March 12, 2023 By Leah Malone

Finding Joy in Recovery


The journey to recovery does not only require one to cease substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. It also requires individuals to rediscover and redefine joy in their life. However, due to the effects that chronic substance abuse has on an individual’s brain, finding joy in recovery can be easier said than done. Part of treatment and recovery Is altering one’s perspective on pleasure to begin to experience a natural sense of joy.

Redefining Joy in Recovery

To understand how to find joy in recovery, an individual must first learn how to define – or in this case, redefine – joy. It is typical for individuals in active substance abuse to associate joy with pleasure and to further associate pleasure with alcohol and other drug use. However, it is important to recognize that this is not necessarily a conscious association.

A Faulty Reward System

There is no question that alcohol and other drugs interfere with an individual’s brain structure and associated functioning. One of the most significant ways that substances do this is by altering the brain’s reward system.

The brain’s reward system is responsible for motivating an individual to carry out seemingly pleasurable behaviors needed to thrive. It also helps in forming habits. For example, this reward system encourages a person to eat, have sex, and spend time with their loved ones. When an individual engages in these behaviors, their brain releases natural surges of dopamine. These surges notify the brain that an activity is pleasurable and needs to be remembered.

The Role of Dopamine

Alcohol and other drug use produce abnormal surges of dopamine in the brain – far greater than any surge of dopamine produced naturally. Surges of dopamine in the reward circuit reinforce an individual to engage in substance use repeatedly. This is in an effort to experience the associated feelings of pleasure. However, with time and through repeated use, the brain’s reward circuit adapts to the effects of substances, reducing the intensity of pleasure experienced from drug use. Over time, an individual may use alcohol and other drugs solely in an attempt to feel normal or to ease withdrawal symptoms.

As a result of these brain changes, a person may experience less and less pleasure from healthy, natural activities that were once enjoyed. They may restrict their eating, experience a decreased libido, and withdraw from social activities altogether. In other words, substance abuse directly affects how an individual defines, understands, and perceives joy and pleasure.

The Value of Treatment

Treatment is often the first step for individuals seeking abstinence and recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) and addiction. This is because professional support and guidance are necessary to establish sobriety and reverse the brain changes caused by substance abuse. Therefore, treatment helps clients to redefine and rediscover joy.

Clients participate in a wide range of interventions, therapeutic modalities, and other recovery services while in treatment. They have access to both professional and peer support to better recognize the consequences that substance abuse has caused in their life. By utilizing the vast array of services offered by addiction treatment facilities, individuals can work to redefine what joy looks and feels like throughout sobriety.

How to Find Joy in Recovery

Finding joy in recovery is a journey, not a destination. Likewise, there will be times when individuals are faced with hardships and temptations that cloud their view of joy. Fortunately, there are many ways individuals can attempt to find joy in recovery. Here are some examples:

Connect With Sober Peers

Unfortunately, it is common for individuals to feel misunderstood or isolated while in treatment and recovery. One way to replace these feelings with joy is by connecting with other, sober peers. By leaning into social support, individuals can discover shared interests, hobbies, and other activities that can instill joy.

Another thing to consider is reaching out to others who may need additional support. Helping others – whether helping with their sobriety or just being a shoulder to lean on – is a great opportunity to experience joy and happiness in recovery.

Participate in Hobbies

Individuals in recovery must find healthy ways to spend their newfound time. Participating in hobbies can be a great way to fill this time and find joy in recovery. Certain hobbies – such as those related to physical activity – may be proactive as they can induce feelings of pleasure. Consider engaging in activities that may have been placed on the back burner as a result of substance abuse.

Engage in Self-Care

Self-care is a necessary element of lasting sobriety. Setting aside a few minutes every day to engage in self-care can boost feelings of joy as well as confidence, self-esteem, and self-love. Prioritize good sleep, eat a healthy diet, stay hydrated, and participate in physical activity throughout recovery to achieve a balance of well-being.

Be Mindful

Despite its benefits, mindfulness is often undervalued. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of the present moment. Participating in mindfulness practices – such as meditation, yoga, or taking a walk in nature – can directly enhance feelings of gratitude and newfound joy. Learning to be appreciative of the present moment and of one’s life journey can offer new meaning and purpose, especially for one’s sobriety. Individuals can take a few minutes every day to offer appreciation for the people, experiences, and services that have motivated their sobriety and recovery.

Finding joy in recovery requires an individual to redefine and rediscover joy while being sober. In active addiction, an individual may have experienced pleasure solely from alcohol and other drug use. In recovery, individuals must adjust their perspectives of pleasure to find and experience joy. We at Grace Recovery offer transitional living homes for women seeking recovery from substance use disorder and addiction. We offer a wide variety of treatment programs and services that can be utilized both in and outside of our homes. Our staff believes that the principles of recovery involve empowerment, resilience, service, and community. We can help you redefine and rediscover joy in sobriety. Call us today to learn more at (737) 237-9663.

About Author

Leah Malone

Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings can be painful and disturbing at times. When Leah was able to see her behavior patterns and decided there was enough pain to be disturbed, she became motivated to make changes and accept the work that needed to be done to heal. She needed direction and had no clue how to heal on her own. Through a connection with God, authentic connection with others, honesty, willingness, and humility, Leah is now in recovery from addiction and trauma.

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