Substance Use Disorder (SUD), or chronic drug or alcohol use, wreaks havoc on nearly all your brain functions, including the hormones that regulate your moods, serotonin, and dopamine. Your drug of choice replaces the dopamine that your brain naturally produces, and after getting sober, it can take your brain chemistry a while to reset.
That’s why many addicts in early recovery report feeling listless or like the fun and joy of life have gone. The good news? Recovery is possible. As you remain sober, your brain heals, and your dopamine levels return to normal. So, just how long does it take for dopamine to reset?
The Function of Dopamine in the Brain
Dopamine is a hormone and critical neurotransmitter, one of several chemicals responsible for sending messages from neuron to neuron. Dopamine controls motor movement, guides and regulates emotions, and directs motivation. It’s also responsible for providing pleasure sensations.
When people use drugs or alcohol regularly, those substances create pleasure instead of dopamine, and your brain comes to rely on them. It significantly reduces dopamine production. So, when you stop using or drinking, your brain isn’t making the dopamine it needs. It will reset on its own, but that takes time, and in early sobriety, it’s important to find ways to bring joy to your life without alcohol or drugs.
Can I Reset My Brain’s Dopamine Levels?
Several factors affect how quickly your brain resets its dopamine levels. The amount and frequency you used drugs or drink is a big factor, but most people find their natural dopamine levels return to normal levels after about 90 days.
Many people with SUD also have underlying mental illnesses; anxiety and depression are common. Although they may be sober, the underlying condition is still present, and unless the individual receives treatment for that, they may still have lower dopamine levels or struggle with finding joy and purpose in life.
Actions You Can Take to Reset Your Dopamine Levels
Resetting dopamine levels takes time, so expect to feel like life is a little “gray” in early sobriety. But, there are some purposeful things you can do that give you the feeling of accomplishment, joy, and satisfaction.
- Establish a daily routine that includes fun activities you enjoy, even something as simple as playing Candy Crush on your phone. Schedule small treats, like going for coffee or calling a friend, at specific times to give you something to look forward to.
- Improve your sleep hygiene. Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends. Plenty of good, restful sleep helps your brain heal and improve your overall mood.
- Improve what you eat. Include more fruits, vegetables, and lean meat, and reduce junk and processed food. Better nutrition leads to a better mood.
- Incorporate exercise into your day – just 30 minutes of activity that elevates your heart rate causes your brain to naturally release dopamine when you finish. You don’t even have to hit the gym – a brisk daily walk has many health benefits.
- Meditate and practice mindfulness. When you meditate, you calm your mind, and when you practice mindfulness, you learn how to live in the moment and take joy from it.
These activities often produce dopamine when you engage in them. Work some or all into part of your recovery plan under the guidance of your sobriety coach.
Do You Need Drug or Alcohol Treatment?
If you’re concerned about your drug or alcohol use, we can help. Hickory Treatment Centers offers evidence-based, patient-centered treatment at several levels. Contact us today for a confidential, compassionate assessment of the right treatment plan for you.