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You made it! You endured the detox and withdrawal phase like a champ and completed a treatment program. You are ready to begin a new, healthy life full of potential. But, how long does it take to rewire the brain from addiction? A month? A year? Five years? To learn more about your healing brain, read on.
How Do Drugs and Alcohol Affect the Brain?
When you ingest a psychoactive substance, such as drugs or alcohol, it produces the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine creates a pleasurable sensation, which is then registered in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens. This region is referred to as the reward center of the brain. There the experience of pleasure is imprinted, which motivates you to return to the substance over and over again.
Addictive substances have a powerful affect on the brain. Ongoing use of a substance causes disruption in brain functions and structure. In fact, these changes can last long after the substance is stopped, which is why so many people will relapse.
The adverse effects of substances on the brain include actual brain damage. Some of the damage to the brain caused by addiction includes:
- Reduced neuroplasticity.
- Psychomotor impairment.
- Decreased gray matter volume.
- Diminished reflex response.
- Impaired memory.
- Reduced respiration and heart rates.
- Interference with the production of chemical messengers in the brain.
- Alcoholism may cause a wet brain, or WKS, which can be fatal.
How Long to Rewire the Brain from Addiction?
To succeed in a sustained recovery, the brain must go through a rewiring process. The time it takes to rewire the brain from addiction refers to the process of healing synaptic plasticity. Depending on these factors, it may take a month to several months to rewire the brain from addiction. Some of the factors that determine that rewiring timeline include:
- The substance of abuse.
- The duration of the substance abuse.
- The severity of the substance abuse.
Although the damage sustained to the brain can be substantial, the organ is able to regenerate the longer you abstain from the substance. Not all brain damage will be quickly restored. In fact, some effects on the brain caused by a substance, such as alcohol or meth, may be permanent.
How the Brain Heals in Recovery
Fortunately, the brain has an amazing capacity to heal itself in these five ways:
- New cell growth. Although a certain amount of neuronal destruction is permanent, sustained abstinence can result in new brain cell growth within the hippocampus.
- Improved cognitive abilities. As the brain heals, you will find that cognitive functions and most executive functions will slowly improve.
- Restored brain volume. Brain matter will increase in as little as two weeks time, as has been verified through brain imaging tests.
- Improved motor skills. As recovery progresses, motor skills directed toward predetermined movements will improve.
- Improved visual-spatial abilities. While visual-spatial skills don’t recover completely in recovery, there will be some improvement.
Thanks to the ability of the brain to restore itself, it is possible to arrest the damage from addiction. In many cases, much of the damage to the brain can be reversed.
How to Improve Brain Health in Recovery
When you enter recovery, part of your focus will be restoring overall wellness, including brain health. Here are some healthy new habits to help improve brain health in recovery:
- Regular exercise. Getting daily exercise will yield amazing wellness benefits. As far as the brain, exercise helps by increasing the blood supply that delivers oxygen and nutrients. It also helps mental health, with the help of brain chemicals released during exercise that improves mood and reduces stress.
- Quality sleep. Getting enough sleep, and good quality sleep is good for brain health. It helps the fluid between neurons flush out toxic buildup. To improve sleep quality, regulate the sleep cycle by sticking to a daily sleep schedule.
- Nutrition. A healthy diet can increase neurotransmitter signaling in the brain, which reduces depression. Also, nutrition can reduce cravings, thus lowering the risk of relapse. A Mediterranean diet is recommended in recovery. Be sure to include strawberries, blueberries, spinach, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, beans, kefir, and lentils.
Things You’ll Love About Recovery
As your brain is rewired from addiction, you will begin to feel better every day. Soon, you will experience all the benefits of living a sober lifestyle. Here are some of the things you will love about being in recovery:
- Physical health. You will change your physical appearance and general health very early on in recovery. If you were overweight or underweight during addiction, you will see your weight begin to normalize. Nutritional deficiencies will be corrected with a healthy diet, and you’ll feel stronger overall.
- Mental wellness. As brain health improves, you’ll notice you are thinking more clearly. You will have better memory function and be better able to focus and make decisions. While symptoms of anxiety or depression may persist for a few months, these will slowly subside as well.
- Productivity. Because you are feeling better both physically and mentally, you will start to feel more productive in recovery. With the renewed hope that sobriety brings, at work you’ll find yourself more engaged and driven. You will return to hobbies and passions that had been cast aside during addiction, which satisfies a work-life balance.
So, how long does it take to rewire the brain from addiction? Even if it takes a full year for the brain to fully heal, you can see that patience will pay off. In no time at all, your brain health will be restored, and your amazing life in recovery will unfold.
The Treatment Specialist Provides Online Guidance and Support in Recovery
The Treatment Specialist is an online resource for informative articles on mental health conditions and treatment options for adults, teens, and families. If you are entering recovery, reach out to our team for free guidance and support at (866) 644-7911.