Getting Your Brain Back After Substance Abuse

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Getting Your Brain Back After Substance Abuse

The human brain often seems very fragile, particularly wearing the scars of recurring abuse. Many people in the early stages of recovery say they feel like their living in a fog, as their brains don’t seem to be running as quickly or efficiently as they would like. Long term drug or heavy alcohol use can make it harder to concentrate, remember things, or process new information.

But the good news is that the mind has an almost miraculous power to heal itself. Over time, your recovery can strengthen your brain, and you can find ways to feel more secure and confident. Here are some things you can do to advance that process along.

Brain Food:
There are several nutritional decisions you can make to help your brain function at a higher level. The brain needs a lot of glucose for energy, and so benefits greatly from foods containing lots of complex carbohydrates, including green vegetables, whole-grain bread, starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash, and beans. Nerve repair and maintenance benefits from omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish and nuts. You can also help support your brain’s health with vitamin and mineral supplements, especially those high in B6, B3, copper, and iron. You should also avoid foods that can stunt brain healing saturated fats, processed sugar, and excessive coffee.

Sleep is a vitally important way for the body to heal itself, rest, and feel better and restored. Nerve cells in particular benefit from heavy REM (rapid-eye-movement) sleep, and need a full night of rest in order to achieve maximum efficiency. The average adult needs around 6-8 hours of sleep a night in order to be healthy, but someone in early recovery might need more for the short term. At a somewhat early time in the evening, start winding down with a relaxing activity, and be prepared to go to bed at a consistent, early time each evening.

Mental Workouts:
Your brain has remarkable plasticity, or the ability to transform itself and change its connections based on how it is treated. It will take a significant amount of time for the brain to rewire itself, but it is something that will happen if you continue in sobriety. As you learn new things and practice building new skills, you are setting new pathways and changing the way your mind works. Taking the time to learn a new language, or a new sport or hobby, taking a class or having intellectually stimulating conversations, or simply spending more time reading are all ways to increase your brainpower. Even though it may feel hard at first, over time and with more practice it will get easier.

Interactions with Others:
It can often be easy to feel discouraged or stuck in negative thought patterns if it’s only you and your own head. Going through life with your own thoughts can cause memories or ways of seeing things to go unchallenged, allowing anxiety or delusions to take over. Another person able to be a supportive listening friend can offer a badly needed wise perspective to help you feel hopeful and think about things from another angle. Support groups, friendships formed over new hobbies, or an honest conversation with a supportive friend can all help you see things more clearly.

Your substance abuse has hijacked the way your brain works, in ways that vary based on the substance used. Certain chemicals and pathways have been overcharged, while others have been neglected. Yet the brain can and does heal itself over time. If you continue down the path of sobriety, slowly things will be recalibrated over time, and the now unused pathways of addiction will die as newer, healthier ones form. The process of turning your mind around, fixing what is broken, can take months, even years, yet it is possible. The brain going from one condition to another, and it can sometimes feel like a slow process. Yet healing is coming, and it is important to be patient with yourself.