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Are You an Addict for Life?

As time in recovery has taught you, you have a new life to live. You’ll make amends and accept your old habits and tendencies, but ultimately, you have evolved into a stronger version of yourself after recovery. That being said, there are struggles that come with recovery. With abstinence from addictive substances there is that creeping question, will I be an addict for life? The simple answer: maybe.

How the Brain Handles Addiction 

The human body is an amazing thing. It will protect, grow, move, bring life, and change in the name of survival. Your brain is the most interesting organ because its changes and adaptations span over a whole lifetime of observation and learning, as well as centuries of evolutionary traits that facilitate your survival into a potential to thrive. Much like your brain changes as you grow and through traumatic experiences, your brain changes through the course of addiction and recovery. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the change addiction forms in your brain lies in its ability to hijack your key survival instincts. 

The Brain Creates the Narrative That You Need Alcohol or Drugs for Survival 

As you already know from recovery, addiction is more than just a choice or a question of willpower. Your brain has rewired itself to need alcohol or substances like you need air or water. The more damaging substances the brain has endured, the more progress the brain needs to make in recovery. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), this is because addictive substances have taken over the frontal parts of the brain that stimulate rewards. Specifically, the substances inhibit the prefrontal cortex, the extended amygdala, and the basal ganglia the most. 

  • The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that helps you make decisions and consciously decide if your actions are worth the consequences. As addictive substances are proven to inhibit and slow the prefrontal cortex (leading to the questionable actions people take when under the influence of addictive substances) when a person is coming off a substance the brain creates a mental and physical reaction to the absence of the substance.
  • The ganglia is the body’s reward and pleasure center. This is both inhibited and stimulated by addictive substances, creating a desire for more.
  • The extended amygdala is the part of the brain that creates withdrawal effects from addictive substances. In order to calm this, one needs to either abstain from the addictive substances for a long time or take more to create temporary relief.  This further drives addiction and creates the narrative of a need for survival.

Genetics Are Important, as Is Age, but Not a Key Element. 

There are theories that people can be biologically predetermined to become addicted to certain substances based on their genetics. There is some gray area there, but think about how genetics play into overall health. Much like diabetes or heart disease, there can be a genetic predisposition to a change in your brain that can allow for addiction to take over. It’s important to note that anyone with a family history of addiction is not automatically predetermined to form an addiction, they are simply at a higher risk than others who do not have addictive tendencies in their families. 

Another factor in addiction can be age. The teen brain, for example, is not fully developed yet. If addictions or traumas start as a teen, the brain adjusts and grows around that. If you’ve ever seen a tree that grew around an old rope swing or a turtle that grew around the plastic soda holder, the human brain can adapt around addictions in the same way. It will make it a need in a young person’s life and the person will grow to fit that need. The brain does this in the name of survival because the prefrontal cortex cannot determine that the addiction is the actual threat.

So, Am I an Addict for Life?

Again, maybe. Or maybe not. As you heal your brain and through intensive rehab, therapy, and abstaining from addictive substances, your brain can recover some of what it lost during those traumatic times. You are a survivor of addiction and your brain needs time, as well as extensive TLC to recover. That’s okay. As you recreate your routine and healthy habits, it’s also been proven that a healthy brain stimulates healthy rewards. Though the prior damage is there, there is hope that the signals for those healthy rewards will begin to outweigh the need for old addictive tendencies. You’re a survivor, and as soon as you cut down that rope swing, or free the turtle from the plastic, you’ll be able to thrive. 

You’re not alone.  Many in recovery fear the looming dread that relapse could happen. There is no perfect way to abstain, as you must do what works for you. What behaviors help you feel centered, in control, and healthy? What behaviors have been risky in the past? Here at RECO Intensive, we know that you need specific, personalized, and tender treatment for your addictive past. We know it can be scary to think you could be an addict for life, but it doesn’t have to be. At RECO Intensive, we care for our alumni and take our time to help you see that you have control and help you keep that control. Being the hero in your journey through a safe recovery is possible at RECO Intensive, and we will be your supporters, mentors, and biggest cheerleaders as you succeed day-by-day. For more information, call RECO Intensive at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future. 

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