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Addiction and alcoholism are closely linked with many physiological traits, which can significantly contribute to the cycle of addiction and relapse. Impairments in cognitive function, such as reduced impulse control, limited cognitive flexibility, and attentional bias, are a large part of these critical impairments. Reduced functioning in these critical areas can significantly impact one’s risk of not only initiating drug and alcohol use, but can also contribute to risk of relapse. A recent review article highlights the need for improvement in these critical brain functions if recovery is to be sustainable.

Improve Cognitive Function, Improve Odds of Maintaining Sobriety


Cognitive engagement is crucial for many techniques applied in addiction recovery treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational enhancement therapy (MET). Not only do cognitive impairments increase one’s risk of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol, but chronic substance abuse can actually further impair cognitive functioning in many important brain areas. This puts someone in early recovery at a significant disadvantage, as brain functioning that would be critical for employing therapeutic techniques and resisting the urge to relapse are significantly weakened. As we have mentioned before on this blog, medications such as naltrexone and bupropion can be helpful in the early stages of withdrawal, curbing some of the more severe symptoms. However, they are not a cure-all. A recent review article posted in the journal Genes, Brain, and Behavior had several recommendations for medications that may help improve the cognitive functioning and abilities of persons in early recovery, improving their odds for success. Glutamatergic agents, for one, can help to support stronger inhibitory control. Medications such as Chantix have shown improvements in memory and focus; they also note that some stimulants do improve cognition, but obviously their use us problematic in someone with an addiction problem.

In addition to medicinal therapies, the review discusses some non-pharmaceutical options that may be of use. Exercise, for one, was suggested as a way to avoid or extinguish drug-seeking behaviors. Magnetic stimulation (also used for people suffering from depression and Parkinson’s disease) may help reduce cue reactivity and attentional biases. Deep brain stimulation may be helpful as well. Cognitive-based therapies might be of use in addiction treatment programs as well, particularly cognitive bias modification (CBM; trains patient to shift focus away from drug cues) and cognitive enhancement therapy (CET; the regular incorporation of cognitive exercises into addiction treatment).

Help is Available


If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the professional staff at Serenity Acres is ready to help. Call today for your free confidential assessment, to see if inpatient treatment may be the answer you are looking for: 1-800-203-2024.