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How Neuroplasticity and Addiction Recovery Are Intertwined


How Neuroplasticity and Addiction Recovery Are Intertwined

Within days of suffering a debilitating stroke, Anne began rehabilitative therapy. Though initially severely impaired, with timely and intensive rehab, Anne recovers the ability to walk and talk again. Cole, a toddler on the autism spectrum, begins intensive behavioral therapy, and he learns to communicate and navigate school in a general education setting. Despite dealing with intractable depression, Martha is able to experience peace of mind after starting a daily yoga practice, along with conventional therapy.

While each of these examples may seem miraculous, what they actually represent are triumphs of neuroscience. The human brain—once regarded as a static organ when fully developed— was believed to be unable to recover completely from accident or injury. We now know that the brain has the capability to heal itself when damaged. This amazing attribute is called neuroplasticity.  

Neuroplasticity is a term that describes the brain’s ability to adapt by creating and strengthening new neural pathways. Though the connection between neuroplasticity and addiction recovery is not a totally new concept, as time goes on, more and more research emerges showing the brain’s ability to heal itself, and promising science-based addiction recovery programs continue to emerge. When used to guide treatment for substance use disorders, neuroplasticity gives fresh hope to those suffering from addiction.

Understanding the Connection Between Neuroplasticity and Addiction Recovery

How Neuroplasticity Influences Active Addiction in the First Place

Thanks to medical research, we now understand that the human brain adapts continuously as we go through the day. As we learn and experience life, connections are made in our brains through the release of dopamine, creating navigable pathways. Once created, these functional neural pathways are strengthened if they are important to us and reinforced as we practice or repeat them. Pathways that are neglected may be “pruned” if unused or unnecessary. Trauma, like an accident or illness, can disrupt these pathways, causing damage.

When addiction occurs, the brain’s reward pathways are “hijacked” by substance abuse. Though alcohol and various addictive drugs affect the process differently, these substances all disrupt dopamine communication and overstimulate neural pathways in the brain’s reward center, creating a feeling of euphoria. In time, after repeated exposure to addictive substances, the reward center becomes desensitized or tolerant, blocking the effects of other pleasurable stimuli. This creates a reliance on more and more of the substance to achieve the same effect. These negative neuroplastic changes make addiction a chronic, relapsing disorder of the brain. 

How Addiction Treatment Can Harness Positive Neuroplasticity for Long-Term Recovery

While brain damage was once regarded as permanent, now we know that the brain has the incredible capacity to recover from various traumas and injuries. If neuroplastic changes caused by substance use creates addiction, it’s logical that neuroplasticity holds the key to recovery. Just as those recovering from a stroke are capable of forging new neural pathways, those whose brains have been corrupted by substance abuse may find similar benefits. For this reason, the concept of neuroplasticity holds a great deal of promise when applied to those in recovery from addiction. 

Recovery from substance use disorders must first involve safe and effective detoxification. However, when the brain has come to depend on a substance, simply removing it from the body is not enough. The next phase of the rehab process must include learning to live without the substance—and coping with life’s challenges in new and more effective ways. The possibility of creating new neural pathways that bypass the ones corrupted by substance abuse represents the best-case scenario and the promise of real recovery.

Your Next Steps Toward Powerful Science-Based Addiction Rehab

How can you harness the incredible healing potential of neuroplasticity in your addiction recovery? Look for a rehabilitation center that understands and exploits its tremendous healing capacity. An innovative program that applies neuroscience principles to the practice of addiction medicine offers the potential to rewire and actually heal neural pathways damaged by substance abuse.

So, what would using neuroplasticity in addiction recovery look like? Though the brain is constantly adapting, some healing may be time-sensitive and dependent on appropriate stimulation. You may be surprised to hear that neuroplastic healing may be as accessible as using exercise in a meaningful way in a therapeutic rehab setting. Since exercise has the power to trigger dopamine release in a safe and healthy manner, programs that incorporate exercise strategically may help build new neural pathways that bypass those corrupted by substance use.

Neuroplasticity involves training the brain to create new pathways that detour around those formed in the throes of addiction. In conjunction with counseling and evidence-based behavioral therapies, neuroplastic training can help our brains learn to find pleasure in healthy lifestyle choices and supportive social interactions. By reprogramming our brain’s reward center to appreciate the things sidelined by addiction, we can find pleasure in sober living and substantially improve our quality of life. Neuroplasticity represents an opportunity to truly heal from the damage wrought by substance use disorders. Make sure it is a significant focus in your recovery.

If you’re ready to hear more about how neuroplasticity and addiction recovery are intertwined, the addiction medicine specialists at New Choices Treatment Centers are here to help. With a therapeutic program grounded in neuroscience and a continuum of care options to meet you wherever you are now, our team has the knowledge and experience to significantly impact your recovery. Contact us to learn more. Call (726) 888-7003 to get the admissions process started.