Substance abuse and drug addiction are very common and exist for many reasons. Perhaps someone wants to feel happy, perform better, or needs to manage their stress and anxiety.
But what happens when someone stops using drugs or alcohol? How can a person feel happy in sobriety?
If you are wondering about life without relying on substances, this blog may help you realize how to find happiness without addiction.
Understanding Drug Addiction and the Brain
Someone may believe that life without drugs will leave them without joy, happiness, or excitement. A desire to feel pleasure in the same way as before may be in a person’s mind, and battling addiction is not so easy. A study from the National Library of Medicine places 85% of individuals relapsing and returning to drug use within a year of treatment.
Even though using drugs or alcohol can be a way to feel good or escape, it can easily affect your life in a very negative way.
The first step to having fun without taking substances is understanding how the brain works with addiction, and why it gives you the feeling of happiness or pleasure or keeps you in a cycle of addiction.
Drugs change vital areas in the brain that are needed for functioning. Substance abuse can affect these areas in ways that cause addiction to occur.
The basal ganglia are involved in forming routines and habits, different forms of motivation, and experiencing pleasure in things like sex, socializing, and eating. The basal ganglia form a part of what is referred to as the brain’s reward circuit, whose actions are what cause humans to learn or become motivated.
When the reward circuit is activated, the brain is triggered to acknowledge something important happening and remember it. It then teaches us to redo it until it becomes a custom habit. The reward circuit is overstimulated by the use of drugs and is flooded by dopamine. Dopamine is what causes the euphoria of being high, and the brain is taught to rather seek drugs than other goals or activities. The circuit adapts to the presence of a substance if it is constantly stimulated by it, making it challenging for a person to feel pleasure from anything except the drug.
Another area is the extended amygdala, which becomes more sensitive with an increase in drug use, and functions as a part of stress, irritability, anxiety, or feeling uneasy. When the high from a drug fades, this area of the brain kicks in with its withdrawal signs, causing a person to prefer to seek substances again.
A third area is the prefrontal cortex. It has less ability to be effective in its role of thinking, decision making, planning, problem-solving, or exerting inhibition over impulses, when under the influence of drugs. An imbalance in this area of the brain can cause a person to have less control over their compulsive seeking to take a drug again.
How To Find Happiness Without Substances
Perhaps you or a loved one has just come out of alcohol rehab and you have made a successful recovery. How can you ‘teach’ your brain to enjoy life without substances?
Someone may have to begin by spending time relearning the things in life that produce happiness. It often begins by working on the negative consequences that substance abuse may have caused, such as trouble with relationships, family members, jobs, or money. A future of sobriety may mean that a person will have to avoid places where they used or people that they used drugs with.
Addressing the triggers that want to make you take drugs again is very useful. As this may include a range of feelings and emotions, a person may want to undergo treatment so that they have emotional support when identifying these triggers. Mental health problems like depression or anxiety can cause the use of substances in the first place and these problems are vital to address through mental health professionals.
But probably most important, is to replace a wrong or unhealthy pleasure stimulation to your brain with healthy associations.
Dopamine is a feel-good chemical naturally occurring in our systems.
Dopamine neurons have various roles, but one of their main ones is to drive behavior that is related to reward. The reward is a pleasurable effect and can be experienced when someone completes a task or has good stimulation. By doing activities that stimulate dopamine levels, someone can experience a natural high and at the same time improve their overall health.
A very basic example is when someone finds and eats food, causing dopamine levels to rise. Cooking involves completing a task and at the same time, a good meal can provide flavors and smells that are pleasurable. Eating delicious food can make someone feel good as it naturally increases dopamine. Home-cooked meals, a balanced diet, and avoiding junk food can also improve general physical health, another important element in feeling happiness in sobriety.
Other activities increase dopamine levels too.
Something as simple as listening to music can make your brain release more dopamine. A very fast response happens the moment music enters our brains. Immediately, pleasure centers are triggered releasing more dopamine into your system. The brain can even anticipate parts of the music that are familiar to you, that will provide you with pleasure, and can present an early rush of dopamine as it waits for that moment. That is why someone may experience goose bumps or chills when they listen to music they love.
Listening to music or learning to play an instrument can be very good for your physical and mental health too. It is associated with increasing antibodies that boost your immune system and protect you from bacteria and has also been used for the treatment of depression, among other mental health problems.
Setting goals – finishing tasks
By setting any goal, the brain releases the dopamine neurotransmitter. It is what motivates someone to be productive or take action to achieve that goal. This means that by simply writing out goals a person would like to achieve, they could improve their motivation and feel a pleasurable effect. Accomplishing a goal or a task gives even more pleasure.
A person giving themselves small tasks to do daily will have pleasure in accomplishing those tasks. In feeling accomplished, they will be more motivated to do other tasks and could maintain a healthy life by being productive.
If a person sets micro-goals, that is, a small number of goals to achieve in order to reach a final, bigger goal, they can trick the brain. Not only will they experience reward every time they accomplish a smaller goal, but they will also be one step closer to achieving something much bigger or more difficult by teaching the brain in small steps. This is extremely useful in recovery, as someone can take a productive, step-by-step approach to a healthy future.
Taking Care of Mental and Physical Health
Abusing drugs causes huge harm to our mental health. They interfere with neurotransmitters in our brain and affect the nervous system, resulting in a range of emotions and an unstable or negative mood. If someone changes their way of thought or behavior, they can replace a negative mood with a positive one.
Apart from self-discipline, treatment like psychotherapy or talk therapy can help a person overcome possible fears or identify signs of stress, decide to engage in new activities and ultimately lead a sober life.
One of the most well-known natural highs is exercise. It has an antidepressive consequence as it causes the brain to create more serotonin. More serotonin in the area of the brain where memory is processed causes better acuity, and endorphins released during physical activity often leave a person feeling happier.
Spending time on exercise is key to leading a sober life, and can also help your body become stronger. Engaging in sports with friends could enhance your social interaction while replacing an addictive habit with a sober one.
When a person meditates, their body will realize or become aware of itself. Quieting the mind allows a person to enter another world, where they can relax. Relaxing and freeing the mind allows a person to experience a sense of calmness or pleasure, caused by dopamine once again. Meditation also allows someone to feel a sense of balance and being in control.
Being in control of yourself is extremely important when wanting to stay sober. It means that you will learn how to control what you feel as you get to know yourself better. This opens up a path to a longer and deeper sense of happiness not comparable to that provided by drugs or alcohol.
Studies have shown that apart from learning how to meditate, consistently practicing meditation is associated with better outcomes in people with an alcohol use disorder by lowering levels of stress. Someone could join a meditation class like yoga or practice meditation on their own through creative activity or simply doing breathing exercises.
Advantages of Being Happy Without Drugs or Alcohol
Even though a person may crave the feelings of pleasure that alcohol and drugs gave them, overcoming these cravings can lead to a life free of fear and full of natural highs.
Treatment can help a person sustain their recovery, and can provide a person with a strong support system. The advantages of being happy without drugs or alcohol exceed all the negative consequences of addiction and all the work needed for recovery in alcohol rehab.
A person will find happiness in knowing that they have changed their lives and have a better sense of control over it. Someone will spend way less money on alcohol or other substances, meaning that they and their families will be in a better financial position.
Relationships happen to suffer a lot under addiction, whether it is with friends or family. Sobriety will lead to happiness when someone has a chance to fix any harm done in their relationships, or perhaps develop new ones with people who encourage their sobriety. Positive feelings toward and from a surrounding support system, such as a family, are also key to happiness.
People often risk their lives when involved with substance abuse, and the absence of this means less stress, injury, or accidents and improves the lives of those around them too.
Help for Happiness Without Substance Abuse
If you or a loved one is struggling to find fun in being sober, do not hesitate to reach out to us. NP Addiction Clinic is here to help you on your road to recovery and after.
Caring, experienced staff at our mental health center can help you through the challenges of battling addiction and guide you as you maintain your sobriety.