Thanksgiving each year is a celebratory holiday that we typically get together with family and loved ones, enjoy a hearty feast, and take time to recognize the things we are thankful for in our lives. It is an annual event focusing on gratitude.
As people in recovery or people that love individuals in recovery, Thanksgiving potentially speaks to us on an even deeper and more profound level. As people in recovery, we learn that we must stay grateful on a daily basis, and we find the need to be grateful woven into the fabric of our daily lives. As a person that loves someone that has struggled with addiction and found recovery, we naturally are grateful on a regular basis for having survived the chaos and the storm and come out on the other side with our loved one finding health.
Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” as a person in recovery is often a key aspect of overcoming addiction and finding healing and happiness. Across the board, addiction often is categorized by feelings of difference or separation, disconnection, loneliness, and a mindset of being apart from, victimization, having been dealt a “bad hand” in life, feeling on “the outside of the circle”, and that life is cruel and unfair. Therefore, those suffering from addiction often feel angry, resentful, and ungrateful.
When finding recovery from addiction, the idea of gratitude and thankfulness is repeated as being vital to sustaining recovery. It is often said to cultivate an “attitude of gratitude”, or that “a grateful addict will never use.” The idea is one which is attempting to change the way you interpret life, to find the good in situations, and/or to remain grateful in both good situations and bad. The idea is that having an attitude of gratitude will go a long way in aiding an individual with substance use disorder to create a strong foundation for sobriety and recovery and help sustain recovery by always seeking gratitude wherever it can be found.
In fact, although a very simplistic view, gratitude in some ways may be a type of solution for addiction. There are numerous scientific studies that demonstrate that just as addiction hijacks the brain and negatively impacts the pleasure center and reward system, gratitude can have the opposite, positive impact on an individual’s brain. Psychologists Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis and Dr. Michael McCullough of the University of Miami published a study in 2015 that looks at the physical outcomes of practicing gratitude. One third of the subjects in the study were asked to keep a daily journal of things that happened during the week for which they were grateful. Another third of subjects were asked to write down daily irritations or events that had displeased or disturbed them throughout the week. The last third of the group was asked to write down daily situations and events with emphasis on either positive or negative emotional attachment. At the end of the 10-week study, each group was asked to record how they felt physically and generally about life. The gratitude group reported feeling more optimistic and positive about their lives than the other two groups. In addition, the gratitude group was more physically active and reported fewer visits to a doctor than those subjects who wrote only about their negative experiences. Additional studies have demonstrated that regularly demonstrating or expressing gratitude daily literally changes the molecular structure of the brain. Scientific research has demonstrated that expressing gratitude causes synchronized activation in multiple regions of the brain and saw on scans that the brain’s reward pathways and hypothalamus would light up, boosting neurotransmitter serotonin and activating the brain stem to produce dopamine.
Therefore, it can be concluded through science that cultivating an attitude of gratitude has a positive impact on a person’s brain and positively influences how a person feels physically, mentally and emotionally. When feeling grateful or thankful, science further demonstrates increased activity in the areas of the brain associated with moral and social cognition, reward, empathy, and value judgment. This is directly related to addiction since we know addiction is a brain disease that negatively impacts the brain’s reward system and pleasure system. So, having a positive attitude of gratitude literally rewires the brain, and in some sense, offers a solution to addiction. If addiction impacts the brain and rewires it in terms of how we seek pleasure, relief from pain, and rewards (which for those with addiction ultimately is through the misuse and overuse of drugs and alcohol), gratitude naturally rewires the brain into a healthier and organic way of receiving pleasure, relief from pain, and reward. Gratitude also obviously has a positive impact on physical and mental health and how we process our emotions and our response to situations. Addiction is often associated with victimization, negative self-talk and feelings of inadequacy and low self-work. Ideas like “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a fraud”, “Life isn’t fair”, “The world is out to get me”, “Why do these things always happen to me?”, “Nothing ever goes right for me”, “Everyone else has it better or is better than me.” So being able to rewire that thinking through a lens of gratitude and thankfulness organically gives one a better, more positive outlook. It aids in battling the traditional hopelessness and despair associated with addiction.
Gratitude is an action and repeating daily actions of being grateful or thankful ultimately will become habitual. Over time, one’s outlook on life will change to a more positive outlook, and it will become easier and more natural to see the good rather than the bad, the positive rather than the negative, and to easily see the things in life that we should be grateful for on a daily basis. While Thanksgiving is a wonderful time each year that people use to express their gratitude and thankfulness, for people in recovery, Thanksgiving is a time each year that offers a unique opportunity for self-reflection, and an understanding that to achieve happy and lasting recovery, an attitude of gratitude is something that we need to seek and find every day, one day at a time.
From all of us at Maryland Addiction Recovery Center to you and yours, we would like to wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. May you spend time with those that you love, enjoy each other’s company, and find an attitude of gratitude that you can take with you all throughout the holiday season and the new year.
If you or someone you know needs help with addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at www.www.marylandaddictionrecovery.com.