer the case. And we've always used kind of the best things we could find. So people, you know, in the early part of the 19th century, were discovering stimulants. And then opiates were popular, you know. So there are the big classes of drugs and they kind of wax and wane with time, but more or less, you know, it's one or the other or more than one. But I think what's changed since the 1970s is two things. And these account for actually the increased incidence of addictive disorders all around the globe. And those two things are the potency of drugs that are available. You know, I smoked marijuana non stop as sort of chain smoke did in the 70s and early 80s. But it was much less potent than it is now. So you could do that. The more potent it is, the more addictive it is, the more Causes craving tolerance independence so I was able to develop that because I smoke so often but if it's more potent than you can take it less frequently and get this you know the same I guess you could say benefit. The other thing besides potency is availability you know, everything is more available information is more available. Pollution is more available, you know, we're more connected than ever before. You know, you could take an old standby like alcohol, which has been used since people first found out that fermented fruits and grains made them feel a little funny. But now it's there's so many different concoctions and even very many different concoctions and when I quit, so, um, you know, sometimes I'll look and I'll think, Oh my gosh, didn't have that many forms of vodka, you know, just basically plain vodka, which was pretty good, but it's really stunning. I guess, that at the same time, the instances have serious problems with substances as grown and grown and grown. The attractiveness and the promotion and the widespread acceptance of the substances is grown and grown and grown. So I think those two are not unrelated.

Morten Andersen  16:15

So I'm not based in us, but it appears that in us you are having a big discussion at the moment about how bad are these drugs after all, so in your book, you talk about many different types of substance addictions, you talk about alcohol, you talk about psychedelics, opiates, stimulants, coffee, nicotine, but also ecstasy and all of those things. But it seems like there is a big discussion about psychedelics, but certainly also marijuana in us at the moment. Is that correct? That that there is a bigger discussion around that and whether it should be legalized and if it's harmful at all, or is that just something that is federal? We're here on the other side of the pond?

Judy Grisel  16:54

No, I think you're exactly right. You're getting the information as I I think it is. First of all, I would say that psychedelics are not put in the same category as marijuana, for the most part, and I don't think that scientists put them in the same category. And I don't think that the discussion is lumping them together right now. So we are seeing much more widespread acceptance and legalization of marijuana. I think there's a few reasons for that. I think that young people, you know, they want to do things their own way. They don't want to do what their parents do. And they look around and see the kind of sloppiness of alcohol use and misuse and they think that's not really for me. At the same time. There's been a lot of market interest in developing a market for marijuana and technological advances, the ones that enabled vaping of nicotine that enable delivery of high potency THC, you know, basically at your doctor's office, I mean, you could, you could use it anywhere. And so again, it's more available, it's more potent. As always, we're looking for something to change our experience. And so people are using that more often. And there has been in the US since the 1960s or 70s, you know, for good 50 years, a strong lobby to promote the use of marijuana and it was done in a pretty very clever way to call to say that marijuana was medicinal. There's actually no evidence that THC is medicinal, but you wouldn't know it from you know, the medical marijuana dispensary is I kind of joke that we should have medical wine dispensaries too and what's medicine when you get right down to it, but I think medicine should be something that is shown with careful empirical studies to benefit rather than harm. And I don't think that's the case of there's a terrific paper about a year ago in, I think the Lancet, there was no medical benefit from marijuana and at least two clear indications of harm. One has to do with an increased risk of psychosis, which is a primary characteristic of schizophrenia, and which is a really disabling disorder. And people in another study, think that probably close to 40% of new incidence of schizophrenia is attributable to smoking high potency THC. Mm hmm. So that's a serious harm. And then the other one is cognitive impairments. And I'm really sympathetic here because I absolutely love smoking marijuana. I thought it was a lot of fun. I don't think maybe I was an individual So at risk for the psychotic experiences, I found it fun and relaxing. But I do think that there's a lot of misinformation. So that, you know, the scientific information isn't getting out. And meanwhile, it's all over the place. And I should say, you know, I hear from people often, probably at least once a week, saying, I really connected with what you wrote about in the book about marijuana, my own experience, because they started using it to help them cope with something like anxiety. And now, you know, they're very anxious and can't leave their house. So they're smoking as much as they can, but they're tolerant and dependent. So it's a real love misinformation campaign, I think. Yes. Okay.

Morten Andersen  20:58

So you're specialized In, in neuroscience, that means that you're interested in the brain and you try to find out, how does addiction impact our brain? And what do we know? And obviously, there are many unfortunate side effects of addiction, especially when we talk about substance abuse. But I think one of the things that is really interesting is the effect that it does have on our brain. Can you tell us a little bit about what we know that addiction have an effect of on our brain?

Judy Grisel  21:28

Sure. I think all that we've said about addiction so far could be understood in terms of adaptation or learning. other organs like the liver sort of learns to you know, if you the number of enzymes and the amounts of enzymes can go up and down according to what you're consuming and stuff like that. But the brain is just a master at predicting and responding to its environment. There's nothing like it. Not even a Computer, it's just brilliant. So in the case of addiction, what we're really talking about is the brain has the ability to predict and respond to the regular use of drugs. And it does. So in order to kind of maintain control you can say. So if the function of our brain is to tell us what's happening in the world, what might be important to pay attention to because it's either good for us or you know, future love interest or some juicy fruit or something, or something bad for us something scary or dangerous, and the only way we could really know if something good or bad is happening is if we can tell that it makes us feel differently. So I am able to detect good or bad news and then to respond to that good or bad news appropriately, because I feel a sort of neutral state otherwise So if I met you on the street morning and I said, you know how you're doing and he said, Oh, I'm okay, that would be your kind of neutral day. And then if something wonderful happens, like, you run into a great friend that you haven't seen in a long time, you would be happy and that would be an indication that this is something wonderful happening. And if something terrible happened, likewise, you know, going the other direction, but let's say you're high you're you know, you're using narcotics, which are opiate drugs like heroin, and then you would be walking around on the street feeling pretty darn good. And so you run into your friend your it doesn't really have a big impact. And if something terrible happened, you know, you'd be sort of able to transcend that which is part of the appeal of opiates, but it's also not good for survival, you can imagine because you wouldn't be able to tell good or bad things. So the brain needs to maintain this neutral okay state so that good and bad things. can sort of be put on top of that. And it does that by adapting. So if I take a drug like an opiate that makes me feel warm and safe and euphoric. My brain counteracts that by making me feel cold and in danger, and dysphoric or unhappy so that the net effect is neutral. And that way, if you if I run into my friend or something bad happens, I'll be able to tell. So it's all about survival. And the brain is so great at adapting that any drug you take on a regular basis to change the way you feel the brain produces the opposite effect. And this is why we were talking about dependence earlier and that being characterized by withdrawal and withdrawal from any drug is always the exact opposite state of the one you took the drug for to begin with. My withdrawal to caffeine is that I'm lethargic without it. If I drink alcohol on a regular basis to relax after work, then I'm anxious. If I take something to make me wake up, then I'm tired and bored. So if I take a drug to make me reduce pain to feel less pain than I actually suffer when I'm withdrawing, so it's always that case. And the reason for that is when you add the brains response, and the drugs response, the drugs effects together, you get kind of neutral.

Morten Andersen  25:33

And it's that neutral state that the brain is trying to maintain. And I guess, on one hand, I get what you're saying that the brain is, is really a fantastic organ. It's very clever. But on the other hand, I don't really think it sounds very clever because all it's really doing is trying to maintain a neutral state and it will even become addicted to something that maybe the prefrontal cortex should know that it is not good for you but it will still become addicted. Because what is really looking for is, I guess positive and negative signals to maintain that neutral state. So, in a sense, you can trick your brain with drugs to get you into another state. And you can override that with your frontal part of your brain, I suppose.

Judy Grisel  26:17

Yeah, no, it's a good point. So when you first when I first started using or when anybody first begins, the frontal lobe is making, you know, helping you make a choice. Oh, this seems fun. Or many people pick up as adolescents and their brain is organized to make them try new things and take risks. So perfect, you know for exploring the seas but also for trying a new substance that somebody hands you so the frontal lobe makes that decision and in early stages, you know, is very much involved. But the more you're using that happens, the more it becomes a habit and then a method of coping. Which is largely either coping with regular disappointments or coping with withdrawal, and then your craving and dependence. So it, it happens very quickly. Because the frontal lobe is not involved in addictions that much. And there we have these subcortical circuits that are kind of important for habits and compulsions. And so I would say, the first time I picked up that alcohol, you know, I really made a choice and I thought, Oh, this will be fun. And I'm not sure I made so many choices at all in that 10 year period, until I got sober and decided to give another way a try. You know, it was almost like stimulus response, somebody would give me the opportunity to try something and I was right away, you know, in that direction. You're right. It wasn't, you know, my brain wasn't doing a very good job there. But I think that it did ensure That the drugs work to less and less well, yes. And so therefore, and this is the case with every single addict, your best friend is is now the only thing that gives you consolation. And it's not working that great.

Morten Andersen  28:17

Yes. As you say you build up a tolerance for whatever drug it is that we're talking about. So in the beginning, you need maybe a little bit and it has a big effect, but then you need more and more of it. What exactly is it that happens in your brain during that tolerance period?

Judy Grisel  28:35

So every drug that's addictive, activates this core mesolimbic dopamine pathway, it's a really small set of neurons as neuron sets go, I guess, from somewhere around the top of your spinal cord to the spot behind your eyeballs sort of on both sides. And that spot is called the nucleus accumbens. So people may have heard of that and that's When dopamine is squirted out into the nucleus accumbens, by a drug, or by chocolate cake, or by a really great kiss, or a terrific idea, music, it's, it gives you a kind of a feeling of thrill and excitement and sort of, like it's really important and interesting. So all drugs are addictive because they exploit that pathway. And what that pathway then does is it encourages you to do the drug again, or have some more cake or marry the person. So anyway, this pathway is good for us in a way, it's good for our survival, but all the drugs exploited. And because we can get as much of the drug as we want often and they're potent, they're kind of better than a human being or natural reinforcer. And so what happens is for people like me and I'm constantly trying to get that dopamine release the dopamine releases dopamine release, and it gets insensitive. Just like someone who eats too many sugars can become insensitive to insulin, you know, or someone who listens to their music too loud, their ears don't work. So by I had to keep taking more and more and more. And every time I did that, I would try to drive this dopamine system harder, and it would lessen its sensitivity. And one other factor, I think that plays a huge role is that this system is especially primed in our lessons. And when you're using as an adolescent, the system is sort of shaped under those circumstances. And that's for good reason because it helps you decide what to spend your life on. You know, I really like this kind of music or I really want to live in this sort of area or I want to, you know, this is my lifestyle I'm choosing, but if it's drugs that are doing it, then It sort of instantiates the tendency to use those drugs kind of in a permanent way. So there's evidence that people like me who developed an addiction, as an adolescent are kind of permanently deafened to the dopamine. That's why it's so one of the reasons it's so hard to change. And there's a tendency toward relapse, you know, also in reason that, so if you if you hit bottom with alcohol, you know, you might try another drug because it might activate the dopamine in a slightly different way.

Morten Andersen  31:38

So you said that impact to your brain actually can become permanent? Under what circumstances? Will it become permanent? Can you become permanently addicted to your telephone? Or does it have to be a specific type of substance abuse? Or what would you say?

Judy Grisel  31:55

First of all, I should be a little humble here because it's hard to do these studies in humans. Because we can't really assess the tone in the direct way that we can do in animal studies. But the first and probably the most important factor in determining whether it becomes permanent is the age of stimulation. And so when you're developing So up until for the brain sake about age 25, the experiences you have are built into the structure and the permanent function of the brain. After the brain has matured, and the circuits are all kind of laid down and set up, you can still become insensitive, but it's less likely to be permanent. So the earlier you start using, and the more you use, the more often and the higher the dose, the more likely you are to have permanent changes. Now those are permanent changes in neuro chemistry, the mapping of neuro chemistry under behavior is not perfect. I'm somebody who would argue that despite the say, the liability that's kind of built into my brain circuits, there's room for resilience, always. And one one factor that I think really helped me. So I've just said that people who were younger than 25 have an increased risk for developing an addiction. But I stopped right at the time of my 23rd birthday. And I think this is also an increased opportunity or an enhanced opportunity for intervention and for change. So my brain was still plastic. And so some of that may have come back. But also, one of the things I appreciate about connecting brains to behavior, which is really what so much research is about my own and other people's is that there's, we haven't been able to do it exactly. So we see that the brain enables behavior, and it constrains behavior, but it doesn't really determine behavior. Hmm. One of the things that helped me that kind of connects with this is, I had a goal, and I had something to really strive for. And addicts are sort of experts in striving for goals, you could say, you know, they don't, they're not you're not going to stop them. In other words, if they're going to, so I think the fact that my goal was not my, my goal for learning, turned out to not be self destructive, but was helpful to me. It gave me something to do, you know, wasn't as good as cocaine in some ways, and I felt that I'm not gonna lie. It wasn't like, oh, which is better, but it was it was something that was compelling and open ended and interesting and in those ways, very much tapping into the dopamine system.

Morten Andersen  35:00

In popular literature's there's a lot of talk about plasticity of the brain. That's something throughout your entire life, you can remodel your brain so to speak. It seems like there is a before 25 and after 25 in terms of how much you can change your brain, is that correct?

Judy Grisel  35:19

Yeah, I wouldn't say it's quite that bright of a line. So your entire life from basically the time the nervous system begins to develop in utero, until you die. Your brain is plastic, it's the brain's greatest attribute. It can change as a result of experience. But its ability to change is really dependent on your age, your developmental time. And it's much better able to change and children than adults. If I try to learn something new these days, it's so frustrating because you know, it takes me much longer. Whereas, if you talk to a eighth grader They are like sponges. And they are because their brain is in a totally different state or primed to take in information and organize the structures. And that critical periods we talk about critical periods in neuroscience and in developmental psychology, there are times when the brain's capacity to change is highly tuned to what's going on in the environment. Up until age 25, what's really happening is the synapses, and the kind of highways and byways are being laid down. Now, after they're laid down, I can build a little cul de sac here and there, but it takes a lot more work. But while they're being laid down, this is such an important and potent time for setting up who I am and what I'm going to do, which is why most people who develop a drug use disorder beginning using before they're 18. There's some for instance, I was just talking to my daughter who's about to go off to university in a year and I said, you know, if you drink alcohol to the point of getting drunk before you're 18, your overall chances of being alcohol dependent are about one in four. And since you have a mother like me, let's see 1 in 3 Yes. But if you wait till you're 21, so this is three years, your chances are about one and 25 Wow. And that is because before you're 21, and if you can wait to your 25 instead of 21, that's even better. But because before that time, the brain is specifically evolved to respond in a way that concretizes your experiences in your future plans.

Morten Andersen  37:58

So in what monkeys do is a popular cost about change. And I would therefore like to talk a little bit about how we can use our knowledge of addictions. So its characteristics and its impact on our brain to say something about how we break addiction. So how we can make a change? So let me start by asking a little bit about how much we know of solving addiction. I mean, we've scanned the brain for the last 40 years, and we've met the you know, you know, how much do we understand about the course and the cure for addiction?

Judy Grisel  38:32

Well, I think we understand more and more about both of those things, from individual molecules attached to DNA, to synapses to brain circuits to whole people and communities. We know a lot about the latent risks for addiction. So which kinds of molecules predict a higher incidence of problems and we also know more about what happens to those things as an addiction develops, which is, as we say, a result of the brain changing in response to chronic drug use the the field of how the brain can predict or collaborate with recovery. There's less known, but I think this is an area of much research at the moment. And a lot of what we've been saying connects to that new research. And that is that one of the things is that you can't tell anybody probably but especially people like me that stop doing it, just don't do it. That I think is not effective, but having other rewards. So can you do this instead of that, you know, that is killing you. But here's another opportunity and I think One of the reasons, many of the reasons I was successful have to do with the opportunities that I was afforded to change. Hmm. And I think if if someone is punished, and then told, just don't do it, I don't think there's any evidence either in society or in the brain that that's a good strategy. Whereas if someone is supported in developing new interests, and those interests could be, you know, for me, it was graduate school and neuroscience, which is very exciting and releases dopamine, but it could be also in entrepreneurship or extreme sports, but any opportunity to develop and explore new pathways, because nothing likes a vacuum, you know, and least of all the brain.

Morten Andersen  40:56

Obviously, your personal story may not be a generalized case, but I would like to just hear a little bit about how did you break your addiction? What specifically did you do? Or at what particular time was it that you could break the habits of addiction? And you could break the the tolerance, curse and the denial curse and all of those things? What did you do?

Judy Grisel  41:21

Well, it's a big question, the tolerance and the dependence. So the withdrawal, those faded out fairly quickly. And for each drug, there's sort of a different time course depending on the kinetics of the drug, how it interacts with the body structures. But you know, for the first few days, I was a little sweaty and a little, having a hard time sleeping, my digestion was messed up my my dreams were messed up, I was extremely irritable, and also the third at the same time. So that kind of physical response fades pretty quickly, and that's minor, the craving for me to pick up. So this idea that the drug would afford wonderful things, you know, either great feelings or comfort or solace or interesting day or something that took a long time for alcohol. You know, it was 14 months before I had a whole day where I didn't think, gosh, I want to have a drink today. Wow. And then it was just one day and it was brilliant because I was like, wow, I'm free of that. And it took nine years for me with marijuana. I really loved smoking weed. And what I mean by that is, basically I felt deprived I felt that I craved. I really wanted to get high for nine solid years that it kind of faded and then it came back again, and I still think of it. Geez, it would be lovely to be stoned. But I'm pretty sure that I would not have enough and I was Want to do it every day? And then I would not care so much about, you know, my daughter's last year at home or my dahlias growing in a garden or any number of other lovely things in my life today that I didn't have. So I don't think that I'm over it. I think for me, there were two others, maybe more than two there is a handful of things. So one of them was having another goal, having something that meant something to me to work toward. And even though as I look back on that now, I think that was a little twisted that I was going to solve addiction so I could use that was enough to get me over that at least the 14 month hump and probably fairway along the nine month hump or the nine year hump. Another thing was the resources to do that. I had a fairly low stress, experience. I had people supporting me I was able to make a living I was able to afford school I was able to get a little Toyota Corolla, you know, that was used, but I can drive around. And so I had things to look forward to. In other words, there were a lot of carrots in my life. And some of those were put there by other people and institutions. And then I think that my strong will out because I directed my well to just, this is really affecting that connecting to the change, then I would just sometimes do the next right thing. And when I say sometimes, I mean, many times a day, hundreds of thousands of times over the last 34 years. I've felt like I was at a fork in the road, and on one side was my addiction, which I am pretty sure would still lead to death and certainly eventually misery. And on the other side, you know, the hard work of living. Hmm, I sort of see it that clearly. And I have But always chosen life. But I think I have done it enough and for the short term, so it really helps me at any moment in time, I could look ahead and see 1000 that things coming. But I try to put little blinders on and just look right now what is the next right thing I can do for my well being, you know, for my flourishing

Morten Andersen  45:26

Hmm. There were some things that were environmental, like the support you received. And therefore, lack of stress, you could say in terms of getting by the seems to be something related to personality, you talked about strong will helps on this journey to recover. But then you said something really, really interesting, which is to having another goal. And you said in the beginning of this interview, that the earlier you begin to more permanent, some of the impacts can be on your brain and you started pretty early and therefore One could assume that you probably have had a permanent effect in your brain. And maybe there is a permanent effect. But you've replaced what triggers of how you get your dopamine so to speak, and that is replaced with a healthy goal that gives you satisfaction of achieving Is that right?

Judy Grisel  46:19

Exactly. Morten. That's exactly right.

Morten Andersen  46:22

Is that something we can apply generally to people who would like to break an addiction? Or is that is there no evidence for that?

Judy Grisel  46:31

I think it's something we we can and should apply for people who want to break an addiction, but more importantly, maybe it's something we should apply for people who are future addicts. And we should step in now and ensure that there are other goals that are meaningful, and that there is support and that we do what we can to mitigate the stress of finding our ways, especially for adultlences, I think that this is a critical time that we know that the cost for individuals and for society in general of addiction is tremendous. And so even though I'm talking about, we're talking kind of indirectly about resources here, I think those resources would be well spent.

Morten Andersen  47:18

You said that you have a daughter, I have two daughters on on 13 and 15. So they're just approaching the age now where, where I have to be very conscious about about their behavior and your statistics. Thanks a lot. And your statistics about the probability of being addicted to alcohol dependent on what time that you begin drinking and drinking heavily, really struck a chord with me. So I will remember that and probably pass that on. So thanks a lot.

Judy Grisel  47:48

And it's two arms, right? So I'll just say so you want to discourage them from using but also encourage them in finding things they care about that would take them Place.

Morten Andersen  48:01

Yes, absolutely. Judy, I want to say thank you very much for your time. It has been fantastic to speak with you and to hear your story. I will recommend all listeners to to read the book but also to see the TEDx talk. It's a really fantastic talk. And I think what you're doing the research, but also the book and what you're writing there, I think it's really important information that I think people should be aware of. So thanks again for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate that.

Judy Grisel  48:29

Thank you so much. It was delightful. Bye. Bye bye.

Morten Andersen  48:38

Judy Grisel's story is as amazing as it is important. She is experienced and suffered from significant substance addiction. And she has taken that experience and used as fuel to create a personal mission, which is to addiction. She went through university, took a PhD became a professor and it's not Now an internationally recognized behavioral neuroscientist. Wow, we can learn a lot from what we know about how to break the curse of addiction. And by the way, addiction also includes our phones, coffee, wine, or even likes on our social media profile. I took three things from the interview, one, having another goal is important. It is too simplistic to say that Judy have replaced her addiction with a mission of curing addiction. But it is fair to say that finding new rewards is critical to breaking addiction. You need healthier ways to get your dopamine, find new passions, it could be sports entrepreneurship, or really exciting project two denial is the first major barrier. In general terms you could say that awareness of the need of the change is what is holding you back. Jack Zenger that I spoke with in another Episode said that if you go to an a meeting and say I'm here because my wife tells me I have a problem, you're not likely to change. But if you go and say, I'm here because I know I have a problem, you are on the right path. That is so right. And three, addiction can create permanent damage to our brains. Our brains are plastic, and they are amazing. But if we start drinking early, it can impact our brains forever. For example, if you start drinking by 14, you have seven times the chance of developing an alcohol problem. Then if you then you would if you waited until you were 21 or longer, early is bad. By the way, watch her TEDx talk. It is really, really good. So thank you very much, Judy Grisel If you liked the interview and want to hear more, please press the subscribe button. Also, if you did like the interview I will appreciate if you would give the podcast a five star feedback. It helps a lot for outreach. Until next time, take care

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