Had an accident or stroke? Developed amnesia? Lost consciousness for some reason? Well maybe not you. You may be wondering however how a friend or neighbor is recovering from such incidences of short or long term memory losses. Well thanks to technology now we know the brain has a way to self-regenerate in its functions through a process called neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adjust to new environments or needs by developing new nerve cells throughout the body. it is the brain’s way of recovery. neuroplasticity allows the cells to compensate for any injuries or diseases in the nerve system. It also allows the neurons reorganize themselves to perform new functions of the brain depending on changes in their working environment.
One of the most common mechanisms in neuroplasticity is axonal sprouting. This is the process whereby active axons develop new nerve endings to connect with those their links were severed. Inversely, the damaged one can also grow new nerve endings to reconnect to the active neurons. Neuroplasticity is a term derived from the words; “neuron” and “plasticity”. A neuron is a nerve cell of the brain. Plasticity on the other hand means ability to remold. The process is at times referred to as brain malleability. Other times it is simply called brain plasticity.
Addiction on the other hand is an intricate condition of the brain, usually categorized as a disease that involves reward and motivation cerebral systems structurally and chemically altered. It is a mental condition characterized by a compulsive urge to indulge in rewarding stimuli despite possible dire consequences. Addiction is both reinforcing and rewarding. It manifests itself in the form of repetitive, intrinsic behavior including; gambling, food, exercises, shopping and substance abuse.
At one time Aristotle said: “We are what we repeatedly do.” Even though the Greek coined the phrase in the context to advice his readers of making a habit of excellence, the great philosopher had his brain develop a pathway around his successes over time. See, that is what the brain does. It creates a path of neurons to support our habits. A weight lifter for instance develops stronger muscles as a result of repetitive action. Similarly the brain may develop a path around addiction.
Once such pathways are created, addiction takes control of the brain. Eventually the addiction becomes the only thing that matters to the addict. Once the addiction hijacks the brain’s centers of pleasure it becomes the only thing that brings the addict a sense of joy or happiness. Soon his/her brain recognizes more of the addiction and less of other socio economic aspects of life including: friends, relatives, family, responsibilities, and work among other normal forms of social interactions and activities.
For a long time detoxification has been used as a treatment mechanism against addiction. This is the removal of the substance of abuse from the body. Victims however fell back on to substance abuse shortly afterwards. The billion dollar question then was how this still happened sometimes way after the victim’s blood had been cleaned of the same. This was one very interesting aspect of scientific state of quandary.
It is however through neuroplasticity scientists discovered treatment of an addiction needed more than mere detoxification. The brain actually needed to be retrained back to its normal functions. It required an intensive psychotherapy among other medical interventions to remold the recovery process. Also, it required an intense psychotherapy to reconfigure the brain’s recognition of what initially seemed normal and of the person as a whole especially in terms of behavior change. The nerve cells needed to rebuild a connection along initial, rather former normal pathways.
The process, neuroplasticity however does not take away the addictive neuron pathways like probably in the case of severe brain damage usually by accidents. It only retrains the brain to develop new ones along the old clean pathways. It is therefore often advisable to abstain from drugs completely during recovery. This is so as to avoid reinforcing the addictive path.
It is the same case each time you reread your favorite novel. You might have read it last twenty years ago. And you could have forgotten a few characters already. However if you picked that same book today you would remember a lot more, the story would begin to unfold in your sub conscience mind even without rereading the whole story yet again. You would remember the chapters more clearly, vividly the characters, deeply their roles and or attributes without going into it a whole other time.
Relationship between neuroplasticity and addiction is not a simple support of addictive habit and recovery alone. It is an inter-disciplinary connection of varied other fields; computer technology, anthropology, and psychology among others. Want to learn more on this? This year’s August integrative addiction medicine conferences could just be the answer you are looking for. Click on: http://www.integrativeaddiction2015.com and sign up for the upcoming event where you will have a chance to meet various medical experts, and listen to speakers on the neuroplasticity and integrative addiction recovery.