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The Good News: The Brain Also Helps to Reverse Addiction

A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D.

There's no question. Addiction wreaks havoc on the brain. Addiction causes significant chemical, structural, and molecular changes that quite literally hijack the brain. However, treatment can reverse or counteract these effects. Moreover, as the recovery process proceeds, the brain continues to heal.

brainIt is true that many changes occur in the brain after addiction takes hold. But, we must also remember that the brain is a dynamic and ever-changing system. Changes to the brain's neuronal circuits, chemistry, and structures powerfully drive the addiction forward. However, a strong motivation to change, can just as powerfully counter these changes. People can learn new coping skills. They can practice behavioral modification techniques. These efforts will counter those damaging changes. Professional assistance can be enormously helpful as someone learns to overcome addiction's effect on the brain.

Abstinence from addictive substances or activities can lead to a reversal of many physical changes that occurred during addiction. Combination therapies (medications plus psychotherapy) help the recovery process by managing the physiological effects of addiction and withdrawal. Cognitive-behavioral treatments work to mend and repair the psychological impact of addiction. You can learn more about effective treatments by visiting the The Treatment of Addiction section

It should be clear from our presentation that the brain is really quite amazing. It has the capacity to control its own physiology and is highly adaptive. Each behavioral step we make forward has a beneficial physiological effect on the brain. A sincere effort to change behavior is a powerful tool that mends the damaged brain.

When we change our behavior and find healthy outlets for satisfying cravings, we correct damaged brain function. These positive changes form new memory and behavioral circuits in the brain that strengthen and reinforce recovery efforts. Yes, the brain has changed because of the addictive process. Nevertheless, even people with severe addiction problems succeed in overcoming their addictions. Many do so without any outside help. Motivation is the key. We discuss motivation in the next section on the Psychology of Addiction and Recovery.

 

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