How long does it take to rewire brain from addiction? Addiction recovery is the treatment of the neural pathways and the brain structure that have been disrupted due to substance use disorders.
Addiction is basically like a complex disease and recovering addicts need time, patience, and resilience to recover from it.
1. Understanding the Brain Chemicals and Addiction
So, let’s understand the brain’s chemistry with natural activities which have a normal function. Can you feel that ‘ feeling of happiness’?
This feeling is induced by a neurotransmitter called dopamine which is released by the brain when it achieves pleasure and hence it is released in the brain’s pleasure center also known as the nucleus accumbens.
Now this can be done in various ways, some people might consume a particular food like cheese or chocolate, others might perform an activity like running or playing a game and as long as this process happens naturally without the use of any drugs or other substances it leads to good brain health.
But when people use drugs and alcohol, or other substances what happens is that they recreate the feeling of pleasure in the brain which gives rise to higher dopamine levels.
The brain begins to release more dopamine more quickly and reliably due to drug abuse, this is because these substances lead to higher dopamine transporter levels, and addictive substances may cause a release of 3-8 times more than the natural or non-drug way.
2. Understanding Substance Abuse
Eventually what happens is that you keep consuming these addictive drugs and your addicted brain keeps making you happy by releasing dopamine.
But over time, the amount of pleasure that the drug addiction was giving you in the beginning, falls and now you need to consume more of it for the same stimulation.
It follows a pattern in which as time passes by the likeliness for the substance decreases and the need for it increases.
This stage is when you have developed a substance use disorder, and you require some kind of push to not be happy but even to stay normal because your brain’s reward system has completely been taken over by your addictive habits.
At this point you do not care if the substance is creating negative behaviors, affecting your physical health and your mental health because the brain chemistry has been severely damaged as the brain has developed tolerance against your substance addiction.
3. Brain Anatomy and Addiction: How Long Does it Take to Rewire Brain from Addiction?
The human brain adapts to over-stimulation and impulse control due to consumption of substances, let’s understand this better.
The rewarding system of the brain is called the basal ganglia, as the brain gets affected the rewarding system’s efficiency reduces and it does not work well with natural or non-drug stimulators.
The emotional regulation unit of the brain is called Amygdala. In the person’s brain which has built chemical dependency, the amygdala is disrupted and it leads to increased craving for the substance and mood swings.
Addiction research shows that the decision-making skills of a person with a healthy brain compared to a person with brain damage due to addiction, are drastically different.
Addiction leads to the impairment of the prefrontal cortex, which controls our behaviors and impulse action.
4. How to Repair, Retrain, and Rewire the Brain?
The common thing between a chronic disease and an addiction is that you can recover from both, the process however is difficult for both and we initially need to understand that addiction recovery is a long and difficult process.
Brain recovery involves a comprehensive treatment program, which includes behavioral therapy, counseling, and assisted medication along with a healthy diet to improve brain health.
The first and most important step in the treatment of addictive behaviors is detoxification. Abstaining 100% from the substance is required for the brain circuits to return to normal functioning.
The craving and withdrawal symptoms can be extreme depending upon the substance you’re addicted to and how long you have been addicted to it.
This step can be very uncomfortable and unsettling for any recovering addict, and for some drugs, you might even need the help of medical professionals.
4.2. Prevention of Relapse
How will the brain chemistry normalize and stay normal? You need to understand that the urge for consumption can be so big that it can eat you up.
So, not only do you have to start abstinence but you have to maintain it and stick to it because even if you miss one day, you will be back on square one and the brain cells will push you again for the substance use and destroy your recovery process.
4.3. Find a Replacement
The problem is that the brain is addicted to getting stimulated by a particular substance which has lowered its acceptance of natural stimulants.
So, you have to provide a replacement so that the brain rewires.
Now, since the replacement will be natural your reward mechanism will not as such be satisfied but eventually the craving will decrease as the brain regions will undergo the rewiring process.
4.4. Create Success
It is believed that the feeling of getting success can replicate the feeling you get when you consume a substance, as it releases the same amount of dopamine and you feel equally rewarded.
So, try to bring back the big successes of your life and help your brain heal. Take family therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help you with the same.
4.5. Stay Busy
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is a part of the brain that develops later than other brain regions and it may still develop till a person reaches his/her twenties.
Now why is this important? This part of the brain controls behavior, impulse action, decision-making, and self-control.
If you keep yourself occupied enough, your brain will be occupied in making decisions and drift lesser to your addiction.
Young adults are most likely to develop an addiction because they have lesser understanding and self-control.
5. Final Words
Addiction recovery is not calculated but a very unstable and variable process. With proper support, group therapy, and addiction treatment you can achieve a healthier life.
Depending on the substance that you were abusing, how long you have been addicted, and the amount of damage to your brain’s physical structure and your overall health it can take anywhere between a few weeks to months for the neural function to normalize.
With ongoing support and a positive attitude, the brain heals better and quicker.