Reprogramming The Brain After Addiction Treatment

Having an addiction can change your life. At a cellular level, these changes happen even in the minute areas of the brain. Can the brain be rewired to overcome a substance use problem? If so, how can you do this? Read to know more.

Many researchers believe that the brain is similar to a flexible muscle rather than a dormant organ. According to the theory of neuroplasticity, the brain has the capacity to remodel and grow according to the stimulation it is facing in the environment. This is why many educators promote early intervention for children with disabilities, and orthopedists push for therapy in stroke victims.

How About Brain Rewiring In Addiction?

When you have a substance use disorder problem, you may be wondering how to stop addictions by rewiring your brain. Just like how drugs and alcohol can alter your brain chemistry, you can halt or reverse the process through various forms of treatment.

Is there a cure-all for addiction?

However, it is essential to know that not all treatments will be effective for the same individual. Addiction is a complex brain disease that affects the person not just on a physical level, but also their mental, emotional, and relational states. Substance use disorder (SUD) has particular criteria, but each individual along with their triggers and co-occurring conditions are unique.

The underlying principle of most ‘brain training’ approaches on how to overcome addictions target these following facets of substance use disorder:

  • The individual’s internal state: Thoughts evoke feelings, and feelings can control behavior. The main idea of rewiring the brain for sobriety is to capture triggers at the thought-level so that it won’t escalate into feelings that fuel behavior. Thus, it is important to maintain the wellness of an individual’s internal state to make sure that they won’t respond to addiction cravings in an unwanted manner.
  • External modifications: Just as how having a stable internal state is essential, having some external changes may also contribute to brain rewiring. Alterations in the environment such as avoiding location triggers, having a community of support, and pursuing fulfilling interests can also influence thoughts and feelings.

Thus, it is ideal to seek the help of addiction professionals who can help you assess your condition and recommend the best treatment options on how to rewire your brain for sobriety.

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Treatment Options: Rewiring Brain After Addiction

As previously mentioned, there are various management options available once you go through drug or alcohol rehab. These programs can be done solely, or in combination with each other, all depending on your unique needs and preferences. After a drug or alcohol detox and withdrawal symptoms have waned, people in rehab can start to rewire their brain’s dependence on substances.

Here are some of the most well-known treatment options:

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery)

SMART Recovery is a structured approach to addiction treatment that doesn’t involve 12-step or other faith-related treatments. It is built upon a community of peers who are also recovering from substance use problems. In essence, people have the urge to use drugs or alcohol because the “euphoric” feelings they elicit is a form of motivation. Thus, SMART recovery aims to replace drugs and alcohol as a source of staying motivated.

In this program, patients are encouraged to find other means of fulfillment such as having a career, being healthy, or good relationships with loved ones in order to keep the motivation in staying sober. The brain is trained to focus on the gratification that personal fulfillment brings rather than the feel-good effects of substances. The program is also focused on learning to fight urges, and managing triggers in substance use.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular approach to mental health and addiction issues. The core of CBT is for individuals to understand how thoughts, feelings, and behavior all influence each other. It helps to address the following areas of a continuing addiction:

  • Emotional triggers that reinforce a person to continue using drugs or alcohol
  • Problematic thoughts or negative thought patterns that spiral into unwanted behaviors

The goal of CBT is to help the individual have appropriate responses or counter-thoughts to battle the undesirable patterns of thinking and feeling. Although CBT has a fairly simple ideology, it takes time to rewire the brain in addiction through this technique. In some individuals, negative thinking is a solidified habit that needs time to deconstruct through CBT approaches.

Mindfulness Therapy

Mindfulness therapy is also a well-known treatment option especially for people with depression co-occurring with addiction problems. The ideology of mindfulness is somewhat similar to CBT, but with more emphasis on the awareness of one’s thoughts.

The individual is trained to recognize learned automatic thought processes and replace them with thoughts ‘in the present’, helping them to become aware of their surroundings. This helps in distracting the unwanted automatic thought processes while finally deconstructing them.

During a mindfulness therapy session, people are encouraged to:

  • Think of thoughts as passing events rather than reality
  • Ground themselves in the present by thinking of what currently exists
  • Avoid patterns of rumination by simply thinking and feeling ‘in the present’

12-Step Program

Many are quick to assume that 12-Step or faith-based programs have no biological basis for being effective. However, researchers have shown that the activities done in 12-Step programs also rewire the brain to battle addiction problems.

It turns out that regular 12-Step meetings help to reinforce the development of the brain’s decision making and craving centers. This means that people who attend these meetings are less likely to suffer relapse due to environmental changes that shape how the brain views the addiction.

Substance-seeking behavior is reduced because individuals tend to emulate the environment they’re often exposed to. When joining 12-Step discussions, people view the atmosphere as a source of motivation and encouragement to continue with their recovery efforts.

These treatment options are available in top-notch rehab centers who can offer a personalized plan for your unique condition. You may choose to pick a single program or choose a combination best suited for your needs.

Other Things You Should Know About Rewiring The Brain After Addiction

Is it possible to heal a damaged brain after addiction?

The brain has an astounding ability to adapt despite the brain damage even after addiction. Having said that, the amount of healing depends on the severity of the condition and the individual’s commitment to recovery.

When going through a brain rewiring treatment program, it is important to follow through the steps even after leaving the confines of the rehab facility. This will ensure you that there is a continuous reshaping of the brain away from its substance-seeking tendencies and towards sobriety.

How long to rewire the brain from addiction?

The length of time it takes to rewire your brain towards addiction recovery also depends on these following factors:

  • Length of time suffering from the addiction
  • Severity of addiction
  • Co-occurring mental health issues
  • Type of substance use disorderd

For some, it would take the length of the whole rehab treatment (30-90 days) to achieve full abstinence. As for others, recovery may take a while, which includes periods of relapse until their total recovery.

Addiction Problems? Yes, You Can Change Your Mind About It

Although substance use problems can’t be simply solved by an act of will, you can gradually change your mind–or rather, rewire your brain despite this condition. It takes the help of medical professionals, evidence-based approaches, and your personal determination to commit to addiction recovery.



  • – “Theoretical Aspects of Neuroplasticity”.
  • – “DSM-5 Criteria for Substance Use Disorders: Recommendations and Rationale”.
  • – “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Substance Use Disorders”
  • – “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression: trends and developments”.
  • – “The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery”

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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