Brain Recovery Time from Drug Addiction. Brain Recovery Time from Drug Addiction.

The Rewiring Process: How Our Brain Bounces Back After Addiction


For those suffering from addiction, what they think may be similar. “How do I know if I am back to normal?” or “How do I know I am no longer addicted to it?” The answer depends on how our brain processes addiction.

Our treatment of the neural pathways needs to focus on the brain structure that has been disrupted due to substance use disorders. And since addiction is basically like a complex disease, recovering addicts need time, patience, and resilience to recover from it.

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. It’s like when we feel happy. Like “wow, here is an ice cream – and my favorite one!” kind of happy. And we know how difficult it can be to resist that kind of temptation, right? That’s what dopamine does to us – and that’s what makes this so difficult for everyone who is undergoing an addiction. And it happens to all of us in different ways, honestly.

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.

Icy Whiz Team

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. If you’re like “But shouldn’t I know this when it happens?”, it’s not that simple. This happens gradually and we wouldn’t know.

Understanding Substance Abuse

Eventually what happens is that we keep consuming these addictive drugs and our addicted brain keeps making us happy by releasing dopamine.

But over time, the amount of pleasure that the drug addiction was giving us in the beginning, falls and now you need to consume more of it for the same stimulation. Like if we have our favorite ice cream every day, we would want something more right? Or else we will get bored too easily.

It follows a pattern in which as time passes by the likeliness for the substance decreases and the need for it increases.

And when we have developed a substance use disorder, we require some kind of push to not be happy. However, even to stay normal because our brain’s reward system has completely been taken over by our addictive habits.

At this point, we do not care if the substance is creating negative behaviors, affecting our physical health and our mental health because the brain chemistry has been severely damaged as the brain has developed tolerance against your substance 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.

The Icy Whiz team talked to Natalie Feinblatt, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, about rewiring the brain after addiction. Here is what she said:

Natalie Feinblatt
Natalie Feinblatt

“From my perspective, the most crucial factors influencing the rewiring process are:

  • Neuroplasticity and Personalized Treatment: Every individual’s brain responds differently to addiction and recovery. Leveraging neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to adapt and change, is essential. Personalized treatment plans that cater to the unique neurological and psychological needs of each person are vital for effective recovery.
  • Holistic Approaches: Combining various therapeutic modalities, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Brainspotting, proves most effective. These techniques help address both the psychological and neurological aspects of addiction.
  • Continuous Support and Community: Recovery is not just about the individual but also about the support they receive. Peer support groups and ongoing counseling play a significant role in reinforcing the new neural pathways that lead to healthier behaviors.
  • Awareness and Education: Educating individuals about how their brains are changing during recovery can empower them and promote a more active engagement in their treatment process.

I have found that an integrated approach that combines these elements offers the best support for individuals on their journey to recovery.”

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.

Shanah, therapy expert

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.

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.

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.

We interviewed Jordan Calabrese, Medical Director at Sana Lake Recovery Centers, on this. Here is what he had to say:

Dr. Jordan Calabrese
Dr. Jordan Calabrese

“Addiction significantly alters the brain’s functioning as it hijacks the reward pathway, disrupts our dopamine levels, and creates powerful cravings that drive substance abuse.

It is important to notice that recovery is not just merely avoiding alcohol or substance that you’re addicted to, it’s naturally healing our brains back to normal levels that it used to be.

The most crucial factor that we have incorporated into our recovery centers is the process of neuroplasticity, where the brain forms new connections and gradually overcomes addictive behaviors.

Through neuroplasticity, the brain forms connections between neurons that can lead to functional changes and we re-learn certain activities, rekindle lost connections, and get back to a better state.

Social support becomes yet another crucial factor in the rewiring process. I’ve seen many of the patients willing to put in the extra effort. With support from family, friends, etc. the person manages to control their addictive senses and be more firm with their choices.

If you have someone to back you up in your corner, you’ll heal faster for them, and that’s what social support does!”

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.

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.

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.

Icy Whiz

Dr. Lea McMahon, Chief Clinical Officer at Symetria Recovery, talked about brain rewiring after addiction. Here is an excerpt from the interview:

Dr. Lea McMahon LPC, EdD
Dr. Lea McMahon LPC, EdD

“As a Chief Clinical Officer, with a lot of patients who suffer from substance use disorder, I believe that it is necessary to take a look at the fascinating journey the brain takes in rewiring itself after addiction.

Addiction is a complex disease that alters the brain’s reward system. This altered state leads to compulsive behaviors and cravings.

However, the brain is extremely powerful and it does offer hope for recovery by allowing for the rewiring of neural pathways that were once associated with addiction. 

However, this journey should be visualized as a marathon and not a sprint. It demands consistent effort, motivation, and the right supportive network that should include friends and family.

Every milestone should be celebrated no matter how small, and the setbacks should be seen as a part of the process.

When we break it down and look at the crucial elements or factors that influence the rewiring journey we will look at things like motivation, addressing underlying issues, building healthy habits, regular therapy, and a supportive environment.

There are other approaches available as well for instance medication-assisted treatment that could enhance recovery.”

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.

Guest Author: Saket Kumar

Last Updated on May 12, 2024 by soubhik


Anushree Khandelwal
  1. The article’s recognition of the importance of ongoing support, group therapy, and a positive attitude in achieving a healthier life shows the collaborative effort needed for successful recovery. The incorporation of behavioral therapy, counseling, and a healthy diet as part of the brain recovery process adds depth to the discussion, highlighting the multifaceted nature of addiction treatment. This is a valuable resource for anyone seeking insight into the complexities of addiction recovery, offering both a scientific understanding and practical guidance for those on the challenging path to rewiring their brains from addiction.

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