Why Can’t I Just Be Happy in Recovery (or Can I)?

After hitting your rock bottom and deciding to receive treatment, it’s easy to assume that life on the other side of addiction is guaranteed to be automatically brighter. Although you’re sure to reclaim your power of choice and your physical and mental health, maintaining a positive outlook and avoiding feelings of depression, boredom, and malaise takes work.

This is especially true during the formative stages of recovery. During this time, your brain and brain chemistry are still healing and balancing. If you’re relatively new to recovery and aren’t exactly happy, you’re not alone. The good news is that happiness does lie just around the corner. With time, patience, and effort, you can achieve mood balance and a far greater appreciation for everything and everyone around you. Many recovering addicts initially find themselves reminiscing over their pasts. It’s easy to romanticize drug and alcohol use when you aren’t being plagued by the consequences of actually using.

After all, getting high or becoming intoxicated has an instant impact on your frame of mind, your perception, and your mood. In the past, whenever you wanted to feel better or different, using substances provided immediate results. Substance use disorder conditions people to expect immediate gratification or the ability to instantly alter their mental and emotional states. Happiness in sobriety takes both work and time. This is a concerted, ongoing effort to do things for yourself that create stability, peace, and comfort, and without the use of harmful coping techniques.

Why Feeling Happy During the Early Stages of Recovery Is Often a Challenge

When you consider the drug or alcohol withdrawal process and the symptoms that it entails, you’re probably wont to list a number of common, physical symptoms such as:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Disorientation
  • Headaches
  • Sweating or chills

Many substances create a host of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that last just several days or several weeks. After these symptoms have passed, your body will have regained its ability to function without being exposed to your substance of choice. Best of all, if you never return to this substance in the future, you’ll never have to experience these physical withdrawal symptoms again. Unfortunately, however, physical withdrawal is hardly the end of the detox process.

With most substances, people undergo a secondary form of withdrawal that includes post-acute withdrawal symptoms or PAWS. PAWS often starts one to two weeks after abstinence and can last as long as one full year. Moreover, PAWS can come and go throughout this time, and they can fluctuate in intensity. PAWS include:

  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Boredom and malaise
  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Aggression

Throughout the first several months of recovery, the onset of PAWS is the most likely source of a person’s discontent. Thus, even though happiness is definitely possible in recovery, it’s incredibly common to feel anything but. PAWS is an indication that the brain has yet to return to normal functioning. Just as drugs and alcohol incite massive surges in feel-good chemicals known as neurotransmitters, detoxing and maintaining abstinence can cause neurotransmitter production to wane.

Chemicals like dopamine, seratonin, and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) among others, still aren’t being produced and released at normal levels or intervals. This altered chemistry is what creates the psychological withdrawal effects that can make people both miserable and more prone to relapsing. One of the best ways to speed up the return to balanced brain functioning and balanced brain chemistry is by practicing good self-care. This means:

  • Getting plenty of sleep
  • Eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods
  • Practicing stress management
  • Seeking outside help when you need it

Regular exercise and regular social interaction stimulate the release of “feel-good” chemicals like dopamine and seratonin in positive ways. There are other causes for unhappiness during the recovery process. Some people living with addiction have co-occurring disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, or general anxiety disorder.

If co-occurring mental health issues aren’t diagnosed and managed as part of addiction treatment, the discomfort that they cause can be a major trigger for relapsing. People with undiagnosed mental health issues like these often use drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating. If you’re excessively anxious, depressed, or struggling with major mood balance issues, consider talking with a counselor or seeking a more needs-specific form of addiction treatment.

Dual diagnosis treatment centers address both substance use disorder and all secondary mental health issues at once. Finally, you have to take consistent steps to foster happiness in your life. Happiness is ultimately a choice. Taking responsibility for managing your own mindset is one of the best things that you can do to ensure your success in recovery. This can be as simple as:

  • Limiting your exposure to toxic people and environments
  • Having a detailed plan for mitigating triggers and other challenges
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Keeping a gratitude journal

Concerted efforts to establish and maintain a positive mindset will make the most challenging phases of recovery easier to manage. This will also set the stage for experiencing true happiness by teaching you to appreciate the benefits of consistent work as opposed to the short-lived, false sense of contentment that comes from immediate gratification. If you’re ready to get on the path to wellness or if you’re struggling in recovery due to feelings of depression and malaise, we can help. Call us today at 833-680-0165.