What Is Neuropsychology, and How Is It Used to Treat Substance Use Disorders?
Thomas Edison once joked that “The chief function of the body is to carry the brain around.” While cheeky, we must remember that there is a grain of truth in even the silliest of musings. The brain is vital to the entire body. Yet, there is still so much about the human brain we don’t know. Every day scientists are learning something new about that perplexing organ that controls everything. This is where the field of neuropsychology comes in. For over 70 years, neuropsychology has helped us better understand how we emote, think, and behave. This better understanding has also positively influenced how we treat substance use disorder (SUD).

The scientific efforts of neuropsychologists have helped us to gain a better understanding of not just how the brain functions, but also how the brain functions in certain situations. This has been particularly helpful for the understanding of adolescent behavior and functioning. Neuropsychology evaluates how the brain is affected in certain situations at particular stages of development.

This field of study also provides information about how the brain is affected by SUD, including which specific parts of the brain are affected by certain substances or disorders. This is all critical information that can be used to help individuals recover from issues of mental health, which includes SUDs.

What Exactly Is Neuropsychology?

Neuropsychology is a complex field of study, one which is still yet not fully understood even by neuropsychologists. However, distilled down to its core, neuropsychology is a relatively straightforward concept. It encompasses how the physical brain looks and acts in relation to how an individual thinks and behaves.

An article published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Psychology gives us a manageable, condensed history of neuropsychology. The authors describe how “Neuropsychology was recognized as a discipline distinct from applied areas of psychology or neurology in the 1960s. Although ideas about the connection between behavior and brain function can be traced back to Pythagoras, systematic studies of brain-behavior relationships only began in the 19th century.”

It is that “brain-behavior relationship” that is so crucial in understanding how neuropsychology has influenced the positive treatment of SUDs. Also, it is important to remember that “neuropsychology” is not the modality that treats mental illness. It is the study that has influenced how we treat mental illness. For example, without neuropsychology, we would not have an understanding of how the prefrontal cortex can be negatively affected by certain behaviors when not yet fully developed. One could say that neuropsychology is the crucial foundation upon which all neuroscientific mental health treatment methods rest.

Understanding Neuropsychology and Substance Use Disorder

When it comes to SUDs, it is important to understand that addiction is a disease and not a “choice.” When this is understood, we can better understand the physical illness aspects of SUD that can be found in the brain. Using that information, we can develop a better understanding by which to treat the issues of SUD.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains how addiction has been shown to affect certain parts of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex. These effects are especially concerning for adolescents struggling with addiction because the prefrontal cortex is one of the last parts of the brain to develop. The full development usually happens in a person’s mid-to-late 20s.

NIDA explains that “The prefrontal cortex powers the ability to think, plan, solve problems, make decisions, and exert self-control over impulses. This is also the last part of the brain to mature, making teens most vulnerable.” This information has influenced the methods used to help individuals struggling with SUDs.

What Does Nueroscientific Treatment for Substance Use Disorder Look Like?

Several treatment modalities have come out of the study of neuropsychology. Two of these specific modalities are neurofeedback therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. These therapies utilize neuroscientific discoveries to recognize the relationship between cognitive function, external stimuli, and negative behaviors.

Over time, these treatments can help an individual begin to cognitively recognize oncoming negative emotions. Then they can then adjust their behaviors accordingly. For those struggling with SUDs, this is highly beneficial. It can help an individual recognize the emotions that could lead to a potential relapse. Then they can directly address those emotional patterns. When one or some of these neuroscientific treatments is added to an individualized treatment plan, the potential for long-term recovery can be significantly heightened.

The iconic American poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, “The brain is wider than the sky.” This poetically gets to the core of neuropsychology. It is a study of limitless potential. This field has already helped countless people in their SUD recovery. Certainly, it will continue to expand and do so into the future.

Neuropsychology can be a critical tool when it comes to addressing certain aspects of addiction and other issues of mental health. This field explores how a person’s behaviors and thought processes are related to potential disruptions in the brain. Neuropsychology can be an essential tool in getting to the underlying causes of behavioral and mental health issues. While neuropsychology is often employed for very specific conditions, it is important to understand its potential and how it may be utilized in an individualized recovery plan. If you feel that your child may be struggling with their mental health, please reach out today. For some more information on neuropsychology, addiction, and mental health recovery, call Elk Mountain Girls Academy at (888) 403-0346.