DJAM: What happened to his brain?

By Arlene Kahn Therapy • October 18th, 2009

Adam Goldstein, or DJAM as he was known was a celebrity D.J. who was found dead on August 28, 2009 of an accidental drug overdose after 10 years of sobriety.  He had just finished filming the first episode of a new reality show called “Gone too Far” for MTV, in which he was reaching out to Amy, a 23 year old Heroin addict, trying to get her to enter rehab.

Adam had a family history of addiction.  In a NYTimes article Sunday October 18, 2009 he is quoted as saying that his father was a “full blown” addict and died of AIDS when Adam was 19.  Adam became sober when he was 25 and maintained his sobriety for more than 10 years.  When his sobriety was stable he also handled a food addiction by undergoing gastric by-pass surgery, losing close to 150 pounds.  Adam was successful as a D.J. and as a recovering addict, until he began to put himself in harm’s way.

He began taking anti-anxiety medication and pain killers for depression after a terrible plane crash in which four people died in Septmber, 2008.   While he and his friend were badly burned they recovered physically but he was left with severe survivor’s guilt.  The NY Times article states  Justin Hoffman, a friend of Adam’s from recovery “blames those drugs for starting a snowball effect that led to his relapse.”

Then, in the course of the filming for Gone Too Far, he picked up a crack pipe.  At that moment Adam realized he himself had gone too far.  It became clear to him that he had to talk about it, speak to his sponsor.  He said ” I realized my palms were sweaty and I was like, wait a minute, this is not smart for me to be holding this.”  (NYTimes, Oct. 18,2009).

Adam did all the recommended behavioral protections:  talking to his sponsor daily, went to meetings almost every single day, had his therapist with him during most of the filming and he was around people when there were drugs and alcohol present.  But apparently that did not prevnt his brain from reacting to the addictive stimulus.  The so-called “snowball effect” of the chemicals is the progression of addiction itsel not just ingesting this pill or that.  The brain’s reward system  releases chemicals especially the “feel good” chemical dopamine, setting up cravings for more that are painfully difficult to resist, once stimulated.   I am sure many reading this can attest to that.

In the end of the first episode MTV included a dedication to Adam Goldstein but no mention of the overdose.  A quick allusion to it by Amy at the end of the show says “That wasn’t him that night…that was his addiction.”

It seems what we call “his addiction” in fact, is a powerful “series of chemical reactions taking place in the brain of an alcoholic or drug abuser, involving the release of dopamine and the pleasure/reward communications networks.” (Lisa Frederiksen)

Here’s my theory:  For people prone to addiction, the stimulus of brain chemicals build on themselves  and overpower the ability to stop using or drinking before we’re able to shift from the emotions and good feelings of the Limbic System to the rational, calm thinking-and-response communications networks in the Cerebral Cortex.”

So, for those of us who struggle with addiction, whether to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex or other substances or non-substance compulsive behaviors that are in themselves rewarding, what is the key to shift to the calmness, the thinking and clarity of the Cerebral Cortex when we’re in the demonic grip of the euphoria of a compulsive high?   I leave you with this cliff hanger.  But I promise to address it in a future post.  For starters, check out the post on my website titled “News in the Science of Addiction” then click the link in the body of the article that says “More about how imaging techniques work and findings.”, and you will see pictures of how the brain is affected by various drugs.

What are your thoughts?  How do you release the grip of euphoric compulsions that could kill, or at least destroy?

Any thoughts?   Suggestions?   Comments.  Let’s hear from your experience.


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