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In Recovery, the Good Times Can Be as Dangerous as the Bad

Most people are aware that negative emotions such as stress, loneliness, despair, anxiety, and anger are dangerous in recovery. Feeling overwhelmed and out of control triggers cravings and makes you feel like there’s no point trying to stay sober anyway. What people often fail to consider is that good times can be challenging too, and since you are less on guard against positive feelings than negative ones, they can be more dangerous.

People in recovery, or people who used to be in recovery, often talk about the paradoxical danger of good times. They say it’s difficult when something positive happens and they only feel kind of good about it. Then they think about how much better they would feel if they were still using, and then a craving hits.

There are several things going on here. First, they may still be adjusting to life without drugs. Among other things, that means they still have too little dopamine in their brains, or too weak of a dopamine response. They are used to the dopamine tidal wave of drugs and alcohol. Not only do the normal wins of life not produce that kind of jackpot, but if you have low dopamine from a long period of addiction, then you don’t even get a normal payoff for an otherwise happy experience. That is, someone newly in recovery, say six months, is not going to feel the same level of happiness from a positive event as someone who was never addicted. The feeling that a happy event does not feel as good as it should is frustrating. This eventually goes away as your brain chemistry levels out. You just have to be patient.

Second, our thinking is mostly associative, rather than logical. If you feel a spike in happiness, your brain subconsciously starts checking its files for the last time you felt very happy. That may have been when you were high. It’s dangerous to start reminiscing about the happy times of active addiction because it’s so easy to neglect the terrible times. When you do think about the good old days, it’s crucial to “play the tape” and balance it out with all the bad times that would surely follow.

Finally, just because an event is happy doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful. Excitement and fear are nearly identical from a physiological standpoint. Also, many positive events can be a bit scary, as when you get married or get a promotion at work. Not only can they be happy and stressful, but happy events usually call for celebration, which normal involves drinking. On these occasions, it’s especially important to have a plan and manage stress.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.