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Managing Impulses in Recovery

Impulse is often talked about in addiction recovery because it can be hard for individuals to exert self-control with certain stimulations, such as those who’ve battled with substance abuse.  Addiction affects the prefrontal cortex, which influences the way a person makes decisions, speaks, learns, judges and more. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for helping us make rational decisions, but addiction can mix things up as it alters the way a person thinks and makes choices. When this happens, a person is no longer using substances for pleasure – rather, they are seeking out substances because their mind and body feel compelled towards it.

Previous research has explained that addiction causes a person to make choices based on immediate reward, rather than long-term benefits. For years, researchers have tried to explore more the ways that impulsivity occurs when addiction is involved, as this plays a major role in both addiction and recovery. There are three general “types” of impulsivity that people tend to experience in regards to addiction:

·       Impulsive Choice – choosing immediate rewards over longer-term ones

·       Impulsive Action – having trouble with holding off on reacting to something that could bring immediate rewards

·       Impulsive Personality Traits – having a personality trait that coincides with impulsivity

Impulsivity, attention and working memory deficits are common occurrences for people who’ve battled with addiction, and much of this is tied to impulsivity and the way the brain stores memories as a person is going through addiction. Even those who’ve been working hard towards sobriety in addiction recovery may experience issues with impulsiveness, and it’s something to work on every day.

In the past, much research has been done on impulsivity and how it’s experienced with various addictions. A clear example of this is shown with meth addiction, where people often experience much more difficulty with attention and working memory, planning, and organization and mental flexibility compared to people who’ve never struggled with substance abuse.

The effects of addiction, including impulsivity, can weigh heavily on a person’s recovery at times – but it’s truly a process of recovery that involves learning and relearning in order to get back on track.

Those in recovery can benefit from trying out different approaches to combat impulsivitity – and while it may seem uncomfortable at first, it just takes time to develop skills necessary. As time continues and a person keeps working hard towards healing, the brain learns to ask questions, problem solve, weigh out decisions and more, which are tools towards combating relapse and living more mindfully.

Of course, impulsiveness can still rear its head, even for someone who has been working diligently towards their recovery for quite some time. In some moments of vulnerability, we may find that we’re more susceptible to acting on our emotions – and that is when we have to remind ourselves that recovery is a process and that it truly takes some time.

When it comes to relapse prevention, it’s a gradual process. Different stages take place and along with that come with different milestones as it relates to personal, professional and recovery goals. One of the main tools of recovery is cognitive behavioral therapy, where certain skills are focused on for a person to be able to navigate tough situations regarding impulsiveness. A clear example of this includes being confronted by a slew of thoughts of wanting to revert to old habits – cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) then gives the person choices with which to choose from. In this type of instance, a person can think about what they need to do to address the thoughts and feelings that they’re experiencing in the present moment, and then determine what action should be taken that would be most beneficial to them.

Recovery can be challenging, but it’s absolutely worth it if you’re able to gain back some of what you lost when addiction was active. It is never too late.

The Bougainvilla House has created a safe and welcoming environment for adolescents and their families which focuses on helping you overcome your feelings and connect you back to the beauty of the world. With a variety of outpatient treatment options and individualized programs, we are confident we can get you feeling healthy and happy. Call now to find a support that works for you and your family: (954) 764-7337

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