“Neuroplasticity” is not the sort of word most of us use on a day-to-day basis. It is the kind of $10 word that might cause you to stop reading. But before you do, let us assure you that neuroplasticity is easy to understand—and an absolutely essential feature of your brain that enables your recovery from a substance use disorder.
Let’s start with a straightforward metaphor.
Imagine a highway interchange—one of those spots where you leave one interstate to merge onto another. Maybe the whole interchange is a cloverleaf, one of those ramps that curves sharply around to get you from one road to the other.
Now imagine that this cloverleaf interchange is something you have been navigating for as long as you can remember. You have made that tight turn more times than you could possibly count on your way from here to there. While you certainly would never do it, you might feel like you could navigate that interchange with your eyes closed.
And then, over a series of long, confusing months, a construction project completely redesigns the interchange. You used to take that tight turn to the right, but the new path takes you far more gently to the left. You used to have to be vigilant for cars and trucks that might be trying to exit while you were trying to merge. Now the merging process involves long lanes that give you plenty of time to merge—and there is no corresponding exit to make things dangerously tricky.
Once you get used to it, the new interchange is probably significantly better than the old one. Safer, quicker, easier to navigate. But until you get used to it, you will probably feel a bit of confusion—or even frustration—each time you approach the new route because you are so very used to the old route.
Neuroplasticity and Recovery
The “neuro” part of “neuroplasticity” refers to your brain; the “plasticity” part refers to the fact that your brain can actually change over time.
When you develop a substance use disorder, your brain gets used to having drugs or alcohol around. The pathways in your brain start to expect it—and it becomes a lot like that old interchange you could drive with your eyes closed. A substance use disorder is lousy (just like that old, dangerous pathway on the road), but it has a sort of inevitability as drug or alcohol use becomes a habit.
If not for neuroplasticity, you would be stuck with the pathways in your brain that enable your substance use disorder. But neuroplasticity is just like a road construction project. It can completely change the pathways in your brain and allow you to get and stay sober.
The Old Paths are Still in Your Brain
We have mentioned how it can be hard to get used to a new route after you have taken the same one for so long. The same is true when it comes to maintaining your sobriety over time. There is always a chance that you will fall into old habits.
On the road, you are, as a rule, protected from yourself because the old route is simply gone. You can’t accidently take the old exit because the old exit isn’t there anymore. But when it comes to recovery, the situation is different. It is possible to find yourself reengaged with the pathways in your brain that represent your substance use disorder. When that happens, you may experience a relapse.
But a relapse is not the end of your recovery journey. Thanks to neuroplasticity, you can continue to work on new pathways that will enable you to reclaim your sobriety again. The best way to start that project is to return to treatment.
We Can Help You Construct New Pathways
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center in Indiana, we are wholly committed to helping individuals reclaim their lives and their sobriety. We start with a medically supervised detoxification program that gives you the chance to weather withdrawal symptoms as comfortably as possible—and keeps you away from temptations that might otherwise upend your efforts to get the drugs or alcohol out of your system.
We follow detox up with a robust rehabilitation program. Rehab involves both individual and group therapy sessions, which offer support, resources, and strategies for staying sober. During this portion of treatment, we can also address any co-occurring mental health disorders—like depression, anxiety, and more—that may be entangled with your substance use disorder.
When your time in treatment comes to an end, we offer ongoing support through our continuum of care. The early days of the recovery journey can be particularly difficult, and we are here to help. Equally importantly, we are ready to help you get back on track following a relapse—with empathy and without judgment.
If you are ready to chart a new path, we are ready to point the way.