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The Power of Positive Thinking in Addiction Recovery

People are quick to throw around phrases like, “stay positive” or “don’t let life get you down” but is there really life-changing power in positive thinking for those in recovery from addiction? Researchers tend to think so. But before we jump into all the goodness, let’s look at the opposite side of the spectrum and see what researchers say about negativity.

Dangers of Negative Thinking

Just as positive thinking can impact your physical and emotional well-being in recovery, so can negative thinking. In fact, negative emotions such as intense sadness have been associated with decreased immune function and antibodies to combat illness.1 Pessimism also affects the body by increasing levels of destructive stress hormones in the bloodstream.2

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology also found that negative thinking about the previous outcomes of stressors appeared to affect vulnerability to the impact of later ones on several different aspects of well-being.3 An example of this in a sober living environment could be thinking about the last time you relapsed and dwelling on the negative impacts of it. If we take this into consideration with the research cited above, this could actually increase your risk of relapsing again.

Conversely, if you choose to dwell on all the incredible progress you’ve made throughout your recovery journey, are you less likely to relapse again? Let’s take a look at the impact of positive thinking to answer that question.

Proof that Expectations are Powerful

In the scientific world, there is overwhelming evidence supporting the notion that positive thinking provides significant physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits. One John Hopkins study illustrated the physical benefits by using a survey tool to determine a person’s positivity and negativity. This tool assessed each individual’s:

  • Cheerfulness
  • Energy level
  • Anxiety levels
  • Satisfaction with health and overall life

Using this survey tool, the research team found that people with a family history of heart disease were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or cardiovascular event within 25 years if they had a positive attitude.4

Other studies show that psychological response plays a powerful role in healing and coping, and even just having a positive attitude or expectation about the outcome of a situation can lead to an increased physical, mental, and spiritual state of being.

According to an article from Scientific American, placebo medications can trigger a positive physical response to certain illnesses and conditions simply because patients maintain an expectation that the medications will make them feel better. For example, placebo painkillers can trigger a release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body.5 This is not to say that people can cure their own illnesses simply by being positive, but positivity does play a role in physical health.

Benefits of Positive Thinking in Rehab and Sober Living Programs

Individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol face plenty of obstacles and challenges throughout recovery and while in detox, rehab, and transitional housing programs. While it’s no secret that recovery is a long-term process, learning to think positively throughout this process provides endless benefits, such as6:

  • Increased self-efficacy – People in recovery are more likely to achieve their sobriety goals when they believe they can.
  • Reduced stress – Individuals living in sober living homes who choose to think positively are better equipped to cope with stressful and difficult situations and are less likely to resort to drug and alcohol abuse instead.
  • Less depression – Individuals in rehab and transitional living programs are less likely to suffer from symptoms of depression when they practice positive thinking in recovery.
  • Increased ability to fight off illness – Typically, positive people are less susceptible to things like the common cold and infections, resulting in improved physical health.
  • More likely to motivate others – Residents of sober living homes spend a lot of time with their peers. If they actively practice positivity, they are much more likely to influence others in a positive way and motivate their peers to achieve their own sobriety goals.

How to Think More Positively in Recovery?

There is no step-by-step recipe you can follow to develop a positive attitude while in recovery, but there are several things you can do to gradually change your perspective on life and learn to be a more positive person. Making these changes will help you achieve ongoing personal growth while also continuing with your recovery with a transitional housing program.

1. Serve others.

Taking the time to get outside of yourself and your own issues is a great way to improve your attitude. Sometimes just seeing others who are less fortunate than you can change your perspective on your own situations. In addition, research shows that volunteering increases feelings of happiness and overall well-being.7,8

2. Smile

Although this may sound cheesy, there is scientific evidence that proves smiling (even fake smiling) can actually reduce stress.9 So even if you don’t feel like doing it, smiling may help improve your attitude on a regular basis.

3. Practice Acceptance

Learning to accept that things change, problems are a part of life, and that sometimes, there’s really nothing you can do to change a situation, will help you implement a more positive attitude about life and recovery. Part of the 12-step program involves taking responsibility for your life and actions, which is also something that you should continually strive for in sober living.

4. Meditate Regularly

In rehab, you may have learned to meditate. Continuing this practice in your sober living program is a great way to reflect on your actions and thoughts and increase self-awareness. Doing this on a consistent basis will also help you manage stress and regulate your mood.

5. Maintain relationships with other positive people in recovery.

Genuine happiness and positivity are contagious, so surrounding yourself with other positive people may encourage you to adopt the same behaviors and attitudes. Sober living homes, especially, provide a great opportunity to both mentor others and be mentored in this way.

If you are recovering from addiction, put these practices into action on a daily basis and experience the power of positive thinking for yourself.


  1. http://www.pnas.org/content/100/19/11148.full
  2. https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-power-of-positive-thinking/
  3. http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1985-17373-001
  4. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_mind/the-power-of-positive-thinking
  5. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-healing-thoughts/
  6. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950?pg=2
  7. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/volunteering-and-its-surprising-benefits.htm
  8. https://www.health.harvard.edu/special-health-reports/simple-changes-big-rewards-a-practical-easy-guide-for-healthy-happy-living
  9. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/simply-smiling-can-actually-reduce-stress-10461286/

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