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Can Drug Use Change Behavior Permanently?

The body and brain have a remarkable ability to heal when given proper nourishment and rest. Even people who have suffered brain damage from strokes or traumatic brain injuries are often able to regain all or most of their lost cognitive ability. On the other hand, people trying to get sober or newly in recovery often feel like they are fighting an uphill battle and wonder if they can really live normal and happy lives. Do drugs and alcohol cause permanent changes in behavior?

To some extent, they do. Addiction cuts a deep groove that is easy to fall back into. Even people with many years sober can fall back into addiction much more quickly than someone who has never struggled with addiction. In that sense, your brain retains that addictive pattern for a very long time, possibly for life.

Beyond that, the extent to which behavior change is permanent depends on the person, the drug, how much they use, and for how long. It also depends on how old the user is. For teenagers, early drug use and addiction will have a much bigger impact than they would on someone who first starts using in her twenties or thirties. Young brains are not done growing and drug and alcohol use affect how they develop. On the other hand, young brains also adapt more quickly to the absence of drugs, while older brains may be slower to heal and learn new behaviors. Also, older people are likely to have spent much more time in active addiction, which increases the chances of permanent behavior change.

Different drugs have different long-term effects on behavior. Cocaine, for example, has been found to age brains prematurely. That means cognitive functions like concentration and memory might resemble those of a much older person. So maybe you’re 40 but you can’t remember where your keys are. Cocaine also appears to destroy the neurons it affects, which can lead to a permanent decrease in the ability to feel pleasure. Meth works in a similar way.

Drinking can permanently affect behavior in a number of ways. First, alcohol significantly increases your chance of stroke. Depending on the severity of the stroke, it may have long-lasting or permanent effects on your behavior. Just how your behavior changes depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain. Prolonged heavy drinking can also cause Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, which may include confusion, amnesia, speech impairment, and lack of coordination. People rarely recover from Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.

The longer an addiction is active, the longer the behavioral changes will persist. The good news is that brains are plastic and you can learn new behaviors through consistent effort. Learning new behaviors is not easy for anyone, but it is possible.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.