Addiction is a chronic, progressive disease of the brain. It affects all of the mind’s functions, including your ability to learn, commit events to memory, and concentrate. At its core, substance use is disruptive and can have long-lasting effects. Today on the blog, we’ll discuss how addiction impacts your ability to focus.
How Addiction Affects the Brain
The hippocampus is the brain structure responsible for writing, storing, and retrieving memories. The dopamine rush created by drug and alcohol consumption creates a new association: “happiness is caused by this substance.” People using drugs become wired to recreate that pleasurable sensation, which results in intense drug-seeking behavior that eclipses everything else in their lives. Their brains are wired to concentrate on constantly chasing this feeling; everything else loses significance.
When someone is in active addiction, they find it hard to concentrate on anything but finding, using, and recovering from their substance of choice. In this process, their other obligations fall by the wayside. They are unable to manage their finances or juggle work responsibilities, even if they were previously very conscientious people. In fact, one of the key signs of problematic substance use is increased time spent thinking about the next time a person will find and consume their substance of choice.
The consequences are especially devastating for young people who begin to use drugs and alcohol. Students who use mind-altering substance experience reduced ability to concentrate and learn, resulting in lower grades and increased potential for dropping out of school. Research suggests that teenage substance misuse can result in long-ranging effects, as the brains of young people continue to develop until the age of 25.
Difficulty concentrating may even continue in the early phases of addiction treatment and recovery.
I Just Can’t Concentrate: Brain Fog Explained
People in the earliest phases of treatment may find themselves feeling foggy; their thinking is clouded. This phenomenon is referred to as brain fog or fuzzy thinking, and it’s not rare.
Symptoms of brain fog include…
- Confusion and disorientation
- Reduced ability to concentrate
- Can’t think straight
- Feeling like you’ve forgotten something
- Trouble making choices
- Reduced ability to learn or remember
- Racing thoughts
In some ways, this makes a great deal of sense. As the brain begins to recover from months or years of substance use, it must readjust to an absence of drugs and alcohol. Nutritional deficiencies, stress, and withdrawal symptoms may also play a role in fogged thinking. For the first time in a long time, a person is thinking and planning without the influence of mind-altering substances. Luckily, with time, brain fog will dissipate, and each person should be able to concentrate once more.
Tips for Boosting Your Concentration
While difficulty concentrating is common in the early phases of recovery, there are steps you can take to build your ability to focus as you heal. Our recommendations are to…
- Take care of yourself. A lack of focus can come from physical factors, such as a lack of sleep or a poor diet. Consult a physician or nutritionist for assistance with any physical problems that may contribute to poor ability to concentrate.
- Try to relax. Early recovery is an incredibly stressful time, especially in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. You’re dealing with past issues while planning for the future. Be sure to take time to unwind, whether it’s by spending a night without screen time or going for a run.
- Clear your mind. Mindfulness can go a long way towards combating stress and boosting your mental health. When you’re having a hard time focusing on a conversation or task, take a moment to do a quick breathing exercise. Centering yourself can help to dispel any anxieties or racing thoughts that are bothering you.
- Write it down. If you’re worried that you may be forgetting things, try keeping a written record. Journaling or making to-do lists can be easy solutions that keep you on track day after day.
- Talk to a professional. While some amount of distraction is expected in early recovery, you should be aware of how much it is affecting your quality of life. If these symptoms persist, speak with your addiction specialist or primary care physician about your ability to concentrate. That way, you can identify any potential diagnoses – such as ADD or ADHD – and receive proper care.
Help at Every Phase of Recovery
At Lakeside-Milam, we’ve helped guide more than 100,000 people to recovery. Our team of expert clinicians and therapists is standing by to help you at any phase of your journey. Whether you feel you’ve hit “rock bottom” or would like some support in these challenging times, we’re here for you. Contact Lakeside-Milam today to learn more about our fully individualized mental health and addiction treatment services.