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Recovery Can Reverse Brain Damage From Drugs

by Landmark Recovery

February 8, 2021
Scan shows reversed brain damage from drugs

How Recovery Can Help Reverse Brain Damage Caused by Substance Abuse

Is it possible to reverse brain damage from drugs? Drugs, alcohol, and all other addictive substances have an effect on the brain. However, the euphoric feelings they bring carry a cost. Some of these substances can trigger seizures or cause strokes, while other substances can cause damage directly to brain cells.

One of the defining characteristics of addiction is that is causes long-lasting changes in the brain. The changes caused by addiction can alter the way the brain functions. This causes disruptions in the areas involved in impulse control, pleasure, learning, stress, and memory.

The human brain can repair itself or adapt to its new circumstances in  many instances. When functions have been impaired due to damaged brain cells, the brain itself can rewrite its functioning. It will switch to using alternate neural circuits to carry out these functions. Researchers have been trying to tap into this ability so that they can help reverse brain damage from drugs.

Today, we’ll explore the damage done to the brain through substance abuse. Then, we’ll examine whether this damage can be reversed through rehab and recovery.

Damage to the Brain

People struggling with addiction face many health problems, physical changes, and behavioral issues. Through research, scans, and images of the brain have also clearly shown that there are signs of addiction in the organ itself.

How Substance Abuse Damages the Brain

Researchers can see inside a person’s brain using medical scans. The team scanned the brains of people in the throes of addiction and in people who did not struggle with addiction. They found that the structure and chemistry of the brain show clear signs of addiction.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is part of the reward pathway. This chemical affects the areas of the brain that are associated with pleasure and decision making. Researchers followed the dopamine through the brains of people who abused substances using PET scan technology. The researchers found that there were low levels of dopamine in the areas of the brain that controlled repetitive behavior and risk-taking. They reasoned that this is why the addicted person compulsively uses drugs and alcohol.

In another study, researchers used MRI scans to study the brains of people with substance use disorders. This study gave further insight into why people battling addiction tend to relapse. The MRI scans showed that the area of the brain that stimulates cravings was highly active in individuals who abuse substances. It was especially active when they were exposed to certain triggers.

There are many pathways in the brain that are tied to addictive activities. One study found that the pathways in the brain are especially susceptible to addictive substances like drugs and alcohol. These pathways can encourage the brain to rewire itself. This results in the brain encouraging an individual to continue in their destructive habits.

Some Good News About How to Reverse Brain Damage from Drugs

Fortunately, MRIs, PET scans, and other forms of scanning the brain are not used only for doom and gloom scenarios. The ability to scan the brain can be extremely helpful in treatment and recovery as well.

Doctors, scientists, and other treatment professionals can use this information in helping addicts, because they are able to actually see the areas of the brain that are affected by addiction.

Scans of the brain can give us more insight into the damage that has been done by substance abuse and addiction. Also, they can help develop and treat a sober brain.

Can Rehab Reverse Brain Damage from Drugs?

The human brain is remarkable, but also incredibly delicate and vulnerable. Addiction can cause severe damage to the brain, but researchers believe that the brain can “unlearn” behaviors that are conducive to addiction.

Researchers found that the risk of relapse was greatly reduced when incorporating mindfulness into treatment for addiction. Additionally, the pathways in the brain that can trigger relapse can be “retrained” by practicing mindfulness. Retraining the brain in this way can help reverse brain damage from drugs.

Research indicates that in individuals who relapse on alcohol, there is little development in the area of the brain that is in control of reward and pleasure. Seeing these changes allows professionals to create new treatment and rehab methods to specifically target this issue and reverse alcohol brain damage.

Other studies have shown the brain can heal itself in the aftermath of addiction. One such study showed that after a year of treatment and recovery, the brains of the patients showed a significant increase in dopamine proteins. This made the patients more likely to remain sober.

While nothing shows that all brain function can return, it’s highly likely that much of it will. According to the National Institute of Health, abstaining from substances for one year can result in a reversal of the structural changes in the brain.

Every person will have a different experience with brain healing depending on the substance that was used. It is also important how often it was used and for how long the abuse has been happening. While the brain will not instantaneously return to a normal state, abstaining from substances will stop further damage from occurring.

Here to Help

Here at Landmark Recovery we aim to help our patients understand their addictions, manage them, and overcome them. We achieve this by utilizing research-based approaches to treatment.

If you or a loved one is battling substance abuse and are ready to get help, we are here for you. Call us at 888-448-0302 or leave your information on the Contact Us page.

We are ready to help you learn about your options for recovery. We are eager to help you heal the damage that addiction has done to your brain, your body, and your life.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.