Drug and alcohol use impairs brain function during acute intoxication and can have long-term consequences that persist long after substance use is discontinued. Even the most subtle changes in cognition can affect school or work performance and have a direct impact on relationships. One or more areas of brain function can be affected, including memory, attention, problem-solving, organization and emotional regulation.
Mental illness can also impact cognitive function. Persons with schizophrenia, depression, bipolar and other mental disorders sometimes experience cognitive dysfunction. In addition, long-term use of certain psychotropic medications can further alter cognitive processes.
Fortunately, the human brain has the remarkable capacity to heal itself and develop new circuits through a process called neurogenesis. Neurogenesis occurs naturally and spontaneously throughout the lifespan, but can be aided with cognitive remediation therapy which includes good nutrition, sleep, exercise, neurofeedback and cognitive training.
The brain requires adequate nutrition to function properly and develop new brain cells. In fact, mental function can be dramatically improved by manipulating dietary intake. Patients learn about what vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and micronutrients they must consume in educational classes and consultation with a dietician.
The brain repairs itself during sleep, so getting adequate amounts of high quality sleep is an important part of recovery. Drugs and alcohol disrupt normal sleep cycles and it sometimes takes several weeks before sleep becomes normal again. Medications that induce sleep are sometimes used to regulate the circadian rhythm, but should not be taken long-term.