Science has taught us a lot about how addiction affects the brain. Just as cardiovascular disease affects the heart, addiction changes the brain’s appearance and function. For example, brain imaging scans show that the frontal cortex has less activity, the part of the brain responsible for judgement and decision making. Addiction also affects the reward centers in the brain, including the amygdala, hippocampus and cerebral cortex.
Knowing that addiction changes the biology of the brain, the next question is if the brain can recover from addiction-related damage. The good news is that the brain will continue to heal after outpatient rehab drug treatment. However, you must be patient. It took time for the brain damage to develop, and it will take time for it to reverse itself.
How the Brain Changes in Addiction
The brain can experience pleasure from all types of things, such as eating sweets or playing video games. When these pleasurable things happen, neurotransmitters release in the brain. Generally, this is a good thing because it ensures that people seek out things that are essential to survival.
However, drugs like heroin and cocaine signal the release of dopamine that floods the brain and causes a rush of euphoria. Obviously, these feelings are wanted again. As a result, the brain rewards the brain. If you try to stop, you’ll suffer intense cravings and withdrawal effects like depression, anxiety, irritability and insomnia.
Over time, the drugs become less rewarding and you need more of them to feel good. This is called tolerance. People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol find that they have to take greater amounts to get the same effects. By the time they are ready to accept help, people are often taking large amounts of drugs that put them at risk for overdose and death.
Factors that Impact Your Healing Time
Completing outpatient rehab for substance abuse is the first step in getting clean, working through past trauma and developing healthier habits. But, it is certainly not enough time for your brain to heal. Each person is unique, but there are some factors that impact every recovery. These include:
- How long you used drugs and alcohol
- The type of drugs you abused
- The amount of drugs and alcohol you took
- The method of detox you completed
- How often you go to therapy and group meetings
- Your diet, lifestyle and physical activity
How to Reverse Addiction-Related Brain Damage
The brain is always changing. How it recovers from drug addiction is still a newer area of research that scientists are learning about. What we do know is that within 14 months of abstaining from methamphetamine, dopamine transporter levels (DAT) in the reward region of the brain return to normal. However, there is still limited research on other drugs like alcohol and marijuana.
Below are the things you can do to recover from addiction-related brain damage.
- Get restorative sleep. Your brain needs this time to restore and heal itself. In particular, the hippocampus requires restorative sleep to repair and grow. Sleep also helps the brain by flushing out toxins that build up throughout the day.
- Increase physical activity. Exercise is one of the best ways to heal your brain. It releases feel-good chemicals in the brain, promotes neuron growth and stimulates newly-created neurons. Physical activity also improves blood circulation and memory.
- Eat a brain-healthy diet. Nourish your brain with vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants that come from fruits, vegetables and fatty fish. Some of the best brain-boosting foods include berries, avocados and dark chocolate.
- Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated keeps the brain alert, making it easier to concentrate. It also increases blood flow to the brain and balances your mood and emotions. Water is best, but you can also drink tea or fruit juice.
- Spend time with others. Social isolation is not good for the body or the brain. Be sure to spend quality time with friends and family. These connections will help rewire the brain and promote neuron growth.
- Meditate. Meditation is a wonderful way to reduce stress and improve relaxation, benefitting your hippocampus. In fact, people who practice meditation on a regular basis have larger hippocampi.
Psychotherapy Changes the Brain, Too
Aside from healthy lifestyle changes, you’ll also want to continue therapy. If you haven’t been in therapy before, you’ll partake in it during your time in outpatient drug rehab. Continuum Recovery Center assesses all clients before they start our holistic treatment program. We offer various types of therapy, including individual therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
Behavioral therapies like CBT and DBT are effective at rewiring the brain because they help manage symptoms of mental illness. By reducing symptoms, the brain can heal and form new connections and neurons. In fact, some studies show that psychotherapy may be just as effective as medication in treating mental health problems and preventing relapse.
The main ways that psychotherapy changes the brain are by:
- Focusing your attention on new networks. Staying in an old or unhelpful network can be harmful. For example, if you keep telling yourself that you’re a bad person, you will believe you are a bad person. With therapy and more mindful thinking, you can focus your attention on more helpful networks.
- Building stronger connections in the brain. Repeated experiences can strengthen or weaken neural bonds. This means that if you spend a lot of time on one thing, it becomes bigger and stronger, as is the case with addiction. Behavioral therapy teaches you to shift your focus on healthy networks so these connections can grow.
- Creating neural networks. When it comes to neural networks, you either use them or lose them. This is good because it means that you can heal from addictive tendencies. Talk therapy helps you build new, positive networks to replace the old.
Start Your Journey to Healing Today
As you can see, it is possible to recover from addiction-related brain damage. It takes time, and there are a number of factors that can impact your recovery. That said, healing begins the day you quit using drugs and alcohol. To start your journey to complete healing of the mind, body and spirit, contact Continuum Recovery Center. Our holistic treatment center in Phoenix has all of the tools and resources you need to achieve and maintain lifelong recovery.