How Long Does It Take To Rewire the Brain After Addiction?
With long-term drug and alcohol use often comes the changing of the brain and how it functions. As your addiction continues and develops, so does your brain alongside it. Rewiring is done to adapt to the substances you are putting into your body; the effects can be damaging. But there is hope, and you are not alone.
When you stop using drugs and alcohol and work on your addiction, the brain begins to rewire to find its way back to normal. The process of addiction recovery is when the rewiring happens, but it can be difficult to stay sober as your brain is not yet adjusted to sobriety.
The process of rewiring your brain is not easy and takes dedication. Learn more about how long it takes for your brain to rewire after addiction and what the process can look like. This is your journey, and we want to offer support through knowledge and community.
The Brain and Addiction
Drugs and alcohol flood the brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Inebriation can make you feel a sense of euphoria that you begin to long for when you’re not using. When you aren’t using, the lack of dopamine can make you feel depressed and agitated.
The longer you use the substance, the more time your brain has to adjust and alter its chemistry, structure, and function.
At some point, it becomes a dependency where you cannot function properly without substances in your system. While getting help and entering the recovery journey can be difficult, it’s possible, and we believe you can do it. You just might need some extra support.
Effects of Addiction on the Brain
Areas that are impacted by addiction are the reward system (basal ganglia), the emotional regulation unit (amygdala), and the impulse control and decision-making center (prefrontal cortex). As you continue to use these substances, your brain becomes more damaged and will take longer to heal from addiction.
Some characteristics that might become apparent as these changes occur in the brain are:
You no longer experience pleasure towards things that you once did.
You lack decision-making skills.
You are more easily agitated or stressed out.
You lack control over your emotions and actions.
You become cued into things that remind you of the substance.
Brain Studies Show Proof
When we say addiction changes the structure and function of your brain, there is no denying it. Brain scans of addicted individuals have shown that flows of dopamine are different compared to people who do not use drugs.
The levels also change in the areas associated with pleasure, making it more appealing to use substances again.
Even after you have gone through the recovery process, your brain can still trick you into thinking you need drugs. The drug-seeking behavior might stick with you for years to come, and you’ll have to fight back against it every day.
The further that your brain goes into rewiring itself to accommodate your addiction, the more likely it is that you will continue to sink deeper into it.
How Do You Rewire Your Brain After Addiction?
If your goal is to become sober and maintain sobriety, you will have to undergo the rewriting of your brain after addiction. Addiction is considered a treatable disease, but it takes hard work and dedication to be successful.
With people who struggle with addiction, there can be stimuli that come out of nowhere and trigger your brain into thinking it needs a substance to cope. An addicted brain interprets certain feelings and situations as a reason to use drugs or alcohol. Whether that feeling is stress or happiness, your brain's first signal will be to reward yourself.
Essentially, you want to teach your brain to react to the situation or stimuli in a different, more functional, and healthy way. Instead of drinking in response to good news, you can call a friend and get yourself a nice dessert!
Most people that struggle with addiction have to undergo the detoxification process to start the rewiring of the brain. You need to train your brain to be functional without substances.
For people that have severe addictions, trying to undergo the detoxification process by yourself can be extremely dangerous. Withdrawal symptoms are not to be taken lightly.
If you are a long-term user of substances, your body will rely on that drug to function. You might suffer from seizures, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, fever, and other signs of illness.
By entering a detoxification program, you can get assistance from trained medical professionals to ensure your safety during this difficult process. If you want to get to the point where you can rewire your brain, you have to do this first.
Therapy and Dedication
Just because you have gotten the substance completely out of your system doesn’t mean you are free from any other withdrawal symptoms. The first few days after it’s out of your system, the only thing you’re going to want to do is use. It takes serious dedication to resist the temptation of using substances, and it might be like that for a while.
The use of individual and group therapy can be helpful when trying to rewire the brain. You will want positive influences around you who can help guide you toward sobriety. You should find ways to acquire the feeling of pleasure in a healthy, non-dangerous way.
Community and Support
On top of the personal growth you will be doing to become sober, you can (and should) seek support from your community. Whether within your family and friend group, at support group meetings, or online on sobriety apps, the support you get from your community can encourage you to stay sober.
The fastest way to rewire your brain is through sobriety. If you no longer get dopamine from drugs and alcohol, your brain will find other ways to make it. Having a community behind you supporting your sobriety makes this period a lot easier to go through.
How Long Does It Take To Rewire?
Rewiring your brain after addiction will look different for everyone. Substances that are more addictive than others might damage your brain’s functioning, resulting in a longer recovery journey. It can take anywhere from a month to over a year for a brain to rewire itself. But don’t lose hope! The brain is a remarkable organ and can heal itself with your support.
The human nervous system is neuroplastic, which can change depending on what you are doing to it. It is possible to unlearn negative behaviors when you consciously put in the effort to get better.
Results Can Vary
Everyone has their own journey when it comes to addiction. This is the same sentiment when it comes to the recovery journey. Your history with drugs and alcohol will impact how your brain rewires itself.
How long it takes for your brain to rewire would depend on when you started using, how frequently you use, and what drug you use. This, paired with your mental and physical health history, financial stability, and environmental setting, can impact your rewiring time.
The support you get from people around you can also impact how fast your brain rewires. The more help you get, the less stress you undergo. When you stop using drugs and alcohol, you probably won’t immediately feel good about it.
When you have people cheering you on and finding ways to make your life easier, you can focus more of your energy on healing yourself.
Get Help With Sober Sidekick
Whether you’ve started the rewiring process or want to, finding yourself a community of people who are going through the same situation can make it a lot easier. There is a convenience to accessing a community like this, and Sober Sidekick understands that.
You never know when you’ll need extra support, encouragement, or even a reality check. When you use Sober Sidekick, the application where sober individuals support each other anonymously, you can work on yourself without leaving your couch.
Join AA groups whenever you need, talk to professionals if you are seeking advice, and find someone to become accountability partners with. Download the app for Android or iPhone today and gain access to a community seeking the same thing as you.
The Addicted Human Brain: Insights From Imaging Studies | NCBI
Relationship Of Hope, Sense Of Community, And Quality Of Life | NCBI
1 Overview, Essential Concepts, and Definitions in Detoxification | NCBI