One of the many benefits of getting help for a substance use disorder is that it can give your body and mind the opportunity to heal from the damage of active addiction. But, how long it takes to rewire the brain after addiction?
How Does the Brain Rewire Itself After Addiction?
Just so we’re 100% clear here: Neither the brain nor the central nervous system (CNS) have actual wires. When we talk about the brain’s ability to “rewire” itself after addiction, we’re speaking metaphorically. The clinical term for what occurs is neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to perform two types of tasks:
- Regenerate (regrow or repair) cells and tissues
- Reorganize connections between neurons
In other words, the brain is able to make both structural and functional changes to either replace damaged areas within the central nervous system or create “workarounds” that allow other parts of the CNS to take on responsibilities that were previously handled by the damaged areas.
Neuroplasticity doesn’t only occur after addiction-related damage. This phenomenon has also been observed in people who have had strokes and traumatic brain injuries.
How Long Does it Take to Rewire the Brain After Addiction?
There is unfortunately no definitive timeframe for how long it takes to rewire the brain after addiction. In fact, there’s no guarantee that it will happen at all.
The ability of the brain to heal from the damage of addiction depends on several factors, including how long someone had been abusing substances, which drugs they were addicted to, and what type of harm their addictive behaviors inflicted on their CNS.
In some cases, people begin to see improvements in brain functioning within a month after they end their drug use. If the brain is able to fully rewire itself after addiction, it can take several months or even years to complete this process.
When discussing how long it takes to rewire the brain after addiction, there is one standard that applies to everyone: The process can’t begin until the person stops abusing the substance they had become dependent on.
What Can I Do to Help Rewire My Brain After Addiction?
Since there can be such variation in how long it takes to rewire the brain after addiction, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to speed up the process. You can’t force your brain to suddenly heal itself, but there are some steps you can take to boost brain health and promote neuroplasticity. Here are a few examples:
- Meditate: Multiple studies have found that meditating on a regular basis can improve neuroplasticity, reduce the rate of age-related brain degeneration, and enhance cognitive functions such as memory, attention, and spatial relations. Mindfulness-based activities such as journaling, breathing exercises, and yoga may also assist your brain as it works to rewire itself after addiction.
- Learn a new skill: Learning is an excellent activity for neuroplasticity. Various sources suggest that learning a new language and learning to play a musical instrument may be particularly effective. Learning requires attention, planning, memory, and cognitive flexibility. If you are learning to play an instrument or participate in a sport, coordination and motor skills also come into play. All of these can increase brain matter and encourage further healing.
- Create art: Drawing, painting, and sculpting all involve focus, attention, motor skills, memory, and emotions. You don’t have to be an award-winning artist to benefit from these types of activities. Regardless of how satisfied you are with your finished product, the act of creating itself is what’s important for neuroplasticity.
- Travel: Going somewhere unfamiliar can challenge your brain in many ways. You may have to learn a new public transportation system or otherwise navigate through a new environment. You may need to pick up at least a few key words in a new language and mentally calculate exchange rates when making purchases. These and other types of travel-related learning and problem-solving challenges can help your brain rewire itself after addiction.
- Stay active: Physical exercise and appropriate rest aren’t only good for your body. They can also have a beneficial effect on your brain. This doesn’t mean you have to hit the gym every day or train for a marathon. Going for walks, riding your bike, playing with your dog, and digging in your garden are examples of healthy physical activities. What’s most important is finding something that you enjoy, so you’ll be more likely to make it a regular part of your daily or weekly schedule.
As an added bonus, the five activities that we’ve listed here can also help you fill the hours that you used to spend acquiring, using, and recovering from alcohol or other drugs. They can also be ideal ways to manage stress or cope with setbacks.
Finding healthy and productive ways to keep yourself occupied can be an essential part of successful recovery. Every moment that you’re focused on these or similar pursuits is another moment when you’re not thinking about substances.
Explore Addiction Treatment Options in the Atlanta Area
As we noted earlier in this post, your brain can’t begin to rewire itself after addiction until you’ve ended your abuse of alcohol or other drugs. If you need help with that, Peachtree Recovery Solutions is here for you.
Our addiction treatment center in Atlanta, Georgia, is a trusted source of customized outpatient care for adults who have been struggling with addictions and dual diagnosis disorders. We also offer a detox program, as well as gender-specific services for men and women.
At Peachtree Recovery Solutions, you will never be defined by your disorder or judged by the choices you made when you were in the midst of active addiction. Here, you will be treated as a valuable individual who deserves to live a healthier and more hopeful life.
To learn more about us, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today.