In 2000, the BBC published a news story on the brains of the famed London taxi drivers. Taxi drivers in London must memorize an incredible amount of information in order to get their livery licenses.1
Scientists at University College London conducted brain scans and found the taxi drivers had a larger hippocampus compared with other people. This is a part of the brain associated with navigation in birds and animals. The scientists also found part of the hippocampus grew larger as the taxi drivers spent more time in the job.1
This was evidence that behavior, in this case memorizing and navigating complex routes, actually had an affect on the biology of the brain. The UCL researchers think evidence that the brain is able to change physically according to the way it is used could have important implications for people with brain damage or diseases such as Parkinson's.1
The research also suggests behavior can affect other biological brain disorders like depression, anxiety, and addiction. To be able to alter the biology of the brain with behavior and mental activity, shows how powerful the right counseling, therapy and attitude can be in changing the addicted brain. Counseling isn’t merely convincing the person they shouldn’t take drugs (as many believe it is) but an important tool in reversing actual brain alterations that have occurred during active addiction.
It is important not to underestimate the benefit to counseling and major life changes while in addiction treatment.
In the article “How Thinking Can Change the Brain” not behavior but just thinking was shown to actually alter the biology of the brain. That change in biology now elicited its own metal events demonstrating how making such changes has the potential to affect behaviors in a longer lasting way.2
Pascale Michelon, Ph. D. wrote “…Brain exercises have an impact on brain health thanks to the brain’s plasticity. When you exercise or stimulate your brain through new or merely unfamiliar activities, you can trigger changes in the brain, such as an increase of connections between neurons. These changes contribute to an increase in what is called your brain reserve. Research suggests that the more brain reserve, the more resistant the brain is to age-related or disease-related damages…” 3
"Opioid tolerance, physical dependence and addiction are all manifestations of brain changes resulting from chronic opioid use and misuse. The patient's struggle for recovery is in great part a struggle to overcome the effects of these changes...." 4
Using counseling, changes in environment, friends, and everyday activities, and most importantly modifying behavior to eliminate things that remind you of or resemble active addiction, can have a profound effect on your recovery. Attitude and occupying yourself with challenging and engaging activities all can have a role in a successful recovery. It is important not to underestimate the benefit to counseling and major life changes while in addiction treatment. Likewise dwelling on past behaviors, thinking about active addiction or even constantly fighting urges may have the potential to impede recovery based on this research.
1. Study of London taxi drivers wins Ig Nobel prize
BBC article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/677048.stm
2. How Thinking Can Change the Brain – Published: Monday, 29 January, 2007 http://www.dalailama.com/news.112.htm
3. Brain Plasticity: How learning changes your brain
4. NIDA publication: The Neurobiology of Opioid Dependence: Implications for Treatment Thomas Kosten MD, Tony George MD, (9 pages, 400kb) http://www.nida.nih.gov/PDF/Perspectives/vol1no1/03Perspectives-Neurobio.pdf
To suppress the debilitating symptoms of cravings and withdrawal, enabling the patient to engage in therapy, counseling and support, so they can implement positive long-term changes in their lives which develops into the new healthy patterns of behavior necessary to achieve sustained addiction remission. - explain -