Learn / How Long It Takes to Rewire the Brain From Addiction and What to Expect

How Long It Takes to Rewire the Brain From Addiction and What to Expect

Hannah Friedman
 July 27th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Brain rewiring from addiction takes time.
  • Certain factors can affect the speed of recovery.
  • There are ways to accelerate the process.

When you stop using drugs and alcohol, it takes time to rewire your brain. The exact timeframe depends on several factors. For example, certain drugs lengthen the rewiring process. Some practices can also help you recover faster. Learn about what influences this aspect of healing.

The Brain and Addiction: How Addiction Rewires the Brain

Addiction hijacks your brain’s reward system. Specifically, it affects dopamine. This neurotransmitter relates to feelings of happiness and achievement. Activities like exercise, spending time with friends, and engaging in a hobby can all trigger the release of dopamine. 

When you have an addiction, your brain associates a certain activity with the release of dopamine. Whether you’re using drugs, drinking, gambling, or something else, the connection gets stronger every time you do it. 

Over time, your brain adjusts. It becomes less sensitive to dopamine flooding your system. As your tolerance goes up, you’ll need a higher dose just to feel the same effect. This cycle disrupts your brain’s natural reward system.1 Since your brain is producing less dopamine on its own, activities you used to enjoy won’t be as satisfying. Only your addiction will provide the dopamine boost your brain craves.

What Affects the Timeframe for Brain Rewiring From Addiction

It usually takes up to 14 months for the brain to rewire from addiction.2 But there’s no one-size-fits-all timeline for recovery. Certain factors impact the speed of this process:

  • The substance you abused: Some drugs change your brain chemistry more dramatically than others. For example, cocaine releases up to 10 times the amount of dopamine3 your body can naturally produce. The more intensely a drug affects your brain, the longer it might take to rewire it again.
  • The severity of your addiction: The longer you use drugs or alcohol, the more your brain changes.4 People with years of drug abuse may recover more slowly than those who get help sooner. Plus, the more addictive substances you use, the greater the impact on your brain chemistry.5
  • Other mental health factors: Addiction is just one component of mental health. When you’re also healing from a co-occurring disorder, recovery may take more time.
  • Proper treatment: Rewiring your brain is hard work. In rehab, you’ll get support throughout this process. Therapy, medication, and other treatments can make a huge difference during recovery.

With these variables in play, it can take your brain anywhere from weeks to months to heal from addiction. For some people, it takes even longer. And it’s nearly impossible to predict your exact timeline in advance. 

The Stages of Brain Rewiring From Addiction

At any pace, you’ll probably progress through certain stages on your way to recovery. You may need different types of support during each phase.

Stage 1: Withdrawal

When you first stop using drugs or alcohol, your body will enter withdrawal. You may experience physical and emotional symptoms during this process. For most people, this is an uncomfortable time.

In some cases, detox can be life-threatening. Medical detox programs can keep you safe until you complete this stage. For most people, withdrawal symptoms go away in a week or less.6 

Stage 2: Active Rewiring

Drug cravings might not end when you complete withdrawal. But once your body starts to heal, they may feel less urgent. In this stage, you’ll have the space you need to focus on your mental health

Longer-term treatment, like rehab or ongoing therapy, lets you dig into the root cause of your addiction. You’ll identify your triggers and learn to respond without drinking or using drugs. For most people, this active stage of rewiring the brain can take up to a year.7

Stage 3: Maintenance

Recovery is often a life-long process. Some people continue to have cravings for years after detox. They may never subside completely. But with the right support, you can develop the skills you need to navigate your triggers.

Strategies for Accelerating Brain Rewiring From Addiction

When you put in the work to rewire your brain from addiction, you leverage your brain’s adaptability. Before, your brain’s neuroplasticity fed into your addiction. Now, it can help you build routines that support recovery. While your brain may heal naturally, there are a few ways to speed up the process.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you practice awareness of the present moment, which can make using substances less reflexive. That’s because mindfulness gives you more emotional space. Instead of responding to triggers impulsively, you’ll have time to remember your coping skills. 

Data shows that mindfulness can help people stop using drugs. One study found that mindfulness-based relapse prevention8 was more effective than other common treatments.

Exercise and Eat Well

Exercise releases dopamine9 in your brain. As it travels through your reward system, it reinforces new neural pathways. In essence, this undoes some of the damage addiction causes. Exercise also promotes cell regeneration, which helps your brain heal faster. 

Eating well is a big part of physical fitness. Studies link a balanced diet with ongoing sobriety and better mental health.10 

Find the Right Therapy for You

Therapy is another powerful tool for rewiring your brain from addiction. Individual therapy helps you recognize your behavioral patterns, empowering you to change them. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)11 is a powerful strategy here. In this type of therapy, you’ll learn practical skills that help you respond to your triggers and cravings. 

In addition to 1:1 therapy, group therapy sessions can be very helpful. Groups let you practice new coping skills and share mutual support with other people in recovery. 

Realistic Expectations for Brain Rewiring From Addiction

While certain treatments can help with addiction recovery, there’s no quick fix here. It takes time and effort to rewire your brain from addiction. Think of this process as an investment in your long-term treatment goals.

If you’re ready to find support, you can browse rehab programs for addiction. Also, visit https://recovery.com/news/ to learn more about RehabPath and its mission.

Frequently Asked Questions About Rewiring the Brain From Addiction

How long does it take to rewire the brain from addiction?

The timeframe for rewiring the brain from addiction varies, but it typically takes up to 14 months. Factors such as the substance involved, severity of the addiction, presence of co-occurring mental health disorders, and quality of treatment influence the brain’s speed of recovery. While some progress can be made in just a few weeks, recovery is a lifelong process.

What are the stages of brain rewiring during addiction recovery?

The stages of brain rewiring in recovery include withdrawal, active rewiring, and maintenance. During withdrawal, physical and emotional symptoms occur as a result of stopping substance use. Active rewiring entails addressing mental health and triggers through rehab or therapy. Maintenance is an ongoing phase in which cravings may persist, but proper support can help you navigate triggers effectively.

How can I accelerate brain rewiring from addiction?

Mindfulness practices promote awareness of triggers and coping skills, while exercise releases dopamine and promotes brain healing. Eating a balanced diet contributes to ongoing sobriety and better mental health. Ongoing therapy can help you recognize behavioral patterns and develop practical skills for managing triggers and cravings. Rewiring the brain from addiction requires time and dedication to long-term treatment goals.

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