How to Find Joy in Sobriety

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There are many challenges that individuals will experience during their journey from substance abuse to sobriety. In addition to ceasing problem behaviors, individuals are tasked to find joy without the use of substances. This is important to prevent relapse and enable lasting recovery.

Of course, finding joy in sobriety is not as easy as it may seem. This is due to the lasting effects that substance abuse has on the brain's pleasure and reward centers. Still, it is important to understand that finding joy in recovery is possible and rewarding. An individual can find joy by participating in treatment and exploring personal hobbies and interests outside of their treatment facility.

How Feelings of Joy Change Throughout Recovery

Rediscovering joy in recovery requires individuals to understand how experiences of joy and pleasure evolve throughout addiction recovery.

Alcohol and other drug use change brain structure and associated functioning in important brain areas. This can affect how an individual experiences positive and negative emotions.

Detoxing and rewiring the brain in recovery can help individuals improve their well-being without the use of substances.

The Brain's Reward Circuit

One of the brain systems that is severely impacted by substance use is the brain's reward circuit. This circuit is responsible for motivating individuals to repeat pleasurable behaviors. In most circumstances, this helps people stay healthy.

For example, when a person is not influenced by substance use, their brain's reward circuit encourages them to continue positive activities. It motivates them to eat, invest in activities they enjoy, and spend time with loved ones to experience joy and pleasure.

These positive feelings are produced by dopamine surges in the brain. Dopamine surges feel good, thus incentivizing an individual to repeat these activities again and again.

An Altered Circuit

Alcohol and drug use override the brain's reward circuit, flooding the brain with an excess of dopamine. This is why individuals often report feelings of pleasure as a result of substance use.

Chronic and repeated substance use, however, alters the brain. It does this by “reducing the ability of cells in the reward circuit to respond to it,” according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The NIDA continues, “This reduces the high that the person feels compared to the high they felt when first taking the drug—an effect known as tolerance.”

These brain adaptations eventually cause an individual to experience less joy and pleasure. Lesser highs from substance abuse often lead people to use more and more substances. Additionally, experiencing less positive emotions from natural rewards, such as eating or socializing, often leads people to neglect those healthy behaviors.

Redefining Joy

Treatment helps individuals address and reverse the brain changes that may have resulted from their substance abuse. Individuals must recognize that finding joy in recovery is not about achieving a desired “high” of pleasure. Rather, it is about being content in the present moment. Additionally, it is about restoring natural feelings of pleasure over time without the use of substances.

To redefine joy, individuals must learn to differentiate their expectations and demands of pleasure from feelings of contentment. Taking time to ponder personal expectations of joy from what joy actually is can be instrumental to lasting recovery.

Typically, redefining joy involves the use of various mindfulness elements, such as awareness and gratitude. Often, professional treatment programs can help individuals with these reflections and alter their definitions of perceived joy.

How to Find Joy in Sobriety

Finding joy in recovery is essential because it can reduce an individual's risk of future relapse. Additionally, it can help individuals to live their most authentic lives, feeling confident in their sobrieties.

Outside of the treatment facility, there are many things that individuals can do to find joy in sobriety. Some suggestions for finding joy in sobriety include the following.

#1. Explore Personal Hobbies and Interests

Everyone has hobbies. Unfortunately, individuals with addiction may push their hobbies and interests aside for the sake of continued substance use.

Recovery offers a valuable opportunity for individuals to revisit their personal hobbies and other interests. Individuals may consider hobbies such as:

  • Learning how to play an instrument
  • Joining a poetry or reading group
  • Taking a cooking class
  • Strengthening their mindfulness skills with meditation
  • Developing a new craft
  • Engaging in self-care activities
  • Participating in sports or exercises
  • Spending time in nature

#2. Participate in Meaning-Making Activities

Another way individuals can find joy in sobriety is by participating in meaning-making activities. These activities offer opportunities for individuals to express their thoughts and ideas and bring deeper meaning to their life experiences. Many hobbies also double-dip as meaning-making activities.

Mindfulness activities, such as meditation and yoga, can strengthen an individual's level of awareness and ability to focus on the positives. Additionally, many treatment facilities offer faith-based opportunities, such as spiritual groups, where individuals can find resolutions for existential distress.

Other meaning-making activities include volunteering at local community centers, becoming a sponsor to someone in early recovery, and reading self-help books. In addition, connecting with nature through walks or general admiration can also contribute to feelings of joy and meaning.

#3. Strengthen Relationships With Loved Ones

Re-finding joy in natural rewards is another way that individuals can experience joy in recovery. One example of this is working to strengthen relationships with loved ones.

To protect an individual's sobriety, it can be helpful to create healthy boundaries with loved ones as a way to strengthen relationships. Individuals can help loved ones limit any potentially enabling behaviors and educate them about addiction. Additionally, individuals can surround themselves with other people who influence broader life perspectives. Positive social connections can promote wisdom, confidence, meaning, and laughter.

Exploring new hobbies can be even more joyful when seeking to build relationships with loved ones or other peers. Many treatment facilities offer sober networking opportunities for individuals in recovery. This provides effective meaning-making and social support opportunities. Connecting with these opportunities can further joy in sobriety.

Finding joy in sobriety requires individuals to recognize that their definitions of pleasure must evolve. Additionally, it requires individuals to participate in new hobbies and meaning-making activities. These experiences can be shared with loved ones as well as peers in recovery. Pathways Recovery Center understands how challenging it can be for individuals to rediscover joy as their brains adapt from discontinued substance use. We can help individuals prioritize participation in both hobbies and meaning-making activities during treatment by adding these things to their treatment plan. As social support can influence more effective and joyful recovery journeys, we encourage sober group interactions throughout treatment and beyond. To learn more, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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Pathways Recovery Center Believes That Anyone Suffering From Addiction Can Recover And Experience The Joy Of Life Again. Join Us In Fighting Addiction One Person At A Time.
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