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Author: Justin Mckibben
When we ease our way out of the mental fog that is created in active addiction we may find ourselves with a bit of a mental block. Some people theorize that whatever age you are when you start excessively using substances is the age that you will remain mentally until you detox and break away from the substances. Then once you have cleaned up, you begin a slow process of redeveloping the mind to try and catch up with your age. While it makes sense that the brains growth is stunted by the use of drugs, we can admit some of it may not have to do with our capacity to cultivate our intellect, and more to do with the fact many of us shrug off intellectual pursuits while actively using drugs or alcohol.
We may find we have to put in more work to build mental muscle in recovery. Clearing our minds of years’ worth of chemical conditioning can take some time, but we can exercise our minds to help make ourselves smarter.
Here are 3 ways to build mental muscle in recovery.
Challenge yourself in different ways
One way to step up your smarts is to go out of your way to engage in tasks that are diverse and challenging. If you are used to reading and writing a lot, try stepping out of that familiar space and working on something that stimulates the mind and body in a different way.
Other hobbies or chores can be challenging either mentally or physically. Some people will chose to exercise or play team sports, evoking a different form of concentration. Others will tackle a list of household projects which might not be intellectually stimulating, but require discipline.
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
-Thomas A. Edison
In recovery you will find a lot of opportunities to experience different modes of thinking. One suggestion I will pass on is to practice meditation. Slowing down and finding quiet and reflective moments can help the mind sort through some of the busier information. For a lot of us just sitting still is extremely challenging.
Find ways to push your mind to grow in different directions once in a while.
Learn to use social thinking
The fact is that intelligence has never been limited to what goes on in our own mind. A more inclusive definition of “thinking” includes external sources that supply us with a variety of perspectives. Makes sense, since basically everything you can “know” comes from experiencing the outside world and digesting the information on the inside.
Social dynamics and social remembering play a big part in committing information to memory. When we interact with each other and take on new data, we can attach emotions to it based on the social setting. These subtle anchors help us to store the information.
“Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.”
In recovery you have countless opportunities every day to interact with others in recovery. You get to sit and discuss strategies for sobriety, philosophical ideas and share deep emotional experience. Through the experience, strength and hope of others we build mental muscle in recovery. This is part of why sharing and 12 Step meetings are so effective. They provide us with a new format to learn as we grow.
Do things with passion
Another way to build mental muscle in recovery is to find passion in what you are doing. Wisdom comes from information and experience, and a lot of times our understanding is magnified when we can connect on a deeper level with it.
Sometimes it is difficult to be passionate about things that you wouldn’t be easily interested in. Some of us find we have to research things for school or work that aren’t what we naturally are attracted to intellectually. However, by seeking an aspect of every assignment that we can internalize and make it our own we can optimize our ability to retain the information. Our emotions are stronger for our minds than we think.
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”
So, to build more mental muscle in recovery using your passion, you can look for the element of each obstacle that makes it matter to you on a personal level. Sometimes therapy or 12 Step work will seem tedious and irrelevant, but if you find a way to be passionate about it, even if it’s just to get it done, you have a better chance of holding onto the information.
In fact, finding a passion for your sobriety is probably a huge way of building your mental muscles in recovery. Getting smarter isn’t just about staring into a book and recording the words. Intelligence doesn’t just mean collecting data. It also means knowing why the data matters at all.
In life you don’t necessarily need to be the most book smart person to succeed. In all honesty, everyone has their own measure of what success even means. Building mental muscle in recovery might give you a new definition of what success means. Either way, to open your mind and grow in knowledge and awareness has the ability to change your life.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Overall, it is important for us to pay attention to our mind and bodies. As we change our lives, it is important to grow. Only by building mental muscle in recovery can we reach our potential for freedom and fulfillment. In recovery, it is important to recognize what drives you, and expand your awareness and understanding.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free:
By Cheryl Steinberg
It’s clear by now that drugs have intense effects on brain chemistry and structure. It’s also come to light, as we’ve recently reported, that memory might play a profound role in substance abuse and addiction.
In fact, memories associated with drug use are thought to be a leading force driving the impulses of drug addiction. That’s because the brain reinforces memories by giving them emotional weight, among other things. The result, then, is a personalized blueprint of rewards and cues that guide us in our fundamental decision-making.
And drug use, with its intense effects, creates memories that are so powerful that they hijack the brain system, turning physiology – the organic, natural processes, into pathology, or disease, in layman’s terms.
Researchers have identified the mechanism in the brain that enables this powerful role of memory in drug addiction. And their discovery opens up a whole new area of research for targeted therapy that would change or deactivate this mechanism, making drug addiction less compulsive.
Turning off the mechanism would be like “diminishing the emotional impact or the emotional content of the memory, so it decreases the motivation to relapse,” said Barbara Sorg, a professor of neuroscience at Washington State University, Vancouver. Her findings can be found in the latest Journal of Neuroscience.
Cocaine and the Brain: Can Weakened Drug-Related Memories Treat Drug Addiction?
Washington State University researchers Sorg and Megan Slaker, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience, conducted their study on male rats. The rats were given cocaine in a specific setting – a ‘drug cage’ – so as to condition them to associate the drug experience with that place. With each new experience taking cocaine, the rats would draw on memories from previous experiences in that location, reinforced them with new information and in effect fortifying the drug-using memory.
In one group of rats in the study, the researchers removed brain structures that act as ‘nets’ surrounding a high-order area of the brain essential for attention, cognition, inhibitory behavior, learning, and memory. And the nets’ ability to strengthen or weaken is affected by memories as they are recalled and reinforced.
Their findings are promising: the rats that had had their nets removed were less interested in being in the drug cage.
“When we manipulated them and removed these nets from the prefrontal cortex, we saw that our animals had poorer memories,” said Slaker. “That was a very novel finding since no one else has ever looked at these structures within the prefrontal cortex in relation to a drug memory.”
Sorg noted that the procedure more likely dulled the rats’ drug-using memory rather than erase the drug memory, altogether, and in effect, lessened its emotional power. These findings open up the possibilities of producing a way to specifically target such brain structures and processes as a protein (the “nets” in the study) in order to counteract cocaine’s powerful influence over memories.
Memories related to drug use are often more intense than other memories, making it difficult to break the cycle of drug abuse and addiction. It’s true: for people seeking recovery from cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs, it’s essential that they change the people, places, and things in their lives that they associate with their drug use because this will more than likely lead to relapse. For drug addicts, the ‘high’ comes more from the anticipation of getting and taking a drug than when the drug is taken and ‘kicks in.’ That alone should indicate the powerful role memory plays in drug addiction. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 today to speak with a professional about addiction and treatment options. Or for suggestions on how to help a loved one who struggles.
By Cheryl Steinberg
I was officially diagnosed with ADD/ADHD near the end of my middle school career. I remember my parents wanting to make sure that I had “documentation” of my diagnosis before I went to high school; I was on the path to a competitive science- and technology-based high school in my county – one that I couldn’t attend unless I passed a grueling entrance exam that heavily emphasized knowledge in those two areas, areas that, growing up female, caused me anxiety as I thought I was “no good” at those kinds of things. The documentation would allow me certain accommodations. One in particular was un-timed tests. This would come in handy for that daunting entrance exam.
I have an older brother who, practically from birth, displayed extreme hyperactive and impulsive behaviors – ones that he pretty much took out on me. As a girl, my ADD/ADHD manifested itself differently: I wasn’t so much hyper as distractible, taking way longer than my peers to complete tasks and assignments. In fact, in-class assignments were the bane of my existence. There were countless times I would come home from school with a book bag full of papers at the top of which my teachers had written “Incomplete” in glaring red ink.
Throughout high school and college, I would intermittently take my prescribed ADD medication, first Ritalin, later Dexedrine and then Adderall: all the usual suspects when it comes to “smart drugs.” I didn’t like the way amphetamines made me feel and so I stopped taking them as prescribed and would only take them as needed, such as when I had an exam to cram for or if I had to pull an all-nighter in order to finish a paper.
Fast forward through several years of active addiction, abusing everything from opiates, benzos, cocaine, crack, and even amphetamines, it’s now been two and a half years since I went to treatment and decided to turn my life around.
Two and a half years and, although my health has returned in many ways, I’m still considered “shot out” when it comes to my memory – or lack thereof.
Memory Problems: ADHD Drugs or PAWS?
In treatment, I learned about PAWS – Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome – a set of symptoms that can affect you physically as well as mentally, specifically, your cognitive abilities, one of which being memory.
I learned how PAWS can affect former drug users for as long as two years after their last use but, that PAWS symptoms could return at any point over the course of their entire lifetime.
I struggle to remember names and even faces, often re-introducing myself to someone two and even three times, not realizing that we’ve already met and even had conversations before. As you can imagine, this is quite embarrassing. Other indications of my memory issues are that I often re-tell the same stories to the same people – more than once – and I also simply lack memories; everything is pretty hazy.
Well, a new study showed that, over time, cognitive enhancing substances, such as so-called smart drugs – or study drugs, can have a negative impact on the brain’s plasticity; the same drugs that could give students a “leg up” could also have long-term negative consequences on their memory.
New research published in the journal Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience indicated that ADHD drugs can affect the brain’s plasticity, which negatively impacts people’s ability to switch between tasks, plan ahead, and be flexible in their overall behaviors. Rat studies on Methylphenidate, otherwise known as Ritalin and Concerta, show that even low doses of the drug can harm memory and complex learning abilities.
The study also examined the use of ampakines, which are currently being studied by the military to increase alertness. Researchers found that the drugs can be particularly harmful for young people, resulting in an overstimulated nervous system that can actually kill nerve cells. But despite this, the authors of the study wrote that “the desire for development of cognitive enhancing substances is unlikely to diminish with time; it may represent the next stage in evolution – man’s desire for self-improvement driving artificial enhancement of innate abilities.”
Often times, people who are prescribed powerful medications such as amphetamines or painkillers for legitimate reasons then become physically and psychologically dependent on them. If you are abusing your prescribed drugs or any other substances and want help getting out of the cycle, we’re here for you. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist who can answer your questions.
(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
By Cheryl Steinberg
If it seems like your memories of traumatic events linger longer than say, pleasant memories, your perception is not off. Scientists say that this is a real thing and that they are gaining an understanding why this is so.
For the first time, studies conducted with laboratory rats have revealed the brain mechanism that converts unpleasant experiences into long-lasting memories.
These newest findings support a previous, long-standing hypothesis – one that’s been relied upon for the past 65 years – called Hebbian plasticity. The idea is this: when you experience something traumatic, more neurons than the usual are firing off electrical impulses at the same time, making stronger connections to each other when compared to normal situations. Therefore, stronger connections make stronger, lasting memories.
Study Finds Painful Memories Last Longer, May Lead to New PTSD Treatment
Not only do these new findings advance the understanding of how Hebbian plasticity works but, they may also lead to new, more effective treatments for people who want to forget horrible memories, such as those who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The study, by researchers at New York University and Japan’s RIKEN Brain Science Institute, appears December 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It’s believed that Hebbian plasticity works when the amygdala, the brain region associated with the processing of memory, decision-making, and emotional reactions, allows sensory stimuli to become associated with either something positive (a reward) or negative (an aversion), thus producing corresponding emotional memories. The saying in the field is that “neurons that fire together, wire together,” and therefore forming strong connections.
“Our results not only show that we are able to artificially manipulate memory, but also that this manipulation is correlated with long-lasting changes in the brain,” said Lorenzo Diaz-Mataix, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU and also lead author on the report. “Basic findings like this one will potentially help to understand and treat many psychiatric conditions that share aberrant memory processing,” he told Live Science.
Hearkening back to our primitive state, being able to remember scary events, such as an animal attack, clearly has advantages; we needed to know when to take heed, in order to survive and evolve.
But sometimes memories can be too painful. For people who have traumatizing, painful memories, such as those with PTSD, Johansen says, the new findings offer hope.
“Because of the importance of forgetting aversive memories for PTSD, many labs, including my own, are trying to understand how these types of memories can be forgotten,” Johansen told Live Science. “One possibility is that instead of tapping into ‘forgetting’ mechanisms, we try to reverse what happened during memory formation. Our findings in this paper are important in this regard and may enable novel approaches to enhance the forgetting or reversal of learning of aversive experiences.”
Often times, unresolved trauma is at the heart of substance abuse and addiction disorders. At Palm Partners, we offer Rapid Resolution Therapy to overcome trauma, which is especially helpful for clients with PTSD. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today.
Eternal Sunshine of an Addicted Mind
When I came across an article on thefix.com called, “Erasing Your Traumas,” I was intrigued. I also immediately thought of the 2004 Oscar-winning movie, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The basic premise (don’t worry, no spoilers) is that there’s this procedure you can have done which will erase certain memories, and, in the case of our two main characters – played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, specifically those memories which were related to a relationship-gone-sour.
Although it might seem like a tempting thing to do, without experiences and memories of those experiences, how can we ever learn life’s lessons and grow?
So, I wonder…If you could erase your past, would you?
For many recovering addicts and alcoholics, revisiting their past “people, places, and things,” which remind them of their days spent in active addiction, brings on the strongest cravings. Research has shown that repeated exposure to these cues, known as ‘triggers’— and then not being able to use —may temporarily ease cravings, but the association eventually returns.
And, for the majority of addicts, cravings equal relapse – especially within their first year of sobriety.
“Dealing with cravings is a major obstacle to recovery,” says Michael Saladin of the Medical University of South Carolina, “so it’s a natural target” for treating addiction. Saladin is one of a few clinical researchers looking into ways to interrupt cravings on the molecular level, in other words, investigating ways to erase these emotional memories.
Erasing Memories in Theory
Considerable evidence exists showing the memory can be obstructed during the initial consolidation period, when a memory is being formed by the use of both drugs that block protein synthesis in the brain and electroconvulsive shock. These can disrupt the actual formation of memories. In the late 1990s, researchers began really looking into the process of reconsolidation, the term given to memories when they are re-activated (recalled) after they have been put into long-term storage.
In fact, recent research reveals that memories are actually able to be updated or changed during a short period of time, known as the “reconsolidation window” – after they have been recalled. The concept of the reconsolidation window has recently become of interest of specialists in the field of addiction treatment, as a way to interfere with—and possibly “erase”—craving-related memories attached to “people, places, things.”
Scientists have turned to drugs like propranolol, an FDA-approved beta-blocker that is used to treat hypertension and stage fright. It works by lowering levels of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which can also interfere with memory reconsolidation.
Researchers at UC Irvine, back in the late ‘90s, showed that propranolol could affect a memory’s emotional salience, meaning that, although it can’t erase a memory, it can make it less emotionally-charged. More recently, the drug’s application has been used in studies involving patients with PTSD; it might help trauma survivors to dissociate their emotional memory from triggers that remind them of their traumatic experience(s).
Saladin led a study that looked at treating cocaine addicts with propranolol during the reconsolidation window in order to reduce cravings and therefore relapse. The study’s results showed that it worked: subjects who received an injection of propranolol after being exposed to a trigger “had greatly reduced craving response to [subsequent] cues” when they were exposed to the following day, when compared to addicts receiving the placebo.
There are those who say that reducing fear memories could be effected by psychological means, instead of using drugs.
Opponents to the use of drugs for memory interruption and re-formation say that psychological intervention is something that can and should be focused on instead of using chemical interventions, such as propranolol. They point to messy data that has mostly been conducted on rodents and not humans. Importantly, memory reconsolidation is a natural process, one that’s happening whether or not we manipulate memories in the lab. “This is how your brain works,” she says. “The purpose of reconsolidation is to strengthen memories over time, and the second may be to update memories with new information at the time of memory retrieval—by understanding [this], we can take advantage of that [process].”
Have you found it difficult to stay away from triggers, such as people, places, and things? Does everything seem to kick off your cravings? Have you recently relapsed? Treatment can offer you new ways of coping and give you the tools to stay clean and sober. Call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today.