Recovery from substance abuse and addiction is not as straightforward as it may seem. While someone might wake up one day and decide that they would like to start a new way of life that does not include drug use, it may take months or even years for them to fully achieve this undertaking. 

Millions of people around the globe fight to maintain sobriety every day, some with little to no avail. This begs the question: If they desire to cease substance use forever, why do they continue falling back into their old patterns of behavior? The answer lies in the profound impact that addiction has on brain chemistry. 

Rewiring the Brain After Addiction

What does addiction do to the brain? Substance use alters the brain’s chemistry by hijacking the brain’s reward system. Most drugs provide a large hit of dopamine, a powerful “feel-good” hormone in the body. The brain learns to crave this release, and human behavior is shaped to repeat whatever action that causes it: in this case, consumption of the substance. 

Prolonged exposure to the drug over time then dulls the body to the substance, so higher quantities are required to achieve the same degree of dopamine release. This phenomenon is called tolerance buildup, and it only furthers the attachment and dependence of the individual to the substance.

As the body grows accustomed to the presence of the addictive substance in the body, removal of said substance can cause some dramatically negative effects, such as headaches, nausea, anxiety and depression, sweating, fatigue, tremors and more. This harrowing experience is called withdrawal, and is another contributing factor to why eliminating addictive substances from the body can be such a difficult task.

Techniques for Rewiring the Brain

Lasting healing and recovery necessitates an overhaul of the circuitry of the brain, rewiring the negative patterns of behavior out, and incorporating new healthy habits in their stead. Without this rewiring, the individual is more susceptible to relapse, or falling back into old patterns of behavior. 

Thankfully, there are many options regarding how to rewire the brain from addiction. Various therapies have proven to be effective, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps the individual identify the thought and behavior patterns, as well as past wounds and traumas,  which contribute to addiction to confront and change them. Mindfulness and meditation can also be a powerful tool to acknowledge the sensations in one’s body or triggers in the environment that cue a craving for drug use, especially stress. 

Incorporating exercise and improving nutrition can also be effective in advancing overall health and wellbeing, balancing the brain and body and increasing endorphins to support mood. Important too in everyone’s path to recovery is cultivating a strong and supportive community of friends and family. Fostering new social connections can help to implement different patterns of behavior, as well as avoid the influence of people who are stuck in unhealthy ways of life and may place pressure to return to substance use. 

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Support

The type of treatment that will be effective for lasting addiction recovery will vary per person, but you have several options if rewiring the brain is what you are seeking. Treatment can take place either in a facility or at home, depending upon the needs of the individual. Inpatient programs are intensive treatment options for people who need a radical change in scenery. This can be most effective for people who have a longer history of addiction, or who are battling to detox from more severe substances. These facilities provide daily meals, activities, therapy programs and around-the-clock medical and psychological support for its patients.

Outpatient programs on the other hand allow for an increased degree of flexibility, as the participant engages in therapy programs and support groups while maintaining the freedom to continue in the rhythm of their daily lives. 

Intensive outpatient programs (IOP) offer a hybrid approach between these two treatment models. Participants engage in intensive days of treatment in a facility, at the end of which they return home to sleep in their bed. These programs can be helpful for people who have already completed an inpatient program and would like a high level of support as they transition back into their daily lives.

Your Brain Wasn’t Built in a Day: Timeline of Brain Rewiring

While some addictions may have formed quickly, it is reasonable to expect a longer timeline to unwire the negative habits of drug and alcohol use from the body and brain. The length of addiction will impact the amount of time it takes to permanently remove these substances from the body, as the longer a substance has been used, the more ingrained in the body it has become. 

Likewise, the frequency of drug use and strength of the substance in question also have an impact on how long it will take to rewire the brain from addiction and achieve sobriety. Co-occurring mental, emotional and physical health disorders such as trauma, depression, or illnesses such as cancer can also contribute to the overall efficacy of someone’s work to rewire brain patterns.

Find Support During Recovery from Addiction

If you or a loved one are suffering from drug addiction, you are not alone. October Road is here to answer any questions you may have, and offer support for your journey. Contact us online today, or call 888-201-5086 to find hope and healing on your journey to wholeness.

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