Overcoming a drug or alcohol substance use disorder can be extremely challenging. For people in the active stage of addiction, there may be a long list of perceived reasons to put off quitting. Whether it be denial, fear, or seeking happiness, these reasons are the person’s addiction talking to keep them hooked and are simply not true!
During this period it can seem impossible to have fun and be happy without drugs or alcohol. However, a sober life is far from boring and there are a number of ways to enjoy life’s natural highs.
Your Brain on Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs and alcohol change how the body and brain function. From mood to reaction times, to energy levels, these substances bind to a number of receptors in the body to change the balance of chemicals being produced and processed.
The Effect of Substances on Mood
The short-term effects of many kinds of drugs or alcohol include euphoria, increased relaxation, and decreased anxiety. It is these pleasant feelings that make consuming these substances so addictive, with the brain chasing this state of bliss. This short-lived happiness is caused by surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine being released, the chemical involved in mood
Due to the extremely high, unnatural pulses of dopamine that drug taking causes, the highs from abusing drugs or alcohol can feel more intense. In the case of natural highs, it can be likened to someone speaking into your ear, whereas the high from substance abuse is more like someone shouting down it.
Over time, the body adapts to the high amount of neurotransmitters in the brain and no longer processes them in the same way. The body does this by producing fewer of these chemicals and reducing the number of receptors that can receive the signal. This is why addicted individuals end up taking higher amounts of the drug over time, which then grows their tolerance of how much the body can handle. Chasing a high in this way increases the chance of an overdose and death related to a toxic level of the drug being in the system.
After experiencing the euphoric highs of a drug, a “come down” often follows due to the dramatic drop in neural dopamine levels. This leaves users flat, without motivation, and depressed. Then often become unable to enjoy things that were previously pleasurable and have an increased chance of a number of mental illnesses.
Exploring the Reward Circuit
Alcohol and drug addiction is a powerful disease that impacts the reward and decision-making circuits in the brain, causing chemical and physical changes to these regions. Dopamine signals that something “important” is happening that we need to remember. To solidify its significance, the neural connections in the brain adapt to make it easier to repeat the activity automatically, reinforcing the drug-taking habit.
When someone repeatedly takes drugs or alcohol, the high levels of dopamine released push the neural pathways to want this pleasurable activity to be carried out over and over. The large surges of dopamine associated with drug taking are favored over the expense of other activities and goals. This urge to carry on taking the illicit substance can be so powerful that people sacrifice food, safety, and shelter to do so.
Enhance Dopamine Levels and Feel Great Naturally
Overcoming an addiction and living life without drugs or alcohol is a long and difficult journey. However, it is more than possible to feel good without them with the right help and guidance. Many people come out of the other side sober and feeling stronger than before, giving them the motivation to reach their goals.
Enjoying life without drugs again is worthwhile, but the process takes time. The brain and body have to adjust to the highs they can naturally produce and any mental health issues and trauma needs to be worked through. Time must be given to building healthy habits, exercising, making new connections, and uncovering passions. Starting this journey can feel daunting, though these following tips can help you rebuild your life full of happiness.
Say No to Drugs
It can feel isolating and confusing having to face a substance use disorder, though you are not alone. According to government figures from 2020, around 3.2 million people between the age of 16-59 took some kind of illicit drug in the past year. This contributed to almost 100,000 people being admitted to hospitals with a drug-related mental health diagnosis. Alcohol misuse is also common, with the University of Sheffield estimating that over half a million people in the UK suffer from alcohol dependence.
Although saying no to drugs can seem difficult, it is the first step in the recovery process to a more fulfilled life of happiness. Maintaining this sober goal may be easier if you avoid environments where alcohol and drugs are being used. Attending therapy in order to learn healthy coping mechanisms during stressful times also helps greatly.
It’s no surprise that working out is good for your body and mind. Physical exercise boosts the production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, playing a huge role in making you feel good weeks after participating in it. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters:
- Reduce stress
- Increase feelings of happiness
- Boost self-esteem
- Improve overall mood
- Reduce the risk of a number of diseases, such as diabetes, cancers, depression, dementia, heart disease
- Boost energy
- Help you get a good night’s sleep
Doing exercise can sometimes seem like more of a chore than fun, though the key is to find a physical activity that you enjoy and are motivated to keep participating in. Whether that be yoga, Zumba, a team sport, swimming, rock climbing, walking, or going to the gym, there are so many options to try. If you’re interested in joining a sports team, most cities have community exercise leagues to allow people to improve their health and also socialize. A quick search on the internet or your local city’s governmental website will let you know what your options for participation are.
Attend a Support Group
Support groups – such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – are incredible places to source motivation and inspiration when overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction. These judgment-free spaces allow for attendees’ stories to be heard and understood. This brings about a sense of joy and acceptance of yourself and your past, elevating some of the guilt that is commonly attached to substance use disorders that could be making you unhappy.
Humans are social creatures that need connection and contact. Therefore, these groups often hold sober activity days to allow recovering people to socialize and make new friends, another important factor for long-term recovery and happiness.
Develop a Hobby
Learning a new hobby or throwing yourself into one that you love can be helpful in boosting overall happiness and decreasing the chance of relapse from drugs or alcohol. This could include anything from cooking, photography, gardening, and reading, to knitting. Hobbies improve an individual’s self-esteem, boost motivation, and give them another thing to stay sober for.
Use Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation can be an extremely useful tool in overcoming a substance use disorder and helps find happiness. The ancient practice changes the function and structure of an individual’s brain, this:
- Help it heal from the damage of substance abuse
- Reduces stress
- Improves overall physical and mental health
- Reduce depression and anxiety
- Increases spiritual awareness
Create a Chain of New Goals
It’s easy to get a dopamine hangover when you reach a goal with nothing else to work towards going forward. Constantly creating new goals once the current ones are finished can keep you on your toes and looking forward to the next thing. It’s important to remember these goals should not only be big things and everyday tasks should also be valued just as much, ensuring you experience natural highs for the little things in life also. This could include washing the dishes, finishing a book, smiling at someone in the street, or helping a friend.
Take a Class
Substance abuse and mental health difficulties commonly stand in the way of people pursuing education, despite some having a passion and desire to do so. Leading a sober life gives individuals the opportunity to pursue these goals, plus, much of the time grants and student loans can be obtained to help along the way. Attending school and reaching your goals can hugely improve your overall happiness, life satisfaction, and self-esteem.
According to Project Helping, 94% of individuals who have participated in volunteering experience an elevated mood after the session. The amazing thing about this simple, free act is that it not only improves your life by being personally rewarding but also the world at large. Being a part of a volunteering community is another way to meet new people, boosting mood even further!
Attend Addiction Treatment
Many people have been able to overcome their substance use disorder and feel happy living sober lives again with the help of medical experts. There are a number of addiction treatment options that can be personalized to your own needs to give you the best outcomes possible.
Addiction treatment starts with medical detox, where the substance is flushed from your system under around-the-clock care from medical experts. Inpatient rehabilitation programs are highly recommended, allowing a fresh space to undergo treatment and build new healthy habits.
Our compassionate and experienced team at Crossroads Antigua can help you or your loved one back onto a path of health and enjoyment. The journey can be difficult, though achievable with guidance and expertise.
Located on the warm healing Caribbean island of Antigua, our purpose-built facilities are ideal to help support positive mental health. We offer a wide range of treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 12-step support groups, and 24-hour medical care.
Our complimentary therapies offer alternative ways to relieve stress and get that natural high. From yoga to seaside therapy, our holistic approach to wellness will help you find pleasure in sobriety.
Contact us today to find out how we can support you to live life to the fullest and find happiness once again.