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How long to rewire the brain from addiction?

December 23, 2023
Reviewed by: Rajnandini Rathod

How Long It Takes to Rewire the Brain from Addiction and What to Expect

Addiction exerts a profound impact on the intricate workings of the brain, redefining its very structure and function. From the immediate rush of pleasure to the enduring alterations in neural circuitry, addiction poses a complex array of effects that linger long after the substance is absent. How does this dependency sculpt the brain’s pathways? Can the brain, known for its adaptability, reconfigure itself to break free from the clutches of addiction? Exploring these questions unveils a captivating journey through the neuroscience of addiction, shedding light on both its immediate consequences and the brain’s potential for rewiring and recovery.

The Brain and Addiction: How Addiction Rewires the Brain

The brain has a system that makes us feel good when we do things like eat or hang out with friends. This good feeling is because of a chemical called dopamine. But when people use drugs or do addictive things, this system gets messed up. The drugs make the brain release too much dopamine, causing a really strong feeling of happiness. Over time, the brain adapts to the constant dopamine surges by reducing its own dopamine production and numbing the reward response to normal stimuli.

Consequently, individuals find it increasingly challenging to experience pleasure from everyday activities, driving them to seek more of the addictive substance to achieve the same high. However, through neuroplasticity, the brain’s remarkable ability to rewire itself, recovery from addiction becomes possible. With time, sobriety, and often with therapeutic interventions, the brain can gradually recalibrate its reward system. CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a type of therapy that relies on learning principles, making use of neuroplasticity in the process.

Timeframe of Brain Rewiring from Addiction 

The rewiring of the brain, while a promising aspect of recovery from addiction or behavioural changes, isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey. Several factors influence this process. Firstly, the duration and intensity of addiction significantly impact the rewiring timeline. Substance type and frequency of use alter the brain differently, affecting the speed and extent of neural changes. This may also be caused by different types of behavioural addictions. Concurrent mental health conditions and overall brain health also play pivotal roles. Additionally, external factors like environment, social support, and stress levels significantly influence the brain’s ability to rewire.

As for the timeline, it varies widely among individuals. Generally, the initial stages of withdrawal and detox may take days to weeks, marked by the brain attempting to restore balance without the substance. Early rewiring processes can extend from weeks to several months as neural pathways start adjusting to new patterns. However, complete rewiring might take years, especially for sustained behavioural changes and to regain full cognitive function.

Individual differences further complicate the timeline. Genetic predispositions, personal resilience, and commitment to change create unique trajectories. Factors like age, lifestyle, and therapeutic interventions also contribute. While some individuals might exhibit rapid progress, others may face prolonged challenges due to these diversities, emphasising the personalised nature of the rewiring process in overcoming addiction or adopting new behaviours.

Stages of Brain Rewiring

Just like the way the brain changes with alcohol use disorder (AUD), it can also change back to help heal and develop healthy behaviours for recovery. The complete extent of the brain’s ability to revert to its ‘normal’ state after prolonged sobriety is not fully understood. However, recent studies suggest that some of the changes in the brain caused by AUD, along with how people think, feel, and act because of them, might get better and even reverse after abstaining from alcohol for a few months.

Stage 1: Early Stages of Withdrawal and Detox

Duration: Typically lasts from a few days to a couple of weeks after cessation of the addictive substance.


  • Physical & Mental Adjustment: The body and brain begin to adapt to the absence of the substance, leading to physical symptoms like cravings, headaches, nausea, and mood swings.
  • Detoxification: The process of clearing the body of the substance and its byproducts occurs, often under medical supervision in severe cases.
  • Initial Neural Adjustment: Neural pathways associated with the addictive substance start to recalibrate as the brain tries to restore balance.

Stage 2: Mid-Stage of Rewiring and Overcoming Cravings

Duration: Extends over weeks to several months post-detox, varying based on individual factors.


  • Cognitive Shift: Emotional and cognitive changes occur as the brain gradually adapts to functioning without the substance.
  • Managing Cravings: Strategies and coping mechanisms are developed to handle intense cravings and triggers associated with the addictive behaviour or substance.
  • Behavioural Changes: Patients start to adopt new habits, often through therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to replace old addictive behaviours.

Stage 3: Long-Term Recovery and Maintenance of Brain Rewiring

Duration: Can extend over years and is an ongoing process.


  • Sustained Behavioral Changes: Individuals establish and maintain new patterns of behaviour, reducing the likelihood of relapse.
  • Neuroplasticity in Action: Continued rewiring of neural pathways occurs, reinforcing healthy behaviours and gradually diminishing associations with the addictive substance or behaviour.
  • Support Systems: Ongoing support from therapy, peer groups, and lifestyle changes is crucial for maintaining the rewired brain and preventing relapse.

Strategies to Accelerate Brain Rewiring 

Just as various factors impact how substances affect the brain, there are multiple methods to speed up brain rewiring. Here are several approaches to consider:

Therapeutic Interventions

Therapeutic interventions offer promising avenues for brain rewiring during recovery from addiction. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) serves as a powerful tool by reshaping thoughts and behaviours associated with addiction, thereby assisting in the rewiring of neural pathways. Other de-addiction treatment therapies like mindfulness-based practices, such as meditation and mindfulness techniques, play a pivotal role. They elevate self-awareness and enable better impulse regulation, fostering an environment conducive to the rewiring process within the brain.

Healthy Lifestyle changes

While it might sound like generic advice, even slight alterations in your daily routine, such as adding exercise, can significantly enhance neuroplasticity. Exercise has the power to modify synaptic structure and function across different brain regions, fostering neuroplasticity. Moreover, maintaining a balanced diet offers essential nutrients crucial for optimal brain function, thus supporting the recovery process and aiding in the rewiring efforts within the brain.

Social Support and Connection

Joining support groups or communities creates a sense of belonging, diminishes feelings of isolation, and offers valuable encouragement throughout the rewiring journey. Additionally, cultivating healthy relationships with positive and supportive individuals provides a strong foundation for maintaining motivation and reinforcing efforts towards rewiring the brain. These connections serve as pillars of strength, enhancing resilience and commitment during the recovery process.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Acknowledging that recovery is an ongoing journey is fundamental. It’s crucial to understand that the path towards healing and change isn’t a one-time event but rather a lifelong process. This perspective helps in embracing the idea that setbacks and challenges might emerge along the way. These moments don’t signify failure but serve as opportunities for learning and growth. Acceptance of these hurdles is part of the journey and can contribute to building resilience.

Moreover, celebrating progress, no matter how small, is essential. Recognising and appreciating the strides and milestones achieved reinforces positivity and motivation. Each step forward and success marks a victory in the journey toward wellness. It’s about acknowledging the effort invested and finding strength in the progress, fostering a sense of accomplishment and encouragement to keep moving forward, even during challenging times.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to a mental health professional. To browse a list of treatment centres across India, click here.


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