Neuroplasticity and Addiction Treatment: picture of red brain followed by an arrow and a blue brain, indicating how neuroplasticity allows the brain to change

What Role Does Neuroplasticity Have In Addiction Treatment?

Neuroplasticity, neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability), is what neuroscientists refer to as the brains ability to change and adapt at any age. As we make decisions, think about something, make memories and feel emotions, neural pathways in the brain hold and store this information which can occur on different levels.

A great deal of research went into patients that suffered from disease and brain injuries as they realized that over time the brain found ways of rewiring itself to other parts of the brain, actually going around the injured area to reconnect with other neurons and compensate for the injury. This new finding created a positive response as doctors and therapists began looking for changes in the patient’s rewiring skills, as this ‘flexibility of reorganization’ was taking place and patients found that they could improve and recover.

Another important aspect to understand is realizing that addictions have 4 components:

  1. Using a behavioral action with the body
  2. Thinking thoughts before or after the behavior
  3. Feeling emotions that are generated as a result of the thought such as sadness, guilt, disappointment, shame, or depression
  4. The brain has a physical response to thoughts, feelings, and actions that causes neurochemicals to be released into the body as it responds to the behavior

Understanding these 4 components is crucial in treating addiction because it’s about the pleasure centers in the brain being seized and taken over. People create habits that generate different neural pathways in the brain which allows them to become accustomed to their new source of pleasure. The brain is now wired to link this sensation to feeling good from the pleasure they receive. Soon, the need for more creates an obsession to experience the euphoric sensations they previously had that ultimately creates an addiction. But this can all change, and here is an explanation why:

With the continued study of neuroplasticity, scientist realize that the brain is structured to change and can respond to certain stimuli over a person’s lifetime. Besides the way a brain can make changes when new information is presented, our behaviors are another way our brain and body react to certain stimuli like emotions, stress, and other physical senses. A person, addict or not, can walk into a room and smell something delicious baking in the oven that triggers a memory that they hadn’t thought of or remembered for a number of years. This stimulus recalls on cellular memory groups, and can be activated from this type of inducement, making it easy to remember or respond to the stimulus that was previously known. But for addicts, this is especially hard as it triggers the same feelings and images that they are trying to avoid.

Understanding behaviors and how closely they relate to our senses, memory, and cognition is important to comprehend when dealing with neuroplasticity and rewiring the brain. Since they all rely on repetition and other challenging activities, the brain is able to make changes and literally rewire new pathways to improve its performance. And the best part is that the more you practice this new way of thinking, new skills can be developed to create happy connections among neuron pathways in the brain.

Now that we understand that humans have the ability to change behaviors, those with sexual addictions can literally retrain their brains to make new pathways that will reconnect them to a healthier way of living.