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Why Optimism is Important in Recovery

Most people don’t go into recovery feeling optimistic. Most people just feel like life couldn’t get much worse and they have to change something. That’s more like desperation than optimism. What’s more, many people seeking treatment feel depressed. Depression has many facets, one of which is the inability to imagine a better future. This often stems from learned helplessness, or the belief that nothing you do will make a situation better. Optimism is the complete opposite of this. It’s the belief that with the right effort, your future can and will be better. Here’s why that matters.

If you don’t believe life can improve, why bother?

Sobriety is hard for a while. You have to endure withdrawal and cravings. It may take months for you to start feeling normal again. Meanwhile, life keeps coming at you and your habitual response will be to escape into using again. Staying sober takes a daily effort. If you don’t believe your efforts will lead to a better life it’s hard to keep that effort up.

Optimism improves your chances of staying sober.

Several studies have investigated the connection between optimism and sobriety. They have all found that more optimistic people remain sober longer. The reason for this seems almost ridiculously simple: If you think you can stay sober then you try to stay sober. If you don’t think you can stay sober, you give up. In other words, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In reality, it’s a bit more complicated than that, otherwise why wouldn’t everyone just choose to believe she will stay sober? It could be that she has already failed many times or she doesn’t know anyone who has recovered successfully, so belief is difficult. People typically need some kind of evidence to support their belief that their effort will pay off.

Optimism makes you less depressed.

This gets to the root of many addictions. Your chances of staying sober are much greater if you address the underlying issue, and for many people, that is depression. Studies have shown that optimism is extremely protective against depression. That seems almost self-evident, but it’s an important point. If an optimistic person and a pessimistic person experience a similar sort of setback, the pessimistic person is far more likely to become depressed. That means that what happens to you is not nearly as important as how you respond to it. If you believe a negative event is a temporary fluke, you will move on quickly, whereas if you believe the event is a permanent defeat, you will just get depressed and give up.

Optimism reduces stress.

Stress is one of the main relapse triggers. One reason this is true is that when people in recovery feel stressed, their first reaction is often to feel overwhelmed. They believe they can’t really do anything about the stressor, so they might as well drink. Optimism is the opposite reaction. More optimistic people believe they can solve a problem, even if they aren’t yet sure how. This makes them more likely to attempt a solution rather than hide. It also makes problems feel less stressful because they feel more in control.

Castle Craig is one of the most established and respected addiction rehab centres in the UK. Castle Craig provides consulting psychiatrists who diagnose associated mental illnesses like anxiety states, depression, ADD, PTSD, eating disorders, compulsive gambling, and compulsive relationships. For information, call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line: 0808 256 3732. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006 (normal charges apply).

Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020