Happy friends having fun at music festival

Many people who develop addiction issues start using substances to relieve stress or help them feel they “fit in” with others. Alcohol, opioids and other substances can chemically alter the brain so that, over time, the euphoric and happy feelings associated with using become difficult to recreate in regular situations.

When we are newly in recovery, it can be hard to remember the things that brought us joy before our substance use disorder took control of our lives. Sometimes it feels like we will never have fun again, especially early on in our recovery journeys. Many people worry that they won’t be able to socialize without using substances and they become anxious in social situations. While it’s true that individuals in recovery should avoid situations and people who trigger substance use, that doesn’t mean they can’t find new, healthier ways to have fun. It’s important to reframe the idea of what it means to have fun and understand it doesn’t need to be attached to substance use.

Here are some ideas for activities you can enjoy without using substances:

Find new hobbies. In the early stages of addiction treatment, it may seem overwhelming to do anything but focus on avoiding substances at all costs. While this is a necessary step in your recovery, be patient. You are getting stronger and learning how to cope with cravings so you can have a social life that doesn’t rely on substance use. Recovery is a journey that allows us to find ourselves again and reminds us of what made us happy before our addiction. Take this opportunity to try things you didn’t have the time or patience for when you were using.

  • Take a class. Learning a skill can be a great way to get out of your routine and find a new way to have fun. Take a class on your own or invite a friend to come along and explore a new hobby together. Many community centers offer free or low-cost fitness, art and other classes.
  • Cook a new dish. Getting creative in the kitchen with loved ones can be a delicious way to have fun and strengthen relationships.
  • Join a club or community group. Being around people with similar interests will help you build relationships over things other than substance use. Connect with your treatment provider for information about community groups that might be of interest.

Practice gratitude. Actively practicing gratitude is a great way to find joy in things you might otherwise overlook. A gratitude journal or list can help put things into perspective in a positive way. Make creating a gratitude list part of your daily routine and you may be surprised by how many things you write down. Making gratitude a habit will help you reframe negative thoughts and acknowledge the things that bring you joy.

Look for healthy distractions. While navigating recovery, many people find they have more free time that used to be occupied by substance use. To avoid boredom and thoughts of returning to old ways, look for entertaining or gratifying distractions to incorporate into your new routine. Yoga, meditation, reading, writing, music, running or daily walks are all great ways to practice self-care.

Find your support system. Early recovery can feel lonely at times because it’s often necessary to avoid people who can put your recovery at risk. Take this time to surround yourself with positive people who truly want to see you succeed in recovery. Finding a support system that encourages you and cheers you on through this transition will be a positive influence and create new social opportunities.

By taking the time to explore what makes you happy, you’ll find more ways to incorporate joy into your life. Remember, people who have never used drugs or alcohol have a lot of fun, and we see them everywhere. You can do this, too. If you or a loved one are looking for support on your recovery journey, CleanSlate is here for you. Call 833-505-HOPE or visit www.cleanslatecenters.com to find a location near you.

Nicole Delmonico MT ASCP MPAS PA-C

Nicole Delmonico is the Massachusetts Southeast area clinical director for CleanSlate.