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What does neuroplasticity mean for addiction treatment?

When we develop a habit, the brain creates a path in itself in support of that habit. As we engage in the habit over and over again, the pathway becomes well-worn or stronger. This is similar to lifting a weight. If you lift a weight over and over, the muscle will get stronger.

In many ways, addiction can be explained as a neuroplastic event. The brain gets trained to do a particular behavior—use drugs or alcohol or gambling—eventually to the exclusion of all else. But in treatment, we can retrain the brain, that is, develop a new pathway that supports recovery.

With intensive psychotherapy and other holistic interventions, we strengthen the new “recovery” loop within the brain. The brain then learns to enjoy recovery, those things that give us pleasure in our sober lives—family, work, interpersonal interactions. We retrain the brain and thus change our lives.

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