Is There Hope for an Addict’s Brain?
When you are chained by an addiction, you know it affects every area of your life. It’s no secret that substance abuse ruins lives, devastates families, destroys relationships, and negatively impacts careers and schoolwork. It also leads to physical health problems and is commonly connected to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
What you may not realize is that it ravages the brain. The brain scans of substance abusers show dramatic damage—even worse than the brain scans of severely depressed people, schizophrenics, or even serial killers.
Brain imaging technology called SPECT looks at blood flow and activity in the brain. In surface scans, SPECT shows areas of the brain with healthy activity and areas with too little activity. The underactive areas look like holes or dents. The scans of healthy brains show full, even, symmetrical activity. The brains of substance abusers look like Swiss cheese.
Arnie was 56 when he got a brain SPECT scan. Sure, he was having 3 or 4 drinks a day, but he didn’t consider himself an alcoholic because he didn’t feel drunk or out of control. His brain told another story. His daily drinking was harming his brain, reducing his mental sharpness, and impacting his work.
The good news is that the brains of substance abusers have the potential for some of the greatest improvement. The before-and-after scans often reveal a stunning level of recovery. No matter what you are addicted to—drugs or alcohol or both—your brain can recover too. You need to follow these 10 steps.
10 Steps to Breaking Free from Addictions
1. Know your motivation.
To drive your desire to change, you must know why you want to get clean and sober.
2. Get the right evaluation.
The road to recovery starts by assessing the 4 circles of your life—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual—and optimizing any areas that need improvement.
3. Know your brain type.
Not all addicts are the same. Brain imaging shows there are 6 different types of addicts:
Type 1: Compulsive addicts
Type 2: Impulsive addicts
Type 3: Impulsive-compulsive addicts
Type 4: Sad or Emotional addicts
Type 5: Anxious addicts
Type 6: Temporal lobe addicts
Knowing your type will help you find the most effective solutions for your situation.
4. Boost your brain to gain control.
Enhancing your overall brain health will make it so much easier for you to stick with a recovery program and avoid relapse. And treating any co-existing conditions, like depression or anxiety, will help you heal your brain.
5. Learn to control cravings.
Make simple changes to your daily habits to avoid triggers. If your team at work usually goes to happy hour after work, suggest doing a group hike or some other activity. Daily exercise is another way to reduce cravings.
6. Eat right to think right.
Consuming brain healthy foods can help you make better decisions. For example, keeping your blood sugar levels balanced—think eating small amounts of protein at every meal and avoiding refined carbohydrates and sugary sweets—can improve impulse control in the brain.
7. Kill the ANTs.
You don’t have to believe every stupid thought in your head. Learn to overcome the automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) that infest your brain and keep you locked in your unhealthy ways. Any time you have a bad, sad, or hopeless thought, ask yourself if it is true and then talk back to it.
8. Manage your stress.
Meditation, prayer, and deep breathing exercises can help you calm the stress that can trigger a relapse. Practicing gratitude on a daily basis can also help calm stress.
9. Practice the H-A-L-T PLUS strategy.
Never get too hungry, too angry, too lonely, or too tired. Plus, learn to deal with the people, companies, and advertisers who will try to push things on you that will sabotage your brain healthy habits and your recovery.
10. Look beyond yourself.
Stop focusing on yourself and start learning to give back to your family, friends, and community. Volunteering and serving others can give you a sense of purpose in life. It helps you feel like your life matters, which is one of the best ways to break free from the addictions that steal your life.
After Arnie saw his brain scan, he made a commitment to boost his brain health by following these steps to help him stop drinking. With regular exercise, mental exercise, a brain healthy diet, and nutritional supplements targeted to his brain type, his follow-up brain scans showed great improvement. He felt more energetic, smarter, and more articulate. And his business improved. He hadn’t realized that his drinking was holding him back at the office.
At Amen Clinics, brain SPECT imaging is performed as part of a brain-body evaluation for people dealing with addictions and other conditions. The Amen Clinics Method also assesses the biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors of your life to identify areas that can be optimized.
If you (or a loved one) are struggling with addiction, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.