Does Addiction Recovery Require a Change in Consciousness?

The last ten days, I’ve been at conferences hosted by Yale University and the University of Helsinki. With my colleagues in the field of consciousness studies, we’ve been discussing change – in particular, how much change one can expect from addicts. Is addiction recovery a change of behavior, or a deeper change of the fundamental pieces of who we are? I argue for the latter.

Let me suggest that the adage, “The same man will drink again,” is in fact a truism. Addiction recovery, at its core, is underpinned by a complete change in the “being” state, or consciousness, of an individual. I suggest this because new research indicates that it is a rewiring of the brain that allows individuals to recover from addiction. This change in both behavior and neural circuitry changes the fundamental “is”-ness or being of a person. The sober individual, with time in recovery, is no longer the man or woman they were while using.

We see this same process take place among individuals who are not addicts, but who practice various forms of meditation. Meditation has been shown to grow new gray matter in key areas of the brain. These areas include those areas that are responsible for the inhibition of feelings of anxiety and stress. As individuals meditate, they become less stressed and anxious. Thus, they respond to the world differently after beginning a meditation practice than they did in the past. This reinforces the brain’s growth and changes who the individual is at their most foundational level of being.

Perhaps this all seems very complicated, but it is not. The more we act in healthy ways, the more our brain creates those pathways as a habit. Soon, habit becomes rote, not something we have to think about, but a literal neural connection in the brain.

Change is possible. If you need help with substance abuse, seek it.

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