Not only can the brain heal itself, it can do a pretty good job at it too! That is of course once it is provided with the right materials and time to heal. Dr. Constance Scharff in Psychology Today highlights how it was once considered a fact, that the once the brain was damaged, it could not be repaired. However, breakthroughs in neuroscientific research have proven that this is in fact, not true.
Though individual neurons might be damaged beyond repair, the brain attempts to heal itself when damaged by making new connections or new neural pathways as work-arounds for the damage. This is called neuroplasticity, neuro (brain/nerve/neuron) and plasticity (moldability).
Based on the latest neuroscientific research Dr. Scharff argues that abstinence is the best choice for recovery because the old neuropathways, the old links between addiction and pleasure are still there… It doesn’t take much to jump start the old habit.
The brain gets trained to do a particular behavior – use drugs or alcohol or gambling – eventually to the exclusion of all else. BUT, in treatment, we can retrain the brain, that is develop a new pathway that supports recovery. With intensive[…] interventions, we strengthen the new “recovery” loop within the brain. The brain then learns to enjoy recovery, those things that give us pleasure in our sober lives – family, work, interpersonal interactions. We retrain the brain and thus change our lives.
Alta Mira has produced a very informative infographic detailing neuroplasticity in terms of addiction and recovery.