What Can Drug Rehab Teach Me?

By John Lee

Even though you can’t seem to stop using drugs or drinking on your own, you may be wondering what you can learn in drug rehab that’s going to make a difference. Why do you really need to go to rehab anyway?

One reason people have such a hard time quitting drugs or alcohol without treatment is that addiction is a brain disease that results in physical changes in brain structure and the way the brain works.

Addiction changes the brain in ways that make it harder for people in early recovery to focus clearly, make good decisions and resist temptation. Fortunately, the brain heals over time, but until it does, a person in recovery is at great risk of relapse. This is where addiction treatment can help.

Changes in the Brain

The chronic use of drugs or alcohol leads to changes in the brain. Tolerance, the need to take increasing amounts of a substance to feel the same effects, is one noticeable consequence of changes in brain activity, but changes in the brain can lead to other consequences as well.

The brain generally tries to maintain equilibrium and balance. For example, if you keep using a drug that causes a huge release of dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter), the brain will evolve so that less dopamine is around for release.

The thousands of small changes the brain makes to compensate for the continual presence of a drug leads to small but significant alterations in the way we feel, act and think.

Although the brain is trying to keep itself working normally in the face of an “assault” from drugs or alcohol, the changes it makes to maintain equilibrium actually result in cognitive and behavioral changes that make it harder for a person to quit using a drug.

The Consequences of Changes in the Brain

Drug-induced changes in the brain (brain damage) sound pretty scary, but the mind has a remarkable ability to restore itself. This process of restoration takes time, however, and MRI scans done on drug users in early recovery show substantial changes in areas of the brain responsible for decision-making and impulse control. During the early days of recovery, drug and alcohol users will experience problems in emotion and cognition.

Some of the symptoms of these changes in the brain can include:

Difficulty making decisions
A lowered threshold for temptation

It only takes a single poor decision to lead a relapse, and when you aren’t thinking clearly, can’t make good decisions, are feeling down, anxious and irritable, and can’t resist temptation, the cards are stacked against you.

When your mind isn’t working as it should, will power has little to do with it. To have any real chance at giving your mind time to heal, you need to learn how to minimize the temptation in your life to minimize the odds of relapse.

Learning to Avoid Temptation in Drug Rehab

Addiction is a complex disease of the brain that has behavioral and spiritual components. To beat addiction, you need to stay motivated to quit, understand the nature of the disease and understand what threatens it.

You’ll also need to use medication in some cases to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal, reduce the severity of drug cravings or control the symptoms of active mental illness.

Importantly, you’ll also need to learn how to minimize the temptation in your life and figure out what you’ll do when you find yourself tempted to use.

To accomplish these goals, effective drug rehab programs address all issues that are affecting patients’ minds, bodies and sprits. For example, at Sierra Tucson – a highly respected residential treatment program – patients heal under the guidance of dedicated addiction recovery experts whose comprehensive services include disease and recovery education, relapse prevention, 12-Step meetings, Equine-Assisted Therapy, Adventure Therapy, and Grief and Spirituality sessions.

In drug rehab:

Through group and individual therapy, you’ll keep up your motivation to stay abstinent and gain a better understanding of why you use.
Through lectures and seminars, you’ll gain an understanding of the disease of addiction and come to understand why you feel and act as you do.
Through better nutrition, exercise and medical care, you’ll start to feel physically stronger and more ready to face the challenges of life.
Through cognitive behavioral therapy or other relapse prevention programming, you’ll learn to identify the triggers in your environment that threaten your abstinence and how to minimize your exposure to these triggers to abuse. You’ll also learn what to do when you experience a drug craving and practice real-world techniques that will help you cope with difficult situations.
Through a month or more away from your home environment, you will give your brain an initial healing period, without needing to worry about relapse.

Addiction Treatment Works

Alcoholics and drug addicts are not simply people without will power; they are people that fight a difficult brain disease that seems to conspire against their recovery. Although some people are able to quit without assistance, most drug addicts and alcoholics need an addiction treatment program to get past that first very difficult year of abstinence.