Recovery Unscripted Podcast - Episode 18

Featured Guest: Loretta Breuning, Inner Mammal Institute

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For this episode, I’m joined by Dr. Loretta Breuning, noted author and founder of the Inner Mammal Institute. I spoke with her at the Innovations in Recovery conference in San Diego, where she explained what research about animal brain chemistry can tell us about our own emotions and urges. She also shared how we can understand those neurochemicals, retrain our minds and make peace with our inner mammal.

After leaving her career as a graduate school professor to pursue her passion for neuroscience, Breuning established the Inner Mammal Institute, which provides resources that help people build power over their mammalian brain chemistry. “Everyone has power over their mammalian brain chemistry and everyone is choosing in every minute how to use that power,” as Breuning explains during the interview. “And it’s so easy to lean to use that power in new ways if you understand it.”

But understanding our brain chemistry means understanding the evolutionary purposes of the releasing these chemicals, such as dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphin. “The first step to understanding is: These happy brain chemicals did not evolve to make you happy all the time, every minute, to flow for no reason when you’re sitting on the couch,” Breuning says. “They evolved to reward you when you take a step to meet an unmet survival need.”

Part of the reason that it’s so difficult to rewire our brains is that much of the reward system is set up during youth. As Breuning puts it, “Anything that triggered your happy chemicals when you were young built pathways that got myelinated and when you see anything similar today, your brain says, ‘This is it.’” And that usually doesn’t set us up well for adult life. “Needless to say, we all end up with pathways that do not really lead to our long-term well-being. So we all have the urge to rewire ourselves in one way or another, but we all discover that it’s much harder than we think,” Breuning explains. “So I explain on a physical level how the old pathways got built, why it feels wrong and what it takes to build new ones.”

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