If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse or addiction for some time, there’s reason to believe that the continued substance abuse has had an impact on the structures and function of your brain.
However, the brain is a remarkably adaptable organ. When allowed time to heal, it can repair itself to an amazing extent. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the changes that take place in the brain during recovery from addiction.
Understanding the Changes to the Brain
The brain is made up of different sections that work together to perform essential functions. Drug and alcohol abuse can have serious effects on the brain and impact its ability to work properly. Some areas impacted by substance abuse include:
- Cerebral cortex: This part of the brain is the “thinking center,” which controls our ability to make decisions, solve problems, and plan. The cerebral cortex also processes sensory information, which allows us to hear, see, touch, taste and smell.
- Limbic system: The limbic system contains a network of structures that controls our ability to feel pleasure. While pleasure sensations are normally activated by positive activities such as eating or social interaction, they can also be triggered by substance abuse.
- Brain stem: This area controls the key functions that are essential for life, including breathing, sleeping, and heart rate.
Reversing the Damage
Over time, drug or alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on the brain, causing structural changes that impair thinking skills and decrease attention span and memory. However, these changes can be at least partially corrected.
It may take months or even years to experience the full extent of healing, but you’ll start to see improvement even a few weeks into the recovery process. With continued abstinence, you’ll feel like you can think more clearly—the brain fog is lifted, and your mind will feel sharp again, no longer dulled by substance abuse. You’ll be able to focus better, and your memory will improve.
The extent to which a person experiences improved mental wellness in recovery is dependent on many factors. These factors include the extent of the substance abuse, the person’s genetics and the presence of any other mental health issues. However, there is reason to be optimistic. With ongoing abstinence, the brain will heal and regain its ability to regulate bodily functions and moods without the substance.
In addition to these cognitive improvements, being sober will also help your brain’s chemical balance return to normal. Addiction hijacks the pleasure centers of your brain; eventually, the substance no longer provides much pleasure and becomes necessary just to feel normal.
Abstinence from this substance can help rebalance the brain’s chemistry and allow the brain to find pleasure in other sources. It’s important to remember that although the brain can be retrained and allowed to heal, the old pathways in the brain that linked pleasure with substance abuse still exist—that’s why total abstinence is the safest path for anyone in addiction recovery.
You may worry that years of substance abuse have done irreversible damage to your brain, but it’s never too late to begin your journey to recovery. A bright and healthy future lies ahead. With the right treatment, you can put addiction behind you and allow your brain and body to heal.