Believe it or not, there are simple methods that have been shown to rewire the brain out of destructive habit loops or addictions. But many do not know these methods exist.

The current model of addiction treatment uses repeated episodes of detox in expensive facilities for brief stabilization. Once the recovering addict has detoxed or "graduated" from the program, he is released.

As a result, he often falls back into the same destructive behaviors. Those who have worked at a counseling center know that some recovering addicts, who have been sober for months or even years, graduate, and then shockingly, celebrate with a drink and end up in their vicious addiction cycle again.

This explains where there is such a high recidivism (relapse) rate. The acute model of treatment is becoming recognized on a national level as having many problems. Scientific research reveals that many addictions cause an enduring change in the brain and requires long-term management[1].

Think about it. Almost anything worth doing in life is a process. Losing weight, keeping thin or eating healthy requires a behavioral change and requires management over a period of time. But after some time it becomes easier to do, because our brains are rewiring through the process to the point in which living a sober life becomes more automatic.

William L. White, a senior researcher at Chestnut Health Systems put it simply,

“Treating alcohol and other drug dependence solely through repeated episodes of detoxification and brief stabilization is clinically ineffective and constitutes a poor stewardship of personal and community resources…”

He also believes that we need to make a “shift that will deemphasize expensive, high intensity acute care and emphasize lower-intensity, lower cost and more enduring recovery support services.”

So, according to research, what is most effective method to beat addiction? Evidence-based management techniques such as mindfulness and cognitive therapy.

Instead of throwing addicts in a rehab facility for a few weeks or months, we need to focus on teaching recovering addicts how to manage their cravings and intrusive thoughts to use.

Believe me, daily maintenance of addiction is MUCH easier than relapsing over and over again, wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars on high end rehabs and treatment centers or risk having trouble with the law.

Another notable problem is that relapse is often treated as a sign of defeat, instead of a crucial part of the recovery process. There probably couldn't be a more harmful doctrine to an addict than to think that all the days, weeks or months of sobriety didn't mean a thing because he slipped.

A relapse can be a stepping stone through recovery. Research indicates that relapses are generally not caused by physical cravings as once thought, but by emotional states[2]. This reveals the great progress the addict has actually achieved.

The doctrine of starting all over when you relapse is so harmful because when the addict thinks he has to start all over again, it feeds the very emotions that led him to slip in the first place!

In fact, studies show that some brain changes, such as cell regeneration, occurred only after a couple weeks after sobriety[3]. Recovery and treatment is more like climbing a hill. If you slip and fall you don’t fall all the way down to the bottom, you just fall back a few feet, get up and then continue climbing.

One more notable problem with common recovery centers is something called cross-addictions. For example, you may find in some treatment groups, alcoholics are smoking a lot, recovering narcotic addicts are drinking a lot and that gambling chips are used to count days of sobriety.

The reward center in the brain that is activated by these addictions doesn’t mind if you go to a rehab program as long as “it” gets the needed boost of dopamine it “needs.”

Neuroscientists uses the term “common neural currency” to describe this process: a boost in dopamine that is prevalent among many addictive behaviors. Most addictions are really a chemical addiction in the brain.

I mentioned gambling chips in the example above because research indicates that the brain of an addict will trigger a “partial” reward (spike of dopamine) during the anticipation or sight of the addictive material which can perpetuate the addiction. This is why, even the sight of addictive material should not be present as it can strengthen the craving to use – because, as Dr Anna Rose puts it, “you are given a taste of the drug itself[4]."

1. Davidson, R. J., and A. Lutz. 2008. “Buddha’s Brain: Neuroplasticity and Meditation.” IEEE Signal Processsing Magazine (January 1) 25(10):176–174.
2. Leshner, Alan I. “addiction Is a Brain Disease, and It Matters.” Science 278 (October 3,) 1977:45-47.
3. Spear, L. 2000. “Modeling Adolescent Development and Alcohol Use in Animals.” Alcohol Research & Health 24(2):115–123.
4.Wills, T. A., et al. 2006. “Behavioral and Emotional Self-Control: Relations to Substance Use in Samples of Middle and High School Students.

Author's Bio: 

Aaron Roberts is an author and speaker. He is an addiction specialist and researcher with a B.S. degree in psychology and master's studies in rehabilitation counseling. He has worked with people with addiction problems for nearly 15 years.