In our daily lives, our brain responds to our successes, failures, activities, and surroundings and by programming itself in accordance with these aspects of our daily living. When we focus and make something important to us, the brain will build efficient connections to enable us to perform that action or thought faster.
As a result, the more we practice, the faster connections develop around the abilities we are practicing. In this way, when we think negative thoughts, we reproduce negativity since the brain interprets that to be something we desire.
Addiction works in the same way. With addiction, there is both a physical dependence on drugs as well as a psychological component. We feel happy when we abuse drugs, and at the same time, the brain rewires itself, making it easier for us to repeat our actions even though doing so may cause us harm.
How Addictive Behavior Works
People often use drugs as a way to escape the pain we experience in their day-to-day life. Although the relief and sense of euphoria achieved are usually temporary, the drug use provides an abundance of chemicals such as glutamate, adrenaline, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin with just a single dose that cannot be reproduced in our daily lives. This is the beginning of chemical dependency and addictive behavior.
Addictive behavior is the response of our body to specific internal or external stimuli. Stress may be a stimulus for someone who may respond to the stress stimuli by overindulging in alcohol. If this stress and alcohol use connection continues over a long period, a neural pathway is created so that when the stimulus (stress) is presented, the body automatically reacts with the response of overindulging in alcohol.
In this addictive behavior example, taking a drink of alcohol may create a sense of euphoria that helps to reduce the stress you experience. The more the pressure is encountered, the more the neural pathway is fired towards the response of drinking alcohol so that we experience the euphoria we crave.
If we want to stop the addictive behavior, we must stop the response and find a new one. We will need to create a new neural pathway that does not connect addictive behavior to the stimuli.
The wiring in our brain towards addictive behavior has been created over some time and may be difficult to change. But the mind is flexible and can be rewired. Every rewiring may be achieved as only as applying mindfulness in response to our thoughts. It is possible that this mindfulness could affect change to the addictive neural pathways of the brain.
Exercising Your Brain
It may take some time and some effort, but by applying our minds, we will be able to replace those neural pathways that led to addictive behaviors with new pathways that produce excellent coping skills.
Evidence-based techniques for developing excellent coping skills include mindfulness, meditation, mental health rehab, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Simple techniques for dealing with the triggers when they occur include deep and slow breathing, and assigning names to the feelings you experience. These techniques may sound simplistic or even trivial, but they do work.
The way to make a change, create new neural pathways, and to stop addictive behaviors is to use coping techniques vigorously. Using these new techniques daily will cause the old neural pathways to atrophy. The question of how long to rewire the brain from addiction depends on how much and how consistently you practice mindfulness when responding to the stimuli that trigger your addictive behaviors.
Methods to Rewire the Brain
There are many ways to overcome addiction. We must realize that we have feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, but we are not those feelings, actions, and thoughts. We are driving these emotions.
Essential to the belief that we can rewire our addictive behavior is the idea that a part of us can see our addiction to observing those emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. If we feel otherwise, it will be challenging for us to change our addictive behavior through mindfully rewiring our brain.
We must recognize the importance of our thoughts and that we are empowered to change our toxic habits by reframing our addictive habits. We may use positive affirmations such as “I am strong,” “I have the power to change my addictions,” and “I have the potential to improve my life.”
Addictive behavior consists of four components, and while the actual activity of the addiction, such as consuming the drug or alcohol, etc., is all-consuming, the other three elements must be understood to be able to rewire the brain.
Four Basic Components of Addictive Behavior:
- Doing (or active behavior). This involves the action we take when we indulge in our addiction. It includes such things as rolling a joint and taking a hit, opening a bottle of pills, or going to a liquor store for alcohol.
- Thinking. These thoughts come to us before and after our active behavior and are often negative and filled with self-deprecation. For example, we may think to ourselves,” I am a failure at everything I do” or “I will never get over this so I might as well not try,” “I don’t get much happiness out of life” or “I deserve to be happy.”
- Feeling. These feelings result from the thoughts we think or from our behaviors, and they are feelings of disgust, sadness, guilt, disappointment, and even depression.
- Physiology. Based on our feelings, actions, and thoughts, the brain creates hormones and chemicals that produce a physiological response within our body. This is usually pleasurable, and the chemicals produce a sense of euphoria over the body. This encourages more of the same behavior as the body develops tolerance.
When you experience the urge to perform an addictive behavior, you should recognize it, name it, and replace it with different behavior as an example, if we overeat and develop an urge to eat more food.
After you recognize and you name the urge to eat, replace it with positive behavior. An example, you may go outside and take a 30-minute walk. You may do a mindfulness exercise or a quick meditation.
You will always have control over the Doing component of your behavior. If you change that component, you will change the thinking, the feeling, and the physiological component as well. Going outside and taking a walk in the fresh air, breathing deeply while you walk, the Doing component changes as well as the other three components.
These changes will redirect the firing/wiring neural pathways that have become entrenched in your brain. The changes will produce new neural pathways to replace the old compulsive, addictive, and destructive pathways. The more these new pathways are fired, the weaker the old destructive ones will become. Also, how long to rewire the brain from addiction depends on your mindful dedication to this process.
Creating and strengthening these new neural pathways takes focus, effort, and mindfulness. In brain research, a concept known as” free won’t” describes a split second that exists between a thought or an urge and an action taken.
The concept of “free” won’t refers to the mind’s ability to exercise veto power over brain generated urges. You should pay mindful attention to this split second in time and use it to refocus attention on another behavior that is beneficial and not addictive. This way, you will achieve Rewiring Your Brain by replacing toxic patterns with non-addictive habits.