The Kindling Effect

The Kindling Effect

For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. Exodus 9:2

When those who’s brains have become dependent on alcohol suddenly stop drinking, they experience withdrawal. Depending on how much and how long they’ve been drinking, withdrawal can mean anything from shakiness to seizures and death. With repeated cycles of relapse, drinking, and sudden cessation, the withdrawal symptoms worsen. This is known as the kindling effect, a phenomenon that describes the neuroadaptations (injury) that cause the brain to be more sensitive to alcohol use and sudden cessation. Basically, with every relapse, withdrawal gets worse.

Things get worse every time. Though I never experienced alcohol withdrawal, I did experience this phenomenon where things just kept getting worse. With every relapse, the consequences became greater. The first time around, most people were forgiving and understanding. Hey, everyone makes mistakes . . . By the third time around though, others began to see a terrible pattern emerging. I’d abused my second (and third) chances and so, there had to be some painful consequences. With every relapse, my life just kept getting descending further into chaos.

Pharaoh experienced this phenomenon in today’s passage. In the story, he once again refused to let the Hebrews go. So, God promised things would just keep getting worse. Up until this point, the Egyptians had suffered through frogs, flies, and gnats, but those annoyances all went away after a few days. Now, God promised to kill all their livestock if Pharaoh didn’t comply. Pharaoh refused and God delivered on his threat. For the Egyptians, this was a tremendous loss and you would think they had to recognize that things were getting worse. You’d think that Pharaoh would finally relent, saving himself from further misery.

When we see that things just keep getting worse, you’d think we’d stop our addictive, self-destructive behaviors. That’s the definition of addiction though – that we keep doing the thing, despite experiencing painful consequences. Change at this point is tremendously difficult though because now, we’ve remodeled (damaged) our brains to function in a pathologic pattern. For us to find recovery, and for us to heal, we must pursue radical change, doing whatever it takes to abandon the self-destructive behavior. This is often tremendously difficult. No one wants to go to treatment or change their entire lives. If, however, we’re sick of the worsening consequences, then we must do whatever it takes to stop the behavior that causes those consequences. If we refuse to do so, things will just keep getting worse.

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