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4 Ways to Improve Your Memory in Long-Term Recovery


February 24, 2018
Addiction affects much more than your physical health; it affects your mental abilities as well. When you are in addiction recovery, you could experience the frustration of having a poor memory for the skills and knowledge that you learned while you were addicted. Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?

Memory Can Depend on a Specific Situation

If you trained as a runner in high school, going back to the old track could inspire you to move more quickly again.  You know that addiction is bad for your brain and your body, yet your body has developed a context for that particular type of learning. You find that it is harder to conduct the activity while sober because you have only learned how to do it while on drugs and alcohol.

1. Work to Relearn Your Habits

If you are a talented musician who can only play while you are under the influence, you will need to work to relearn your habits while sober. Know that this is part of the recovery process. You are recovering skills that you deeply value, but you need to work to create new patterns to support your learning.  You probably have not forgotten everything; it can just seem harder when you are not under the influence. Know that you will need to put the effort in to learn specific skills again and that, as you practice, it will become easier again.

2. Learn to Adapt While Sober

When you are using drugs and alcohol, your brain creates connections between specific situations or triggers and drug and alcohol abuse. According to Addiction and Cognition, “drugs alter normal brain structure and function…producing cognitive shifts that promote continued drug use through maladaptive learning and hinder the acquisition of adaptive behaviors that support abstinence.” If you find that taking tests is difficult for you because you are accustomed to drinking before a test and while you are studying, you will need to create new pathways in your brain to support this specific behavior. You could see a specialist who focuses on test-taking techniques to start to create new ways to achieve the feeling of ease and relaxation that you felt while you were taking tests under the influence. You will need to develop new triggers that prompt you to do a behavior instead of relying on drugs and alcohol to assist you or to cue you to begin the behavior.

3. Building Your Mental Muscles

Some forms of drug and alcohol addiction can temporarily enhance your working memory or remind you how to do well at a specific skill. How can you rebuild your memory and your skills when you want to stay sober? Work out your brain in these ways:
  • Do activities such as Sudoku and crosswords. These brain puzzles will provide a consistent workout.
  • Try out brain training apps to enhance your mental abilities.
  • Meditate. When you are doing mindful meditation, you are training your brain to be aware of your thoughts. You can use these skills to make better decisions or to stop and think during daily life.
  • Try new activities. Making new neural connections by taking up a cognitive activity such as music allows you to expand your brain’s abilities.
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4. Get Physically Active

Your brain is part of your body, so moving your body is good for your brain. It encourages blood to move through your body, and your brain becomes more active. Even if using drugs and alcohol makes you feel like you are smarter, you may have damaged some of your neurotransmitters over time. Using the natural high of exercise not only helps your body get healthier overall, it also allows you to repair some of that damage to your brain. Make sure that you schedule some brain recovery too. Sleep allows your brain to process what it has done during the day. Brains can recover, but you need to treat yours well. Advanced Recovery Systems, we know that addiction recovery is complex. That is why we strive to support our clients throughout recovery, not just at the beginning. Contact us today about our recovery programs.
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