Neuroplasticity, sometimes called brain plasticity or neural plasticity, refers to the brain’s remarkable ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. At one point, it was widely believed that the brain’s structure and functions were fixed after a person reached adulthood. Today, however, we now have extensive evidence to support the idea that the brain’s capacity to adapt, change, and rewire its structure and function remains active throughout a person’s life.
Even though it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and wonder if you’re going to be able to make a change, neuroplasticity brings hope to people struggling with substance use disorders. It won’t be easy, but a lasting recovery is possible if you have access to the support you need and remain committed to self-improvement.
What Are the Two Types of Neuroplasticity?
There are two primary types of neuroplasticity:
- Structural plasticity. This involves physical changes in the brain’s structure, such as the growth of new neurons or the formation of new synaptic connections between neurons. Structural plasticity can occur in response to learning, physical exercise, or recovery from a brain injury.
- Functional plasticity. This refers to the brain’s ability to redistribute or reassign functions to different areas or neural networks in response to damage or changes in demand. For example, if a person is in an accident and a particular brain region is damaged, other areas might take over the lost functions to compensate for the injury.
Structural plasticity is the most common type of neuroplasticity, but both types are important in understanding how all of us have the ability to make positive changes throughout our lives.
How Does Neuroplasticity Benefit People in Recovery?
Over time, addiction can lead to changes in the brain’s neural pathways that reinforce the craving and reward systems associated with substance abuse. Luckily, neuroplasticity means that these changes are not fixed. The brain has the ability to adapt and rewire itself if a person is provided with the right substance abuse treatment resources.
There are three key points about neuroplasticity that you should remember as you work towards reaching your recovery goals:
- Rewiring the brain helps reduce cravings. As people in recovery abstain from the addictive substance, the brain can gradually weaken the neural connections associated with cravings and drug-seeking behavior. This is why you’ll find that cravings for drugs and alcohol tend to diminish over time.
- Neuroplasticity makes it possible to develop healthy habits as you seek addiction treatment. Addiction recovery involves replacing your past destructive habits with new healthy ones. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic approaches that are part of a comprehensive residential treatment program aim to leverage neuroplasticity to help people with substance use disorders learn new coping strategies to deal with stress, triggers, and other challenges.
- Neuroplasticity makes long-term recovery possible. It’s important to remember that neuroplasticity is not limited to the early stages of recovery. It remains active throughout a person’s life, and negative influences can cause your brain to start to react in unhealthy ways. This means that ongoing efforts to maintain your recovery and prevent relapse are essential.
Harvard Health provides additional information on how neuroplasticity benefits people who are seeking treatment for substance use disorders.
What Can You Do to Promote Neuroplasticity in Recovery?
Encouraging neuroplasticity involves engaging in activities and behaviors that promote the formation of new neural connections and the adaptation of existing ones. At Waypoint Recovery Center’s South Carolina residential addiction treatment center, we encourage our clients to promote neuroplasticity by developing the healthy lifestyle habits that build the foundation for lasting sobriety.
Here are some of the ways you can promote neuroplasticity as you continue to move forward in your recovery:
- Learn something new. Continuously learning new things and exposing yourself to new experiences can stimulate the brain. Try taking up a new hobby, learning a new language, or acquiring a new skill.
- Challenge yourself. Engage in activities that challenge your cognitive abilities. This can include doing puzzles, reading, playing musical instruments, or even enjoying your favorite strategy games.
- Get moving. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain, which can enhance the delivery of nutrients and oxygen necessary for neural health.
- Spend time with friends and family. Socializing and maintaining meaningful relationships can stimulate your brain. Making time for conversations and social activities keeps your mind active and helps maintain cognitive flexibility.
- Eat a healthy diet, A well-balanced diet rich in nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants can support brain health.
- Keep your stress levels in check. Chronic stress has negative effects on your brain’s ability to make healthy choices. Practicing stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation can help encourage your brain to develop the connections that support your recovery.
- Get the rest your body needs. Sleep is crucial for memory consolidation and overall brain health. For most adults, at least seven hours of sleep per night is recommended.
If you’d like to learn more about how addiction treatment at Waypoint Recovery Center uses the principle of neuroplasticity to help promote lasting change and a life free from the burden of drug and alcohol abuse, contact us today.