Boosting Memory Aids Addiction Recovery Efforts

memory addiction recovery, gateway treatment centersAccording to findings from recent study, playing those memory games can improve decision-making in recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, which may result in an increase in substance abuse treatment efficacy.

The discovery involves an underlying relationship between memory and delay discounting. Psychologists use the term “delay discounting” to refer to one’s inability to resist the temptation of a smaller immediate reward in lieu of receiving a larger reward at a later date. Discounting future rewards too much is a form of impulsivity, and an important way in which we can neglect to exert self-control. Delay discounting has been linked to substance abuse treatment outcomes, with higher rates of impulsivity associated with a greater risk for relapse after drug rehab. This predictive ability is true regardless of one’s drug of choice, be it heroin or nicotine—the longer you can wait for any type of reward, the longer you are likely to go without using.

Meet Your Brain’s Impulse Control Center

The ability to delay gratification is linked to activation in a specific part of the brain—the dorsal (top) lateral (outside) prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning and decision-making. Typically, more activation in this area means better self-control. However, the prefrontal cortex is known to be abnormal in substance abusers, and numerous studies have shown that addicts have less brain volume in this region than non-drug users. The decrease in size seems to be directly related to drug use itself, with severity and length of use linked to a greater decrease in volume and activity.

Researchers’ Aha Moment

A recent study alludes when you improve working memory you enhance your willpower. Initially this realization was surprising to researchers—since discounting and working memory are separate cognitive processes. However, the two functions overlap in the brain, and both are linked to activation in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. As a result, it appears that improving working memory can strengthen activation in this area, which can subsequently enhance other behaviors that tap into it—like self-control.

“Remembering an event in the past and thinking about the future are really tied processes. And working memory, being able to hold ideas and concepts or facts in our heads for a certain period of time, may be necessary for us to think about and value things that occur in the future,” explains Dr. Warren Bickel, who has been researching drug addiction for the last 20 years.

Losing brain cells is never a good idea, but in the prefrontal cortex it can be especially detrimental, impacting the ability for self-control and making someone even more impulsive than they already were. But all is not lost.

The good news: Studies have shown that our brains can bounce back once off drugs because the cells have the ability to regenerate—similar to leaves sprouting from tree branches after a long, cold winter. If someone you care about needs help getting life back on track, Gateway Treatment Centers can help. Call today to learn about a free, confidential consultation at (877) 505-HOPE (4673).

About Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers
Every year Gateway Foundation Alcohol & Drug Treatment helps thousands of adults and teens get their life back on track and gives renewed hope to those who care about them. With 50 years of treatment experience, our specialists take the time to understand of the specific needs of each individual. We then develop a customized treatment plan with recommendations for the most appropriate care based on an individual's substance abuse and mental health history. As the largest provider of alcohol and drug abuse treatment in Illinois, Gateway has 11 treatment centers throughout the state. Gateway outpatient and residential substance abuse treatment programs are not one-size fits all, but unique treatment plans that give an individual the highest chance for a successful outcome. With insurance acceptance and a track record of success, Gateway Treatment Centers help thousands of individual’s successfully complete treatment each year, and find the hope they need to live again.

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