I am glad folks are curious and searching for information on recovery from drug addiction.
Recovery is an emotional, physical, cognitive, and spiritual process, and happens inside forever, once the commitment to such a powerful change is made. It is wrenching to change all those habits at once. Eventually though, with new programs installed in your brain and habits established, it is possible to maintain a maintenance regimen.
External changes like a new job, or a new car, or a new relationship are sometimes used to measure drug addiction recovery, because there are only feeling and thinking metrics to judge the internal process, until one has some experience with that internal process.
After hitting your bottom, most folks are not sure how much credibility they can place in their own thoughts and perceptions, since those are the thoughts and perceptions which got them into trouble in the first place.
So perhaps the first step is the physical detox, which can take some time depending on the drug of choice. At this stage, supervision by a medical expert may be very important.
During this stage the body, which is designed to function in a very healthy way, and heal itself if given the correct fuel, will begin to right itself, including resuming neurogenesis, which is the growth of new brain cells.
New brain cells will be in great demand as the neurons recalibrate and close up receptors which were opened to handle the metabolization of recreational chemicals. It will take some time for the brain to replace the wear and tear, but rest assured, it is working to build new cells.
As the brain rights itself physically, then thinking patterns can begin to be addressed, which involves another critical capacity of the human brain, neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is a term used to describe the brains ability to rewire and reconnect itself in a ceaseless search for more effective connections and more effective circuits for maintaining survival behavior.
At this point, someone in treatment, or someone who has sought out AA, NA, or another 12 step program or counseling will begin to address the thinking components of recovery, which involve the neuroplasticity of the human brain.
Sharon Begley in her book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain, speaks to how attention to what we are paying attention to changes your brain.
This is an excerpt from an article that she wrote for the Wall Street Journal;
"Through attention, UCSF's Michael Merzenich and a colleague wrote, "We choose and sculpt how our ever-changing minds will work, we choose who we will be the next moment in a very real sense, and these choices are left embossed in physical form on our material selves."
The discovery that neuroplasticity cannot occur without attention has important implications. If a skill becomes so routine you can do it on autopilot, practicing it will no longer change the brain. And if you take up mental exercises to keep your brain young, they will not be as effective if you become able to do them without paying much attention."
This is where thinking about the steps of your program, for example, begin to pay off. There is no end to that process, but the practice itself changes your brain in a healthy, neuroplastic way.
In fact, a key component of healthy recovery from drug addiction is a healthy brain, and a healthy brain means you need to take care of the pillars of brain fitness, getting enough physical exercise, proper nutrition, including omega 3 fatty acids to keep your neurons supple and flexible, for good signal sending and receiving, good sleep, stress management (step 11?), and novel learning experiences, which certainly includes puzzling over how to create your recovery.
But remember, you can enhance and encourage neurogenesis and neuroplasticity by attending to the pillars of brain fitness, which actually closely parallel the pillars of kidney and liver health, for example.
The key piece of recovery from drug addiction is to manage your thinking.
Capture and dispute automatic negative thoughts as Daniel Amen, MD, describes them, simply because it is your brain and you can do this.
In a sense automatic negative thoughts are like computer viruses. You install your 12 step filter, for example, and reboot the brain as you become aware of each negative thought. Soon you will be repeating thoughts which leave you feeling good, simply because you can and now your neuroplasticity is becoming effective in a positive way.
Change the thought, change the feeling, and soon your brain is moving towards a very healthy and relaxing pattern of thinking and internal chemistry.
Remember though, that we process sensory data and create thoughts about sensory data continuously, so this is an ongoing process.
One of the pillars of brain fitness is novel learning experiences, which for a recovering addict certainly involves learning new skills, but for others might involve learning a new language or new musical instrument, which challenges the neuroplastic capacity of your brain in a healthy way.
If you do not have time for a new language or instrument, there are a number of computerized neuroplasticity enhancing tools available, including on from Michael Merzenich's Posit Science, called the Brain Fitness Program.
Check it out.