A Timeline for the Mind to Recover from Alcohol and Drugs

As much damage as I did to my body during my substance abuse, the damage I did to my brain was just as bad. I struggled with opiate addiction for many years and had completely rewired my brain. My drug abuse made nothing else matter but the next fix. The good people of South Shores Detox and Recovery did the impossible by helping me get my mind back.

Drug addiction leads to a change in brain chemistry that isn’t easy to come back from. At the beginning of my addiction treatment, I couldn’t imagine a life without drugs. My mind could not comprehend not getting high again. It was a scary feeling. I truly thought that there was nothing they could do for me and almost nothing I could do for myself.

Read on to learn more about my personal story of how long to rewire brain from addiction from my experiences, and the road to recovery I fought to find with the help of South Shores!

How Did Substance Abuse Become My Daily Life?

In this journal, I will walk you through my addiction, my mental health struggles, and how I was able to slowly get my mind back. Your brain is precious and brain health is vital to living any kind of a healthy lifestyle. So let’s dive in.

Substance use disorder creates a lot of different problems that require a certain professional expertise to overcome. There are physical, psychological, emotional, and mental health issues that must be dealt with in order to win your fight against addiction.

The impact of prolonged substance abuse on the brain further complicates substance use disorder, affecting the brain’s reward circuit, the extended amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex, leading to decreased pleasure sensitivity, increased stress and anxiety, and impaired rational thinking and impulse control. The human brain is complex and we still don’t know what to expect from it.

A Path That Started as a Teen

Path That Started as a Teen Shows How Long to Rewire the Brain from Addiction

I began abusing drugs and alcohol in my teenage years and by the time I was an adult, I had a full-blown opiate addiction. One thing that I didn’t learn until later in life is that your brain is still developing well into your early twenties. Drug abuse at a young age can alter your brain function and development.

I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and was prescribed Adderall. I quickly began to abuse it and sold it to my classmates so that I could buy other drugs like marijuana. I was introduced to opiates around the age of fifteen and that quickly became my drug of choice.

The Rewiring Of The Brain Through Drugs

My parents knew I was struggling with drug addiction, and tried to get me into addiction recovery multiple times. It would be a long time before I finally decided to give treatment a chance. All I wanted to do was get high. My brain was already completely rewired by the drugs by the time I reached the age of eighteen.

It’s very difficult to explain to an addict the effect that the drugs have on their brain. An addict will only seek treatment if they make that decision themselves. Once your brain has been rewired by drugs, making that decision on your own becomes increasingly tough.

The brain rewires itself differently based on many factors, it is a complex organ after all. With lost grey matter and brain changes due to substance use disorders, research shows that people react differently in regard to recovery time. Substance use disorders disrupt the balance of brain chemicals, which are crucial for mood regulation, decision-making, and behavior control, further complicating the brain’s rewiring process during recovery.

How Drug Abuse Changes Your Brain

Your brain is comprised of many different transmitters that all work together and send signals back and forth to each other. Your nucleus accumbens and corresponding neural pathways are what send these signals back and forth throughout the body.

The brain adapts accordingly to different substances that enter your body and becomes accustomed to certain stimuli from them. Most drugs begin to create expected effects, and the brain perceives their absence as negative stimuli, and rewards repeated use, especially with highly addictive drugs like meth and fentanyl (or alcohol for that matter).

Drugs and alcohol interfere with the way your brain sends these signals. This throws off your brain’s chemical processes. When you use drugs or alcohol, your brain produces a surge of dopamine, effectively hijacking the brain’s reward system.

This system, integral to our survival by rewarding life-sustaining activities, is manipulated by substance use, leading to habit loops and a rewiring of the brain’s natural response to pleasure and satisfaction. The brain is greatly affected by chemical dependency, up to and including structural changes.

How Your Brain Adapts to Substance Use

Brain Adapts to Substance Use

Once you become addicted to drugs or alcohol, your brain adapts and requires more and more dopamine in order for you to feel the ‘high’ associated with substance misuse. This is how drugs and alcohol rewire the brain. Your brain structure and brain chemistry are completely thrown off and this can lead to difficult emotions and a change in behavioral patterns.

Substance use disorders lead to changes in different brain regions, particularly your prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia. The way drugs affect these regions is why recovery is so difficult. You have changed your brain and made it so your brain can only associate happiness or euphoria with your drug use.

Supporting a healthy brain through regular therapy, mindfulness, self-care, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep is crucial in the recovery process to reverse the damage caused by substance misuse, at least it was for me and most of the people I have seen be successful in their sobriety.

What Tools Look at Brain Chemistry and the Effects of Drugs?

In looking at brain scans taken using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) technologies, you can see how the brain’s neurotransmitters actually change over time when using drugs. Can the brain heal if you misuse drugs for many years?

I like to think I am living proof that it can, but medical professionals warn that dopamine levels, blood flow, and even the physical structure of the brain can take time to recover. There is no simple answer to how long does it take to rewire the brain from addiction, as the frontal cortex and various areas of the brain can take quite a battering from addictive substances.

A general estimate from experts is that at least a year of continuous abstinence and attendance of support groups can help reverse the damage done by drugs and alcohol. The inpatient services I got at South Shores helped me find the right footing to start this process, and I will never forget how they essentially gave me my life back.

How Brain Health Affects Everything

Because your brain is so greatly affected by addiction behaviors such as drug use, it can take a lot for you to get it back to normal. Everyone is different and has a different personality as well, so there are many different things to consider when trying to help someone recover from substance abuse.

Your brain’s recovery is dependent on how far you are willing to go to get help. Oftentimes an addict is required to hit rock bottom before they finally decide to seek help. At this point, your brain is emptied of dopamine and unable to produce enough to help you escape into your high.

When I was at my worst, I couldn’t escape all of the negative thoughts and behavioral changes that I was faced with. Recovery and maintaining brain health is a lifelong process, emphasizing that overcoming addiction and its impact on the brain requires ongoing commitment, self-care, and support.

Addictive Behaviors and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Addictive behaviors require a conscious effort on the part of the addict to help fix them. I had lost so many brain cells and neural pathways and my brain function was so weak that I never imagined getting clean was in my future.

When I arrived at South Shores Detox and Recovery, I needed to focus on every aspect of my personality in order to get clean. Addressing physical dependence alongside psychological challenges is crucial in the recovery process, and CBT plays a significant role in overcoming these obstacles.

It took one on ones over many weeks, Zoom sessions of family therapy, and a lot of my own faulty thinking exposed before I began to see positive changes. But CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and the rest of the methods my therapy team at South Shores used certainly helped me retrain my brain over time.

But the brain rewiring process does take time, it does not happen overnight!

I had a lot of physical withdrawal symptoms in detox, but mental withdrawal was the hardest game to play. How am I ever going to stay clean when I leave here? How is my brain affected by my decisions? I had so many questions and I didn’t know if I’d ever find an answer to them.

How Addiction Treatment Can Help You Get Your Brain Back

There has been a lot of addiction research into how different treatments help you heal your brain. I have to say again how much cognitive behavioral therapy helped me tremendously during those first few weeks of treatment.

CBT helps you challenge your negative thought patterns and improve your emotional responses. My brain was wired to think negatively in almost every single area of my life. CBT helped me realize that basically all of it was in my head and not reality.

Brain rewiring looks different for everyone. There are a lot of behavioral therapies out there. What works for one person may not work for another. Through my treatment, I was encouraged to engage in as much physical activity as possible, as physical activity has been proven to improve brain function.

Additionally, incorporating structural brain measurement techniques has shown significant relevance in monitoring the brain’s recovery, offering a tangible method to observe the changes and improvements during treatment.

Getting Physical and Present in the Moment

Focusing on physical health

When I got out of treatment I began going to the gym and making it a point to be highly active. Whenever I am focusing on my physical health, I notice that my mental health is better. It may not seem like much, but even small things like getting outside for a walk can lead to the best outcomes for addicts.

The big thing for me in my early days of recovery was working on my impulse control. There will always be triggers, and it doesn’t take much sometimes to fall into relapse. This is why your recovery needs to be the number one priority in your life. It can seem daunting at first, but the reward is worth it.

Lasting Recovery For Your Body and Mind

Now that I am sober, it’s interesting to look back on my mindset when I was deep into my addiction. Everything that I have now seemed unattainable when I was struggling with my addiction to opiates. My relationships are all better and I have much more self-esteem, which before I didn’t have at all.

I have built up a great community around me of other people in recovery, and they help keep me in check. I go to meetings frequently and I see people struggling on a regular basis. We all struggle from time to time in recovery, and it’s important to keep in mind that it isn’t going to be perfect all of the time. The way that we respond in these moments is what’s most important.

How Long to Rewire Brain from Addiction: Overcoming Moments of Weakness

I’ve had moments where I thought I would relapse and have come very close. My treatment and recovery have taught me enough about myself that I know how to work through those feelings when they come up. I am aware of my surroundings and I don’t go places or associate with people who may trigger me. I believe that recovery is possible for everybody if they are willing to give themselves over to it.

These days I counsel others on the dangers of addictions and try to talk to as many people as possible about what I went through. This is how I fill the void that I used to fill with drugs. I look forward to any opportunity to talk about the dangers of addiction.

Reach Out for Support and Join Our Recovery Family

Reach Out for Support

My life has become more fulfilling now than I ever could have imagined before. This is what recovery through South Shores Detox and Recovery can do for you.

Why not reach out today and get options if you’re struggling and wondering about how to retrain your brain and find a life outside of drugs and alcohol?