Why It's So Difficult To Stay In Recovery: The Science Behind Healing

Why It’s So Difficult To Stay In Recovery: The Science Behind Healing

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There’s a common misnomer that those who want to stop misusing drugs and alcohol simply have to make the choice to do so. And while taking the first steps to rehabilitation do have to be conscious choices you make to take your life back, that’s not all there is to it. In fact, research (1) is proving more and more that substance abuse alters the brain, and that can be why it’s so difficult to stay in recovery.

At Ocean Hills Recovery, we incorporate all the latest brain-based research and the science behind your healing. We want to help guide you to a life of long-term sobriety.

Why Is It So Difficult To Stay In Recovery? The Choice Is Yours

Or is it? When you’re struggling with substance abuse, the substances literally alter your brain (2). No longer are you able to make decisions that appear to be so easy for everyone else to make. When you’re battling addiction, the changes in your brain make you crave the substance more. And because you are indulging more, you don’t stay in control of the extent of your use of the substance.

Most scary, the brain changes may cause you to continue to use, even though you know or are told that doing so is risky and dangerous. For many, it’s the altered brain addiction that makes it so difficult to stay in recovery.

Addiction And The Brain: The Science Is Clear

At the core, all addiction is based on the pleasure center (3) of our brains. We all register pleasure in the same way, though what triggers pleasure varies from individual to individual. The commonality is in the release of dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that comes from a cluster of nerve cells that are right underneath your cerebral cortex. These nerve cells are called the nucleus accumbens, and they’re sensitive to anything that brings you pleasure. So much so that neurologists and neuroscientists call this portion of your brain the

When you misuse drugs—from nicotine to methamphetamines—your brain’s pleasure center is flooded with dopamine. Another part of your brain, the hippocampus, remembers this burst of intense satisfaction. Then another part of your brain, the amygdala conditions responses to that stimuli, remembering how good your body felt. This encourages you to seek this pleasure behavior out over and over again. This is the basic science of how you become addicted to substances. However, it is also the reason it can be so difficult to stay in recovery.

Your brain will always crave dopamine because we always crave that which makes us feel good. The euphoria that comes from your drug or alcohol use is a feeling your brain prioritizes, even against rational and logical thinking.

It’s Not All About Choices: Why It’s So Difficult To Stay In Recovery

As if the hijacking of your brain isn’t hard enough to battle when you’re trying to beat addiction, there are also other factors that come into play. Oftentimes, you may feel guilt or shame because your family and friends don’t understand why it’s so difficult to stay in recovery. But they’re forgetting some important aspects of addiction.

When it comes to addiction, you may have a genetic predisposition to becoming addicted. Fighting your cravings may feel as difficult to you as trying to grow an extra inch, and your friends and family may not understand that.

Additionally, addiction predisposition falls significantly on your age. Science suggests the younger you are when you begin to misuse drugs or alcohol, the higher your chance for addiction. You may find it’s so difficult to stay in recovery.

Your mental health may place you at higher risk for addiction, and certainly, your family and social environments affect your partiality to addiction. If you’ve suffered trauma like physical or sexual abuse, or you have poor relationships with friends and family, you’re more likely to misuse substances. You’re also more likely to find it is so difficult to stay in recovery once you’ve made that choice.

Again, the thing to remember is that while you must take the first steps toward sober-free living, it’s not always as easy as deciding to do so. In fact, according to Dr. George Koob (4), who is the director of the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, that’s quite far from the truth. He says that because the brain literally changes with addiction, it takes a good bit of effort to help get it back to its normal state. Saying the deeper in addiction you are, the more attack your brain has had, and the more likely you may find it’s so difficult to stay in recovery.

Ocean Hills Recovery: Where Recovery Is Within Your Reach

John Kelly is the director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital (5). He says the first year of rehabilitation is the hardest and when many find it so difficult to stay in recovery. This is because it takes a while for your central nervous system to reset and recalibrate. It also takes time for you to work through the reasons you became addicted in the first place, as well as to incorporate lifestyle changes for the better.

At Ocean Hills Recovery, we know that there is more to addiction. At our beautiful oceanside facilities, our experienced staff work to use evidence-based approaches to help you achieve sobriety.

Combining those approaches with 12-step theory, our Collaborative treatment philosophy will help you learn how to not only stay in recovery but to thrive. We’ll teach you how to live a clean, healthy and sober life. We will walk side by side with you as you begin your path to your long-term sobriety. You don’t have to do this alone; contact us today and begin to find hope.



(1) https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejmra1511480
(2) https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/how-addiction-hijacks-the-brain
(3) https://www.livescience.com/62367-this-is-your-brain-on-drugs.html
(4) https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/10/biology-addiction
(5) https://variety.com/2019/biz/news/addiction-medical-research-1203392357/

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