How long does it take to undo an addiction?
How long does it take to undo an addiction? While this is the first question many people ask in rehab, the answer can vary. The detox and rehab process can be significantly different based on an individual’s physical chemistry, addiction history and mental health.
More importantly, there is no such thing as truly undoing an addiction. An addiction is a chronic disease, which means that it must be managed over a lifetime. While you can become sober and undo some of the physical effects, you must continue working on your sobriety for the rest of your life.
How Long Does It Take to Undo an Addiction?
Each person is different, but there is a lot of evidence that supports the 90-day rehabilitation model. In studies, researchers at Yale University have found that it takes at least 90 days to undo an addiction. During these 90 days, the brain resets and proper decision-making starts to occur again. In the prefrontal cortex, analytical functions also begin to take place.
To overcome an addiction, your mind must learn a different kind of conditioning. If you want to remain sober, your brain must ignore the amygdala and lower regions of the brain. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that it takes about 90 days for this cognitive retraining to occur.
The 21-Day Myth
Most likely, you have previously heard a myth that it takes just 21 days to break a habit. This myth was originally created by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. Years ago, Maltz worked as a plastic surgeon and a psychologist. He noticed that people generally got used to having an amputation, plastic surgery or a new house in about three weeks.
Maltz did not create this figure based on scientific research or double-blind studies. He did not survey his patients or do anything to create accurate data. Instead, he merely based his figure on his observations and what patients reported. As a result, his 21-day belief is just an unproven myth.
Even if his data was accurate, there is another problem with the 21-day myth. Maltz was only basing it on habits people wanted to break or were forced to change. The patients had to automatically deal with an amputation, and they eagerly sought out plastic surgery. Likewise, people enjoy moving to a new home.
Drug and alcohol addiction are not the same. Instead of being forced to deal with an amputation, the individual constantly has to choose whether they want to be sober or not. Additionally, some people may be less thrilled about becoming sober than they are about buying a new house. To break a true habit, you have to make a conscious, consistent effort to change. New houses, amputations and plastic surgery do not involve this kind of effort.
In reality, the amount of time it takes to break a habit can depend on a variety of factors. Your motivation, the length of the behavior and positive rewards can impact how long it takes to end a habit. Likewise, negative behaviors can reinforce a bad habit. If you have fully integrated a specific habit into your life, it can be harder to break.
Instead of taking 21 days to break a habit, it really takes multiple months to end an unwanted behavior. In one study, it took about 10 weeks to create an entirely new habit. To break a bad habit, a different study found that it realistically took 18 to 254 days. While one participant needed just 18 days to break a habit, the average person needed closer to 66 days.
Because substance abuse is reinforced through chemical and social rewards, it can be harder to break these habits. For instance, many people drink at bars with their friends. This social connection reinforces the addiction. Because of this, people should reasonably expect it to take about 90 days to break an initial addiction.
How Long Does It Take for Brain Chemistry to Return to Normal After an Addiction?
How long does it take to undo an addiction in the brain? The answer to this question depends on the severity of your addiction and what kind of substance was involved. For instance, dementia is associated with alcohol and drug abuse. If you have dementia from your addiction, your brain will not be able to undo this particular side effect.
While some of the mental effects will not go away, your actual brain chemistry can return to a normal level. You may be able to change an addictive behavior in just 90 days, but it can take months of abstinence for the brain to recover. After quitting methamphetamine use, it can take 14 months for dopamine transporter levels (DAT) to normalize again.
Other drugs involve different recovery times. While the exact number of days is unknown, researchers are aware that your executive function and short-term memory will continue improving with each day you are abstinent from alcohol. Over time, your cerebellar volume will increase as well.
What Is the Relapse Rate?
Unfortunately, many people who suffer from substance abuse will relapse after they become sober. Some studies suggest that up to two out of three people will relapse in the first few weeks or months after their treatment ends. After a year, more than 85 percent of people who quit illicit drugs, alcohol or nicotine will end up using again.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, relapse rates from all types of substance abuse disorders are between 40 to 60 percent. This number can vary significantly based on the addiction length, co-occurring disorders and the drug involved. Ultimately, this figure shows that relapse rates are not inevitable. With the right treatment, you can stop using drugs and alcohol.
More importantly, there is no reason to give up after a single relapse. When a relapse occurs, it is possible to immediately return to sobriety. A single failure does not mean someone’s entire treatment has failed. Instead, it is just a sign that you need to recommit to a sober lifestyle.
Does the Brain Go Back to Normal After an Addiction?
The recovery process depends on the kind of drug involved. If you quit using alcohol, your brain will begin recovering lost gray matter within a single week. Other areas of your brain can take longer to heal. For instance, it can take months to recover additional volume in the white matter in your prefrontal cortex.
Someone who uses ecstasy may suffer from changed serotonin levels. This drug changes how your neurons transport serotonin, so it can take 18 months or more for your serotonin levels to return to normal. Healing begins after just two weeks of sobriety, but you may still suffer from memory and learning deficits for a while.
In comparison, cocaine can impact your ability to experience pain and pleasure. Even if you only used cocaine once, your brain cannot use glucose properly after 10 days. After 100 days, the brain will still be unable to function correctly.
The brain is an incredibly fragile organ. After recovering from an addiction, it can take months or years for the brain’s chemistry to go back to normal. When it does recover, it is because of the following factors.
- Regeneration: Some of your brain cells have the power to regenerate. Because of this, damaged cells may eventually get replaced with fresh cells.
- Neuroplasticity: This term refers to your brain’s ability to function after neural pathways and cells are damaged.
- Shared brain functionality: Drugs can damage the areas of your brain that are responsible for your memory and cognitive function. Fortunately, other parts of your brain can sometimes take over these functions. While the original section may not go back to normal, you are able to recover your memory, sensory perception and cognition because other parts of the mind share the same functionality.
How Do You Reset Your Dopamine Levels?
After using drugs that affect dopamine, recovery can be difficult. In some cases, it can take up to 14 months of sobriety to reset your dopamine levels. While you wait for your brain to adjust, you can always use the following techniques to boost your dopamine levels in a natural, healthy way.
- Take a supplement: Vitamins and minerals are important for dopamine production, so taking a supplement can help you increase your dopamine levels.
- Eat protein: Certain ingredients that are found in protein-rich foods can naturally boost your dopamine production.
- Avoid saturated fat: Saturated fat can disrupt the way your body uses dopamine, so you should try to avoid it.
- Get fit: Studies show that just 10 minutes of daily exercise can boost dopamine levels in your brain.
Managing an Addiction Takes a Lifetime
How long does it take to undo an addiction? The answer is different for everyone. Ultimately, there is no way to completely get rid of an addiction. This chronic illness can be managed, but it cannot be cured. Because of this, it is important to get the right treatment and support. To learn more about how Midhudson Addiction Recovery can help, call us today.