If you or a loved one is dealing with an active addiction or has overcome it, you will know just how hard it can be to get sober. While the benefits of living a sober life are countless, life without drugs or alcohol may seem scary, unappealing, and impossible at first. Can a person be happy without substance use?
After learning how drugs and alcohol alter our brains and just how powerful and exciting the natural highs of a sober life can be, you may feel more optimistic about the future. You will be more stable, more in control, and much happier once you begin the recovery journey, and certainly, once you have remained sober.
Drug abuse affects our brains. The hypothalamus, which handles important functions of memory, pleasure, and pain, creates the feeling of euphoria that a person experiences when taking drugs or alcohol. It also plays a huge role in reinforcing pleasurable or pleasant memories, which causes someone to return to drug use again and again.
Addiction is strongly related to willpower, and the frontal cortex houses the structures that are responsible for decision-making and governing executive function. The frontal cortex, the hypothalamus, and the amygdala work together to create a strong motivation to use drugs or alcohol, even if it is at the expense of other priorities such as health and well-being. This makes it very hard to beat addiction, and also explains why life may seem less exciting when drugs are out of the picture.
There is also a strong link between substance use, abuse, and mental health. Since abusing drugs and alcohol harms the nervous system and interferes with the neurotransmitters in the brain, it can do immense damage to mental health.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders may develop due to drug use. Coping with these disorders also often prompts self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Either way, abstaining may be much harder, and attaining happiness without drug use may seem further away when mental illness is involved.
But thankfully, dual-diagnosis treatment in drug and alcohol rehab can address both mental health and substance abuse and gives a person the chance for sobriety.
The brain responds to things that make a person happy or provide pleasure. Over time, the brain recognizes the acquisition of desire or happiness and will stimulate the reward circuit.
Dopamine, one of the brain's neurotransmitters responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells, will start over-firing when a person uses drugs or alcohol. With more and more dopamine produced, a person will no longer feel joy from activities that do not involve using drugs or drinking.
There are so many advantages to sobriety that bring natural happiness, such as greater general health, improved sleep, healthier eating habits and increased energy, and reduced risk of long-term health problems such as cancer, stroke, or liver disease. A person may have improved mental health, more motivation, increased confidence, a better quality of relationships, and enhanced cognitive function.
Still, for many living in an active stage of alcohol abuse or drug addiction, being happy without the substances seems impossible. Someone who has been living life under the influence of mind-altering, powerful drugs may not be able to see any other alternative. A yearning for feelings of pleasure can cloud a person's awareness of the potential for true happiness in sobriety.
Being substance-free means that the brain is in the process of healing and will try to find ways to stimulate its reward circuit. A fear that a life of recovery-based activities awaits, lacking in the perceived sense of happiness provided by intoxication, may cause a person with substance use disorder to disregard treatment. That may be because a person has to first realize that the sense of relief, comfort, or pleasure provided by alcohol or drugs is false and comes with a range of damaging effects.
A first step to having fun without the use of drugs and alcohol may be by stimulating the brain's reward circuit without being overly critical of every situation.
Some of the techniques mentioned below can help in difficult situations, while others apply to everyday life. Some benefits of giving up drugs and alcohol will manifest physically and psychologically, while other positive effects may require some more effort and time to be appreciated.
Exercise is not only good for physical health. It can significantly improve mental health and is one of the best ways to find happiness without drugs.
Exercise releases a rush of endorphins and is one of the oldest natural highs known. With an antidepressant effect, it can tap into the brain's pleasure center, releasing these feel-good hormones and making a person feel a rush of euphoria without alcohol or drugs.
Whether it is running, swimming, wheelchair basketball, or gardening, any physical activity – including household chores – is good and can make a person feel happy. With higher serotonin levels in the brain, physical exercise can help reduce depression and anxiety, common relapse triggers. Exercise can help anyone who is in recovery to have a clearer mind.
Although it may take some time and patience to reap the rewards of meditation, it can reduce stress for many people. Meditation can help a person feel calm, balanced, and in control. Similarly, the practice of yoga can give a person calmness and centeredness and can encourage their pleasure center to crave more of it.
An increased spiritual awareness that comes with both practices can also be very beneficial when learning to live life without drugs. Regular peaceful practices can lead you to find happiness.
In healthy portions, preparing, cooking, and enjoying a meal can provide great pleasure. Completing the steps of a recipe can be satisfying, while the flavors and smells of a good meal are intoxicating.
Eating delicious food naturally increases dopamine, so as another natural high, food, and particularly a healthy, balanced diet, can make a person feel happy, feel good about their body, and have more energy to engage in activities.
It doesn't matter whether it is knitting, gardening, or pottery, engaging in hobbies or activities allows a person to gain self-esteem, boosts motivation, and is naturally rewarding. Improving a skill or becoming better at something you are interested in can provide something very important for recovery. It can help a person stay sober, and encourage future motivation.
Taking part in a creative activity that involves music and dance, or sound and rhythm can be an effective natural high. Movement and dance have always played a role in connecting people and can help anyone to begin feeling happier.
Listening to music also reduces stress levels, enhancing mental well-being. Let's not forget that dancing is a creative exercise that can help us have fun, relax, and feel the euphoric sensations that endorphins provide.
It may seem too simple, but the act of volunteering can be an easy and healthy way to have fun while in recovery, and while leading a sober life, too.
An elevated mood after giving a helping hand can be compared to physical activity and the runner's high after a workout. The body releases endorphins in the giver's body which leads to exhilaration, followed by calmness.
A sense of belonging is vital to the social creatures that humans are, which is why becoming part of a sober community can be a game changer. Opposing the isolation that alcohol and drug abuse may come with, creating meaningful bonds with people who support your health and sobriety, will not only encourage you to stay sober but will help you feel happy through it.
Becoming part of support groups like alcoholics anonymous or narcotics anonymous can help improve your relationships with family and friends, develop greater empathy for other people's situations, and have meaningful conversations. Each of these elements adds to a person's happiness in a certain way.
It is difficult to manage mental health issues alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five American adults was living with mental illness in 2020. Figures from the same year show that 17 million people had both a mental disorder and a substance use disorder.
To address mental illness and achieve long-term sobriety, professional treatment is vital. One-to-one, as well as group therapy, can help a person understand any underlying mental health issues, identify triggers for drug use, and learn coping skills. By seeking professional help, a person will strengthen their ability to live a life free of substances, regain self-esteem and become much closer to feeling truly happy.
Family therapy also helps, as family members can take a role in empowering recovery from addiction. This provides support, which is essential for someone to rebuild their life and find happiness without drugs.
If you or a loved one is seeking help for drug or alcohol addiction, Vita Recovery is here to support you. We understand that addressing addiction can be very difficult, which is why our caring and compassionate staff are here to help.
Our evidence-based strategies and therapeutic interventions are tailored to meet your specific physical, psychological, emotional, and social needs. Vita Recovery can help you get to the root cause of drug abuse while making sure that your overall well-being is taken care of too.
We believe in empowering patients to heal and live sober, happy, and fulfilling lives. Our team has decades of medical and addiction recovery experience and is here for you.