August 27, 2021 Addiction

How Long Does Your Brain Take To Recover From Drugs?

Long-term use of drugs and alcohol increases the risk of brain-related health problems, including cognitive decline and mental illness. The sooner someone gets help for drug addiction, the sooner their brain can heal and recover from the effects of drugs. However, the recovery period is different for everyone and is based on factors that include the length of time they were using drugs and whether they have an underlying health condition.

Continue reading to learn more about the link between drug use and brain health and to discover how long it may take for the brain to recover from drugs.

How Do Drugs Affect the Brain?

Addiction is considered a complex brain disorder and mental illness, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It causes long-lasting changes in the brain that often require long-term therapy and healing.

The U.S. Surgeon General states that drug addiction affects parts of the brain involved in pleasure, stress, learning, decision making, and self-control. The part of the brain involved in pleasure and motivation is the basal ganglia, also known as the brain’s reward circuit. This is the circuit that produces feelings of euphoria during drug use.

Drug addiction affects parts of the brain.

The part of the brain involved in stress is the extended amygdala. According to the NIDA, drug use causes this circuit to become more sensitive and leads to stressful feelings, including irritability, unease, and anxiety. The prefrontal cortex controls learning, decision-making, and self-control, which is the last part of the brain to fully mature and develop, usually during a person’s 20s. The effects of drug use on the prefrontal cortex can lead to compulsive behavior in those who suffer from addiction.

Each type of drug affects the brain in different ways. For instance, opioids, including heroin, oxycodone, and Suboxone, disrupt basic bodily functions, such as heart rate and breathing, in ways that increase the risk for an overdose. Inhalants can reduce the cognitive ability to the point it causes dementia, while cocaine can trigger microscopic strokes in the brain that destroy brain nerves.

How Long Does It Take for the Brain To Heal From Addiction?

It may take weeks, months, or even years for the brain to recover from drugs, given how each person is affected differently by drug use. Additionally, each type of drug produces unique effects that determine the length of time it may take for a person’s brain to fully heal.

For instance, a person recovering from marijuana addiction typically experiences anxiety and irritability for between one and two weeks, according to the World Health Organization guidelines. This is a significantly shorter recovery time compared with that of benzodiazepine addiction, which can cause the same symptoms plus agitation, poor memory, and poor concentration for up to eight weeks or even longer.

Certain treatments and lifestyle behaviors may accelerate the time it takes for the brain to heal from addiction. Staying abstinent from drugs and alcohol, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced, highly nutritious diet may speed up the brain’s healing time, as can receiving behavioral therapy and using prescription medications approved for the treatment of neurological conditions.

Which Treatments Help the Brain Recover From Drug Addiction?

Under the right circumstances, the brain has the ability to self-repair some types of brain damage, reports the NIDA. This occurs on behalf of a process called neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to form new neural connections in response to positive changes in its environment. Moving from a high-stress, dangerous, and hostile living environment into a relaxing, safe, and supportive drug rehab center is one example of how certain environmental changes can help the brain heal from drug addiction.

Drug rehab centers use medical detox and behavioral therapy to help people recover from the physical and psychological effects of drug addiction. Medications may also be used to reduce and potentially reverse the effects of drugs on brain health.


Medical detox is the first stage of addiction treatment. Detox helps patients safely withdraw from drugs and alcohol while facing a reduced risk of complications because medications are used to minimize symptoms. Patients are also closely monitored by nurses and doctors who can intervene at any time to make patients feel more comfortable.

In addition to receiving medications that reduce withdrawal symptoms, some patients may receive medications and/or nutritional supplements that repair brain damage. For instance, patients recovering from alcohol addiction may receive vitamin B1 supplements to reverse cognitive damage, while those recovering from opioid addiction may receive methadone to repair biochemical brain abnormalities. Deprenyl (used in Parkinson’s disease) and acetylcysteine (used in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) may also be used to treat drug-related neurological damage that causes brain abnormalities.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy aims to help patients identify and change harmful behaviors that may have led to addiction or that are driving their addiction. Behavioral therapy can often help patients unlearn negative behaviors and retrain their brains.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used therapies at drug and alcohol rehab centers. This therapy involves teaching patients healthier behaviors they can practice, such as mindfulness meditation and yoga, that can be useful at managing drug cravings, stress, and other triggers. A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors found that patients in recovery from addiction who practice mindfulness meditation can successfully retrain their brains in ways that reduce the risk of relapse.

Dual diagnosis therapy is another common therapy used in drug rehab programs. This therapy helps patients manage and recover from co-occurring mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, that may have caused addiction or that developed as a result of drug use.

Behavioral therapy is available in both residential and outpatient drug rehab programs. Rehab programs are personalized for each patient based on their unique situations. For instance, a patient experiencing severe brain deficits caused by drug and alcohol use may receive a set of therapies aimed at helping them improve their brain health. Treatment may also include nutrition counseling and lifestyle coaching to help patients adopt healthier behaviors that support optimal brain health and recovery.