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Alcohol and Mental Health

Benefits of an Addiction Recovery Journal 

Published:
June 1, 2024
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20 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 1, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 1, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 1, 2024
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Reframe Content Team
June 1, 2024
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20 min read

Recovery Journals Promote Hope and Healing

  • An addiction recovery journal can be a valuable tool in the recovery process. Whether on paper or in digital form, it can allow you to harness your creativity, see how far you’ve come, and visualize the future.
  • You can harness the power of writing by writing about your past and present relationship with alcohol and exploring a future without it. 
  • Reframe can provide you with daily journal prompts to power your journey as you change your relationship with alcohol.

Some of us love writing — journals, wedding toasts, greeting cards for any occasion, you name it. Bring out the fancy pens and gold-rimmed journals, and let’s get going! Others might have a love-hate relationship with it. Maybe it brings up memories of your fifth-grade teacher marking those punctuation and spelling errors.

Regardless of our history with journaling, it can be a valuable tool for addiction recovery. Before you dig in your heels, however, remember that there are no grades or grammar checks. There are no deadlines, style guides, or word limits to worry about. In fact, you don’t even have to share it with anyone unless you want to (not even your cat, if she’s too judgy)! And we promise it’ll be worth it; journaling through recovery comes with many benefits. 

In this article, we’ll share some of the top benefits and some writing prompts to get you started.

1. Increased Creativity

In spite of the rumors, drugs and alcohol don’t actually help us be more creative, but creativity can help us overcome addiction and free our minds to be more creative. 

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As David Sacks writes in Psychology Today, “Many people who become addicted to drugs or alcohol have alexithymia, a term that describes people who don’t understand what they’re feeling or how others feel or can’t put their feelings into words.” Creative pursuits (such as journaling) can “allow people to express difficult thoughts, memories, and feelings without being constrained by words.”

Recovery journal prompts:

  1. The party (from Eric Maisel’s Creative Recovery). Write a short story in which several people in different places on the addiction spectrum meet at a party. What are they saying? How are they behaving? Describe the situation.
  2. The party, a year from now. Continue the story and think about the same characters a year from that time. How can they use their creative nature to end up in a different place than they were when you first “met” them at the party you described. 
  3. Join the party. Now add yourself to the mix. How do you fit in? What temptations and triggers do you face? How do you deal with them? How would you like to see yourself interacting with the characters you created?

2. Natural Dopamine Release

There’s another powerful reason journaling can be a great recovery tool — writing is a way to naturally get into a “flow state,” which helps the brain release pleasure-producing neurochemicals such as dopamine.

Flow state is all about being in “the zone”: time stands still; outside sights and sounds fade into the background; and even the voice inside your head (you know, that pesky one that tells you you “need a drink”) quiets down. Want to know more? Check out our blog “How To Enter a Flow State: 5 Ways To Get in the Zone.”

Recovery journal prompts:

  1. Pleasures of the past. Think of an activity that used to bring you joy that you haven’t done in a while and write about it. Maybe it’s a show you used to watch, a museum you liked to visit, or a forest where you went hiking several summers ago. Combining the dopamine boost of the writing process itself with the memory of a pleasant experience can feel even more rewarding, giving you that extra spark to keep going on your recovery journey.
  2. Pleasures of the future. Now fantasize about the future! Do you see yourself hiking the Machu Picchu trail? Taking a salsa dancing class? Exploring the Xcaret Park in Mexico? Soak yourself in the pleasures you have yet to experience.
Benefits of an Addiction Recovery Journal 

3. More Mindfulness

Everywhere we look these days, we’re told to be more mindful. While mindfulness may seem like a buzzword, there’s powerful neuroscience behind it! In fact, focusing our attention on the present moment by sitting quietly, observing our breath, walking, or performing daily tasks (such as folding laundry) can activate neural pathways that promote peace. At the same time, our anxiety and stress levels decrease, our compassion for others and ourselves increases, and cravings fade into the background.

Journaling can be a great mindfulness exercise that centers us on the present moment and harnesses the power of the “now.” It’s just you and the page (or the screen), nothing else. 

If it feels awkward at first, stick with it. As Idowu Koyenikan writes in Wealth for All: Living a Life of Success at the Edge of Your Ability, “The mind is just like a muscle — the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets and the more it can expand.” Similarly, writing is like a muscle that gets stronger when we exercise it. And the more we do so, the stronger our recovery gets.

Recovery journal prompts:

  1. Mindful moments. Write about a moment when you felt joy or peace today. What did you see, smell, and hear? What made this moment special? How can you create more moments like this one, and how do they contribute to your recovery? 
  2. A mindful list. This exercise is especially useful for times of stress. Simply pay attention to the sights, sounds, and smells around you and list them. For example, maybe you hear the laundry machine rumbling in the background, smell some cinnamon-flavored coffee in your cup, and see a bowl of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen counter. By giving your mind something to focus on, making a list like this is also a powerful craving buster.

Want more ideas? Check out “20 Mindful Journal Prompts To Build Stress Resilience.”

4. Better Habit Tracking

Another great use of a recovery journal? It can help us track habits and triggers related to our recovery. Neuroscience shows that tracking health habits can work wonders for consistency and success over time. It’s all about progress, not perfection: when we track our patterns over an extended period, we see overall trends rather than daily fluctuations.

In addition to spotting potential pitfalls and triggers before they lead to a full-blown relapse, tracking our recovery is a great way to celebrate milestones. By seeing our progress in writing, we can see how far we’ve come. Building and tracking small and specific habits related to our goals is also a great way to build motivation and reduce frustration along the way. The journey isn’t always linear, and that’s okay — what matters is that we’re headed in the right direction.

Curious about the ins and outs of habit tracking? Take a look at our blogs “Tracking Your Drinking Just Got Easier” and “Tracking Your Drinking Can Change Your Relationship with Alcohol.”

Recovery journal prompts:

Daily wins. At the end of each day, jot down three specific “wins.” They don’t have to be big! Maybe you were able to dismiss a craving, swap that wine for a mocktail, or walk by the liquor store down the street without going in (or better yet, without even noticing it!). Over time, looking back at these victories — no matter how small they might seem — can provide an extra boost of motivation. 

Looking back. Take a journey through your previous entries and see if any patterns emerge. Do the same triggers come up over and over again? Do certain days of the week (or times of day) seem easier than others? Write about any trends that come up.

5. Greater Gratitude

Now, tracking all those wins just might leave us feeling grateful! Gratitude journaling is yet another powerful practice that can add momentum to our addiction recovery.

Neuroscience research shows that gratitude has tangible effects on the brain, activating regions such as the anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex. One of the fascinating experiments that led to this discovery tracked brain activity in subjects who were asked to imagine themselves receiving unexpected gifts in the middle of the Holocaust. The researchers found that the distinct gratitude “footprint” in the brain could have an impact on our moral cognition and positive emotion processing, both of which play a role in addiction recovery. 

Gratitude also triggers the release of dopamine — the brain’s reward neurochemical, which is artificially triggered by alcohol and other drugs. In other words, gratitude can act as a powerful natural “high.” Check out “10 Benefits of a Daily Gratitude Practice” for a deeper look.

Recovery journal prompts

  1. Gratitude for today. Make it a daily practice to write down three things you’re grateful for at the end of each day. They can be small, simple things like finding your favorite candy, bumping into a friend, or petting a dog.
  2. Gratitude for the past. Write about things in your past you’re grateful for. Sometimes even the hardest situations we’ve had to face or problems we’ve had to deal with can ultimately cause us to make important shifts in our lives and create momentum for change.

P.S. Need more ideas? Check out “Gratitude Journal Prompts To Practice Daily.”

6. The Power of Visualization

Finally, let’s use our recovery journal to look to the future! There’s great power in the practice of visualization, and we can harness it through writing.

In her Psychology Today article “Seeing Is Believing: The Power of Visualization,” A.J. Adams writes, “Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life.” She gives the example of Natan Sharansky, a computer specialist imprisoned in the USSR practicing mental chess to eventually beat world champion chess player Garry Kasparov in 1996.

Science backs up the power of visualization as well. It’s a well-known fact that athletes use visualization as part of their training process and experience real-life benefits from visualizing how they cross that finish line, complete a perfect pole vault, or tackle an opponent on the wrestling mat. When a Cleveland Clinic Foundation exercise psychologist had a group of subjects perform “virtual workouts” in their minds, he found that the “mental contractions” increased finger abduction strength by 35%. By the end of four weeks, however, the mental workout continued to lead to improvements, resulting in a 40% gain in strength.

Recovery journal prompts:

  1. A new you. Think of yourself in the future and describe how you feel, what you think about, and what activities you’re engaged in. First, think about where you’d like to be next month, then next year, then five years from now. Imagine yourself and the situations around you in as much detail as possible.
  2. A mental vacation. Visualize a place that makes you feel safe and fills you with creative energy and joy. It can be real or imagined — the sky's the limit. (Go to Martha’s Vineyard, Disneyworld, Emerald City, or Asgard. It’s up to you!) What can you find there to strengthen your recovery? Maybe it’s a sensation, such as the enveloping warmth of water around you as you swim through a coral reef. Perhaps it’s a special talisman you find in a place that exists in your imagination. 

Write about your special place and return to the writing when you’re struggling with cravings or triggers. It’ll be here for you and will help shift your perspective.

Summing Up

Writing, in the end, is about exploring your own life from different perspectives that can be hard to sort out in real-time. As Aldous Huxley observes, “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything.” Let’s use these X-rays to illuminate hidden aspects of our journey, helping clear a path through challenges and discovering unexpected joys along the way.

Summary FAQs

1. What is an addiction recovery journal, and why should I consider using one?

An addiction recovery journal is a personal space where you can freely express your thoughts, feelings, and experiences during your recovery journey. It's beneficial because it provides a creative outlet, helps manage emotions, and serves as a reflective tool to monitor progress and setbacks.

2. How can journal prompts for recovery help unleash my creativity?

Journaling can stimulate creativity, an essential aspect of recovery for many people. It allows for the expression of complex emotions and thoughts that might be difficult to articulate verbally. Engaging in creative writing, like crafting short stories or scenarios, can also provide new perspectives and coping strategies.

3. Can journaling impact my brain's chemistry?

Yes, journaling can positively affect your brain's chemistry. It encourages the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, especially when you enter a "flow state" during writing. This state can enhance feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, which are crucial for recovery.

4. What are some specific journal prompts for addiction recovery?

You might begin with prompts like "Write about a moment today when you felt at peace," or "Describe a future where you've overcome your current challenges." These prompts can help focus your thoughts and encourage a deeper exploration of your personal experiences and aspirations.

5. How do sobriety journal prompts serve as a mindfulness exercise?

Journaling brings your focus to the present, helping you cultivate mindfulness by reflecting on current sensations, emotions, and activities. This practice can reduce stress and anxiety, increase awareness of your mental state, and support a more grounded approach to recovery.

6. What role does gratitude play in journaling and recovery?

Gratitude journaling can significantly impact recovery by highlighting positive experiences and emotions. It shifts focus from challenges to appreciation, enhancing emotional well-being and resilience. Gratitude journaling also reinforces positive neural pathways, contributing to a healthier mindset.

7. How can I use journaling to visualize and plan for my future?

Visualization through journaling involves writing detailed descriptions of future goals and dreams. This practice can strengthen mental pathways similar to those created during actual experiences, providing motivation and a clearer sense of direction in your recovery journey.

Journal Your Way To a Healthier, Happier Future With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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