Drugs and alcohol change the human brain. They affect the neurotransmitters and change the neural pathways. However, over time, the changes caused by drugs and alcohol become the norm as the brain adapts. Follow this article to know more about how long it takes to rewire the brain from addiction and what are some of the best ways to stop addiction.
To achieve long-term sobriety and recovery from addiction, a recovering addict must go through a brain rewiring process. This is essentially a re-programming of brain function so that there is a change in drug-seeking behaviors. Until the rewiring process is complete, the person continues to struggle with relapses.
In substance-addicted individuals, certain stimuli tell the individual that they should take drugs to escape reality or withdrawal symptoms. The rewiring process teaches the brain to react differently to the same negative stimuli. For example, if feelings of sadness make a person want to drink alcohol, then sadness is the stimulus that drives a person to drink.
The brain rewiring process teaches the brain to interpret feelings of sadness as something that can be managed by speaking to a loved one or a therapist. So, rewiring the brain is simply retraining the brain to function differently in response to triggers. If you want to know more about how long it takes to rewire the brain from addiction and the best way to stop addiction, then follow this article.
Table of Contents
What is addiction?
An addiction is a chronic dysfunction of the brain system that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequences.
Over time, addictions can seriously interfere with your daily life. People experiencing addiction are also prone to cycles of relapse and remission. This means they may cycle between intense and mild use. Despite these cycles, addictions will typically worsen over time. They can lead to permanent health complications and serious consequences like bankruptcy.
People allude to addiction in everyday conversation, casually referring to themselves as “chocolate addicts” or “workaholics.” However, addiction is not a term clinicians take lightly. Addiction is included as a category and contains both substance use disorders and non-substance use disorders, such as alcohol use disorder and gambling disorder, respectively.
What are different types of addiction?
The term addiction type refers to different forms of addiction and addictive behaviors. The main types of addiction include:
- Substance addiction
- Non substance addiction
Drug addiction, also called substance use disorder, is a disease that affects a person’s brain and behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medicine. Substances such as alcohol, marijuana and nicotine also are considered drugs.
Non substance addiction:
In broader terms, addiction can develop into anything that isn’t substance-related like food, gambling, gaming, shopping, and more. This type of addiction is known as non-substance addiction. When a person engages in these activities, they find it difficult to stop despite their negative effects. It can interfere with a person’s daily life and even put them in unsafe situations.
What is substance addiction?
Abuse of substances such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, prescription medications, and others can cause health issues and serious problems with family, friends, coworkers, job, money, and the law. Yet despite these problems, use of the substance continues. Following are some of the examples of substance addiction:
Alcohol influences everybody in an unexpected way. In any case, assuming you drink excessively and over and over again, your opportunity of a physical issue or accident goes up. Weighty drinking likewise can cause liver and other medical conditions or lead to a more serious liquor issue.
This illegal medication is the normal variant of manmade solution of narcotics. Heroin provides you with a surge of positive sentiments from the outset. Yet, when it wears off, everything dials back. You’ll move and think all the more leisurely, and you might have chills, sickness, and anxiety. You might feel a serious need to take more heroin to feel quite a bit improved.
This medication speeds up your entire body. At the point when you use cocaine, you might talk, move, or think exceptionally fast. You might feel blissful and ready for business. Yet, your temperament may then move to outrage. You might feel like somebody is on a mission to get you. It can make you do things that don’t seem okay. Involving cocaine for quite a while will prompt you for more medication.
Marijuana can make you feel silly and laugh for no reason. Or you may feel sleepy and forget things that just happened. Driving while high on pot is just as dangerous as drunk driving. And heavy marijuana use can leave some people “burned out” and not think or care about much.
You may not consider these as drugs. However, tobacco has a compound called nicotine that provides you with a slight surge of joy and energy. The impact can wear off quickly and leave you needing more. You can mishandle and get dependent on the nicotine in cigarettes, very much like different drugs.
What is a non-substance addiction?
Most people associate addiction with tobacco, drugs, and alcohol. A non-substance addiction includes things such as:
- Gambling addiction
- Sex addiction
- Internet addiction
- Shopping addiction
Gambling addiction, additionally called gambling disorder, is the wild inclination to continue to gamble notwithstanding the cost it takes on your life. Gambling implies that you’re willing to take a chance with something you value in the desire for getting something of much more noteworthy.
Sexual addiction is an intense focus on sexual fantasies, urges or activities that can’t be controlled and cause distress or harm your health, relationships, career or other aspects of your life. Sexual addiction is the most commonly used lay term.
Internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress. Professionals that do recognize internet addiction tend to classify it as either an obsessive-compulsive disorder or an impulse control disorder to aid treatment. Internet addiction is also called compulsive computer use, pathological internet use, and internet dependence.
Shopping addiction is characterized by an eagerness to purchase unnecessary or superfluous things and a lack of impulse control when it comes to shopping. It’s described as the compulsion to spend money, regardless of need or financial means.
What are some of the causes of addiction?
It is still unclear what specifically causes addiction, as risk factors vary between each individual. Scientific research shows that if a person has more risk factors for addiction, they may have a greater chance of misusing substances or developing an addiction. Following are some of the causes that might lead you towards addiction:
- Environmental factors
- Mental health disorders
- Brain changes
Genes can play a significant role in the onset of addiction as some people have a genetic predisposition to addiction. People with a first-degree relative (parent, children, sibling) with addiction may have an increased risk of developing an addiction.
Although there isn’t a definitive causal relationship between addiction and genetics, research has found some interesting links. For example, cannabis use disorder has a genetic component, smoking and alcohol abuse. While there’s still a lot more to learn about the connection between genes and substance use disorder, it’s one of the most common root causes of addiction.
Environmental factors are also a contributing factor, such as being raised in poverty or experiencing an abusive childhood. Other environmental factors that may affect the onset of substance use include peer pressure, unstable home environment, parents that use drugs, presence of drugs at home, and community influence.
Although environmental factors are a high risk for substance use disorders, they can be minimized. Children who grow up with solid family pillars, positive relationships, and a sense of community can develop the self-control needed to protect themselves from some of the risk factors of developing an addiction.
Childhood experiences may significantly impact a person’s physical and mental health. Traumatic childhood experiences may lead to emotional difficulties such as substance abuse. Examples of traumatic experiences include:
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Verbal abuse
- Emotional neglect
- Witnessing violence
- Parental separation or divorce
- Stress related to family
Mental health disorders:
A mental health disorder can come with feelings of stress and anxiety, which increases the risk of addiction. About 50% of people with a substance use disorder also struggle with mental health problems. Individuals with untreated mental health disorders may turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate to cope with their symptoms. Those with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorders are twice as likely to have a substance use disorder.
Physical addiction occurs when the repeated use of an addictive substance changes the way the brain feels pleasure. For many experts, the root cause of addiction refers to brain changes. Addictive substances can cause physical changes that reduce dopamine production and inhibit the brain’s ability to feel pleasure naturally. When this happens, someone who abuses drugs feels they can only operate properly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What are some of the signs of addiction?
Often, people do not acknowledge that they have a problem, and friends or family members are the first to notice something has changed. If you are worried that you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction, uncertainty makes it hard to proceed. However, there are some telltale signs and symptoms to help you identify any potential issues.
- Physical symptoms
- Overall appearance
- Struggling with limits
- Loss of interest
- Mood swings
- Reclusive behavior
- Erratic behavior
- Sleeping habits
Side effects can include slight alterations to physical appearance that may start to become noticeable. Bloodshot or red eyes and pinpoint or dilated pupils are all telling signs of many types of drug abuse. Also, pay attention to skin texture and complexion. Frequent abnormal puffiness and flushed or washed-out color can also indicate ongoing abuse of drugs or alcohol.
Long-term abuse of drugs and alcohol can result in drastic changes to physical appearance. Many drugs have appetite suppressing or other altering side effects, meaning abuse often results in visible weight changes.
These rapid changes to body composition, such as sudden weight loss or weight gain, or lack of interest in personal grooming, especially if it declines without explanation, can also point to substance abuse and can be cause for concern.
Struggling with limits:
This can manifest as urges to take a prescription drug at a higher dose than prescribed or continuing after the health problem it treats has ended. Addiction makes it hard to follow even self-prescribed rules. If you have set yourself a self-imposed use limit but cannot stop yourself, this is a concerning sign.
Loss of interest:
Substance dependency takes over the mind’s reward system. Take note if someone is becoming complacent in realms they used to take great pride in or apathetic towards the people or hobbies they usually cherish.
It may mean they are funneling their energy toward feeding the impulse of using drugs. Frequent failure to show up or follow through on plans, lack of enthusiasm, or dulling of talents can all indicate an underlying struggle.
Many substances, especially when used heavily, impair the user’s ability to manage emotional input. This can appear as sudden misery, extreme upset, irritation, or anger in situations when they could previously handle their moods well. If a normally calm and collected person seems hyper and manic, or an optimist is dealing with sudden waves of depression, it could be a sign of drug abuse.
Substance abuse disorders are incredibly isolating. A user often experiences shame and fears social stigma, and some drugs also can induce paranoia. This can cause a person to withdraw from their usual relationships and become secretive.
Withdrawn behavior and responding with hostility or wariness when uncomfortable topics arise can be a sign of defensiveness. A person trying to hide addiction may redirect the conversation with arguments or even aggressive mood swings, and distraction methods are also a defensive sign.
This trait is usually very evident and a symptom of most substance addictions. Depending on the drug, the high could be associated with euphoria, paranoia, feelings of power, or invulnerability. These are all sensations that can lead users to reckless or dangerous actions. Withdrawal brings with it physical and emotional distress that can also lead to erratic or even violent behavior.
Drug abuse tends to wreak havoc on users’ sleep habits. Both stimulants and depressants alter the activity of hormones responsible for tiredness and wakefulness. This will drive a user off their typical schedule.
An addicted person will sometimes also experience the opposite effects when the drug leaves their system. If someone keeps “off-hours” – be that oversleeping or staying up for extended periods – relative to their usual habits, it can be a sign of growing chemical dependence.
What are the phases of addiction?
Drug addiction rarely happens overnight. It may begin by doing a little speed to lose weight or taking prescription pain medication after a car accident. Before long, the user may be spending more time thinking about how to get the drugs, when to take them, and how to pay for them. He or she may feel anxious, depressed, or angry when a deal falls through or prescription doesn’t get refilled. The stages of drug dependence are as follows:
- Regular use
- Risky use
Drug use is voluntary and infrequent. Individuals experiment with drugs because of peer pressure or in response to problems in their lives. Many people at this stage are able to quit on their own.
Some people find that drugs appear to be solving their problems, so they begin to use more on a regular basis. Drug use may not occur every day, but it tends to follow a predictable pattern, such as using them every weekend or resorting to them when feeling lonely or stressed.
The user begins to experience emotional, physical, social, and legal problems. Adults may drive while under the influence, perform poorly at work, and impair personal relationships. Teenagers do badly at school.
The individual continues using drugs regularly in spite of the harm they cause. Drug use in hazardous situations, such as while driving, becomes habitual. There is increased tolerance to the drug being abused, meaning that he or she needs more of it to have the same effect. The user will experience withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit.
At this stage, drug use is completely out of control. The addict has an irresistible craving for the drug of choice; the majority of his or her time and attention are devoted to seeking it and using it without restraint.
What are the dangers of drug addiction?
These dangers will vary depending on the kind of drug used, the length of use, and many other factors. One thing that many of these dangers have in common is that they affect not only the user but also have a negative impact on those around them.
Physical dangers include:
- Developing tolerance to the drug
- Withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit
- Health problems like; irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and lung problems
- Accidental or self inflicted injury
Social dangers include:
- If you are an addict while being pregnant, you might harm the fetus.
- Putting your relationships with your friends and family at risk.
- Neglecting work and social responsibilities.
- You may get involved in a crime or be a victim to one.
How does addiction affect your brain?
The brain is the most dynamic and complex organ in our bodies. The brain’s proper functioning ensures our very survival. When our brains function well, we are constantly adapting to our environment (our surroundings). Ironically, it is the brain’s ability to be so adaptive that contributes to the formation of addiction. Addiction causes changes to the brain in at least four fundamental ways:
- Addiction can change brain’s natural balance
- Addiction alters brain chemistry
- Addiction changes the brain’s communication patterns
- Addiction can change the brain’s functioning
Addiction can change brain’s natural balance:
Addiction interferes with an important biological process called homeostasis. Scientists consider the human body a biological system. All biological systems attempt to maintain a “normal” balance, known as homeostasis. The brain functions as the “overseer” of this balance.
It makes various adjustments to maintain a balanced, well-functioning, biological system. Each person’s “normal” balance is individually determined. Drugs of abuse and activity addictions lead to changes in this normal balance.
Addiction alters brain chemistry:
Some neurotransmitters are sensitive to specific drugs. All drugs in varying degrees affect neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine have a particularly strong effect on dopamine. However, as previously mentioned both neurotransmitters and receptors play a role in the addictive process.
Addiction changes the brain’s communication patterns:
Unfortunately, the brain’s ability to be so adaptive is also at the root of addiction. The brain adapts to the strong effects of addictive drugs and activities. When it does, changes occur in the brain regions associated with reward, memory and emotion, decision-making, and stress regulation. These changes to our brain make the repeated use of addictive substances or activities very compelling.
Addiction can change the brain’s functioning:
Subsequently, addictions can alter the way brain regions function. In this section, we discuss the regions and structures that are affected by the addictive process. We will review the brain’s role in commonly observed problems associated with addiction:
- Impaired decision-making, impulsivity, and compulsivity
- Drug-seeking and cravings
- Habit formation, craving, withdrawal effects, and relapse triggers
- Stress regulation and withdrawal.
How long it takes to rewire the brain from addiction?
Alcohol and drugs affect the brain’s neurotransmitters and neural pathways. At the same time, the brain strives to maintain balance. As a result, when drugs and alcohol change the brain’s chemistry, the brain adapts. Once the adaptation becomes the norm, the brain will want to “correct” an imbalance when the drug is no longer present by taking the drug again. Over time, substance use disorder changes both the brain’s structure and how it functions.
How long it takes the brain to rewire from addiction depends on various factors, such as the substance being abused, the duration and severity of the substance abuse, and the type of rehab program. For example, some substances like cocaine are highly addictive, making it more challenging to re-configure the brain.
In general, the longer a person has abused drugs and the more severe the drug abuse, the longer it takes to rewire the brain. An evidence-based rehab program can speed up the rewiring process by employing an integrated multi-disciplinary approach to addiction treatment. In some people, the brain rewiring process can take a month. In others, it can take several months.
The good news is that the human nervous system is neuroplastic, meaning it can change for the worse and the better. Brains that have been harmed by substance abuse can unlearn the negative behaviors. The important thing to understand is that addiction recovery is not a magic pill that can make the dependence disappear overnight.
Studies have shown that the brain can and does adjust back to normal or baseline during and after addiction treatment. Research shows that an integrated approach that includes medically managed detoxification, medication management, and behavioral therapies, along with incorporating things like meditation, yoga, and mindfulness into addiction treatment has the best outcomes with the least risk of relapse.
What are some of the best ways to stop addiction?
Addiction creates changes in the brain, leading to a compulsion to use drugs or alcohol. It is a chronic mental health condition; however, sobriety is possible with the proper treatment and support.
- Admit your problem
- Reflect on your addiction
- Professional support
- Appreciate your sobriety
- Identify your triggers
- Change in the environment
- Physical exercise
- Accept your past
Admit your problem:
The hardest part to recovery is admitting you have an addiction. Substance use disorders affect the brain causing it to look for excuses and justifications to keep using. Admitting a problem shows you have the courage to face your addiction and its underlying causes.
There are several places to turn to for help; however, having a solid support system is essential in any treatment approach you choose. If you are not ready to turn to friends or family, consider talking to a therapist, doctor, or rehab facility.
Reflect on your addiction:
Take time to reflect on what is important to you, how addiction has negatively affected you, and how your life will improve with sobriety. The easiest way to reflect effectively is to keep a daily journal. With a journal, you can help yourself start a plan to stop addiction to help identify patterns, triggers, goals, and motivators.
Find a rehab center that offers a peaceful, structured environment to begin the drug and alcohol recovery process. Take part in individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy. It can help you understand the drug or alcohol addiction, figure out how to deal with things that lead to your problems, and generally go on with your life.
Appreciate your sobriety:
Sober living allows you to regain the positive aspects of your life. It can allow you to address co-occurring disorders such as depression and anxiety that can impact addiction. Following are some aspects you will be able to enjoy after recovery:
- A greater sense of freedom
- Improved mental and physical health
- Better financial stability Healthier relationships with friends and family
- More time to spend on what truly matters to you
Identify your triggers:
A trigger is something that causes an emotional reaction based on experience. With addiction, a trigger can often cause a powerful urge to use again. Some common triggers include:
- Uncomfortable emotions environmental cues
- Social isolation
- Mental or physical illness
Once we can identify these triggers, we can manage them by developing healthy coping skills.
Change in the environment:
When you quit drugs or alcohol but continue with the same routines or habits, the chances of relapsing are much higher. Support your recovery by avoiding people, places, and situations that trigger your urge to use. Many changes will happen during recovery, including; the way you deal with stress, who you spend time with, and what you do in your free time.
There is no depression buster as effective for you than exercise. Not only will you improve your overall health and well-being while working up a sweat, but you’ll also feel endorphins being released naturally. Engaging in some form of exercise is often one of the best tips on how to stop addictions.
Accept your past:
It is natural to feel guilty or shameful for your addiction, past behavior, or past actions. As you move forward in your recovery, it is important to deal with these emotions by making amends with yourself and others. After we accept the past, we can provide ourselves with the opportunity for change in the future.
Science has come a long way in helping us understand the way the brain changes in addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, know this – the brain can heal from the aftermath of chemical dependency. Experts suggest 90 days as a general estimate for rewiring the brain, but everyone is different.
The research is out there. Addiction is a brain disease, and healing your brain after addiction is similar to healing your brain after traumatic brain injury in many cases. Addiction changes your brain’s original and natural chemical balance and wiring. To successfully recover from addiction, healing your brain after addiction is essential, as well.