Muscle Memory for Healing: Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a chronic disease that can rewire your brain by hijacking the reward circuit to produce more of the feel-good chemicals, causing the brain to crave drugs or alcohol even over basic necessities such as food and sleep. Learning to retrain your brain and create new muscle memory can aid in the recovery process from addiction and substance abuse. This involves retraining yourself in responding to stressful situations, unexpected scenarios, and upsetting life events. By rewiring your brain and fighting against the addiction, you will be better able to cope with cravings and triggers in the future, allowing you to avoid relapse and stay on track in recovery.

Addiction: Hijacking the Brain

In the early stages of addiction, a person may not realize that their brain is being rewired by the substances they are using. The highs and euphoric feelings they are experiencing take priority over anything else they may have to think about. However, as the addiction progresses, the person will begin to notice cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and other side effects of their long-term substance abuse.

Addiction rewires the brain’s reward circuit. It does this by causing huge productions of feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, which affect both the body and the mind. The brain releases these normally as “rewards” when you do something that brings pleasure such as eating, sleeping, etc. When people do drugs or drink alcohol, dopamine surges, causing the “high” feeling. To balance dopamine and other chemicals flooding the brain, it will try to lower the “high” to maintain homeostasis, which causes the addict to use more and more as their tolerance builds to experience the same “high.” This is how addiction develops over time, taking precedence over life’s necessities.

Effects on Behavior and Personality

When you are struggling with substance abuse, it is not uncommon to see changes in your usual behavior or personality. You may notice these changes, or they may only be apparent to those around you. Individuals taking large amounts of drugs or drinking lots of alcohol over time often become more manipulative, abusive, secretive, forgetful, violent, and deceptive. This is all caused by the effects of substance abuse on the brain as well as the person’s desire to keep living in denial about the severity of their addiction. Addicts are especially selfish, willing to do what they have to do to get their next fix, even if that means stealing, lying, or doing other negative actions toward their loved ones.

A Need for Change

In addiction treatment, professionals work with the recovering individual to change their behaviors for the better. They do this to rewire the brain back to acting rationally, feel good, and make it better to cope with cravings and triggers. It is necessary to simulate real-life scenarios to help a person learn these changes in sobriety.

Muscle Memory and Rewiring Your Brain

As you work on rewiring your brain from addiction, several methods will be utilized to help the process. Working on these can help you learn to cope with life as it comes and be able to maintain sobriety outside of rehab. Here are tips for rewiring your brain after addiction and committing it to muscle memory.


During addiction, your brain learns to deal with negative emotions by suppressing them with substances such as drugs or alcohol. Whenever you begin feeling angry, sad, stressed, or another negative emotion, your brain will automatically go to craving the substance because that’s what it has learned to do because the drugs or alcohol reduce the discomfort and unwanted feelings.

Doing something in place of taking drugs or alcohol to deal with discomfort such as exercising, meditating, or journaling can help your brain engage in these healthy activities rather than returning to drugs or alcohol.


Addicts often live in a world of self-hatred and low self-esteem. Drowning in negative thoughts is often a cause of addiction and why a person keeps drinking and using. The important thing to remember about humans is they are able to take a step back and recognize thought patterns and behaviors.

By training your brain to be aware of your negative thoughts and behaviors, you can begin recognizing just how abundant they are and how they affect you. From there, you can begin changing for the better. Instead of saying to yourself, “I’ll never be able to be sober,” say instead, “right now I am struggling, but I am capable of changing and healing.” By consistently being aware of negative thoughts and turning them into positive thoughts, you can make positive self-affirmations a habit you don’t even think about, committing it to muscle memory in recovery.

At Northstar Transitions, we help our clients commit positive reinforcements to memory to create healthy habits and responses to difficult life situations. We don’t want someone to just go through the motions to complete treatment; we want them to lay a strong foundation upon which they can build their sobriety. There is a difference between abstinence and recovery, and we want our clients to realize this so they can find happiness in their sobriety. By giving them the proper tools to deal with triggers in a healthy and positive manner, we are able to help them create habits out of the process. This is what we refer to as “muscle memory” in addiction recovery. This way once our clients leave Northstar, they are equipped with the proper tools to change their perspective and rewire their brains for the better to facilitate healing. For more information about our programs and how muscle memory can help your recovery, contact us at (303) 558-6400.

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