Neuroplasticity and Addiction Treatment
In the past, scientists believed that our brain would be flexible at birth, only to strengthen and solidify over time, which would put it in danger of permanent damage. However, in 1948, the term neuroplasticity came about, coined by Polish neuroscientist Jerzy Konorski, changing the way we think about our brain and impacting endless fields of research from psychology to biology, and chemistry.
The research surrounding addiction treatment and recovery was also radically changed by this discovery. But what is neuroplasticity? And how does this impact the ability of a person to recover from addiction? Learn about this powerful natural tool we all already have and how to use it to your advantage.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity is defined as the ability of the brain to adapt and change. Neuroplasticity, also called neural plasticity or brain plasticity, is the feature that allows our brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections. This process is often triggered by the action of learning something new, following a trauma, after a new experience, and thanks to repetition.
These psychological changes usually happen as a result of our interaction with the external environment and continue to change and evolve throughout our lives. It is thanks to this unique ability of the brain that we have the power to change, adapt, and improve. Some of the benefits of brain neuroplasticity include:
- Ability to recover from strokes and traumatic brain injuries
- Ability to reorganize core brain activities if an area becomes damaged
- Heightening the activity of a functioning area to compensate for damaged ones
- Better memory abilities
- Enhanced cognitive abilities
- Ability to learn effectively
How Is Neuroplasticity Connected to Addiction?
This unique ability to change and adapt is what allows us to survive in different situations and environments, but it can also be a double-edged sword. In fact, it is neural plasticity that makes us susceptible to addiction, complicates recovery, and triggers relapses.
Each time you do something new, your brain changes to allow us to learn.
By doing so, it created new neural pathways, which are the roads created by the nervous system to transfer information to and from the brain. If you start learning something new such as a new language or an instrument, your brain will form pathways that were not there before, which are then strengthened by repetition.
When consuming drugs or alcohol, dopamine will create a path to pursue pleasure which, when that pleasure is gone, leads to addiction.
How Does Neuroplasticity Help Overcome Addiction?
As we have seen, the ability to change and adapt that our brain has is one of the main causes of addiction. When these new pathways are formed, they take the place of healthy habits and activities, causing our health to degrade.
However, those old routes are still there, as they don’t disappear completely even after months of disuse. Thanks to repetition and consistency, you are able to reestablish these paths over time and support the type of behavior and routine you wish to keep for the future – and that helps you deal with addiction.
Nonetheless, these radical changes do not happen overnight! Since the new pathways do not lead to something that is immediately rewarding, you will need to keep up healthy habits for months and make sure that abstinence from drugs and alcohol supports your efforts. Strategies such as mindfulness-based relapse prevention (MBRP) are gaining increasing popularity. In fact, mindfulness meditation allows you to better understand your brain and reactions, and you can start making decisions based on your real desires rather than on cravings, pain, or discomfort.
Building a Long-Term Plan for Recovery
Leveraging the natural neuroplasticity of the brain can be a winning strategy in fighting addiction, but it is certainly not a quick or short-term one. As we have seen, the pathways created by cravings and addiction are easily recoverable by the brain – much more than the ones created by years of healthy habits. So, when planning for recovery, make sure to craft a long-term plan with the help of a healthcare professional.
Together, you will be able to implement a holistic addiction treatment approach and understand what new neural pathways to build and what activities can help you do so.
Learn About the Power of Neuroplasticity at Peaks Recovery Centers
At the Peaks Recovery Centers, we create tailored addiction treatment programs that are designed to address each patient’s unique needs. That is why we use a combination of inpatient and outpatient strategies, group activities, and medical support to holistically heal someone struggling with addiction.
However, we also believe in the great power of the brain to heal itself, repair damages, and encourage us to live a long and healthy life. That is why we strive to educate our patients to create new positive pathways and use the power of repetition to fight addiction and relapses. Get in touch today to design a customized long-term plan for recovery.