Just like substance use created changes in your brain, changes also occur when you stop using drugs. While not all of the damages that occur during addiction can be reversed during recovery, you’d be surprised how much recovery affects the brain. Research has led to a better understanding of the brain and advances in brain health related to recovery.
Your Healthy Brain
Your brain handles every function of your body. It regulates your body temperatures, controls your emotions and decision making, tells your lungs to fill with air, and manages your coordination. Neurotransmitters send signals through brain chemicals that work as messages telling the body what to do. It also houses the neurons that affect cravings, compulsions, and habits.
A healthy brain lights up on brain scans showing greater activity and function. It confirms that the chemical messaging system is working well. But any disease can affect this healthy light-show inside your brain. Just like other chronic diseases, addiction changes the biology of the brain.
Your Brain During Addiction
Drug addiction, in particular, affects the frontal cortex, which results in less activity on scans. Since this is the part associated with judgment and decision-making, addiction causes the brain to significantly impact a person’s overall brain health. The changes you experience from substance use also begin to make your brain dependent on the substances you are using.
Your brain neurons build strong connections with the substance and begin to think it needs it to get the same effect, structurally changing how your brain works. Your brain begins to crave what the substance provided, which is whatever reward was triggered by the substance’s intense stimulation. Eventually, the good feelings the substances provide begin to feel normal, and you need to continue using them to feel the same. Long-term addiction can even cause brain damage or death.
Your Brain During Recovery
When you first stop using drugs and alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms and may feel worse than you were using. This is due to the cravings affecting the brain and how it functions. The brain’s changes now have to be reversed, and the neurotransmitters that were shut off in place of the substances need to be taught how to turn back on.
Remember that brain image that lit up for a healthy brain? Taking those same scans one month after quitting drugs showed that decreased brain function had occurred, but retaking it 14 months into recovery showed that the brain had returned to almost normal. This should give you hope that drug abuse affecting the brain can be reversed to some degree.
Some studies show that recovery affects the brain health of those abstaining from alcohol use. Teens showed significant recovery regarding behaviors and emotions, suggesting the prefrontal cortex was positively affected. Other studies confirmed that just a few days of abstinence helped improve executive functioning, short-term memory, and increased cerebellar volume.
Furthermore, research shows that the brain can work around damaged areas, referred to as plasticity. This allows your brain to continue functioning even when the damage has occurred, sometimes even growing new pathways or moving messages through a different pathway. It’s like losing your right hand and learning to write with your left. Over time, the brain will adapt, rewire, or renew itself and work through the changes brought on by the substance use.
Beginning the Process of Recovery with Midwest Recovery Center
There are many steps to take toward your recovery process: the decision to quit, the removal of the abused substances, the withdrawal period, and the brain’s changes to stay sober. Things like exercise have proven to help with brain health and recovery, but sometimes you need more help. Midwest Recovery Center can do just that. For more information, visit our website, call us at 833.627.0039, or contact us online.