Jun 23, 2024

How Long to Rewire Brain from Addiction

The body goes through many changes and begins to adapt to addiction recovery. How the brain recovers and rewires is among the most important processes. When someone is going through addiction treatment, it can feel like it’s taking an eternity to feel “normal” again. 

The brain healing process takes time, but it does happen. Massachusetts Center for Addiction is here to help you learn more about healing the brain from addiction, how long it takes, and the steps you can take to support the process. 

How Addiction Affects the Brain 

Drug and alcohol use affects the brain in multiple ways. On the surface, it may seem that only behavior is temporarily affected by substance abuse. The brain’s natural reward system becomes out of whack, and executive functioning skills can be affected. 

However, the reason all of this is happening is that there are chemical and structural changes happening in the brain in response to substance abuse. When comparing brain scans of addicted individuals, there is an actual noticeable difference in structure and brain activity. 

In restoring brain function after addiction, it takes time for neurons to repair and for brain chemicals to return to a more balanced state. This process of brain healing and recovery is referred to as neuroplasticity. This is the brain’s ability to reorganize, restructure, and repair itself in response to trauma. 

How Long to Rewire the Brain in Addiction Recovery 

When restoring brain function after addiction, the brain goes through a complex process of first deprogramming from the effects of addiction and then rebuilding. 

During this time, the individual going through addiction treatment may continue to significantly struggle with cravings and the desire to use drugs, making this a sensitive stage of addiction treatment. 

How long the process of restoring brain function after addiction depends on the individual and certain influential factors of their addiction. 

For some, noticeable brain changes in recovery may be seen and felt in as little as a month. Most individuals in addiction recovery begin noticing a shift in how they’re feeling and thinking after a few months. 

In some cases, restoring brain function back to normal takes much longer, sometimes many months, up to a year. There are a small number of cases where the degree of damage done is too severe for the brain to repair itself. These individuals often struggle with their addictive behaviors throughout life. However, recovery is never out of the question.

Understanding the factors that may influence neuroplasticity in addiction recovery is helpful for knowing what to expect. It’s important to respect the natural process and accept that yours is a unique journey and that healing may happen on a timeline that varies from average. 

Factors That Influence the Time to Health the Brain from Addiction 

  • Type of addiction – for example, opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol addiction will all have different effects on the brain. 
  • Polysubstance abuse (addiction to more than one substance) is associated with higher degrees of brain changes. 
  • Length and severity of addiction 
  • Age at the time of addiction 
  • Whether any co-occurring mental health conditions influence addictive behaviors 
  • Whether or not the individual is receiving professional, evidence-based addiction treatment. 

If you need addiction treatment or have a loved one who does, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers multiple resources on its website, including an online provider directory for when you’re ready to get help. 

Stages of Healing and Neuroplasiticy in Addiction Recovery 

It takes time to heal the brain from addiction, but the process begins as soon as someone commits to overcoming the grips of addiction. 

A number of changes begin in the detox stage, followed by brain changes during the early stages of recovery. Finally, as recovery continues, we see the most significant and long-lasting changes. 

During detox, you could describe the brain rewiring as fast and furious. The brain is in a hyper-response mode, which is why detox and the initial withdrawal stage are the most physically and mentally demanding. 

In the early stages of recovery, individuals begin to gradually experience a decrease in their cravings and better emotional regulation. They will likely find that they’re more capable of positively interacting with others, and areas of health affected by the brain, such as sleep quality, begin to improve. 

In the long term, neurotransmitter production is restored to more balanced levels. On scans, there’s a visible improvement in the brain’s gray matter, and there are fewer cravings—especially as emotional regulation is improved. 

Strategies to Help with Brain Rewiring After Addiction 

  • Seek help and support.
  • Look for evidence-based addiction treatments that also address any co-occurring mental health disorders you may be struggling with
  • Commit yourself to doing the difficult, daily work of overcoming addiction
  • Attend all of your planned treatments, therapies, and counseling sessions
  • Forgive yourself and be patient 
  • Take care of your physical health 
  • Work toward healing, repairing, and building healthy relationships

How Massachusetts Center for Addiction Can Improve the Brain Recovery Timeline

At Massachusetts Center for Addiction, we offer evidence-based, individualized approaches to addiction recovery. Treatments can help pave the pathway for a healthy, complete recovery from addiction. These treatments include cognitive behavioral therapy CBT and dialectical behavioral therapy. Complementary approaches such as meditation, art therapy, and motivational enhancement are also beneficial. 

Contact the Massachusetts Center for Addiction at 844-486-0671 to learn more today.

MCA Staff
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