When you’re going through addiction recovery, you might find that you’re struggling in many areas of your life. There will be times when you’re surrounded by triggers that are out of your control. Positive psychology can help you look at your recovery constructively and realize that nothing is impossible. Even though you face obstacles along the way, positive psychology can be a guiding light on your journey.
We’ll explore positive psychology and see how it can be beneficial in addiction recovery.
What is Positive Psychology?
Positive psychology is the scientific study of behaviors and character strengths that allow people to build a life of purpose and meaning. It’s founded on the idea that people want to live happy and fulfilling lives. Those who study positive psychology yearn to find the elements that make up “the good life.”
The most common definition of positive psychology is that it is the study of what makes life most worth living.
The PERMA Model
Looking deeper, positive psychology doesn’t simply focus on fleeting happiness. Rather, it looks at what provides us with deep satisfaction. Positive psychologists study many elements of well-being, but psychologist Martin Seligman identified five of these in his PERMA model, which has the “building blocks of well-being”:
- Positive emotions: These are an effective way to boost your self-esteem and overall well-being. Although this is only one component of feeling good, you need these to learn how to live in the moment.
- Engagement: When you’re engaged in something, you become so absorbed in something you excel in and enjoy that you lose track of time. This is another ingredient in the recipe for a developed sense of well-being.
- Positive Relationships: Humans gravitate naturally toward social interaction, which is why you need positive relationships to survive.
- Meaning: What’s life without meaning? Dedicating yourself to something bigger than yourself, like an important cause, can enrich your life and give you purpose.
- Accomplishment/Achievement: When we accomplish tasks and achieve goals, we experience true satisfaction. This is a key piece to achieving a meaningful life.
Seligman, who’s known as the father of positive psychology, pinpointed three visions of what it means to live happily. These include:
- The Pleasant Life
- The Good Life
- The Meaningful Life
The Pleasant Life
The Pleasant Life could be best described as Hollywood’s version of happiness. In this stage, you pursue positive emotions about the past, present, and future. You have as many pleasures as possible.
The Good Life
The Good Life, which is the next stage, focuses on personal strengths and your engagement of these strengths. You use these to receive gratification through doing activities you enjoy.
The Meaningful Life
Finally, the Meaningful Life involves giving your strengths to something larger than yourself. For example, if you’re gifted in martial arts and you enjoy practicing them, you might come across a child with special needs you teach who is showing great improvement. This might then inspire you to hold a martial arts class just for children with special needs.
In this stage, you’re enriching the lives of others while still doing something you love.
However, practicing positive psychology doesn’t mean ignoring your negative emotions. You are bound to have some of these feelings in addiction recovery.
Benefits of Positive Psychology in Addiction Recovery
There are several benefits of practicing positive psychology in life itself. In addiction recovery, the benefits are even more far-reaching. Practices like gratitude interventions can increase your emotional and social well-being. It also helps you see how positive emotions and character strengths can contribute to positive life outcomes. This can help you see how good your life can be without drugs and alcohol.
Positive psychology can also help you keep your eye on the prize. While you’re in recovery from addiction, it can be easy to get discouraged. You might come across old friends who used to drink or do drugs, or cravings may come on that you feel you can’t handle. When you focus on your long-term goals and the reasons why you decided to get sober, you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
Psychology of Addiction: How it Affects the Brain
To better understand addiction, professor Jim Orford developed the “Excessive Appetites” model in 1985. This explores the psychological aspects of how people develop addictions to substances like alcohol and drugs.
The “Excessive Appetites” model shows that addiction is formed through a process. The first stage is taking up an “appetitive” behavior. In your teen years, you start participating in activities that could end up becoming addictive. Whether you take up a certain behavior depends on several factors, including your environment and personality. According to Orford, “The uptake of new behavior does not occur in a psychological vacuum, but as part of a constellation of changing beliefs, preferences, and habits.”
As you mature into an adult, you might grow out of these addictive behaviors, but unfortunately, some people don’t. People who stick with these behaviors notice that they improve their mood. As such, these are called “mood modifiers.” During the early stages of addiction, people practice these behaviors to make themselves feel better.
How exactly does their mood improve? Addictive behaviors bring you more positive emotions. When you’re less self-aware or tense, you won’t address the negative parts of your life. This explains why many people continue these behaviors even if they lead to negative consequences. Using drugs and alcohol, or even gambling or overeating, also helps people cope with trauma like sexual or physical abuse.
The addictive behaviors you practice are usually in different social situations. If the substances you like are readily available where you are, you’re more likely to develop an addiction to them. However, some people say that their addictions are personal choices.
Learned associations start to develop between your addictive behavior and the state of mind that you want. These eventually develop along neurological pathways and become automatic. “Triggers” that remind you of doing drugs or drinking can make you want to partake in substance abuse.
Soon enough, you’ll be using drugs and alcohol because they make you feel good, despite the negative consequences.
Commitment and Attachment
When you become addicted to a behavior or substance, you become more dependent on it over time. This can lead to new ways of engaging in it, like binge eating or injecting drugs into your veins. Whereas you may have been more restrained in your behavior before, now you’re more careless and not keeping yourself in check.
Risk Factors for Addiction
Addiction doesn’t just happen. Several factors can contribute to its development.
- Family history: People with a family history of or genetic predisposition to substance use disorder have a higher risk of developing it.
- Age: The younger you begin drinking or using drugs, the more likely you are to have an addiction to them. Since a teenage brain is still developing, substances will have a larger effect on that than it would an adult brain.
- Peer pressure: Many teens and young adults feel pressure to be “cool,” so when they see their friends at a party, they might participate as well.
- Environment: If you grew up in an unstable home with parents who weren’t around, or if you saw abuse in the home, you might turn to substances for comfort. Not having a support system can also make you feel alone, which can be another reason to turn to drugs.
- Dual diagnosis: Having a mental health disorder like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could increase your chances of having an addiction. Debilitating symptoms can make you want to dull the pain with drugs and alcohol.
How to Use Positive Psychology During (and After) Addiction Treatment
When you have an addiction, you can expect to deal with it for the rest of your life, even after you get sober. You need to manage your condition every day and accept that relapse could happen. Many people with substance use disorder also die from it. All of this is pretty hard to swallow.
However, a positive psychologist would take this prognosis and spin it into a positive one. They’d say that addiction is a behavioral condition, and even the worst behaviors can be changed. That’s not to say that you should ignore the possible negative outcomes of addiction. Rather, by reframing recovery into something attainable, psychologists are making sobriety empowering and motivating.
Positive psychology can be put into play both during and after your addiction recovery. This type of thinking plays a large role in developing long-term goals for sobriety. Once you know that recovery is possible, your positive psychologist will help you look at life differently and get you on a path to self-discovery. On this path, you’ll figure out which relationships and activities are most important to you. From here, you can strengthen these relationships and pursue the activities you love the most.
The most effective addiction recovery happens when you’ve explored painful parts of your past and you’ve set goals for the future. Working toward those goals is another component of a meaningful recovery.
Let Rock Recovery Center Help You Start Your Journey
At Rock Recovery Center, we take an abstinence-based approach to treatment. We can help you discover activities you love through our adventure therapy program, where you can go kayak, rock climbing, camping, and paddleboarding.
Our West Palm Beach facility provides a tranquil, serene environment for you to focus on your addiction recovery. We know how difficult it is to face your fears, which is why we’ll be with you every step of the way.
Contact us today to learn more about our programs, which we tailor to your needs. Recovery is just around the corner!