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  • Dr Shelley Meihuizen

Addiction & Brain Plasticity -Correlations & Treatment

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Addiction is a disease that can affect people from all walks of life. It is a complicated and multifaceted condition that can cause significant changes in the structure and function of the brain, leading to several adverse consequences. It and brain plasticity are intricately interlinked, and understanding this connection is crucial to better comprehending the disease and treating it effectively. Addiction takes many forms and can be in the forms of an eating disorder, sex addiction, alcoholism and drug addiction. Mental health is also usually affected when this disease takes affect.

In this blog, I will discuss the impact of this disease on brain plasticity and rewiring of the brain. This post will comprehensively enlighten the reader from the underlying neuroscience to the practical implications for treatment.

The Neuroscience Behind Addiction and Brain Plasticity:

This disease alters the way the brain works. It changes the circuits in the brain that regulate motivation, reward, and decision-making, making it challenging to stop using drugs or alcohol. In other words, it can hijack the brain's "reward system" and rewire it, making the drug or alcohol the only source of pleasure and satisfaction for the addict.

The process of rewiring the brain is called neuroplasticity. It is a natural process that responds to environmental changes, learning, and experiences. In the case of addiction, the constant activation of the brain's reward system leads to changes in the brain's structure and function. Over time, the brain adapts to the continual influx of drugs or alcohol and becomes less responsive to normal pleasure-inducing activities.

The Effects of Addiction on Brain Plasticity:

Modifications in the brain caused by addiction can have several harmful effects. For instance, it can impair decision-making skills, decrease impulse control, and increase the likelihood of relapse even after long periods of abstinence. Additionally, it can cause changes in memory and learning, making it difficult for the addict to learn new behaviours and form new habits.

Furthermore, addiction can lead to the loss of brain cells and damage to the brain's white matter, leading to impaired cognitive function and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. These changes in the brain's structure and function can persist even after the addict achieves sobriety, making it vital for rehabilitation programs to address the impact of addiction on brain plasticity.

The Role of Addiction Treatment in Rehabilitating Brain Plasticity:

Rehabilitation programs play a critical role in addressing the impact of addiction on brain plasticity. Effective treatment programs should comprise a combination of therapies to retrain the brain to function without drugs or alcohol. These therapies can include behavioural therapy, cognitive-behavioural therapy, and contingency management.

Additionally, rehabilitation programs can incorporate non-pharmacological treatments such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness-based interventions. The therapies have shown that they can lead to neural repair and neuroplasticity, leading to better outcomes for addicts in recovery.

Integrating Holistic Therapies in Addiction Treatment:

Evidence suggests that holistic therapies such as music therapy, art therapy, and equine therapy can also play a vital role in addressing the impact of addiction on brain plasticity. These therapies can help individuals in recovery enhance their cognitive function, reduce anxiety, and address mental health issues that are common co-occurring symptoms of addiction.

In conclusion, addiction can cause significant changes in the structure and function of the brain, and rehabilitation programs should address the impact of addiction on brain plasticity. Combining traditional therapies with innovative and holistic treatments can help individuals in recovery rebuild their lives and overcome addiction.

Addiction  -hands with pills and cigarettes
Addiction examples such as alcohol, cigarettes & drugs

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