Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Certainly, you’ve heard of dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone and a neurotransmitter, and in both of those roles, it is one of several chemicals in the body responsible for delivering messages to the brain. When someone uses drugs or alcohol, the natural release and use of dopamine in the body is negatively affected over time. Because the seemingly positive effects of these substances cause unnatural dopamine release in active users – causing users to feel happy through unnatural means – dopamine eventually stops working the way it should. Continued use of drugs and alcohol rewires the brain to seek out these artificial mood boosters to stimulate dopamine instead of encouraging the natural release of dopamine to make us feel happy. This is one of the chemical means by which substance use disorders can develop.

However, when we stop using drugs and alcohol, the way our bodies use dopamine can return to normal in time – and thank goodness for that. So, then, the big question is this: how long does it take for dopamine receptors to recover from drug use? How long must someone who is hoping to stop using drugs and alcohol for the rest of their life wait before their brain has reset to normal? How long must one wait before they can fully experience natural happiness again? Read on to learn more.

Dopamine Receptors and Drug Abuse

Dopamine helps us guide our emotions and aids in motivation – and it’s a chemical that also helps us to feel happiness. Unfortunately, when we use drugs or alcohol, these substances eventually stand in for dopamine to give us emotional guidance and happiness sensations. Instead of dopamine naturally inspiring pleasure within our brains and bodies through healthy, joyous, and everyday experiences, drugs and alcohol take over the job of stimulation. In time, our brains come to rely on the boosts offered by these substances instead of using dopamine to feel them naturally. With continued use, our brain and body stop producing dopamine at a healthy and normal rate. Dopamine begins to only respond to drug and alcohol use rather than every day, happy events as it should. Then, as a result, when we quit using drugs or alcohol, we may find that we have a hard time feeling pleasure and happiness on our own.

Fortunately, our brain will eventually recover after we quit using drugs and alcohol and, eventually, it will return to releasing dopamine when it should instead of simply in response to unhealthy outside influences. In time, dopamine will properly respond to healthy stimuli in our lives, resulting in normal brain function – and we will feel naturally happy again.

But, there’s a period in between during which users in early recovery won’t feel happy from drugs and alcohol OR natural dopamine release, and this can make early recovery especially challenging. No one wants to be sad all the time – but, unfortunately, that’s kind of what often happens.

This is a big part of why so many people relapse quickly when trying to break free from addiction. The early days are the hardest days – and the fact our body craves “happiness chemicals” – whether internal and natural or external and synthetic – is one of many things that makes the beginning steps on a path to recovery especially challenging – especially when dopamine is no longer responding like it should, naturally, in a newly drug and alcohol-free individual.

Timeline of Dopamine Receptor Recovery

How long does a dopamine reset take? How long does it take for dopamine to return to normal? Can dopamine receptors heal? DO dopamine receptors heal? Fortunately, the answer is yes. However, the timeline over which this will happen for each person is different. The recovery rate for dopamine reset depends on a number of factors including genetics, age, presence of existing mental illnesses, and how damaged the natural dopamine system has become. People who have been long-term users of drugs and alcohol will experience a longer dopamine recovery period than people who have struggled with addiction for a shorter time.

However, in most cases, dopamine recovery should be evident in most people after several months of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. After three months, most people report the ability to feel natural happiness again on a regular basis, and the number of people reporting these feelings and the intensity of happiness increases even further over a six-month period and longer.

Challenges in Dopamine Recovery and Reset

Resetting dopamine receptors isn’t easy – it takes time and patience. But with both of these things, it’s possible to fix dopamine receptors and reset dopamine levels. The main challenge that people in early recovery face with this aspect of recovery is having to wait. Everyone knows that breaking free from addiction to drugs or alcohol isn’t easy. It’s not only a habit and a part of the everyday lives of the people who struggle with substance use disorder, but recovery is a chemical processl, too. Dopamine release is affected and so is the function other chemicals in the body.

It’s easy to know this logically, but in the deepest, darkest moments of struggle, it’s often hard for many to be rational about these factors. Someone in recovery may know that if they are just patient and wait it out, their dopamine responses will return to normal without the help of the substances to which they are addicted. But, since the body craves these substances, it’s an internal struggle between rationality and desire – and that’s a challenging battle, indeed.

This is why it’s important to seek help and support in recovery and especially in the earliest days of recovery. Mental health professionals, counselors, support groups, and addiction recovery professionals of all kinds will help anyone to work through the most difficult early days of the recovery process with tips, tools, and support – and will continuously remind them that if you stick with this, and if you stay the course, things absolutely, definitely, certainly will get better.

Methods to Reset and Restore Dopamine Receptors

Healing dopamine receptors is possible! If you’re wondering how to repair dopamine receptors on a rapid timeline, there are things that you can do to speed up this process. All of these methods regarding how to heal dopamine receptors boil down to simply taking care of yourself. Repairing dopamine receptors is a natural process that will happen in time, but you can speed up the process by getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy, and exercising. Good rest, good nutrition, and physical activity will speed up the natural release of dopamine in your brain while you recover from addiction.

Furthermore, adhering to a daily routine that includes time for things that you enjoy will help as well. Although it may feel like there’s nothing that you really enjoy in the early days of your recovery journey, spending time with friends, participating in hobbies, listening to music, and getting outside into nature and sunlight can help immensely.

And, practices like meditation and mindfulness can help, too. By paying attention to how you’re feeling, acknowledging it, and living fully in each moment, you’ll be better able to handle challenging emotions. You’ll more easily be able to recognize that emotions come and go – and that they often disappear as fast as they arrived. Once you realize and understand this, you’ll likely find that it’s much easier to handle the down periods you experience.

Furthermore, participating in therapy, counseling, and support groups is extremely important in the early days of recovery. Using these methods to find support for your recovery will help you get through the difficult early days while your brain and dopamine function reset.

Eventually, you’ll find that the dopamine reset has come, and you’ll already be engrossed in the healthy habits mentioned above. In turn, you will feel happiness naturally and you will feel much better overall – now and in the future, and onward as you journey down your personal recovery path.

Clear Sky Recovery

If you are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol and need help to quit, we can help you at Clear Sky Recovery. We truly believe that our ibogaine treatment center is the best place to take the first steps on your recovery journey. Our innovative ibogaine treatment will help you get to the root of your addiction and find out why you became addicted to drugs or alcohol in the first place; then, you can move forward from there. Our facility in Cancun, Mexico, is beautiful and welcoming, and our experienced staff is on hand to answer any questions you may have about our program and methods. Give us a call today. We can’t wait to help you!