Recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) is a process of restoring impaired brain structures and associated functioning. One important cognitive function that becomes compromised due to substance abuse is self-control. Contrary to what some may believe, individuals with addiction do not necessarily choose to engage in repeated alcohol and drug use. Instead, their repeated use of substances occurs due to impaired self-control in the brain. Recovery requires individuals to become aware of the impairments that substance abuse can cause on the brain and to cease alcohol and drug use permanently.
The Effects of Substance Abuse on Self-Control
Individuals who engage in repeated alcohol and drug use are often unaware that their substance use contributes to lasting changes in their brains. Meanwhile, others may only know that their substance abuse is tainting their ability to experience pleasure from natural rewards. For the sake of recovery, it is vital to understand the effects of substance abuse on major brain areas, especially those related to self-control.
The Prefrontal Cortex
Self-regulation and self-control occur due to the prefrontal cortex (PFC). More specifically, the PFC powers an individual’s ability to think, plan, solve problems, and consider the potential consequences of certain actions. According to the publication Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), impaired functioning in this circuit and impaired communication with other brain areas makes individuals use substances repeatedly with reduced impulse control.
Additionally, an article by Nature Reviews. Neuroscience confirms that PFC dysfunction caused by substance abuse directly perpetuates repeated alcohol and drug use. The article explains, “In general, neuroimaging studies have revealed an emerging pattern of generalized PFC dysfunction in [those with addiction] that is associated with more negative outcomes — more drug use, worse PFC-related task performance, and greater likelihood of relapse.” Therefore, self-control is not something easily rebuilt after substance abuse. Strong self-control in someone with SUD requires abstinence, patience, and perseverance throughout treatment and long-term recovery.
Restoring Self-Control in Recovery
As mentioned, restoring self-control in recovery must begin with ceasing substance use. The brain needs an opportunity to heal from the damage caused by the toxins of alcohol and other drugs. This is a process that takes time. While initial detox services can help remove harmful toxins from the brain and body, long-term treatment helps reverse brain changes and restore self-control.
Clinical Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science explains that various therapeutic interventions can help improve self-control. Effective interventions treat self-control like a muscle; it must be exercised regularly to be strengthened. Some therapeutic addiction interventions that can help restore self-control include:
- Self-regulation therapy: A body-centered therapy that helps individuals to be more proactive about their emotional responses
- Mindfulness training: Various therapies that increase self-awareness and acceptance of problematic experiences, such as substance-use triggers and cravings
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): A type of psychotherapy that helps individuals recognize and change maladaptive thought patterns that influence challenging emotions and behavior
Strengthening Self-Control Throughout Long-Term Recovery
There are many things that individuals can do to strengthen their self-control – as well as a sense of control – throughout sobriety and long-term recovery.
Establish a Daily Routine
Creating healthy habits and routines is essential for effective healing from SUD. Establishing a daily routine is a great way to foster a sense of control in recovery. Individuals can consider the times of the day that they are most productive and schedule their responsibilities around that time. Likewise, individuals can choose to incorporate self-care strategies as they see fit.
Routines can foster a sense of normalcy in an unpredictable recovery process. When triggers or cravings surface throughout the day, an individual can reference a personalized relapse prevention plan developed during treatment. Routines can also help to prevent too much spare time in an individual’s day, giving an individual less time to think about or abuse substances.
Create an Exercise Routine
Another way to strengthen self-control in recovery is by creating a personalized exercise routine. Restoring physical health is an important component of lasting recovery. Making decisions on a workout routine can offer a sense of autonomy over healing. A person might consider some of the following suggestions when building an exercise routine:
- Cardio: Such as walking, running, stair-stepping, biking, or swimming
- Muscle-building: Such as weight-lifting, pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, or bench presses
- Flexibility strengthening: Such as yoga or stretching
Measure Recovery Progress
Measuring recovery progress can also help to build self-control in recovery. Individuals can track their progress by recording how often they avoid leaning into temptations or cravings. They can also take note of how often they participate in aftercare services. Aftercare includes support groups or other forms of therapy. Moreover, individuals can measure their progress by acknowledging how often they feel in control of their decisions, especially those pertaining to sobriety.
An important brain function impaired by substance abuse is self-control. Restoring and strengthening self-control in recovery requires an individual to cease substance use and participate in a treatment program. During treatment and long-term recovery, an individual can regain a sense of control by creating personalized routines and healthy habits. 12 South Recovery is an addiction and mental health treatment center that understands how challenging it can be to restore self-control after addiction. We offer a wide range of outpatient treatment programs and therapeutic modalities, With our help, you can strengthen your self-control to reduce relapse risk. If you are seeking a life in recovery, call us today at (888) 830-8374.