The pre-frontal cortex is a part of your brain. It’s the part just behind your forehead and like every part of the brain – it has a specific function. It governs all decision making – however quick and compulsive or long and drawn out that decision may be. For this reason addiction neurologists call it “the relapse part of the brain,” because there’s always a decision process at work when someone relapses.
What happens during addiction
A healthy and undamaged pre-frontal cortex is one that works well. But research is now showing us that the pre-frontal cortex is significantly damaged in drug and alcohol abusers and addicts, and this impairs planning and decision making abilities and can lead to impulsive and antisocial behaviour. The worse the drug abuse, the more damage that is done to the brain. See how cocaine harms the brain.
The Good News
This does not condemn a former alcoholic or drug addict to a life of impaired decision making and continual relapse because – critically – the brain can heal itself. More specifically – if the right conditions are in place then the brain can recover.
Recovery of the Pre-frontal cortex
- The first requirement is abstinence.
- The second factor is time – the brain does not heal overnight.
- Third is structure – or more specifically, a structured Recovery plan. This might include training regular employment, regular activities especially exercise, and attendance at groups.
These are the conditions under which the brain can heal and under which decision making can improve and under which sobriety can be protected for the long term.
This process of the brain healing itself has a name “neurogenesis”. These ideas create a paradigm shift that anyone working in the addiction field and those in Recovery need to understand.
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | July 27, 2021