The Opiate Withdrawal Timeline and How to Shorten It

The Opiate Withdrawal Timeline and How to Shorten It

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Lower Opiate Use When Prescribed Buprenorphine

Opiate dependence is characterized by withdrawal symptoms that set in when opioid use suddenly stops. The opiate withdrawal timeline depends on several factors. The type of opioid and body chemistry impact the length and severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from opiates can be excruciatingly painful and uncomfortable, making it difficult to begin the journey toward sobriety. Interventions such as medical detox help reduce the opiate withdrawal timeline.

After detox, a medication-assisted treatment program (MAT) can assist with lasting sobriety as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Reducing the opiate withdrawal timeline can be the first step in successful treatment for opiate addiction.

 

The Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Depending on the type of opiate abused, including heroin, short-acting prescription opiates, or long-acting prescription opiates, the opiate withdrawal timeline typically starts between eight and 30 hours after the last dose and lasts between four and 10 days. For some people, the opiate withdrawal timeline will be shorter, while for others, it can last as long as a month or more.

The opiate withdrawal timeline depends on factors such as:

  • The amount of opiates in your system at the time of detox.
  • The length and severity of the dependence.
  • The general state of physical and mental health.
  • Genetics and biology.
  • Whether you opt for medical detox or withdraw on your own.

The opiate withdrawal timeline can vary based upon the type of opiate from which a person is withdrawing. Withdrawal from heroin, which is a short-acting opiate, tends to begin within eight to 12 hours of the last dose of the drug. Withdrawal symptoms reach their peak within 36 to 72 hours and then decline significantly after about five days. 1

Withdrawal from a short-acting opiate, such as oxycodone, begins later, within 24 to 36 hours following the last dose. Symptoms peak in about 4 to 6 days and can persist for several weeks.

More mild withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, a depressed or irritable mood, and sleep disturbances can continue for months after opiate use ceases.

Reducing the opiate withdrawal symptoms can therefore play a critical role in maintaining lasting sobriety.

Symptoms to Expect

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are specific symptoms that may appear during the opiate withdrawal timeline.2

Early symptoms beginning at the start of the withdrawal period may include:

  • Psychological and behavioral effects, such as anxiety and/or agitation
  • Sleep difficulties and yawning
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating

After these symptoms peak within the timeframes described above, the later symptoms in the opiate withdrawal timeline appear: 2

  • Enlarged pupils
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort, cramping, and diarrhea

Symptoms to Expect

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there are specific symptoms that may appear during the opiate withdrawal timeline.2

Early symptoms beginning at the start of the withdrawal period may include:

  • Psychological and behavioral effects, such as anxiety and/or agitation
  • Sleep difficulties and yawning
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating

After these symptoms peak within the timeframes described above, the later symptoms in the opiate withdrawal timeline appear: 2

  • Enlarged pupils
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort, cramping, and diarrhea

These symptoms of opiate withdrawal can be intense and produce a debilitating level of discomfort. Fortunately, reducing the opiate withdrawal can make unpleasant symptoms more manageable.

Services for Reducing the Opiate Withdrawal Timeline

Withdrawal from an opiate use disorder involves uncomfortable side effects, but there are services available for reducing the opiate withdrawal. Medical detox is medically supervised withdrawal. It involves a variety of medications that are administered as needed to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and shorten the time it takes to detox. A medical detox program is the first step in the withdrawal process, and this type of program should be followed by ongoing treatment services, including medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Medications and methods used to reduce the withdrawal timeline include:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressants
  • Opioid Agonists
  • Non-Opioid Agonists
  • Opioid Antagonist
  • Partial Agonists and Antagonists
  • Tapering Medications
  • Opioid Antagonist
  • Partial Agonists and Antagonists
  • Tapering Medications
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Antidepressants
  • Opioid Agonists
  • Non-Opioid Agonists

Professionally administered medications to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and shorten the time it takes to detox.  

Those who try to detox from opiates on their own frequently relapse to end the discomfort of withdrawal. 

Medical detox also involves emotional support and can include complementary therapies like massage or restorative yoga to reduce stress. 

Buprenorphine is one of a few medications commonly used during opiate detox. Buprenorphine is a semi-synthetic opiate, and a partial opioid agonist, which means that while it can produce the euphoric and respiratory depressing effects of opiates, the effects are far smaller than full agonists like heroin and opioid painkillers. Buprenorphine attaches to opioid receptors to reduce the intensity of opiate withdrawal, help normalize brain function and shorten the opiate withdrawal timeline.

Other medications used during opiate detox can treat symptoms like nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea and feelings of agitation and anxiety. Cravings are intense during withdrawal, and while some medications can reduce their severity during withdrawal, cravings can last for weeks or months after detox and can make long-term recovery difficult.

Why Medical Detox is Essential for Opiate Withdrawal

Many people who try to detox from opiates on their own turn back to using very quickly, if only to end the discomfort of withdrawal. People in severe withdrawal can quickly become dangerously dehydrated as a result of severe vomiting and diarrhea.

In addition to reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms and shortening the opiate withdrawal timeline, medical detox provides emotional support during withdrawal. High quality detox programs typically offer complementary therapies like acupuncture, massage or restorative yoga to help reduce stress, ease withdrawal symptoms and promote a higher sense of well-being during withdrawal.

Medical Detox versus MAT

While medical detox programs and MAT may sound similar, they are actually distinct pieces of the recovery process. Medical detox programs involve medically supervised withdrawal from opiates, with medications being used to make withdrawal more manageable by reducing the opiate withdrawal. The goal of medical detox is to rid the body of opiates so that ongoing treatment can begin. Detox programs tend to be short in duration, lasting from a few days to a week.

MAT programs, on the other hand, are ongoing and can last for as long as several years. The aim of medication-assisted treatment is to help a person control cravings and achieve lasting sobriety from opiates. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), people who are receiving MAT must also undergo counseling, per Federal regulations.3 MAT is just one piece of a comprehensive treatment plan for an opiate use disorder.

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of patients who took 16mg of buprenorphine per day successfully completed treatment

How Medications are Helpful for Reducing Opiate Withdrawal Symptoms

Medications used for both medical detox and MAT can be effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal. For example, SAMHSA reports that medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can reduce the painful withdrawal symptoms that occur when stopping opiate use.3

Helping Beyond Detox

Medications can also assist beyond the initial medical detox phase, as they are effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal symptoms that persist after the body is cleared of illicit opiates. For example, a person can feel anxious, depressed, or irritable for months after discontinuing opiate use, but methadone and buprenorphine can reduce opiate cravings and stabilize brain activity so that people in recovery do not turn to drugs to treat these lasting psychological side effects.

These medications tend to be most effective when combined with psychological interventions, such as counseling. Through counseling and psychoeducation, people recovering from opiate addiction can learn strategies for preventing relapse and coping with stressors. They can also begin to resolve underlying issues, such as trauma, abuse, or mental health conditions that have contributed to the opiate use disorder. While medications are effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal by lessening physical symptoms, they cannot cure the addiction or treat co-occurring emotional and psychological issues on their own.

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of patients who took 16mg of buprenorphine per day successfully completed treatment

Medication-Assisted Treatment After Detox

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, is the current gold standard for treating opiate dependence and addiction. Medication-assisted treatment involves medications that prevent withdrawal while helping to normalize brain function and block cravings for opiates.

Medication-assisted treatment enables individuals to focus on addressing the issues behind the addiction and can be taken for weeks, months or even years to effectively manage the addiction and help prevent relapse.

Medication is just one component of MAT. The other component is counseling, which is central to ending an addiction to opiates. The combination of medication and therapy helps addicted individuals address a variety of issues behind the addiction and develop essential coping skills for handling relapse triggers.

Detox is Not Addiction Treatment

If you choose to detox from opiates rather than opt for medication-assisted treatment, it’s important to understand that detox is not addiction treatment and does very little to address the critical issues behind the compulsive drug abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Principles of Effective Treatment, addiction is far more complex than physical dependence. It requires comprehensive treatment that involves a variety of therapies to help people end their addiction for the long-term, restore function to their lives and find purpose and meaning in a life free of substance abuse.

Interesting Facts About Medications Used for Opiate Withdrawal

Researchers interested in reducing the opiate withdrawal have conducted numerous studies to assess the medications used in detox and MAT. A 2017 report in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, showed significant findings.4

Statistics on Effectiveness of MAT

In one study, 74 percent of people who received methadone stayed in treatment, compared to 46 percent of those who took buprenorphine.

There is evidence that buprenorphine doses exceeding 32 milligrams per day are linked to greater treatment retention.

A review of 21 studies indicates that buprenorphine doses of 16 to 32 milligrams per day are more effective for retaining people in treatment than daily doses of less than 16 milligrams are.

Benefits of MAT

SAMHSA reports additional facts pertaining to MAT and states there is evidence of numerous benefits associated with this approach:3

  • Reduction in illegal opiate use and criminal activity
  • Better survival rates
  • Greater likelihood of obtaining and keeping a job
  • Fewer problems among babies born to women with a history of opiate abuse
  • Potential reduction in the risk of HIV or hepatitis C

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Of people who received methadone stayed in treatment, compared to 46% of those who took buprenorphine

Medications for MAT

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has also discussed facts pertaining to MAT:5

Methadone

Methadone can reduce the rate at which people test positive for opiates by 33 percent.

Buprenorphine

Buprenorphine can lower opiate use by about 14 percent compared to placebo and make treatment retention 1.82 times more likely.

In a study comparing patients who took 16 milligrams of buprenorphine per day to those who detoxed for six days with buprenorphine and then received a placebo, only 25 percent of those taking buprenorphine on an ongoing basis failed to stay in treatment, whereas 100 percent of those in the placebo group were unsuccessful.

While buprenorphine and methadone have received much of the attention for their success with reducing the opiate withdrawal, there are other medications used to treat opiate use disorders.

Naltrexone

According to SAMHSA, naltrexone, which is available via pill and injection, works by blocking the brain’s opiate receptors. This medication is also known to lessen drug cravings.3 Unlike with buprenorphine and methadone, naltrexone is not used during the medical detox process and is instead reserved for MAT after a person completes detox.6

Lofexidine

Also noteworthy is the fact that in 2018, the Federal government approved lofexidine for treating the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal. This medication acts differently than buprenorphine and methadone do, because it is not an opioid, but it can be effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal through its ability to prevent the efflux of norepinephrine, which stimulates the nervous system.6

Using Medications Through Detox and MAT

Based upon the research, medications can be helpful during both the detoxification and ongoing treatment phases for opiate use disorders. When used in medical detox, medications can be effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal and making painful symptoms such as abdominal cramping and muscle aches more tolerable. When used on an ongoing basis in MAT, they can help to control the lasting symptoms associated with opiate cessation, as they make cravings and psychological distress more manageable.

Medications can play a critical role in a comprehensive opiate treatment program that also includes counseling, support groups, and social services. Treatment professionals can work with people in recovery to determine what medications are most effective for reducing the opiate withdrawal and contributing to lasting sobriety.

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202507/
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000949.htm
  3. https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment/treatment
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5741113/
  5. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/medications-to-treat-opioid-addiction/efficacy-medications-opioid-use-disorder
  6. https://www.drugabuse.gov/about-nida/noras-blog/2018/05/nida-supported-science-leads-to-first-fda-approved-medication-opioid-withdrawal

Effective Treatment Modalities for Successful Recovery

A high-quality addiction treatment program will offer both traditional and complementary therapies to help individuals achieve holistic healing. This approach involves a variety of treatment modalities that address issues of body, mind and spirit. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this approach offers the best possible outcomes of treatment.

Traditional Treatment Modalities

Research-based traditional therapies are defined as therapies that have been shown through research to be effective for treating addiction. Often called “talk” therapy, these treatment modalities include:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps individuals identify the self-destructive thought and behavior patterns that often come with addiction. CBT therapy also teaches healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Not everyone who enters treatment feels ready for change. Motivational interviewing is a positive, collaborative therapeutic intervention that helps individuals find their own reasons for wanting to quit using. It directs clients to a mindset where they’re ready to commit to changes that will improve their ability to live according to their values.

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy helps individuals learn to regulate their emotions. Heavy, intense emotions can lead to self-destructive behaviors. Developing a tolerance for distress and learning to fully experience emotions and control the resulting reactions can help reduce reliance on drugs or alcohol to suppress or control emotions.

Trauma-Focused Therapies

A history of trauma is a common underlying cause of addiction. Trauma-informed treatment modalities are designed to help trauma survivors achieve feelings of safety from trauma. Seeking Safety is a therapy that focuses on the present. This therapy helps individuals develop coping techniques and skills for handling the range of emotions and behaviors that result from trauma.

Family Therapy

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, addiction is a family disease that affects all aspects of family functioning. Family members develop unhealthy coping skills as they experience the stress and chaos that comes from living with an someone struggling with an addiction. Family therapy helps to restore function to the family system and repair damaged relationships. Family members learn how to best support their loved one in recovery, and the addicted individual learns how the addiction affects family members and the family as a unit.

Complementary Treatment Modalities

Complementary therapies are those that have been shown through research to be effective for treating addiction when used along with traditional treatment therapies. Complementary therapies are an integral part of a high quality, holistic treatment program. Commonly used complementary therapies used in addiction treatment include:

Art or Music Therapy

Art and music therapy help individuals work through difficult emotions, express and synthesize their experiences and develop a higher level of self-awareness. They promote the use of creativity, which can help with emotional regulation, stress relief and healthy self-expression.

Massage or Acupuncture

Both massage and acupuncture help improve body awareness and promote optimal physical functioning. They help relieve stress, improve immune system function and increase feelings of physical and mental well-being.

Nature Therapy

Spending time in nature has distinctive therapeutic benefits, including stress relief, greater self-awareness, improved problem-solving skills and better communication skills. Nature therapy can include horticultural therapy, which involves working with plants, or adventure therapy, which involves outdoor adventures like hiking, climbing or camping.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness, or living in the present moment, is central to successful recovery. Mindfulness meditation improves the practice of staying mindful of emotions, bodily sensations and states of mind throughout the day. It also reduces stress, promotes self-care and improves self-awareness.

Treatment Works!

Through a variety of treatment modalities that are chosen based on an individual’s unique needs, issues and preferences, a high-quality treatment program will take a comprehensive approach to treatment that helps improve all areas of an individual’s life. Treatment therapies help people resolve issues, develop essential coping skills, and find purpose and meaning in a life of sobriety. Treatment works, and it can work for you or someone you love.

Recovery Community: Where to Find Yours

Many of today’s best addiction rehabs and treatment centers recognize the therapeutic value of peer relationships and group counseling. A positive recovery community invariably features addiction specialists, such as doctors and psychiatrists, who are experts in addiction medicine; therapists; counselors; and support staff, as well as a group of clients who may be diverse in their occupations and personal lives but share a chronic and all-too-often progressive disease. A good, nurturing recovery community can provide people with the resources and treatment they need to manage this condition and combat addiction’s destructive nature.

How to Find a Recovery Community

To fight the opioid epidemic and help others suffering from alcoholism or other forms of substance addiction, rehabs are being developed around the country, but how do you find one near you? One you can afford? One that your insurance will cover or one that suits your particular needs or preferences?

To begin, talk to your healthcare provider or a staff member at the clinic you typically attend for healthcare. Many clinics and physicians create referral networks in order to better serve patients. Your doctor and their support staff can help you locate an addiction treatment center that meets your needs.

Online Searching

Many people begin their search for a recovery center online, but a simple Google search for “rehab” might overwhelm you with your options. Not only do such simple searches pull up rehabs all over the country, but they also list websites that help people located rehabs, which can be confusing. Try to narrow your search to rehabs in your region or city.

If you prefer a rural setting or luxury amenities, include that in your search. Be sure to read online reviews and references about rehab centers too. Once you begin to narrow down your search to about five centers, you can contact each to find out more specific information in order to discover if one is ideal for you.

How Can a Recovery Community Help You?

Substance addiction is a serious disease that can lead to life-threatening conditions. Recovery centers offer you the best chance for disease management, but a strong recovery community provides a level of nurturing, support, and shared experience that can tremendously help you on your road to recovery. Hearing other people describe their experiences with addiction can be an eye-opening experience.

Just as large, multi-million dollar corporations achieve success through collaboration, so to can people suffering with addiction collaborate to help one another find strategies for coping with negative emotions and cravings and finding ways to prevent relapse. Some people do more talking than listening. Others do more listening than speaking. The goal for any recovery community is to create a respectful platform where everyone can contribute in one way or another and grow in a way that promotes health and sobriety.

If you or a loved one suffers from a form of substance addiction, a recovery community staffed by certified addiction specialists can be your path out of addiction toward long-term recovery and sobriety. Treatment is vital, so safeguard your health and locate a treatment center right away.

Drug Rehab Pittsburgh: The Benefits of Local Addiction Treatment

Various aspects contribute to your successful recovery. Whether or not you’re from Pennsylvania, the drug rehab Pittsburgh could be worth the travel. When you’re choosing the best rehabilitation program for you, and you live in or near western Pennsylvania, consider the benefits of going to a local treatment center.

The Drug Rehab Pittsburgh Offers, Facility vs. Traveling

For many people, going to a local rehab center offers additional benefits over traveling away from home.

No or Low Travel Costs

Going away to an out-of-region rehab center to receive treatment means incurring travel costs that can be very expensive compared to the cost of traveling to a local drug rehab in Pittsburgh. If you travel, you’ll usually have to pay airfare and costs that won’t be covered by insurance. A local treatment center requires no or low travel costs because it’s situated in your area.

Remain Close to Your Established Support Network

A local treatment facility allows you to stay in close proximity to your already established support network, such as your friends and family. Family support and participation is important in rehab. When your family is invited to family therapy and education sessions, traveling will not be prohibitive to their attending because they will be nearby.

Expand Your Support Network

In addition, local drug rehab centers in Pittsburgh are already connected with your area’s resources. This can be beneficial for you since the center can connect you to a network of support groups, counselors, sponsors, and work programs right in your area. Regarding long term care, local treatment has an enormous advantage as ongoing support is easily accessible and more affordable. Outpatient programs are also much easier to complete when they’re near your home or job.

Familiarity

When you go to treatment close to home, you’ll exit into familiar surroundings after you complete your initial course of inpatient or partial hospitalization treatment. Staff at a drug rehab in Pittsburgh will also be familiar with the area and can assist you with post-treatment needs, such as employment, housing, and education, while you’re taking on the transition to independent life.

Lower Cost

The total cost of treatment is also a factor for most people. When choosing a drug rehab center, compare the cost of local treatment centers to those in other parts of the country. Your local area may be one where costs are less for the same type of treatment. Be sure to factor in travel costs for out-of-the-area treatment centers.

It doesn’t matter what type of drug or alcohol addiction you’re facing; you should be able to find at least one facility in your local area that can provide you with the treatment you’re seeking. Be sure to check the credentials of any drug rehab facility in Pittsburgh you’re considering. Take a look at online reviews and patient testimonials. Download a brochure for more detailed information on the services, living arrangements and therapies that they offer. Finding the right drug rehab in Pittsburgh that provides evidence-based treatment can help you or a loved one reach and maintain long-lasting sobriety and a rewarding life.

5 Benefits of Long-Term Rehab

5 Benefits of Long-Term Rehab

Short-term rehab can be effective for helping some people end an addiction, but the benefits of long-term rehab far outweigh those of short-term rehab, especially for severe or long-term addictions. A rehab stay of less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness, and a long-term program offers better outcomes for lifelong recovery.

Here are just five of the benefits of long-term rehab.

1. It’s best for treating addiction.

Addiction involves complex changes in the brain’s structures and chemical functions. These changes occur over time, and they affect thought and behavior patterns. Unhealthy thought patterns lead to self-destructive behaviors, and successful recovery depends on identifying and replacing these negative patterns.

Additionally, addiction almost always has underlying causes, which often include chronic stress, a history of trauma, or a co-occurring mental illness. Addressing these issues and developing critical skills for coping with stress, cravings, negative emotions and discomfort is central to successful recovery.

Just as it takes time to develop an addiction, it takes time to address complex issues and develop habits that promote recovery. One of the most important benefits of long-term rehab is that it gives you the time you need to get to the bottom of the addiction and end the need for drugs or alcohol.

2. It promotes healthy lifestyle changes and a productive routine.

Long-term residential rehab encourages, guides and assists clients as they make healthy lifestyle changes and develop healthier habits. Spending several months developing and practicing new habits in a structured, routine-oriented environment helps to ensure the changes you make will stick and that you’re equipped to fly solo once you progress through the program.

3. It fosters close, healthy relationships with peers in recovery.

Peer support is important in treatment and recovery. People who have never been addicted can’t fully understand what someone in recovery is experiencing, and they may be unsure how to support a friend or loved one. The shared experiences of addiction create a bond of camaraderie and commiseration among those in recovery.

Through group therapy, workshops, social events and recreation, peers in recovery help each other stay motivated, accountable and, above all, honest. Long-term rehab promotes the development of strong, healthy relationships that form over an extended period of time. These relationships are often very valuable once treatment ends.

4. It keeps out distractions.

Outpatient programs are effective for some people, but for many, trying to recover while living at home poses a number of serious challenges. Trying to recover while you’re coping with the stresses of work and home and struggling with cravings and negative emotions isn’t easy, and it’s often unsuccessful. The many benefits of long-term rehab include the ability to focus just on recovery without outside distractions, temptations or stress getting in the way of progress.

5. It offers a high level of support.

Support is one of the foundations of successful recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. A high level of support is crucial in the early months of recovery, and long-term rehab provides sturdy support while you’re in treatment and beyond. Support comes from staff and peers in recovery, and it’s available around the clock. Working through the complexities of addiction takes time, and being able to reach out for help whenever you need it in the early months of recovery is a major benefit of long-term rehab.

Ready to Recover? Reap the Benefits of Long-Term Rehab

The benefits of long-term rehab are far-reaching and improve your chances of successful recovery once you’re flying solo after treatment. Long-term rehab gives you the time and space you need to sort through a variety of issues and develop crucial skills for a healthy, happy and productive life after rehab.

How Your Brain Changes When You Get Sober

How Your Brain Changes When You Get Sober

If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse or addiction for some time, there’s reason to believe that the continued substance abuse has had an impact on the structures and function of your brain.

However, the brain is a remarkably adaptable organ. When allowed time to heal, it can repair itself to an amazing extent. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the changes that take place in the brain during recovery from addiction.

Understanding the Changes to the Brain

The brain is made up of different sections that work together to perform essential functions. Drug and alcohol abuse can have serious effects on the brain and impact its ability to work properly. Some areas impacted by substance abuse include:

  • Cerebral cortex: This part of the brain is the “thinking center,” which controls our ability to make decisions, solve problems, and plan. The cerebral cortex also processes sensory information, which allows us to hear, see, touch, taste and smell.
  • Limbic system: The limbic system contains a network of structures that controls our ability to feel pleasure. While pleasure sensations are normally activated by positive activities such as eating or social interaction, they can also be triggered by substance abuse.
  • Brain stem: This area controls the key functions that are essential for life, including breathing, sleeping, and heart rate.

Reversing the Damage

Over time, drug or alcohol abuse can wreak havoc on the brain, causing structural changes that impair thinking skills and decrease attention span and memory. However, these changes can be at least partially corrected.

It may take months or even years to experience the full extent of healing, but you’ll start to see improvement even a few weeks into the recovery process. With continued abstinence, you’ll feel like you can think more clearly—the brain fog is lifted, and your mind will feel sharp again, no longer dulled by substance abuse. You’ll be able to focus better, and your memory will improve.

How Your Brain Changes When You Get Sober

The extent to which a person experiences improved mental wellness in recovery is dependent on many factors. These factors include the extent of the substance abuse, the person’s genetics and the presence of any other mental health issues. However, there is reason to be optimistic. With ongoing abstinence, the brain will heal and regain its ability to regulate bodily functions and moods without the substance.

Regaining Balance

In addition to these cognitive improvements, being sober will also help your brain’s chemical balance return to normal. Addiction hijacks the pleasure centers of your brain; eventually, the substance no longer provides much pleasure and becomes necessary just to feel normal.

Abstinence from this substance can help rebalance the brain’s chemistry and allow the brain to find pleasure in other sources. It’s important to remember that although the brain can be retrained and allowed to heal, the old pathways in the brain that linked pleasure with substance abuse still exist—that’s why total abstinence is the safest path for anyone in addiction recovery.

You may worry that years of substance abuse have done irreversible damage to your brain, but it’s never too late to begin your journey to recovery. A bright and healthy future lies ahead. With the right treatment, you can put addiction behind you and allow your brain and body to heal.