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Sober Brain Changes in Recovery

Sober Brain Changes in Recovery

The brain is a large network of neurons that communicate with one another to control your every thought and action.

When someone starts to abuse drugs or alcohol, their appearance and behavior may have noticeable changes, but what some people may not realize is that their brain is changing as well.

Addiction and the Brain

Substance abuse affects the brain in several aspects. When someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their brain actually changes in ways that promote dependence on the drug. The neurons will build strong connections that relate to substance abuse and their brain may also experience structural changes with long-term abuse. These changes can negatively impact the person’s normal brain functioning and decrease the person’s ability to think or perform tasks at as high a level as before. In extreme cases, there may even be irreversible brain damage.

Brain Changes in Addiction Recovery

Addiction recovery is a time of many changes. When a person goes through a PHP, IOP, or another formal treatment program, they are not only trying to overcome their addiction, but they also need to change their entire lifestyle if they want to see lasting success. This transition involves actively altering their habits, thinking, and daily routine, but they will also experience brain changes in recovery as well that they may not be aware of.

A sober brain is far different from an addicted brain, and when someone goes from addiction to sobriety, the brain will do its best to adjust and heal from the damage left behind from a drug or alcohol addiction. This could mean changes in brain structure, brain cells, and the chemicals in the brain. Unfortunately, in some cases, the damage may be too severe or take a significant amount of time before seeing any improvement. In other cases, the results may be almost immediate.

One study found that after two months of sobriety, there were significant changes in the formerly alcohol-dependent participants, including an increase in overall brain volume, the ability of the brain cells to relay messages, and the function of the brain cells. These sober brain changes also showed in the improved test results of the subject’s cognitive functioning.1 These changes can also revert if a relapse occurs. Another study found that alcoholics who relapsed have decreased white matter compared to those who stayed sober.2 White matter is a sign that myelin sheaths are present on the neurons, which allow the brain to send messages faster and improves brain functioning.

Brain changes in addiction recovery can also occur with other abused substances. Researchers found that former methamphetamine abusers who had been sober for a year or longer had better neural structure and function compared to those that who just recently quit, but less than those who never took meth at all.3 This research suggests that while meth abuse caused brain damage, some of that damage is reversible.

The sober brain also tends to have better mental health than the addicted brain. Practices like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and motivational interviewing for addiction will focus on positively changing a person’s thought processes. With time, these therapies lead to actual brain changes in addiction recovery as the recovering addict builds or creates stronger neural connections that make these positive thought processes a habit. If the recovering addict continues theses practices outside of treatment, they should see more improvement in their mental health as their brain keeps building strong connections that promote this positive thinking.

As a result of these sober brain changes, many recovering addicts report clearer thinking, better focus, and improved memory.

If you are ready to start thinking clearly again, our drug rehab center near Boston wants to help. At Banyan Massachusetts, we believe in a comprehensive approach to treatment.

To learn more about us or to get started, contact us today by calling 888-280-4763.


  1. LA Times - Undoing Alcohol’s damage to the mind
  2. NCBI - Longitudinal changes in magnetic resonance imaging brain volumes in abstinent and relapsed alcoholics.
  3. ScienceDaily - Brain Region Recovery Possible In Former Methamphetamine User
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Sober Brain Changes in Recovery
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