Chronic substance use and addiction wreak havoc on nearly all brain functioning. Compared to a healthy brain, a brain affected by substance use begins to prioritize drug-seeking behavior over all else. There are several reasons why this is, with the most concerning being that the functioning of normal brain chemicals, such as dopamine, become compromised.
Dopamine is a crucial neurotransmitter that is created naturally in the brain. Neurotransmitters are responsible for sending messages back and forth between neurons. Dopamine is vital for many reasons, as it aids in controlling motor movement, directing motivation, guiding emotions, and identifying experiences of pleasure.
When a person starts using drugs, dopamine and all other transmitters are compromised in more ways than one. Even without addictive substances, dopamine can be compromised through heavy use of technology, eating, and other unhealthy habits. When people work to achieve and sustain recovery, they must consciously work to reset the dopamine levels in their brain so that they can experience long-term recovery.
How Dopamine Is Affected by Drug Use
To understand why resetting the brain’s dopamine balance after addiction is so critical, you must first understand how the brain is affected by drug use.
Neurons are brain cells, and neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals and other messages back and forth through those cells. These messages help to carry out functions of both the brain and body.
Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter responsible for identifying experiences of pleasure, and in turn, motivating pleasure-seeking behavior. Subjective experiences of pleasure help the brain identify and reinforce behavior. A healthy, sober brain is likely to motivate behaviors such as eating, socializing—and the most dopamine-releasing action—sex.
Dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter involved in recognizing pleasure. Dopamine is just one of the many neurotransmitters involved in the brain’s reward circuit, which is a combination of structures and chemicals that control and regulate our ability to experience pleasure. When it comes to drug use, an excessive amount of dopamine is released throughout the body, which the conscious brain identifies as contentment and euphoria. These intense experiences of euphoria are what drive repeated drug use behavior.
After a while, repeated substance use intensifies dopamine surges, which influences the mind to seek drugs at the cost of other activities. Repeated substance use often causes people to lose interest in activities and experiences they once found pleasurable prior to substance use.
How Long Does It Take to Reset Your Brain’s Dopamine Levels?
There are several factors that affect the intensity of dopamine release associated withdrawals that come from alcohol and other drugs. These factors may vary by person but generally involve how long it may take to restore dopamine levels to normal and natural levels. Typically, it takes about 90 days to notice a difference with experiences of pleasure and dopamine levels.
Consider the following:
- How long have you been using drugs?
- What drugs did you use? Were you using multiple at once?
- How often did you use drugs?
- Did your tolerance significantly increase with your drug use?
- How old are you?
- Did you experience dopamine deficiencies before you started using substances?
- Do you struggle with other mental illnesses?
It is important to meet yourself where you are and give yourself grace. By answering the questions above, you can better understand and recognize where you stand with the severity of your substance use. With that, you can set more realistic and achievable goals for you and your recovery.
Things You Can Do to Reset Your Brain’s Dopamine Levels
It is crucial to understand that resetting your brain’s dopamine levels is something that takes time. There is nothing that you can do to reset your dopamine levels overnight. Instead, you must actively work to increase your dopamine levels in healthy, sober ways.
As you work towards securing and sustaining sobriety, consider relying on the following tips to guide you to healing and resetting your brain’s dopamine levels naturally:
- Create exciting daily routines. Incorporate fun activities into your daily routine, even if they are mindless activities. These things will help motivate you in your recovery, especially during those random days of numbness or loneliness.
- Focus on perfecting your sleep schedule. Sleep is essential for the brain and body as it allows time for everything to repair and reset. Your sleep becomes even more critical in recovery. Work to get enough sleep each night and create a reliable sleep schedule.
- Improve your diet. Certain foods may increase your dopamine levels, while others reduce them. Incorporate foods rich in vitamins, minerals, and protein into your daily diet.
- Exercise. Your brain naturally releases dopamine when you exercise.
- Practice mindfulness. Meditation and other mindfulness practices help you focus on the here and now, encouraging you to identify what you are grateful for.
- Listen to music. Create a playlist of your favorite songs and have it ready to play when you feel discontent.
Repeated drug use and addiction cause dysfunction for nearly all brain chemicals. One of the brain chemicals most affected includes dopamine, which is a part of the brain’s reward center. Dopamine is responsible for identifying experiences of pleasure and motivating pleasure-seeking behaviors. Drug use impairs dopamine to the point where the brain seeks out substance use over any other activity. In recovery, dopamine will not heal on its own. Dopamine must be reset with patience by introducing healthy daily behaviors into your routine. West Coast Recovery Centers understands that brain chemicals must be rewired during recovery. We can help you to understand all of the ways that your brain is affected by drug use while educating you on ways to reset your brain back to normal. To learn more about how to reset dopamine, or to learn more about our treatment facility, give us a call today at (760) 492-6509.