How to Be Happy Without Drugs

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 Levels

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.

Music

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.

physical exercise

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.

Meditation

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.

Begin the first day of the rest of your life

To find out more contact our team

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine