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As it turns out, it is all in our heads

Published February 4, 2007


My husband and I like to watch the Fox News Channel. We think the folks on that program are pretty savvy, sometimes funny, and we get all the news all day long.

We were watching the other day when a particular news story caught my attention. This story was about some poor soul who had been whacked on the head.

The story went on to explain that after being whacked on the head, this particular person lost all desire to smoke. This became interesting, so I continued to watch and listen, something I don't always do with news stories. My mind tends to wander.

The newscaster went on to explain that researchers had discovered that this wasn't the first time that someone, a smoker, had lost the desire to smoke after being hit on the head. I continued to pay rapt attention.

Because researchers are who they are, this particular one decided to research the brain. He or she discovered that these people, who were smokers, had something in their brain that gave them the urge to smoke. It was a little something that they think not all people have.

The reporter went on to explain that it could be possible to stop smoking by having just a little brain surgery.

I don't consider any kind of brain surgery to be "little," but I listened on anyway. It appears that these people smoke because of a brain malfunction, not because they choose to smoke. This got my little brain thinking about other brain functions.

I had the opportunity to go with a relative to seminars at an alcoholic rehabilitation center. No, I wasn't the alleged alcoholic; the relative was. But I learned a lot.

I learned that it is believed that people who are alcoholics also have something in their brain that makes them drink. This was discovered after some autopsies revealed a section of brain not found in other humans. This section of brain supposedly causes people to drink.

According to these experts, a person is either born with this little extra in their brain or they are not. Those with, drink. Those without, do not.

Because inquiring minds need to know, I asked the counselor, who wasn't too happy with me, if they had done autopsies on babies to discover if this abnormality was present from the time of birth. My contention was that maybe the abnormality came as a result of drinking rather than being present from conception.

The counselor truthfully had to answer that, no, to his knowledge no one had researched that. So I again questioned which came first, the abnormality or the drinking.

Because my brain has to know (and I sometimes think it may have a dysfunction) my thought processes went back to the smokers who were bonked on the head and lost the desire to smoke. If indeed this is a brain problem with smokers or alcoholics, then the ramifications can be widespread.

This becomes an illness problem instead of a behavior problem, which is what AA teaches. This means that smokers and alcoholics cannot be blamed for their addictions. Neither can the tobacco industry be responsible for those who smoke. The smokers will have to blame their relatives.

This means that no matter how much nicotine is put into cigarettes, if a person has that little extra something in their brain, they will smoke anyway.

This means that lawyers and smokers can no longer get huge settlements from the tobacco industry. This means that people will have to look at smokers like they do anyone else with a medical problem. This means that bartenders can no longer be blamed for serving too much alcohol to drunks. This also means that no one can blame anyone for either of these conditions. Even the smokers and drinkers can't blame themselves.

There is a solution. We could go around hitting smokers on the head and hope we hit the right part of the brain that will stop their smoking. Smokers, and hopefully alcoholics, could have a "little" operation to cure their habits. Maybe they could do an nonintrusive operation using lasers. But then the insurance companies would have to cover the procedure.

Drug researchers should look into a drug that will eliminate that thing in the brain that causes these people to smoke or drink. But no one could pass the buck for these behaviors.

Lawmakers might even have to stop making laws against smoking like they did against drinking. It worked for the alcohol industry. It might work for the tobacco industry.

I wonder if people who have an occasional drink also have this little extra thing in the brain. And how about those ex-smokers who quit and never smoke again, or alcoholics who quit drinking? Does this part of the brain go away or is it still there? Or was it ever there to begin with?

Science has taken us a long way on the cure for many aliments. Researchers have also discovered that sometimes they were wrong to begin with.

I just caught a story on Fox News that told me that caffeine for pregnant women was a no-no. Now it appears to be a yes-yes. That is, if you drink less than five servings a day. There's that "in moderation" thing again. See what I mean?

I often wish my brain didn't wonder and wander as much as it does. It sometimes keeps me awake at night just thinking about things. I think I need a brain X-ray. I might discover that I need one of those "little" brain operations, too. But then, how could I write these columns?

I even wonder if it takes longer for electricity to get through a wire that is all curled up as opposed to one that is perfectly straight. But that's another story. This whole column may have been about short circuits.

Thought for the day: It's the old story of which came first, the chicken or the egg? When someone can tell me the answer to that, I might get some sleep, like I didn't do when thinking about writing this column.

[Last modified February 3, 2007, 19:53:01]

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