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Why Don’t I Feel Happy After Quitting Substance Use? How Drugs Hijack the Brain

If you are battling a substance use disorder and you’ve chosen to get healthy, this difficult and brave accomplishment should be celebrated. Yet, many people find once they stop using drugs, they feel bored, uninspired or downright unhappy.

This is a difficult experience, and you may even be second-guessing your sobriety. However, a period of sadness or depression is a common side effect of substance use withdrawal. Let’s explore why this happens and what you can do to feel better.

I Quit — So, Why Don’t I Feel Happy?

Before you took your first brave step toward recovery, you undoubtedly heard countless stories of how amazing life is once you put addiction behind you. While brighter days are ahead, many people go through a difficult stage right after quitting.

Withdrawal is accompanied by many uncomfortable physical symptoms, especially for those addicted to alcohol, heroin or meth. Yet, withdrawal also has an emotional side, meaning you could experience bouts of depression, anxiety or mood swings. Some people feel empty or hopeless right after they quit. They sleep erratically and cry frequently. These emotions starkly contrast the elation they experienced when drinking or high.

If drugs were central to your life, this period of unhappiness can feel a bit scary. Perhaps you’re afraid this is what life will be like from now on. These feelings are a normal part of the recovery process. Depression and unhappiness are temporary as your brain and body heal from the toxic nature of addiction.

How the Brain Changes Due to Drugs and Addiction

From birth, humans are programmed to seek pleasure. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain when we engage in certain activities that allow us to experience pleasure. A healthy brain rewards healthy behaviors, like exercising, eating or spending time with loved ones. However, the brain’s reward circuitry becomes hijacked by addiction.

Drugs release rapid and large amounts of dopamine into the brain. These massive doses dwarf our ability to obtain dopamine from smaller, healthier sources. Simultaneously, addiction seizes your danger-sensing circuitry. Suddenly, you feel anxious and stressed when you’re not using drugs.

Even after you quit, your brain and body’s memory of drug use is strong. That means it can take a while to find joy in everyday pleasures.

What You Can Do to Feel Better

Does this mean you simply wait around for your brain to heal itself? Not at all. You can do things that will help your brain remember how to find satisfaction and enjoyment in life’s little things. Even if you feel down, try to push yourself by doing activities you used to love before you started using drugs:

  • Surround yourself with friends you can trust, and enjoy their company.
  • Laugh while watching your favorite comedy movies or marathoning a great TV series.
  • Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals and exercising.
  • Get outside and enjoy nature or simply slow down and breathe.
  • Practice gratitude, such as listing five things you’re grateful for each morning.

You Are Not Alone

When unhappiness tries to drag you down and make you question your recovery journey, remember a substance-free life is worth fighting for. If you’re tired of battling addiction on your own, Gateway Foundation can help. We offer professional addiction treatment services that can help you find peace and joy in sobriety. Learn more when you contact us today.

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Addiction Destroys Dreams, We Can Help