How to Repair Your Brain After Drug Use
The physical effects of prolonged drug use are both apparent and abundant. Methamphetamine users develop dental problems, lose weight, and suffer from intense itching and skin sores. Cocaine users damage their nasal cavities to the point that they have frequent nosebleeds. Opioid users may sweat profusely or live life as if they are in a fog. And while these symptoms are all noticeable to the naked eye, others aren’t quite as easy to detect.
Long-term drug use can also harm the brain and hinder the way our mind functions. Fortunately, thanks to neuroplasticity — the term used to describe how our brains can modify, adapt, and return to normal function after damage — it is possible for the brain to recover from drug use. Here are five ways you can start repairing your brain after drug use.
1. Complete a Medically Supervised Detox Program
The first step in any successful attempt to overcome a substance use disorder is to complete a medically supervised detox program. Unlike when you abruptly halt drug use, also known as quitting “cold turkey,” a detox program is led by medical professionals who can administer medications to reduce anxiety, discomfort, and cravings. While it will take time to rewire the brain and correct the damage that occurred due to drug use, a formal detox program gives users the best chance of staying clean as it reduces the risk of relapse and provides the brain with a fresh start to build on.
2. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
There are many well-known quotes about the dangers of an idle mind. What better way to keep it sharp than by practicing mindfulness and meditation for some mental exercise? Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present, ensuring that you’re staying grounded and experiencing the moment without judgment. Essentially, it’s a state of being. Studies have found mindfulness and meditation to be effective in helping to control cravings and lessen the chances of a relapse. And as it turns out, it can also aid in neuroplasticity by acting as a conduit to “increased functional connectivity between auditory cortex and areas associated with attentional and self-referential processes.”
3. Undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a type of talk therapy that helps the person identify and improve damaging behaviors or thought processes. CBT aims to dig deeper than the surface, analyzing the underlying issues that may have contributed to or caused drug use. But CBT is good for more than just sharing information and exploring your problems with others. Research shows that CBT plays an instrumental part in neuroplasticity by influencing vital regions of the brain, including the cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala-hippocampal complex.
4. Have Healthy Sleep Patterns
Poor sleep patterns tend to come with the territory for many people who use drugs. In many cases, drug use impacts one’s ability to fall (and stay) asleep and may lead to late nights. During the recovery process, simply getting adequate rest can have a significant impact on repairing brain function in several ways. One research study on opioid users found that participants who reported lower-quality sleep also had “higher than usual drug cravings.” Additionally, researchers studying mice found that sleeping allows the brain to sweep out harmful toxins — the thought is that the same thing happens in humans. Experts believe this occurs during sleep because the process is so taxing and energy-consuming that it’s challenging for the brain to do this and remain alert while awake.
5. Eat Well and Exercise Regularly
Establishing and maintaining healthy sleep patterns, eating well, and having a consistent exercise routine are good rules of thumb for all of us — especially those recovering from drug use. According to one licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor, “Physical activity in the form of exercise improves blood flow in the brain, which restores areas previously damaged by drug use. Stress can trigger cravings and relapse, and exercise releases natural endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals [that] directly reduce stress.” Further, aerobic exercise increases cerebral blood flow, which enhances neuroplasticity efforts. Staying hydrated and eating healthy foods can also be similarly impactful.
Midwest Recovery Centers is Your Hometown Recovery Option
We know that the thought of overcoming drug use can seem like a daunting task — but you don’t have to go it alone. At Midwest Recovery Centers, we offer both a medically supervised residential detox center and a multi-phase treatment program that includes CBT. We have a variety of focus areas, including those tailored toward treating addiction to alcohol, heroin, meth, cocaine, prescription drugs, marijuana, MDMA/ecstasy, benzos, and opioids.
If you or someone you love is ready to quit drugs and start the process of repairing the brain, we can help. Contact us today.
Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.