Going through an addiction recovery program has plenty of obstacles and challenges. Once you’ve made it through, you may be wondering if life gets better. You have to heal and rebuild, and returning to the real world can feel overwhelming.
It does get better, however. This transitional period will have changes, steps, challenges, and resolutions – it’s natural to wonder if it’ll get better and if you can experience joy and pleasure without substances.
Understanding the Brain and Addiction
In many ways, addiction is like other chronic health conditions. Think of heart disease, which can permanently damage the heart and change its function. Addiction works the same way, except that it impairs how the brain works.
Typically, the changes occur in the frontal cortex – the area associated with decision-making and judgment. Addiction is similar to other chronic diseases in different ways. It may change biology, but it is treatable and preventable.
One of the most important effects of addiction is that it affects the way the brain experiences pleasure and rewards. Many things can be rewarding, including romantic encounters, eating good food, and watching “guilty pleasure” entertainment like a bad reality TV show.
Whatever the pleasurable trigger is, it prompts the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine into the brain’s pleasure center (the nucleus accumbens). This reward system design supports our needs as a species and ensures our survival, but substances can mess with this process.
Nicotine, alcohol, and illicit drugs also prompt dopamine release – sometimes at a higher level than other triggers – and are positively associated with the drug. They’re essentially a “shortcut” to pleasure.
However, over time, it takes more and more of the substance to create the same rewarding effects (tolerance). The brain gets used to the effects of the substance, and dopamine has less of an impact. The person with the addiction needs to take more and more of the substance to get the same pleasurable feeling they once did, and more frequently.
Your Body During/After Addiction Recovery
The brain in recovery from addiction is a newer area of research compared to the factors and effects of addiction. Early research indicates that the brain can recover with time and abstinence. The process and length of time can vary according to the individual, the length of substance use, and the length of time of abstinence.
To some degree, we cannot reverse the damage to the brain caused by substance use. But emerging research suggests that brain health and neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to modify, change, and adapt in response to experience. Essentially, the brain can be “rewired” to function differently than it did previously.
Can I Move On After Addiction Recovery?
Recovery from addiction isn’t the same for everyone. Aside from the physiological effects of addiction, there may also be challenges related to old behaviors and choices. People may also face a stigma, which can make moving forward difficult.
A big part of staying on the road to recovery is learning strategies to identify triggers, cope with stress, and manage a life free from addiction. These may include:
- Understanding external triggers, or the people, places, and things that are associated with cravings and substances use
- Understanding internal triggers, or the feelings, thoughts, and emotions that are often associated with substance use
- Developing a plan to cope with or avoid triggers, such as removing yourself from a situation with a lot of people drinking alcohol or using substances
- Recognizing the relapse warning signs, such as compulsive behaviors, seeking out alcohol and drugs, irresponsible behaviors, or addictive thought patterns
- Building a solid support system, such as a group of sober friends, trusted family, or a support group for people with substance use disorders
- Developing structure with your schedule, such as going to work on time and keeping to a set bedtime routine
- Picking up a hobby or returning to school
- Exercising regularly and sticking with a well-balanced diet
- Practicing relaxation, such as meditation or yoga
- Celebrating milestones and new experiences and activities related to a new, healthy lifestyle
Long-Term Addiction Recovery at Silver Sands Recovery
Recovering from addiction involves detox and abstinence and learning effective strategies for long-term sober living. At Silver Sands Recovery, we support you not only in the initial stages of your treatment but help you with long-term and repeated care to get on the path to healing. Contact us today to learn more about our addiction treatment programs.
About the author:
Lisa Waknin is the Founder and Director of Silver Sands Recovery, located in Prescott, Arizona. Lisa started Silver Sands Recovery after immersing herself in the addiction treatment world for several years to figure out what could be done differently to help her daughter and others like her to overcome addiction and stay sober. She believes in a hands-on treatment approach, which includes taking someone out of their environment, providing a 90-day program in a structured environment. During treatment, clients not only recover physically but also learn to live their life again. Lisa is a sought-after expert speaker for recovery support groups, charities, schools, communities, and companies wanting to educate themselves on the explosion of opiate and heroin abuse in our country and the best way to understand, treat, and beat it.